Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Interview with Storyboard Artist/Animator Craig Gilmore



FS: It's rare to find someone making a living from their passion. Take us back to the beginning, when did you know you wanted to be a storyboard artist/animator/comic book artist?

CG: Wow, the beginning is a long and winding road. Well, honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted to be as a kid. I just knew I wanted to be something cool! My mom always reminds me that I drew on my report cards and library books, and everything else I could draw on when I was in school, so I guess I always had a tendency towards illustration subconsciously, even way back then. It wasn’t until my later college years that things really started to happen for me artistically.

FS: How did you make that happen for yourself?

CG: As I got older, I had a number of loves and hobbies that I wanted to pursue as a career. One of the biggest was that I wanted to move to California and play in heavy metal bands haha! I play guitar, so that’s what I wanted to do for a number of years. Then I came to a point where I needed to make a choice because music and art are both physically and mentally demanding jobs. I knew I had to choose a path. I also knew when I made that focused decision to go ahead with art 100% instead of music, that it was going to be hard and full of rejection, but also successes. It has been everything I thought and more. There have been very lean times but fortunately now, more not so lean times. My career story is a crazy one and full of turns and twists that have led me to do different things/disciplines throughout it’s course. Some have definitely been more successful than others, but all were invaluable to molding me and helping me “see” what it is I’m supposed to be doing with my time here on earth. It happens naturally, like a funnel, you start big a broad in your scope, and you end up way down at the little bitty tip which is your home and where you are supposed to be. I went to college at a 2 year Commercial Art College in NC, and learned some of the more ‘advanced basics’ of art. This was back in 1987 (I’m dating myself now). It was a pretty diverse course, but I always leaned towards the traditional illustration courses the most. I learned about figure drawing and perspective, and composition. The very primal basics of illustration in all it’s forms. The first thing that I wanted to do was find an outlet that would give my love for storytelling, a place to be heard. Naturally, one of the best illustrative mediums for that was comic books. I loved them ever since I had the ability to read, so I decided I would pursue that. I spent a few years just drawing what I thought comics were supposed to be, and going to comic book conventions. There I would show my work to editors, and artists already working in the business. They were all super in giving me a critique or word of advice on improving my drawing and storytelling. So I would go home and apply that, and go back out with new samples, over and over again. So that helped me build up a tough skin for rejection, and made me appreciate good constructive criticism which is essential. One day I met an artist named Richard Case. He was a local working comic book artist, and was drawing a comic for DC Comics at the time. I called him out of the blue and asked him if I could help him somehow with his comic. He was really cool, and we met for lunch. He told me that he could use and assistant for odd stuff like filing magazine reference, and odd things like that, and that he would help go over the basics of comics with me. And he did. And I worked for him for a couple of years on and off, until he and some other North Carolina comic book artists started talking about forming and art studio. It was to be a “co-op” studio, where a bunch of artists work under one studio name, but are each self employed in their own right. So they asked me to join what was to become “Artamus Studios” as a general gopher guy for all the artists. It was cool, because I could quit my day job and be around and do comics all day and get paid a little hahaha!


To make a long part of that story short, I ended up getting my own work drawing and inking for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and other publishers full time. I was doing all kinds of work freelance. Well the comic book market crashed, and lots of creatives were out trying to find work, so I decided that I needed to morph into some other similar yet different type of work. I needed something that used the same skills. I met a friend, through my mom of all people, named Andy Wilson, that helped get me a internship in 2d cel animation in Atlanta, so I moved down there. I went through the internship and did very well. I started freelancing for animation houses before I was even done with the internship. So I ended up freelancing for all the different 2d animation houses in Atlanta, Cartoon Network, Turner Broadcasting, Funny Farm, Primal Screen. Some of which are gone now, and I made it as a successful animator. At this time I was still doing odd jobs in comics as they came around. Well the same guy that got me into 2d animation got a job at Sony Computer Entertainment America in San Diego animating for video games. I went to San Diego one summer for the big annual comic book convention that is held there every year to look for new comic work. I stayed with Andy. One morning Andy said his boss wanted to meet me, and he might have something for me if I was interested in going on staff. I was hesitant, but long story short, I end up in San Diego working in the video game industry doing concept work, storyboards, and 3d character animation. At this point I find myself doing 3d video games, and not 2d animation, and doing well for myself. The serious technology learning curve was very hard for me as a traditional artist. It still is sometimes. I learned it, but I was never completely happy at Sony. So I started on the side to pursue movies and try storyboards and get back to basics with my work. After a while I got some small jobs doing storyboards for basically nothing. It was all for portfolio work. So I started getting my feet wet in boards. SO, then I met a long time friend from back in NC at the big E3 show in LA, and he happens to be the creative director of Redstorm Entertainment of all places. He asked me if I was interested in moving back to the east coast, to which I of course was happy to do by this time. California was way too ‘California’ for my tastes. I’m a simple guy, and want simple things. I now do 3d character animation, concept, and storyboards at Redstorm who lets me do more drawing than Sony ever did during the day, and freelance in the movie and TV industry at night. Now I even have an agent that handles my storyboards and concept work from Hollywood, so things are looking very bright! Whew! Long story, and that’s the abridged version!

