We Interviewed Paul Briggs - Storyboard Supervisor at Walt Disney Animations Studios

Posted at Aug 21st, 2013 by AnimDesk.

Paul Briggs - Storyboard Supervisor at Walt Disney Animations Studios

Paul Briggs works as a storyboard supervisor at Walt Disney Animations Studios, his latest film project includes: Big Hero 6 and Frozen, that came out in November, 2013. Paul have been working with Disney Animation for 16 years, but also had the privilege to work with Warner Bros', Animation and Nickelodeon Animation Studios.

Paul grew up in San Antonio, Texas. but moved around a lot when he was younger. He studied in a small private art school in Kansas City, MO called "Kansas City Art Institute". Paul applied for the Disney Animation internship after an instructor in his school kept pushing him for this opportunity.

As of 2013, Paul is assigned to work as the storyboard supervisor on Disney's upcoming 3D animated movie: Big Hero 6.

Thank you very much Paul Briggs for this interview, would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself?

Hello, my name is Paul Briggs; I'm a story supervisor for Walt Disney Animations Studios film Frozen that comes out in November. I have been working with Disney Animation for 16 years but have also had the privilege to work with Warner Bros. Animation and Nickelodeon Animation Studios.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?

I'm from San Antonio, Texas but moved around a lot when I was younger. Not because my family was military, my father was an architect and we moved around depending on the firm he worked for. We lived in California, Florida, Different areas in Texas and Arkansas. I counted the other day and I lived in 16 different houses before I graduated high school!

Did you draw a lot growing up?

I have been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil.

Which animation school did you go to?

I went to a small private art school in Kansas City, MO called the Kansas City Art Institute. I didn't really know a lot about art schools but I knew I loved the great animator Marc Davis' work. He went there so, I decided to follow his path. Later I found out that Walt Disney himself attended for a brief time.

I decided to follow Marc Davis' path. Later on I found out that Walt Disney himself attended at the same school I've studied, for a brief time.

How did you end up working for Disney Animation Studios?

An instructor of mine in college kept pushing me to apply for a Disney Animation internship. I kept putting it off because part of me couldn't see working for a large corporation like Disney. A few days before it was due I threw some stuff together and did some new drawings and sent it over night. A couple of months later they called me and told me I was accepted!

Why did you decide to be a storyboard artist and not an animator?

I was in Effects animation for 9 years but always wanted to do Story. I was constantly analyzing scenes and sequences as they would come into the Effects department and would ask myself "why is this sequence in the movie?" Sometimes I would get so frustrated not understanding the why and couldn't understand the story point.

After grumbling about a particular scene, I told myself to either shut up or, if I thought I could do better, to go and do it. That's when I began my journey and education in becoming a story artist. I put in a lot of time doing test after test and reading and attending as many lectures on story that I could.

I also had some great mentoring from Dean Deblois and a couple of other great artists along the way. I applied for a story training position and that began my career as an official story artist.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

I had a lot of fun working on Lilo and Stitch. There was a lot of amazing work produced for that film.

I'm most proud of Frozen though. I think the crew is one of the strongest I've ever worked with. We all came together to really make something special.

What’s a typical week for you in the studio?

Frozen - A Walt Disney Animated Film

I came onto Frozen a little over a year ago and because of the schedule we were turning sequences around really fast. Usually we would issue pages on Monday morning and expect to see a rough pass by Friday. At the end of the week we would look at sequences pitched in the story room and give notes.

The directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and I would meet with the songwriters, Bobby and Kristen Lopez every other day to discuss storytelling in the songwriting. Then we also have editorial meetings where we would look at the latest cut of the sequences that had been previously been turned over.

On top of that there are scheduling and management meetings as well as I was also boarding. So on top of everything I would have to get my work done! Yeesh! I love it though. Everyday my job challenges and energizes me, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the World.

Everyday my job challenges and energizes me, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the World.

What are the key points you learned throughout the years when doing story boards?

