A Bit of Banter with Storyboard Artist K. Douglas MacRae…
I met K. Douglas MacRae way back in the day when online fandoms consisted solely of mailing lists and IRC chat rooms. Attending a Convention in Toronto, Canada, a small group of fans had come together to celebrate the original La Femme Nikita television series. Although I was a Committee Chair for the Con, I was new to the fandom world and didn’t know much about the process of television production and behind the scene responsibilities. While checking in VIPs during the pre-event setup, I met an energy-filled production guy by the name of Doug. After directing him to a room, I eventually made my rounds and dropped back in to see how things were going. In the room there were easels with poster boards, drawings and photos. I was intrigued by the drawings which were blocked out action sequences displayed as in a comic. I recognized blueprints of the sets as well as cartoonish sketches of the actors (which I later learned were sometimes printed on daily call-sheets.) So many interesting and intriguing items. I honestly had no idea what they were for, but was pretty sure I would be sticking my head in during Doug’s panel for the Con attendees the next day to find out. This was my introduction to Storyboards and to the amazing artist, K. Douglas MacRae.
Before we move into the discussion of Doug’s work as a Storyboard Artist, I thought I’d share a little anecdote relating to the title of this feature. Following that first year, I was fortunate to attend quite a few more events in Toronto where Doug was now a popular guest. He was funny and engaging, quickly becoming a fan favorite who was known for wielding his charm and humor during the many charity auctions. His artwork was a hot commodity and brought a healthy bid, although it wasn’t always his artwork that was on the auction block. Auctions can get a bit crazy at fan events, and sometimes any random item that has a connection to the guest will be briskly bid on during the frenzy of an exuberant crowd. This one particular time, it came to the auctioneer’s attention that certain bidders would be willing to have a go at the cutoffs that Doug was actually wearing at the time. Being a good sport and since it was for charity after all, Doug stood up on a chair to afford the crowd a better view and the bidding war began. Suffice it to say that $1,000.00 was donated to a worthy charity that day in the name of all things artistically denim.
Doug and I have remained friends down through the years and I am so excited to be able to feature him with an interview here in At a Glance. Enjoy his humor, find out why he doesn’t share any photos with his face and discover just what exactly a Storyboard Artist does as we chat about these things and more.
For those of us who are unfamiliar with what a Storyboard Artist is, can you acquaint us with a little overview?
A storyboard artist draws out specific action sequences to a scene or scenes of a film, TV show or commercial.
So, what is the process..where do you fit in the scheme of the production?
I’ll meet with the director, usually at the location(s) involved in the scene(s) to be boarded. The director and I will walk through the shots one by one so that I get a good understanding of his “vision” of how the sequence plays out. I often take photos of the set or location so that I can integrate them into my drawings and make the overall picture clearer for everyone who sees the boards.
What other factors may affect the process, such as the director, writer, actor, stunt coordinator? Who has a say, and how much say do you have?
There are lots of factors that affect the process, the two biggest being time and script rewrites. I don’t think I’ve ever had more than a week to draw a complete set of storyboards on a TV series. It’s not unusual though, considering all the rewrites a script goes through. Plus when scouting locations you might not get what’s in the script due to cost, availability or many other things. Usually it’s just the director and I deciding what makes it into the boards since it’s his vision that he’s trying to translate to the crew through me and my boards. I’m essentially the interpreter. And depending on the director and how they like to work (and the size of their ego) I get a bit of say. Often directors use me as a sounding board for their own ideas since I’m obviously a very visual person. I remember two occasions where I had a lot of control over the shots. One time was during one my five seasons on the original TV series La Femme Nikita, I don’t recall which season or episode. My friend and producer, Jamie Paul Rock, walked into my office, dropped a script in my lap and said something to the effect of, “We need storyboards for scenes 37 through 42. Go nuts.” I love it when this happens cuz I literally get to design the shots myself. Then many months later when you see it on TV you’re overwhelmed with a sense of pride knowing that those shots are your baby! The second time was while I was boarding Disney’s Angels in the Infield. I was working with a fantastic writer/director named Rob King. We met on many occasions and when we got into the heavy details of the shots he’d keep asking me how I’d shoot this part or that part. I’d always have an answer since I’m seeing the film playing in my head. He loved most of my responses and even ended up changing a couple of shots based on my input.
Since you’ve worked in multiple mediums, are there any differences between film and television Storyboarding?
Nope. Money-wise though I’ve found there’s big bucks in boarding commercials.
Ok, so how did you get your start? Share with us a little history on the process of the road to becoming a Storyboard Artist, including your talent as an artist in general and your true love of comic strips/books.
