Monday, September 25, 2017

Advice for storyboard/animation careers, new GN "I Moved to LA to Work in Animation"

I moved to LA in 2015 to storyboard for animation studios. I get a lot of questions from artists who are interested in making similar career moves themselves. I wanted to make a comic about my experience, half for me and half for anyone looking for information about LA / storyboarding for animation. It took a LOT of my weekends over the past year, but I turned all of my experiences and feelings and things I wanted to tell my younger self into a graphic novel!

The 96-page graphic novel is out now in comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, the BOOM! Studios app, and online retailers! Find our more about the book, as well as links to where you can buy it, HERE.

Thank you to everyone who sent me your questions when I put the call out earlier this year, and thank you to Molly, Diana, Matt, Paul, Lissa, Erika, and Luis for the proof-reading and encouragement.

Note: Please do not send me your portfolio or your work; I cannot look at it. I wish you all of the best, and I hope that this comic and the resources below will help you, but I cannot mentor you or give you individual feedback. I do volunteer as a mentor for Rise Up Animation, and I highly recommend signing up for a portfolio with them if you are a BIPOC artist. Thank you for understanding. Good luck!


(Let me know in the comments if any links are broken or if you think I’m missing something important here. If you are more interested in resources for a career in comics, check out this post. If you are more interested in resources for Animators, check out this post.)

Basics you should understand about Animation:
How Does Animation Work?: LINK
Dreamworks Animation CGI Studio Pipeline: LINK
PIXAR in a box: LINK

Different Story artists’ personal advice:
Madeleine Flores' extensive guide to breaking in and pitching shows: LINK
Latoya Raveneau's PDFs on the basics of what a Storyboard Artist is, and how to make a great Story portfolio: LINK
Sam Spina's comic about moving to LA to work in animation: LINK
Sam Spina's comic about working on Infinity Train: LINK
Lissa Treiman’s tips for becoming a story artist: LINK
Stu Livingston's advice to struggling board artists: LINK
Anthony Holden's comic about gaining life experience before working in a studio: LINK
Jen Bennett's advice for storyboard artists: LINK
Kris W. (Disney TV director) made a very relatable post that I love: LINK
Bill Peet: An Autobiography: LINK

Exercises to build your Story skills and portfolio:
  • Next 5: This is one of my favorite exercises to give people, because you can do it in half a day, and it's totally something you can put it in your Story portfolio! Grab a photo that inspires you somehow (I use Explore | Flickr) as a starting image. Redraw that image in your style, come up with a story based on that starting point, and then draw out the next 5 panels of that story. Here’s a site that explains Next 5 and includes a bunch of examples: LINK
  • Film studies: Do thumbnail sketches of existing films. It's a good way to study light, composition, staging, and how to effectively tell a story. Example: LINK
  • Lifedrawing: This is very important. Get lots and lots of pencil mileage in by lifedrawing! You can do traditional figure drawing classes with a model, or use the online resources I list further down in this post, or just draw the real people you see while you are on the bus or sitting in a cafe. I have a tutorial about figure drawing for cartoonists here: LINK
  • Fan storyboards: create the storyboards for a story that already exists. For example, Charis JB storyboarded scenes based on the Hamilton soundtrack. Louie Zong storyboards jokes from the MBMBAM podcast. Stephanie Stine storyboarded a scene from The Golden Compass book (before it was adapted into a film and a TV series).
  • But the absolute best thing you can do? Storyboard a short, original story from your imagination! Try to tell a story in 100-200 panels, with a beginning, middle, and end. You can pitch your story to a friend and ask if they understood what was happening, and if they felt any emotions based on your scene, and see whether or not your jokes made them laugh. To really test your work, hand it to a friend and ask THEM to tell you what they think is happening as they read through the scene, with no explanations from you! This will reveal areas that are not clear enough yet.
    When I coach people on what to put in their Story portfolios, I recommend having 2-3 short, original storyboard samples. I think it's a good idea to make at least one of the samples a comedy (to show off your sense of humor and gags), and at least one of them a serious human drama (e.g. two people having a difficult conversation). The idea with the drama sample is to show off your dramatic sensibilities, your ability to draw "realistic" people (think How to Train Your Dragon or Frozen), and your ability to convey complex human emotions in how your characters act. Try to show emotions beyond just "happy", "sad", "angry". Try to get subtle and complex. Even if your character is showing a basic emotion like "happy", can you draw them in a way that feels unique to THAT character? Like they show "happy" in a slightly different way than other characters?