FS: How much rejection, how much competition did you have to fight through early on?

CG: Any artist will go through a ton of rejection early on. I got a ton rejections in every phase of my career. Job rejection, critical rejection, emotional rejection. It’s all part of it, and makes you tough skinned, and you unfortunately have to be that way. I always tell parents whose kids want to do what I do…Make sure that they REALLY want to do this. If your heart is not 200% in this as a career and they aren’t prepared (and expecting) to starve (especially early on when they are cutting their teeth), they will never make it! It’s a harsh reality but its just part of the business. It will eat you up and spit you out if you go in with a cavalier attitude. They have to do it because they love it, not for the money all the time.




FS: What motivates you, has it changed at all over the years?

CG: Well, it's taken my whole career to finally break down my art, and what motivates me. I love the “storytelling” aspect of art, and the “problem solving” that is inherently involved. In every form of art there is storytelling, and how it moves people. How painting evokes mood though color, and light, how drawing evokes emotion though a simple well drawn line, how animation evokes emotion through a well drawn or acted pose. It’s all about telling a story to someone and if you are good at it, and successful, the viewer will ‘get it’. It’s about solving visual problems that will convey the visual information even more clearly to the viewer. I love storyboards, because they give me the chance to tell a story through quick illustrations directing the people and camera, and set, and composition. If I am successful, then my boards will tell a good story to the cast and crew, helping the director in his vision. They will also be fun to look at, which is something I love to hear too!

FS: You have recently completed work for the upcoming NBC show "Surface."
Tell us about your work for that show. Is there anything else you can tell
us about that show?


CG: Not without two guys dressed in black showing up at my door ;-) Suffice to say, I did some illustration work for them. I hope to do much more. I had a blast, helped them in their production schedule, and hopefully they enjoyed it as much as I did drawing it! It’s going to be a fantastic show, so watch it!!


NBC's "SURFACE" debuts this Fall.

FS: You've also dived into the video game market, lead storyboard artist and lead cinematic character animator on a new game entitled " Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike." What are the differences from working within Film & Television as compared to Video Games?

CG: That’s a toughie. The biggest difference is simply budget, and time. Creatively, video games are much more confined and constrictive. It makes it harder because you have half of the manpower, and half of the development time, and you have to think much harder to make creative decisions within the limitations offered you. You have to think about what the limitations of the computer or console you are developing for are, and work around them. In movies you have some of that, but it’s not so limiting. It’s like 'we only have 3000 polys to make this character but go do it!' Where as in movies it's not as limited. Also in video games, the development is more aimed at “gameplay” and less about “storytelling”. Of course there are exceptions like Oddworld Inhabitants who build the games around the world they create, and less building the world around the game. They are much more cinematic in their approach. Their newest game "Stranger's Wrath" is so visually appealing, and so immersive. That is a good example of doing a game right!!

FS: Which medium do you prefer? Why?

CG: Movies definitely, and wholeheartedly. The limitless stories that you can tell, and the magic that only happens in the movies.





FS: How many projects do you usually work on at one time?

CG: I prefer 1-2, but I have been known to do more, especially in comics. I like sticking to 1 because my focuses can all be on that one project. I’m not fond of the 36 hour day.

FS: What are some of your upcoming projects?

CG: Well, I’m working on another as-yet unannounced game doing storyboards, concepts, and most likely character animation. I’m going to be doing a personal comic book project for the first time in a long while which I am going to shop around with comic publishers, and whatever else comes down the pike movie and TV wise. You never know day to day what you will be doing in this business haha!

FS: On a final note, if given the chance to work with anyone on an upcoming
project, who would that be and why?

CG: Tim Burton and Steven Speilberg. These two guys have genuine love for their craft. They are both master storytellers, and have their own unique visions. I admire them both, for their great contributions to film, animation, and culture. It would be so fun to work with them on something!

For more on Craig, you can visit his blog here, Craig Gilmore's Blog

NIN

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