Although he’s too modest to say, Simon Hogg is one of England’s premier storyboard artists. Since the late 80s he’s helped translate countless ideas into visual realities, and his trademark old school style has been put to use on everything from Hugo Boss adverts to acclaimed music videos.
But what exactly is a storyboard? And why are they important? We had a chat to find out the answers, and to get a few tips from the master.
First question… how did you get into being a storyboard artist?
In the mid-80s I did a course in Newcastle. It was an advertising course which covered everything. We did art direction, copywriting, graphics, photography and visualising—which is what I ended up specialising in.
Visualising is what it says it is really! It’s taking the ideas that an art director comes up with, and making them visual. You go away and draw it up. It just seemed really appealing.
How did this ‘visualising’ thing lead into doing storyboards? Was that just the next step?
At the time no computers were used in the process, so every magazine or billboard advert you saw would have to be visualised, before being presented to the client. When I started working at a studio, I wasn’t good enough at drawing to storyboard commercials, so I was doing these still, one-off images for magazine adverts.
But a few years along and with computers becoming commonplace, agencies could visualise their own marketing. Thankfully, that didn’t affect storyboards and sequential art because you couldn’t find 20 stock images that fit the whole story.
So the magazine adverts eventually dried up, but the storyboards stuck around.
“If the director has to film twenty different shots and needs to explain to the crew what each shot is going to show, it’d take all day, a storyboard makes that a lot easier.”
Do you remember the first one you did?
Actually, I do. I think it was for baked beans or spaghetti, and TV environmentalist David Bellamy was in it. I don’t know what he had to do with the food, but that never matters.
It may be a bit of a basic question, but what’s a storyboard for? Who uses them?
The purpose of a storyboard is twofold. Firstly, it's a means of the director explaining to the crew what's needed for each shot and secondly, it's a way of communicating to the agency what they intend to shoot.
Is there a different frame for each shot? Are there rules for this stuff?
There are sort of rules of thumb. In a perfect world, if you had a 30 second ad, you’d do 20 to 30 frames- one for each shot. But then some of the shots might have a few things happening in them simultaneously, so you’ll do a few frames for a single shot.
And then you get ads that have got a lot of technical, macro stuff. There was a director I used to work for, and he’d do a 60 second ad, and I’d have to do 72 frames. It was so detailed.
I recently did a music video for Royal Blood. It was three minutes and I did nearly 100 frames for that, but again, it was quite technical.
How important is it to have a storyboard?
It’s very important. It never ceases to amaze me how much work and how many shots they get through in one or two day shoot and a storyboard helps this process.
I never necessarily feel part of the film industry, doing what I do. But at the same time I know that’s it’s important to the process.
You’ve got quite a classic style. Is that a common thing, or do people mostly use computers now?
How I do things is quite old school, but when you’re trying to convey a bit of emotion and humour, I think it’s a bit warmer than the digital storyboards. Some digital boards look amazing, but there’s not quite as much detail in them.
Do you get a bit of a buzz when something you’ve worked on comes on TV?
It’s interesting, but I’ve never got a lot to say about myself and what I do. I might mention it to my wife when something comes on, but I wouldn’t be there, standing up in front of the TV. It interests me when I see a project of mine on TV, but by then I’m over it. I’ve moved on to something else.
I do get a lot of satisfaction when the director says how much they liked my boards. I suppose it’s what we all want, for people to like our stuff.
Haha yeah that’s always nice. What’s been your favourite advert you’ve worked on?
It’s difficult, because I don’t like to think that I’m someone who’s affected by adverts.
Working on the Channel 4 Paralympics was amazing, but it was quite stressful. I think I would have done nearly 100 frames for that.
What was the one you did for Hugo Boss?
That one was Zach Efron jumping about on top of a building and spouting the sort of stuff that people do in perfume and aftershave ads. Those jobs are good fun because the fashion business is larger than life and I like to think they play on that a bit. They don’t take themselves too seriously.
Say if I was going to do a storyboard for an advert, what are some things I should think about?
Right, well you always need to think about the shots. Is it wide? Is it close? You need wide shots to show off the locations, and you need close shots to connect with the people—you need a mix.
The narrative is important too. You need to make sure the story is being told correctly. I’ll go through all my frames in order, just to make sure it shows a thread or a storyline. You need to know what’s happening—unless of course it’s a perfume advert.
What would you say to directors working on projects without the budget to hire a storyboard artist?
Well, firstly you’re going to need to pick up a pencil. You help yourself if you learn some basics and develop a shorthand. It can be as simple as a circle for a head, with two dots and a line for a mouth. If that fills the frame top to bottom, then you know that’s a close up.
And then there’s the pacing. When I sit with directors, they’ll know how many shots they can fit into a 30 second advert. Music videos are fairly abstract these days – they’re not like that long Bon Jovi one that used to be on MTV all the time.
“It interests me when I see a project of mine on TV, but by then I’m over it. I’ve moved on to something else”
Haha - I know which one you mean there - the one where he sets fire to the guy’s art studio at the end?
Yeah, that’s the one. I know music videos these days don’t have the money to pay a storyboard artist, but I can’t believe that the director won’t at least do a few basic scribbles.
Laying it out, no matter how simply, will help inform the people you’re working with.
Definitely. Okay, I'll let you get back to it. Thanks for your time! Would you mind sending us off with some sage advice, or things to consider when drawing a storyboard?
From the point of view of a storyboard artist, I’d say learn figure drawing. Go back to basics, learn anatomy and learn perspective. There’s that thing they say about sports… they say you need to do 10,000 hours of training to be really good. And I think it’s the same with drawing, if you want to get good, you’ve got to practice.
Create a detailed checklist or table of every shot you plan to make, outlining your story and the contents of each of your frames.
Use your shot list to quickly rough out all your frames so you can see that it works as a piece of sequential storytelling. Are there any gaps that need filling for the story to make sense?
Where possible try and use a variety of different shots, as this will make for a more visually interesting film, i.e: a mixture of wide, mid and close-up shots.
Think about the composition of your shots to make them as interesting as possible. You can show depth in shots by using foreground, mid-ground and background elements.
You need to make sure your content is consistent. Your character's size, clothes, props and the background elements need to be followed throughout your storyboard.
You can see more of Simon's work and contact him about commissions over at his website www.simonhoggstoryboards.com
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