    Expert mode: try boarding a scene with no dialogue, no written descriptions below your panels, and no arrows. Communicate everything in your drawings and in your characters' acting.

Some examples of great Story portfolios:
Yon Lee: LINK
Andrea Walker*: LINK
Bosook Coburn: LINK
Kai Lynn Jiang: LINK
Donna Lee: LINK
McKenna Harris: LINK
Matt Jones’ Dreamworks Feature story test: LINK
*My favorite tool for formatting your boards to be "clickable" is Speaker Deck. It's free - just make a profile and you can use this tool and embed Speaker Deck in a blog post or portfolio. If you see Andrea Walker's portfolio above, she has Speaker Deck PDF slideshows embedded in her Blogger portfolio, and then she also posts .jpeg sheets of her boards below each one. This is my absolute favorite way to see boards formatted in someone's portfolio, because I can click through and see subtle movements from one board to the next. It helps me feel camera moves and see more easily what your boards will look like in an animatic. You can also format your boards to be "clickable" with Google Slides, but there is a flash of white between boards that is jarring to the eye, at least for me.

Free online resources / tutorials:
Flooby Nooby: a crash course in storyboarding for animation: LINK
StoryboardArt - free visual story course: LINK
Violaine Briat's 150-page tutorials for art and animation (pay what you want): LINK
Intro to Storyboarding with Rajen Ramkallawan: LINK
Kris W.'s free faux storyboard test: LINK
Mia Calderon's how to start storyboarding: LINK
Brad Bird on how to compose shots for storyboard and layout artists: LINK
Storyboarding the Simpson's way: LINK
Stu Livingston's Craig of the Creek boarding tips: LINK
Mike Moloney posts tons of good tips on his Instagram: LINK
^Mike Moloney also published a $10 TV Boards Survival Guide on Gumroad: LINK
Ariel VH's tips for storyboard revisionists on Amphibia: LINK
Nic Parris on how to use shorthand: LINK
Nic Parris on how to make a short more cinematic: LINK
Jim Mortensen's storyboard tips (pay what you want): LINK
Jim Mortensen gives a demonstration of how quickly recruiters look at portfolios: LINK
Portfolio advice from The Animation Guild: LINK
Ash's storyboard tips zine (pay what you want): LINK
Ben Juwono's advice on storyboarding speed/efficiency: LINK
Megan Ann Boyd's A Guide to Storyboards (pay what you want): LINK
Colin Jack's how to storyboard in Procreate: LINK
Matthew Humphreys on how to avoid over-posing / animating your boards: LINK
Stephan Park's intro to Storyboard Pro: LINK
Toniko Pantoja's tips for Story Portfolios: LINK
Emma Coats’ 22 Story Basics: LINK
Bianca Siercke's tutorial posts: LINK
Cartoon Network Studios - the art of storyboarding: LINK
Cy's tutorial on the benefits of tracing: LINK
Karen J Lloyd’s tips for storyboard tests: LINK
Corey Barnes on the importance of thumbnailing: LINK
Corey Barnes' Gumroad storyboarding tutorials (pay what you want): LINK
Next Five story game: LINK
Purge Theory's Story/Design tips: LINK
Evan E. Richards' blog dissecting cinematography in films: LINK
Toby Shelton's blog: LINK
The Amphibia crew Tumblr has lots of good behind-the-scenes stuff: LINK
Flooby Nooby breaks down cinematography in The Incredibles: LINK
Rian Johnson breaks down a scene from Knives Out: LINK
Mark Kennedy’s blog Seven Golden Camels: LINK
New Masters Academy Youtube tutorials: LINK
Toniko Pantoja's animation tutorials: LINK 
Alex Small-Butera’s Flash tutorial series: LINK
Alex Grigg: animating in PS (“phantom limb”) LINK
Ross Plaskow: After Effects LINK
Bill Plympton's production vlogs: LINK
Aaron Blaise animation videos: LINK
Justin Oaksfield's mini tutorial on environment painting: LINK
Emel's mini tutorial on how to emulate paints in Photoshop: LINK
Tamra Bonvillain's mini tutorial on how to color bookshelves in your comics quickly: LINK
My thread on how to loosen up and get bold/gestural while sketching people: LINK
Every Frame a Painting: LINK
Chris Oatley's website: LINK
Collected film lessons from Alexander Mackendrick: LINK
Brandon Sanderson's BYU lectures on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy: LINK

