A Cartoonist’s Diary

Dash Shaw: Day Three

A still from My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, the movie I wrote/directed that is playing film festivals now.
A still from My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, the movie I wrote/directed that is playing film festivals now.

For the next couple of months I am dividing my day by storyboarding my next feature and arranging Discipline comic pages.

When I first started making longer animations (the IFC webseries I did in 2009) I would only storyboard. I'd read that that's what Miyazaki did. He'd storyboard and then people would write scripts based on his boards. That made the most sense to me, as I believed film was primarily a visual medium (something I no longer think).

However, in order to get other people involved (like actors, and producers, and editors) I had to start writing scripts for them. I spent years writing scripts for different projects and went to the 2010 Sundance Screenwriting Labs and did a lot of back-and-forth working and reworking scripts only to have them change dramatically once I storyboarded them.

Now what I've arrived at is this: I write a script (which takes a year or two), show it to some people, and then storyboard it and then rewrite the script based on the storyboards. The storyboarding happens in the middle and I consider it part of the scriptwriting process. Jason Schwartzman told me that when he was offered The Grand Budapest Hotel, he was sent simultaneously the script and a private Vimeo link to a drawn animatic of the entire movie with Anderson doing all of the voices. When I heard that, it completely made sense to me... Movies are so complicated and expensive, and screenplays are difficult to decode. You have to in some way completely visualize it and have something to show to get other people involved and on the same page. Especially when you're making an animated thing with an unusual aesthetic, it's nearly impossible to just hand someone a screenplay of it. I was only able to get the High School Sinking cast after I had the majority of the film drawn. I was able to show producers and other people sections of the movie and say, "This is what this is -- I'm making this thing and I want you involved." Which is a completely different position than "Here's a word document describing something I want to make."

When I boarded High School Sinking, every 8.5 X 11" sheet had two boards on it, and I colored it with colored markers. It looked like this:


The boards were just for me to look at, since they weren't being sent to an animation studio. I have friends who work on animated shows and I saw their boards were smaller and more specific, like key frames for the animators. I'm trying to do something more like that this time, even though the boards still aren't being sent to a studio. High School Sinking was a big learning process... I have a list of technical things I'm trying to do differently this time:

* Draw storyboards smaller and just in pencil.
* Make entire animatic before going to cast/other people. (if you can afford to.)
* Make a temp score with the animatic. (High School Sinking never had a temp score.)
* Record cast before animating, so you don't have to redraw to their voices.

I hope that I'm adequately utilizing everything I learned on the first feature to make the second one go faster and easier, but it's hard to tell... It requires a high level of focus and attention to board an entire feature... Mostly, what I try to do is just draw the storyboards in a room without internet and phone, so that I don't become distracted or disheartened by the outside world!


Dash Shaw is the cartoonist of Cosplayers.