Storyboarding Hits the Road: A Conversation with Mark Simon
Waiting for the muse means waiting for the paycheck for creatives. Speeding up inspiration and shortening the time to execute on a divine vision is key to staying ahead of client demands and to creating a thriving business. Professional animation artist Mark Simon, who has more than 2,700 productions to his credit, fine-tuned his workflow with a combination of pen tablet hardware and software that supports it. Simon’s preferred setup typically involves a PC with a Wacom Cintiq 22HD Touch running a suite of applications that includes Toon Boom Storyboard Pro for storyboarding and animatics, as well as Adobe Premiere, After Effects and Photoshop for additional video and visual work, and Adobe Audition for voiceover and audio editing.
The First Step: Storyboarding via Skype
When working with clients, Simon often faced the challenge of how to collaborate on projects remotely. On some projects, he’s taken his laptop and Cintiq 13 on the road, using a hotel room or production office as his studio. Yet Simon has also turned to the Internet to extend to reach of his Cintiq with clients and collaborators.
Simon has used Skype, for example, for storyboarding with remote clients – a process that proved useful during his recent work on the Lionsgate movie production of You’re Next. Working from his base in Orlando, Simon created around eight minutes of storyboards and animatics using Storyboard Pro, a Cintiq and a Skype connection with the production company, while never meeting the director face-to-face.
“I did the entire thing half a country away,” Simon explained. “I would sit down to work with the director over Skype – I just shared my screen, so we could work on approvals and timing while he’s watching in real time on his computer. It was just as good as sitting next to each other.”
Simon has even used Skype on his Cintiq to direct voice talent as part of the process. “They can be anywhere in the world, but I like to see the voice actors and they like to see me,” he stated. “I can give them advice on things to do with their bodies that affect their voices.”
The Next Step: Storyboarding on the Move
Earlier this year, Simon added another powerful mobility-enhancing tool to his arsenal: a new Cintiq Companion. It would be an understatement, he said, to say the Companion has delivered on its work-anywhere potential.
“With the Companion I’m freed up to work anywhere, at any time. I can make instant changes, play back audio and video, go to and from locations with the director, work in the production trailer and walk right onto the set. I can feed work from the Companion to the monitors for the crew to look at, or Wi-Fi to any other production personnel or equipment.”
“Now I’ve got a complete production studio, editing suite and art studio – and it’s completely mobile.”
According to Simon, the Companion also delivers some intangibles that matter in an industry where being on the cutting edge has its benefits. “Honestly, it’s also got a serious ‘cool factor,’” he explained. “People that hire me remember that I’m the guy with the really cool tools. It does make a difference, and I get more calls because of it.”
Simon also pointed out that working on-set or on the road with a Companion had an impact on his personal life. “It means I get more of a home life,” he said. “If I can rough things and get approvals while I’m driving with a director, that time in the car is stuff I don’t have to do when I get back to my studio.”
As a business owner, however, the Companion’s biggest benefit for Simon has been its impact on his productivity. Turning around better work in less time is a huge advantage in an industry where time is money and client relationships are a precious commodity. The quicker he can complete a project, the more projects he can take on.
“It’s the 80/20 rule,” said Simon. “Eighty percent of your income comes from 20% of your clients, and it’s returning clients that make you successful. So if you don’t deliver on time, you lose 80% of your potential income.”