Paid courses / academic programs:
If you have the money....I think the top programs in North America are probably Cal-Arts, Sheridan, USC, Ringling, SCAD, and Art Center
Schoolism (I recommend Alex Woo's gesture drawing class!): LINK  
CGMA - Storyboarding for Animation: LINK
Skill Share: LINK
Brainstorm Burbank: LINK
LinkedIn Learning (previously LINK
Kevin Reed's storyboard mentorship: LINK
Rad Sechrist's classes: LINK
Leo Matsuda's Skillshare classes: LINK
Lyndon Ruddy's Art of the Storyboard: LINK
Steve Ahn's workshops:LINK
Storyboarding with Kris Pearn: LINK
Concept Design Academy: LINK
Animation Mentor: LINK
Gobelins character animation summer program: LINK
The Animation Guild offers periodic classes: LINK
SILA classes: LINK
California State Summer School for the Arts' animation program: LINK
CalArts' extended studies (check out the summer Animation intensive program): LINK
Oatley Academy: LINK
Animsquad: LINK
iAnimate: LINK
Aaron Blaise's Fundamentals of Animation course: LINK
The Animation Collaborative: LINK
The Story Whisperer: LINK
Bloop's Animation for Beginners: LINK
Tron Mai’s story classes (normally at CDA, but do your own search for the latest info)

"Storyboarder" (free!): LINK
Toon Boom's "Storyboard Pro" (WIDELY used in studios, especially in TV): LINK
Photoshop: LINK
Procreate: LINK 

Animation organizations:
Women In Animation: LINK
The Animation Guild: LINK 

Lightbox Expo: LINK
Los Angeles Animation Festival: LINK
Gallery Nucleus: LINK
Center Stage Gallery: LINK
Pop Secret Gallery: LINK
Model Drawing Collective Empowering Models/Inspiring Artists life drawing: LINK
Spirit Drawing (costumed, often spooky/sexy themes): LINK

