Wacom's Deep Dive: Peter Ramsey – interview with the Oscar award winner

November 2, 2019

You all know the Oscar Academy Awards, right? People that win one are top of the class of what they are doing. At THU we had the chance to talk to one of them: the amazing Peter Ramsey. He won the Academy award in the category “animated feature” with “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”. Want to know a bit more about what makes him a great director and storyboard artist? Just read on or watch the video:

In between the THU schedules, we found some time to have a chat with Peter Ramsey. Peter A. Ramsey is a well known film director, writer, illustrator and storyboard artist. For example, you, he was the genius DreamWorks Animation’s director behind “Rise of the Guardians”. There’s a lot more you got to know about him and, if you’re curious, we think the THU knights description does give you a great idea of where else you might have come across some of his excellent works.

What makes a good movie

Is there a special kind of genre you prefer in movies and what do you think makes a good movie?

I like movies of all genres. The thing that I really look for most of all in a movie, is a really cinematic experience. It could be a David Linch film, it could be a David Leam film – just to be in the hands of a film maker, who really has control of the craft and uses everything about it that they can to tell that story.
There are a lot of different styles and techniques that you can use to express ideas visually. There are a lot of different esthetics that you could bring to bear. The two movies the I directed, “Rise of the Guardians” and co-directing “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, have had really different visual styles. But they both depended on the kind of story that we were telling. So you have to look for the meaning of your story, and that is going to determine the way you are going to tell it.

Balancing storyboarding & art direction

So it takes a meaningful story to guide the process. As you’re a storyboard artist and a director, can you tell us a bit about the two and which do you prefer?

I mean, for me, storyboarding was always a form of direction, or it was part of the process of directing. Storyboarding is visualizing the shots, or the way that you are going to tell the story visually and how you are going to use the camera to tell the story. There are a lot of directors who storyboard in their heads without ever drawing a frame.Steven Spielberg can step on a set and look around and he is storyboarding in his head how he is going to control the flow of the action and what his camera positions are going to be. That is the same thing a storyboard artist does. They just draw it. So that people can see the visual translation of those cinematic ideas. They go hand in hand and if you’re asking me, which one I would rather to, if I could only do one? I’d probably drop my pencil fast and just say: “Directing!”. But I think storyboarding will always be part of my process.
It’s a quick and easy. It’s a way to communicate very quickly to a lot of people. It goes much faster than trying to describe the whole thing in words. I’m tripping over my words just now, so you can see, why I became a storyboard artist.

A rough process of storyboarding

Tell us, what’s the process of storyboarding?

You take a piece of material, a script, it can be an outline, it can be actual script pages and it’s really breaking down into images and into shots, that you could actually create, that are going to tell the story in as economical way as possible. You can have all kinds of ideas – there’s really no limit to what you can visualize.

What makes a good storyboard artist

But you have to understand that, at the end of the day, that you have to be able to shoot or create those images. And then you’ve got to do it with an eye towards the style of the story-telling, what’s appropriate for the subject matter, what you can afford to do, whether it’s animated or live-action. That is usually a consideration. There are a lot of different things that you have to bear in mind, if you are storyboarding something to actually be shot. If your storyboard is going to be useful, you have to have one foot in the real, practical world when you’re creating the images.

The digital process of animated film making & Wacom

Can you tell us a bit more about how Wacom helped you in the process? When did you start working digitally?

Actually, I had a Wacom tablet before the Cintiq. But I really started working on that with Dreamworks Animation, when their whole system was going digital. And once I got used to it, it made everything so much faster in terms of visualizing, because, the pressure of making mistakes is kind of gone. In that way I think it’s been kind of incredibly valuable. And then, what it does to the overall workflow of a show digitally in animation – we’re sending images various places a lot of the times, especially to the editorial department when we’re doing storyboarding – with all the facility of doing that with all the Wacom products. And then there’s the other end of the process, which is the visual development and what the painters do with Photoshop or any of the other painting programs with a tablet, become a vital part of what we do in the animation industry.

Success-factors of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

You won the Oscar Academy Award for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”. What do you think made this film such a success?

The thing that people respond to in Spider-Verse is, seeing a story told in a way they have never seen it before and seeing it told from the perspective of someone that they feel lives in the same world as them and they can relate to that. They can see that care was put into making Miles Morales’s world and his experiences, feel like they have some authenticity to them. Because we cared about Miles, we really people to feel for him and to empathize with him and to understand what he was going through.So, we tried to make his world in as live and as specific as we could and I think that also came with putting a lot of ourselves into those characters and those moments of the film. So, if you’re creating something, put something of your authentic self into it. It doesn’t have to be the newest idea, it doesn’t have to be biggest idea, but, just know that, by creating something from your perspective and having something of how you actually see and experience the world in your work – that will make it new and that will big and that will make it open peoples eyes up to a way of seeing something that they haven’t seen before. Because they haven’t seen it through your eyes.
So trust and believe in yourself, that the way that you see the world is as valid and as special as the way that anybody else does.

We’re pretty sure, people can take something away and rethink the way they go about their own work. If you want to keep track of Peter Ramsey online, here are a few starting points:
Youtube (topic)


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