Interview: The Art of Movie Storyboards author Fionnuala Halligan

Interview: The Art of Movie Storyboards author Fionnuala Halligan

Comprising 240 full-colour pages, The Art of Movie Storyboards is both a hardback feast for the eyes and insightful celebration of “the unsung heroes of film… the first to give vision to a screenplay, translating words on the page into shots for the screen.” The first of its kind, the book features storyboards from the last 100 years, covering more than 50 classic, cult and popular films. Augmented throughout by behind-the-scenes tips and secrets, much of the work has never been published, including early drawings from such pioneers as William Cameron Menzies (Gone with the Wind), Mentor Huebner (North by Northwest, Ben-Hur), Salvador Dali (Spellbound) and Saul Bass (Psycho, Spartacus), as well as contemporary artists like Jane Clark (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

This beautiful addition to any film fan’s library was assembled by Fionnuala Halligan, a London-based critic, writer and consultant. A regular contributor to trade title Screen International for two decades, she is also the author of FilmCraft: Production Design. Finn kindly took the time to answer BEV’s questions via email…

How did you become interested in movie storyboards? And what prompted you to write the book?

I had been aware of the importance of storyboards in the filmmaking process, but when I wrote FilmCraft: Production Design I saw a lot of preparatory artwork which wasn’t entirely suitable for a book about production designers, but it was amazing, from concept work to full boards. Stuart Craig showed me some of Jane Clark’s boards, and I went to the set of Anna Karenina to speak to Sarah Greenwood and saw David Allcock’s concept and storyboard work on the walls, – you can see it in the finished book. So I really wanted to find out more about the storyboarding process.

It’s a long way from the designs of William Cameron Menzies in Gone with the Wind, but it’s clearly the same discipline and, to my mind, the same art form. So the idea was to look at the boards as art in themselves. The rise of the director as an auteur has led to a certain extent to a diminishing recognition of the art department in terms of popular perception, so I wanted to show proper storyboard artists at work, not just director’s sketch boards which are normally the first step in a complicated storyboarding process (with clear exceptions).

Part of their art, though, is their contribution to the finished film so I wanted to put together a book which would look at all genres of film, internationally, and the art of the boards involved, plus how they’ve developed. It’s a little bit ambitious… but I think every type of film is here and we’ve got contributions from all the great storyboard artists, alongside work from directors such as Martin Scorsese who are well known for being visual perfectionists.

Do you have any particular favourites? Storyboards you’d like framed on your wall, perhaps?

Probably Alex Tavoularis’s boards for Apocalypse Now because I love the film so much and the whole story behind it – they’re so dramatic. Everything about that film was exceptional, and they remind me of the chapter I wrote about his brother Dean for the Production Design book and an afternoon spent in Paris listening to his stories about the production. But to be honest I’d be over the moon to have any single one of the boards in this book on my walls! They’re all amazing. The best part of doing the book was the excitement of opening up the dropbox when they arrived. It took eight months to get my first set though!

Most areas of cinema practice have been hugely impacted by digital technology: is this an exception? It strikes BEV as a pleasingly analogue, pencil and paper (sometimes paint) art form.

While storyboard artists have been greatly impacted by changes in the business, it is reassuring to note that almost every one said they start out, as ever, by rapidly sketching using pencil and paper during conferences and meetings. These days, however, the next step is to scan these into the computer using several programmes and the Sintiq tablet is ubiquitous in terms of storyboarding. Boards can then be fed into more preparatory work such as previs. Paint is not a common medium, but we do have boards by Akira Kurosawa who, influenced by Van Gogh, painted every scene from Ran over a ten-year period. Storyboards now are in black and white. Concept work which is mood and scene-setting, is always in colour now, always computerised, and frequently in 3D.

Please tell us a little about the work of Jane Clark. She seems to be a pioneer in the field…

Jane is a mentor for many artists working in the business today, particularly in the UK. She’s a unique artist. You can immediately tell when you’re looking at her work as it seems to flow and she musters multiple visual levels in the one frame, or page. Fortunately, Warner Brothers gave us permission to show some of her Harry Potter work, which was a great relief as we simply had to have her work included! Like the other film storyboard artists, she has been influential outside the film business where the art has been adapted by many different industries. She has become one of the greats, alongside the legendary Mentor Huebner, Sherman Labby and Henry Bumstead.

Which other types of film craft are you interested in exploring? Feel free to plug your other books or upcoming projects!

I’m not writing another book for the moment as it was quite difficult to put this one together. Securing permissions to print was a giant undertaking as the studios are reluctant to relax copyright restrictions. I’m working now on my annual Stars of Tomorrow issue for Screen International, which finds young filmmaking talent in the UK. In the past we’ve had amazing success and I do hope we continue in our 2014 showcase.

The Art of Movie Storyboards is out now via Ilex Press. There is also a US edition published by Chronicle Books.

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