Contemporary story artists to follow / study:
Johane Matte: LINK
Samantha Vilfort: LINK
Lissa Treiman: LINK
Kellye Perdue: LINK
Maddie Sharafian: LINK
Pete Sohn: LINK
Fawn Veerasunthorn: LINK
Allen Ostergar IV: LINK
Donna Lee: LINK
Stephanie Stine: LINK
Mia Calderone: LINK
Leo Matsuda: LINK
Rob Porter: LINK
Wesley Fuh: LINK
Yon Lee: LINK
Domee Shi: LINK
Stu Livingston: LINK
Toby Shelton: LINK
Normand Lemay: LINK
David Derrick: LINK
Dave Pimentel: LINK
Steve Ahn: LINK
Louie del Carmen: LINK
Chris Sanders: LINK
Anthony Holden: LINK
Alex Woo: LINK
Michael Yates: LINK
Madeleine Flores: LINK
Clio Chiang: LINK
John Ripa: LINK
Griz & Norm: LINK
Jeremy Spears: LINK
Rad Sechrist: LINK
Colin Jack: LINK
Valerie LaPointe: LINK
Matthew Luhn: LINK
Dean Kelly: LINK
A few story art masters:
Bill Peet: LINK
Chuck Jones: LINK
Kiraz: LINK
Quentin Blake: LINK
Hayao Miyazaki: LINK
Norman Rockwell:LINK
Storyboards and animatics to watch and study:
You'd be surprised how much stuff is publicly available online - try Googling any of your favorite animated shows / films and seeing if the boards or animatics are available to watch! Try searching "(show name) storyboards" and "(show name) animatic". The links below may not work anymore because this stuff does tend to get pulled down. But just do your own searching and I'm sure you can find them again!
Lissa Treiman boards for Raya and the Last Dragon: LINK
Hannah Ayoubi's pilot animatic for Monsters Abroad: LINK 
^Don't miss her Twitter thread sharing behind-the-scenes art and insights!: LINK
Johane Matte boards for Trollhunters: LINK
Craig of the Creek boards by Lamar Abrams and Charmaine Verhagen: LINK
Joe Johnston "It's over isn't it": LINK
^Don't miss Joe's behind-the-scenes look at how he crafted this scene!: LINK
A big free, online archive of Adventure Time storyboards: LINK
Lego Movie clips by various artists: LINK
Kiki’s Delivery Service: LINK
Wreck It Ralph deleted scenes: LINK
Glen Keane thumbnails from Tarzan: LINK
The Boxtrolls: LINK
Star vs The Forces of Evil: LINK
Penguins of Madagascar: LINK
Ratatouille: LINK
Steven Universe: LINK
Frozen: LINK
Jesse Wong's Infinity Train boards: LINK
Craig of the Creek: LINK
Dan Abraham's boards for Lost in the Woods from Frozen 2: LINK
Legend of Korra book 3 chapter 1: LINK
Storyboarding (and related) Books:
Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animated Features and Shorts by Nancy Beiman
Storyboards: Motion in Art by Mark Simon
Art of Storyboard by Don Bluth
Professional Storyboarding
100 Tuesday Tips by Griz and Norm (I believe it is sold out at the moment, but please take the time to dig through their original Tumblr with all of the Tuesday Tips posts - this is really a goldmine for Story artists.)
Studio Ghibli's storyboard books (even in Japanese these are incredibly useful to study)
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder 
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri
Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach by Paul Joseph Gulino
Movie Storyboards by Mulligan
The Visual Story by Bruce Block
Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz
Five C’s of Cinematography
Master Shots by Christopher Kenworthy
Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre
Framed Perspective by Marcos Mateu-Mestre
On Film-Making by Alexander Mackendrick
Animation Writing and Development: from Script to Pitch
Directing the Story by Francis Glebas
Setting Up Your Shots by Jeremy Vineyard
Projections 5: Film-makers on Film-making
The Big Lebowski by Robertson Cooke
Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film

Kingdom of Heaven: the Ridley Scott Film and the History Behind It
My Life, Drawing by Matt Jones: LINK
The Animator's Survival Kit
Drawing People: How to Portray the Clothed Figure
Andrew Loomis's books
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists
How to Draw Anime & Game Characteres (volumes 1 & 2 in particular)
Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes
Story by Robert McKee
On Writing by Stephen King
Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators
Color and Light: Life Drawing for Animators

Dreamworlds by Hans Bacher

Online figure drawing sites:
Line of Action: LINK
Quick Poses: LINK
Sketch Daily: LINK
Croquis Cafe: LINK
Senshi Stock: LINK
Proko: LINK
New Masters Academy: LINK
Love Lifedrawing: LINK
Bodies in Motion: LINK
Reference.Pictures: LINK
I also made a Youtube video with a bunch of figure drawing advice for cartoonists: LINK

Walt Disney (PBS documentary): LINK
Imagining Zootopia
Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II 

The Animation Happy Hour: LINK
^I HIGHLY recommend every artist listen to episode 8 of The Animation Happy Hour, which takes a deep dive into finances for artists, including art school, loans, etc. - LINK
The Culture: LINK
TonkoCast: LINK
Cartoon Saloon's The Speakeasy podcast: LINK
The Screenwriting Life: LINK
Black N' Animated: LINK
The Ink and Paint Girls Podcast: LINK
Minkyu and Shiyoon - An Animation Podcast: LINK
The Bancroft Brothers: LINK
The Visual Storytelling Podcast: LINK
The Animated Journey (now finished): LINK

