Imagine being able to list Marvel, DC, Pacific Rim, Total Recall and Scott Pilgrim as just SOME of the big names you’ve worked with on the old CV. Storyboard and Comic Artist Rob has done just that. We talk to him about his impressive back catalogue, breaking into the industry and his Scottish roots.
Your collection of work is outstanding, when did you start drawing?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing. As a kid I used to get some big sheets of newsprint, start drawing in one corner and cover it with a huge sprawling story of guys on missions fighting monsters and things like that. I drew my own comics too for my own amusement.
Did you go into further education to pursue your career?
I got into Glasgow School of Art and initially wanted to be a fine artist as I really enjoy drawing and painting, but ended up doing Graphics and Illustration.
While the late great Bob Godfrey of Rhubarb and Custard and Henry’s Cat fame was visiting to do a lecture he saw some of my ideas and asked me down to London to work for him as a work placement. This was all really encouraging to say the least!
What areas did you focus on during university?
I started drawing for Glasgow comic Electric Soup. Then I read an interview with Comic Artist. He had made the jump from comics to storyboard and concept art and showed me they really weren’t that different. In comics, you’re designing costumes, props, sets, lighting, directing and acting. I still loved films and always kept that in the back of my mind.
After a while at Glasgow School of Art, I moved towards more audio visual, video and animation. I did some animation and made some of my own films with video special effects using a Quantel Paintbox – a computer that had its own room! This was the early ’90s and you had to rewire it to save. I remember when we graduated, the new version of Photoshop arrived and you could do all I needed to do on a tiny apple mac that didn’t need rewiring!
How did you break into the industry after your studies?
After leaving art school, I started drawing comics for a living and that led to me make contacts in the industry and I spent a few years drawing for 2000ad, Judge Dredd, DC, Dark Horse
and Marvel where I worked for Stan Lee on his “still officially on hold” Excelsior line. It after two years that I got call from STV; this was the call that gave me my first jump into film and TV world.
And what was the first film that you worked on?
The first film I worked on was “The Ruby Ring” and the first feature release I worked on was “The Acid House” directed by Paul McGuigan, who has done very well over the years most recently directing “Sherlock”. I’ve just worked with Paul on a TV pilot for Dreamworks and then again on his next feature Victor Frankenstein starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy .
And has there been a project where you found it hard going?
Every job is hard going in different ways. The long hours are the toughest as it’s 12 hour days at least. I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to get about two hours sleep a night for a week to get stuff drawn in time. You end up paying for that physically but sometimes it has to be done. There’s pressure and responsibility but it’s nice when it stops sometimes
I’m not quite sure. Maybe a greater chance of thinking everything I’m doing is rubbish maybe?
Seriously though, my Art Teacher, Gordon Wyllie, really encouraged me at high school and was a great inspiration. He encouraged me to put some paintings I did into competitions and I got first place in many them. I owe a lot to him. He also encouraged me to apply to Glasgow School of Art which was somewhere I wouldn’t have thought I could have gotten into if it wasn’t for him.
And what informed the move to Canada?
I moved over here in 2001 because of the girl who is now my wife and mother of my kids! I miss Scotland a lot though.
What does a day in the life of a storyboard/concept artist involve?
These days, I get up at 5.30 am and drive to the studio for a 7am start.
For concept art, you sit down with the Production Designer to talk about what they are after: the feel, colours etc. I paint in Photoshop. Sometimes you get a rough computer sketch from one of the set designers has done as a basis for the set. Other times, it’s all from scratch.
For storyboards, you sit down with director to work through the sequence you’re working on. Every director has a different way of working. Some tell you just what to draw. I have a wee collection of scribbles by some big name directors. Most directors are open to ideas if you have any.
With storyboards, it tends to be a job I take home with me. Always trying to think of better ways to frame shots, better ways to tell the story, cool ideas for shots etc. Storyboards tend to stick with me as problems needing sorted out.
What’s the most fun aspect of your work?
The creative collaboration. I get the chance to work with people whose work I greatly admire. Directors, producers, other artists. Kicking ideas around and finding creative ways to solve problems is always challenging and I always get a kick out of it
And the most challenging?
I think it has to be being creative on demand. Having it on tap and being able to draw and paint every single day no matter how you’re feeling or if it’s not “happening” that day. You have no choice. You just have to get on with it. That and the long hours and staying fresh.
Do you have any advice for any students who dream of becoming storyboard/concept artists?
Keep at it. Be self-aware. Be your own worst critic. Never delude yourself about your work or your position but be confident in what you can do. If you work hard you will only get better.