Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Storyboarding is an integral part of any production. The first time you see your script come to life is through the visuals of the storyboard artist. As a horror creator, I can tell you that often your monsters don't translate exactly how you wanted from script to screen. The storyboard artist is there to help you make your ideas a reality. Today we're going to look at the lucrative craft of storyboarding with industry legend Mark Simon and how he brings these creations to life.
(Original storyboards: Cult of Chucky)
When I say that Mark Simon is an industry legend, I'm really underselling him. Mark is a storyboard artist with over 5000 credits and 30 years in the industry. He's worked on many horror productions such as The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Creepshow, Cult of Chucky, You're Next and more! Commonly referred to as The Godfather of Storyboarding (and rightfully so), Mark has proved that he is a master of storytelling in any medium. I recently spoke to Mark for an exclusive interview to find out more about the undervalued world of storyboarding.
Q: Why storyboarding? How did you get into it?
Mark: I’ve always been an artist and I love telling stories. Right out of college I moved to Hollywood and started designing sets. I became an Art Director on my first movie at Roger Corman’s studio, the Lumberyard, on a movie called Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity. I Art Directed for a number of years and became the 2nd designer at the Orlando Nickelodeon Studios. But I wasn’t drawing enough. I saw lots of storyboards on my movies and liked it. So I approached Storyboards, Inc. in LA and got an agent to train me until I was ready. I started drawing storyboards full time when I worked with Spielberg on the NBC series seaQuest 2032. That was over 5,000 productions ago.
Q: What is something that most people don’t know about storyboarding?
Mark: Most people miss the ‘story’ part of our title. We help the direct visually tell the story. In fact, we should be part of the DGA, not the art department. I never take orders from the production designer. I don’t even office with the art department. I always work directly with the director and often share an office with the director.
Q: You’ve worked on many horror projects such as The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Creepshow, Chucky and etc… Do you prefer working with horror over other genres? Do you enjoy illustrating creepy subjects?
Mark: With over 5,000 credits, you could pull a big list of any type of genre and ask me the same thing. I work on Dynasty, Filthy Rich and Council of Dads (rich dramas), I work on Black Lightning and Doom Patrol (superheroes), etc. That said, I love drawing horror because it’s such cool stuff to draw. Blood, gore and zombies. I get paid for drawing that stuff. What’s not to love?
(Original storyboards: Black Lightning)
Q: The Walking Dead is on such a massive uptick in quality these days. What’s your favourite part about working on such an iconic show like The Walking Dead. Do you ever work closely with Greg Nicotero? I know he directs a handful of episodes every season.
Mark: My favorite part of working on The Walking Dead is that it’s one of my favorite shows and I get to work on it. I also get to help concept some of the kills, which is really cool. When I have time, I have fun with the walker sketches. On one episode I drew a walker as Chris Hardwick, which he then profiled on The Talking Dead. On another episode, two walkers get killed together. I drew them as me and Greg Nicotero. He knew right away, “I recognize my nose anywhere.”
I get to work with Greg quite a bit. We have a shorthand when going over shots, which helps. He’s also a hell of an artist and will often sketch what he wants, which also helps. I also work with Greg on Creepshow, of which he is the showrunner.
(Original storyboards: Creepshow)
Funny story about working with Greg, we had worked together over 20 years ago on another project before The Walking Dead. It was called The Walking Dead. The two have nothing in common. The 1990’s The Walking Dead was a Savoy Pictures film about the black man’s experience in Vietnam. It’s just funny that we worked together on two projects of the same name.
(Original storyboards: The Walking Dead)
Q: The Godfather of Storyboarding… Where did the title come from?
Mark: One interviewer called me that in a profile and then another magazine picked it up and used it. I liked the idea and took it on as a badge of honor.
They told me it came from all the work I do to promote and advance storyboarding. I’ve written the industry bible, Storyboards: Motion In Art, not in its 3rd edition. I helped develop the leading storyboard software, Storyboard Pro, which won a Primetime Engineering Emmy. I created the storyboard courses on LinkedInLearning and give live talks and demonstrations on storyboarding around the world. Add 30 years of experience and evidently I became the Godfather.
Q: You’ve just released a memoir about fending off your high school bullies. What compelled you to turn your survivor story into a memoir and do you think your experiences shaped where you are now?
Mark: I was bullied in high school. But mine turned really violent when they followed me home and attacked me and my parents in our own yard. We went through months of hell and fought back using the law. I became the first person in the country to hold parents responsible for the actions of their kids in a court of law.
While it was horrible to go through, I knew it was a great story with a great ending (I don’t want to give away how it all worked out, but it was really cool). I had tried to write the story over 20 years ago, but my writing chops weren’t strong enough. The story was good, but the way I wrote it was terrible. I finally figured, with all my storytelling experience, and helping to write so many scripts, that I was ready to do that story justice. I’m really proud the way the book, Attacked! turned out. I have the first chapter online for free here.
Funny enough, that experience directly lead me to what I do now for a living. In my junior year, I was in all the honors classes. But, with being attacked and bullied, I couldn’t concentrate and failed and dropped an advanced class. That gave me an extra class during the day. I filled that time with helping the drama department. I fell in love with drama, got a scholarship to college in drama, studied film and business and decided to move to LA a week after I graduated.
Q: What are you up to now?
Just before the Covid shutdown, I was jumping back and forth between storyboarding Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, Doom Patrol, Council of Dads, Flight Attendant and P-Valley. P-Valley and the second season of Doom Patrol come out in June 2020.
The biggest thing I’m promoting right now is my memoir, Attacked! It’s an exciting story that can be helpful to millions of people who have been, or still are being bullied. It’s available on Amazon.
If you want to learn more about the undervalued world of storyboarding from Mark Simon, visit his website www.storyboards-east.com for videos, illustrations, concept art, how to and more or visit www.marksimonbooks.com/books for many different industry level texts or even just life advice, all authored by Mark himself!
He also does these great little video animatics on his Youtube channel comparing his illustrations to final product and many other insightful videos about storyboarding.
And follow us everywhere @screechernet