I still ask the same question I had when I started in story - "why is this moment in the film?" When that clear I strip away everything else and try to strengthen the characters and make it entertaining so it deserves to stay in the film.

Clarity in communication. You have to communicate your ideas clearly both verbally and visually so that there's no confusion.

Be truthful because your audience will know when you're not.

What part of your job do you like best and why?

I love to talk story and film. It's a common language with the other artists and we all get excited over strong ideas and visuals. There's energy when a story is clicking and it becomes inspiring.

What was your hardest panel you had to come up with in one of your stories you worked on?

The hardest panels are always the most subtle acting expressions. There are always shots where you want the eyes to convey everything. Whether it's a character falling in love with someone or possibly they've just been hurt emotionally and are feeling it only on the inside, it's always the eyes that have to convey it. It's so difficult because it has to feel true. Your drawing has to make an audience member feel that same way.

How closely are you working with animators? Do you trade ideas? Changing shots?

There's a turnover process in which all of the departments are involved in strengthening the shots and camera choices. Everyone has input on what could make it stronger from Animators, Layout, Effects, Lighting, and so on. Again, communication is the key.

I worked closely with the amazing Lino DiSalvo who supervised animation. I would communicate with him where the story changes were happening and he would update me on acting choices and discoveries the animators were having with the characters.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?

The hardest part is sometimes you go down wrong paths. You don't know it at the time but you have to go down a story path to see if it will work. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Even if you're in love with an idea and it doesn't work you have to be able to step back and understand why it doesn't work. You have to keep moving forward and not stall out.

The hardest part is sometimes you go down wrong paths. You don't know it at the time but you have to go down a story path to see if it will work.

What is your favorite 2D or 3D animated film, and why

2D is tough to choose - Pinocchio is such a wonderful film. I think it's so wonderfully animated but Dumbo really hits me on an emotional level. One of the best film moments is when Dumbo says goodbye to his mother in the Baby Mine Song sequence. The separation of child and parent is so heavy but done in such a delicate way. I really love that.

The Incredibles is close to a perfect film. I really enjoy the design, action and entertainment in it but when Mr. Incredible turns to Mrs. Incredible and admits he's not strong enough to lose her again.... sniff, ....get's me every time!

What are your thoughts about Anime? Are you a fan or prefer good old American animation?

I have a lot of respect for Anime. I think it pushes itself much farther than American animation. It really takes advantage of the medium.

Who influenced you mostly in the animation business? Who is your ultimate Mentor?

Dean Deblois is a great friend and really helped me when I first started figuring out story. Along the way I've had different mentors each teaching me something new and unique. I think the story department at the studio really pushes each other too. There's a shared knowledge and we help each other develop and grow.

My ultimate mentor would be my Mom. She helped cultivate my passion for drawing and entertainment and continues to inspire me.

My ultimate mentor would be my Mom. She helped cultivate my passion for drawing and entertainment and continues to inspire me.

If someone would like to apply for a storyboard artist opening, what would you advise him to have in his portfolio?

First off you have to be a strong quick sketch artist - You're drawings have to communicate your ideas clearly. You can't still be learning the basics of drawing.

It's not all about the drawings though - we're looking for someone who can tell an engaging, compelling and entertaining story. That requires an understanding of character, screenwriting and story structure.

Is there any advice you can give to an aspiring story board artist trying to get into the animation business?

You could try and do a test and tell a story in as few boards as possible. Take a very simple idea with as few characters as possible - make it compelling and engaging and fun for animation. It's a great challenge and proves a lot.

Show you're work to someone who will give you honest and constructive feedback. Find a strong mentor.

We do offer internships and training programs, but we have to see a strong foundation of skills before we invest in someone. To apply for the internship program, head over to www.disneyanimation.com and take a look under careers.

Thank you Paul for this wonderful interview! We wish you much success in your future animation business.

Thank you, sorry it took so long to do!