Friday, April 29, 2016

45) April 29, 2016

These are pages 32, 33, 34, and 35 from a story board for a proposed series called “Roxie’s Raiders”, done by Jack Kirby for the Ruby-Spears animation studio, some time in the early ‘80’s. (My set of copies has many gaps; I invited anyone who is able to fill those gaps. I’m missing pages 4,6,12, 14 through 29, and 36 through 46.)

Now that I’m in my mid 50’s I react to Bruce Timm’s youthful reluctance to hire his heroes from the vantage point of having experienced age discrimination myself. (Or not--- people don’t tell you why they don’t hire you.) However, the question of “teachablity” remains: does being older mean one is no longer willing or able to learn and grow? I fantasize about asking Kirby if he wanted to learn how to do actual production storyboards for animation, not just do inspirational pseudo-boards.

I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, comics storyboards are similar but not the same, and many a comic book artist has foundered on the shoals of the animation industry without knowing why. Drawing for animation is a particular skill, requires a particular mind-set. One needs to be able to draw attractive, compelling still images that are also part of a sequence that, when looked at 24 times per second, depict movement. Storyboarding panels are like snapshots of a future movie, not illustrations in themselves. Unlike comics, left-to-right eye read isn’t normally a consideration, unless one is holding for several seconds on a motionless establishing shot (if there is any movement, the eye will go immediately to that.)  As seen in these samples, Kirby continually makes the mistake of taking 2 or 3 panels, the format of a pan, and treating them as a single image. Would there have been any gain by pointing this out to Jack? Did John Dorman try, or did he just sit back and enjoy the bravura spontaneity of the drawing and storytelling?

It’s possible that, if approached correctly, Kirby might have gotten it. Storyboarding for animation is its own special art form, and, if you get in the grove, can be extremely satisfying on its own terms, even apart from its utility as the template for a future film (but the second aspect is primary). Studying one’s favorite movies and figuring out how to replicate or expand on their effects or even coming up with new filmic ideas, especially in a production environment of likeminded peers, can be a heady experience, and Kirby might have really taken to it.

On the other hand, Kirby was an idea man above all else, and it probably would have been a waste of time to have him toiling in the day-to-day nuts and bolts. His was the grand vision, not the particulars. It may have been that John Dorman (assuming he was in charge in this regard) was exactly right in setting up things as they were at Ruby-Spears.

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