I’ve literally been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. As far as doing storyboards I fell ass backward into that career. It was first season on La Femme Nikita working as a Production Assistant, and I was walking past Jamie Paul Rock’s office when he called me in. He knew I drew comics and cartoons and asked me if I had any interest in drawing storyboards. I told him I’d always wanted to but never had the opportunity. He said “You do now” and I started with a 2 Unit stunt involving a big explosion at an old power plant. It went over well enough for them to offer me every storyboard gig that came after that.
Did you undergo any specialized training?
I did my Bachelors degree in Media Studies and watched a s#%! load of films. Plus my interest in comics and other sequential art mediums really helped me a long when it came to drawing boards.
Who have been your influences/role models?
I really don’t know of anyone who has directly influenced my ability to draw storyboards. I certainly have my favorite directors like J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, etc. As for influences in my comic art, I love 80s, 90s artists like Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri and my all-time fave Jim Lee.
Any advice to share for someone starting in this field?
Yeah, go get a job in a grocery store or post office and leave all the work to me!! Nah, I’m kidding! It’s a pretty competitive business to break into though but if you really wanna do it then get an entry-level spot as a Production Assistant. It’s a great way to mingle with all departments in film/TV and you’ll meet a lot of directors (especially in episodic TV) cuz you’ll be the poor schmoe who has to pick them up at the airport. As far as education I dunno what to say. I don’t think you need to spend four years earning your degree. I’d recommend watching a lot of movies and pay specific attention to the shots and analyze, analyze, analyze what you see. Notice the flow of the images, forget the dialogue.
How about interesting stories you could share from sets, storyboard related or not =)
My god, I could get into soooo much trouble telling stories from set! And don’t get me started on wrap parties!! I dunno, my 15 years in the film and TV biz has been nothing short of awesome! I’ve worked alongside of some of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest including Geena Davis, Dan Aykroyd, Will Ferrell, John Goodman, Aretha Franklin and Samuel L. Jackson. Actually, it’s a little known fact that I was Samuel L. Jackson’s photo-double. No really, it’s true. Not bad for a white guy, huh? I was working on the Renny Harlin flick The Long Kiss Goodnight way back in ’96. There was a scene where a bruised and bloodied Samuel L. Jackson is stuck in a car that’s sitting inside one of those big rig trailers. He starts the car and there’s a shot of his foot stomping on the accelerator. That’s MY foot!!! My fifteen minutes of fame (or 1.8 seconds). And then there are many, many, many other stories for another time.
So I’ve shared that you’ve made appearances and spoke on panels at various fan conventions..what did you think about the fan attention?
It’s damned weird to be honest, being in books (ChristopherHeyn‘s Inside Section One: Creating and Producing TV’s La Femme Nikita), talking on panels at fan conventions, etc. I’m not one who likes to be the center of attention. Just look at my Facebook page You won’t find my face on there anywhere. And I’m a damned good looking guy!! I’ve just always said if I’m ever to be famous I want it to be for my name not my face. But having said all that I’d be a lying sack of $#@! if I said I didn’t like the attention I get at fan conventions. It’s always a thrill to meet the people that keep people like me employed. If you’re not watching, I’m not working! Easy as that!
Were you surprised at their interest in your field and from a crew standpoint in general, as opposed to the “stars”?
I think people are curious by nature so I wasn’t really surprised that they’d wanna talk to us (the crew) in addition to the cast. We work hand in hand and talent isn’t just found in front of the camera.
One more interview question, so let’s make it your choice by sharing something about you that might surprise us!
I have the incredible ability to back a vehicle into any parking spot with uncanny precision! In addition to that I can sing and play piano, and guitar! I’m pretty lucky my talents don’t end at the drawing board.
Thanks Doug, for your time! I think I’m going to have to take you up on the many, many, many stories for another time part. We could do a whole feature just on that! Now, before we close, how about something fun…
“Fast Five” – Questions for Fun!
Favorite food indulgence? You had me at “food”.
Favorite guilty non-food pleasure? Re-positioning furniture in my neighbor’s house while they’re away.
Celebrity crush? I can’t say with any level of accuracy but I’m near certain Courteney Cox likes me.
Which Superhero would you choose to be? Superman. Not because he’s strong and can fly but because everyone knows him and I highly doubt he’s ever had to pay for a meal in the last fifty years!
What’s on your nightstand? My god I thought you were asking about a one-night stand! Funny thing is I started to answer it! On my NIGHTSTAND: Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” and Steve Jobs’ biography. Oh, and half a chicken sandwich from last October.
In case you were wondering…the personal icon I use here on the blog is a K. Douglas MacRae original. And yes, it’s me!!
To view more of Doug’s amazing STORYBOARDS and ARTWORK, go to PAGE 2!! You can connect with Doug on his Facebook page at KD Mack, follow on Twitter at @therealKDMack, see his other projects at his IMDB listing, and make sure you check out his website!!