Youtube channels:
Rise Up Animation: LINK
Tonko House: LINK
Dwooman: LINK
Jim Mortensen: LINK
MewTripled: LINK
Laura Price: LINK
Toniko Pantoja: LINK
BaM Animation: LINK
ThirdChildFilms: LINK
The NerdWriter: LINK
Matthew Humphreys' Storyboards101: LINK

Other resources:
Check out the tag #PortfolioDay on Twitter, and post your work to it
The Animation Guild (learn your rights, and check out the wages PDF!): LINK
The Animation Happy Hour podcast has their own list of resources, a little more geared towards Animators: LINK
LoopdeLoop: LINK
11 Second Club: LINK
Glassdoor – employees review the companies they work for and report their real salaries: LINK
Value graphics tablets: LINK

Studios / job portal links:
Chris Mayne's Animation/VFX/Game industry aggregate site (it's INCREDIBLE; send him a few bucks to support the site if you can!): LINK
Disney feature: LINK
Dreamworks: LINK
Sony Pictures Animation: LINK
Paramount Animation: LINK
Illumination MacGuff: LINK
SkyDance Media: LINK
Disney Television Animation: LINK
Nickelodeon: LINK
Cartoon Network: LINK
Titmouse: LINK
Bento Box: LINK
Blue Sky: LINK
Cartoon Saloon: LINK
Aardman: LINK
Spa Studios: LINK
Shadow Machine: LINK
Brown Bag Films: LINK
LucasFilm: LINK
Marvel Animation
South Park studios
20th Century FOX Animation
Fuzzy Door Productions
Warner Brothers, Warner Animation Group (WAG)
Blue Spirit: LINK
Method Studios: LINK
Nord-Ouest films: LINK
Moonbot Studios: LINK
Teamto: LINK
ToonBox Entertainment: LINK
Studio Hari: LINK
Yapiko Animation: LINK
Kawanimation: LINK
Quatre21: LINK
Rooster Teeth: LINK
Ubisoft: LINK
Nintendo: LINK
Pretty Simple: LINK
Liquid Development: LINK
Bent Image Lab: LINK
Game Loft: LINK
Chez Soi / Studio Soi in Germany: LINK
Film Roman: LINK
Nitrogen Studios: LINK
Atomic Cartoons: LINK
Bardel Entertainment: LINK
Deep Sky Studios: LINK
2 Minutes: LINK
Mikros Image Animation: LINK
Gaumont Animation: LINK
Caribara Animation: LINK
Studio 100: LINK
Knightworks: LINK
Wako Factory: LINK
Man of Action Entertainment: LINK
Aeria Games: LINK
Kabam: LINK
Kobojo: LINK
Pocket Gems: LINK
Quantic Dream: LINK
Big Bad Boo: LINK
Nintai Studio: LINK
Monster (aggregate job site): LINK
Indeed (aggregate job site): LINK
Entertainment Careers (aggregate job site): LINK
Creative Heads (aggregate job site): LINK  
AFJV – French aggregate job site with primarily video game art positions, many of which seek English-speaking candidates: LINK


  1. I think the YouTube link to the Zootopia documentary you've posted has been taken down. Sad day...

    But maybe a search for "Imagining Zootopia" will always work?

  2. Nice set of links.

    Some other great FREE animation tutorials are on Aaron Blaise's YouTube Channel and on Toniko Pantoja's YouTube Channel -

    1. Thanks, David! Ah, facepalm, how could I forget Toniko Pantoja's videos? I studied those, they're great.

  3. Do you use Storybiard Pro to draw your drawings on?

  4. This is an amazing list!!! I'm going to take the time to look into as many as I can. Thank you so much for offering it all. I think I might just buy your book!

  5. Is there a way to purchase this as a physical book? Would like to have a copy for our professional library.

    1. Thank you thank you! I'm talking to publishers now, hoping to make a deal for a print version of the comic. :) Fingers crossed!

  6. OMG!! You're such an angel! I've learned so much with you and you inspire me! Thanks for everything! :)

  7. Wowzer, that's a lot of resources!! Thanks so much Natalie!! Loved your book and your presentation you did at Nucleus a while back!

  8. I like your all post. You have done really good work. Thank you for the information you provide, it helped me a lot. I hope to have many more entries or so from you.
    Very interesting blog.