What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Scotland D. Barnes, and I am currently a freelance storyboard and character design artist and part-time instructor at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco.
I worked in a recycling center and you had all sorts of under-handed people and sometimes blatant con-men trying to get away with stuff. Often trying to drop off material (such as chemicals that have to handled by the state), or were trying to steal material that had been dropped off (and had they been injured getting whatever it was they were getting, would have been an insurance issue). Several times I had to break up fights between people over redeeming their cans and bottles. I also worked in a bar for a bit. There you just see the worse of people. Guys too drunk to walk, urinating themselves at the bar, having to haul them outside to avoid them making a mess. Even at a bookstore I dealt with teens doing stuff like acid and then puking all over the children’s books.
I just finished working freelance as a storyboard artist on a pilot for Cartoon Network Asia/Bogan Entertainment. It was the largest amount of boards I’ve done so far, and the show is really entertaining. Working on a Scooby-Doo direct-to-dvd was a lot of fun. Getting to work on such iconic characters was a great. It wasn’t one of those things that I ever set as a goal, but when it happened it turned out to be really rewarding.
I’m from San Diego County but I’m currently in San Francisco. I got my first break at Nickelodeon Animation Studios as an intern on “the Mighty B!”. Since then it’s just been a long process of hammering on doors and surviving. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve been making any real progress.
Unlike most artist at a studio job, I don’t have a truly typical day. Each is a little different, as it comes in waves of time, distinct periods. Teaching is the majority of time, but then a freelance job comes along, which is great, but complicates everything, because everything is now double booked. Even with teaching, which has a routine to it, is still different because I don’t teach one subject. Each class I have is usually different each day.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
It’s all fun and interesting. With storyboards it always the excitement of exploring a story, finding those moments that are going to be memorable scenes, and getting the characters to come to life. Doing character designs is always a great change of pace when I get to do it. It feels more like sculpting me these days to me. Storyboarding feels like an intense areboric exercise, which is awesome, but it leaves you drained just like exercise. The drawing alone can often be worth it. You can often get frustrated but then you remember – “hey, I’m going to get to draw all day!” Then you just have to smack yourself for complaining. Teaching was something I was not expecting to enjoy, but once you see a student make progress or even leap beyond what they were dealing with, it can be amazing. It’s always about understanding a problem from a new point-of-view. You cannot explain something from one perspective, because it won’t work for every student. Trying to come up those variations is challenging. And of course, you really have to listen to the student. They usually do not have the language (and a lot of pros do not either) to explain what they are struggling with. So you have to piece things together. I usually have to look at their drawings a bit before jumping in. By observing you can get at ideas and practices that the student has yet to realize. That can lead to these great “ah-ha!” moments when you hit on them.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
As always, the constant juggling of everything. And then when the end of a job or semester hits, it can be really jarring to have time again. I can find myself absolutely lost just staring at walls trying to remember what I’m suppose to be doing. The money worries kick in at those time, and just gnaw at you. On the job and at teaching, I get really tired of the egos. Dealing with both art leads, and other instructors who list their resume at you as if it’s a solution. What they are trying to do is give a reason to listen to them, but that does not explain what the problem is. A lot of the older instructors and art leads have forgotten how to explain something. I really hate the “it’s magic” answer. Some instructors rely on “happy accidents” in their work. I’m not sure how that is ever appropriate, let alone “professional”. Department rivalries are exhausting. On production I’ve heard of crews fighting each other for resources so it seems you can never escape some of this stuff.
Just about everything I do for freelance or teaching has to do with technology. What got me into teaching was my knowledge of software. And for freelance I’m rarely in the same city, and some times not even the same country as the rest of the team. So computer skills as much as drawing, painting, and camera skills are required for me. The bar is just much higher than it was 10, 15, even just 5 years ago. You just have to know far more than most people initially think these days to be truly competent at your profession. Both in teaching and with pros, I’ve dealt with people who do not know the software. Seen a couple of leads lose their jobs because they could not keep up. And it’s not always the old and the gray – some of the young guys just know “tricks”, they actually do not know the software.
Juggling everything. At least right now, I don’t have a great deal of steadiness in the work as far as freelance. That comes in waves. Even on the teaching, you lurch from one semester to another. As a part timer you have no guarantees – even if everyone likes you. So you have to take (or at least you should) preventive or consequence plans. I put as much as money as possible away, because I just can’t trust situations to last. When freelance does come though, like I said, it’s great – more experience, more money, the work is fun – but it complicates life, kills any social life.
I suppose the biggest change to do would be distribution. I figure by changing the distribution or finding a way to make it cost less, then maybe that would improve the financing of films and shows. And in turn maybe that would make employment more steady in the industry. It’s way beyond me how any of that could be done. More immediately I would like recruiters to get more accurate information from their art supervisors. Some recruiters are great and can really give you information about what they are really looking for, but all that hangs on how helpful the art leads are. Some job descriptions are really lacking, or asking for too much. Job descriptions can all sound the same but one storyboard job is not the equal to another. Some are more cartoony than others, some are more action related and it’s not always clear in the job descriptions. Often I feel like I’m wasting not just my time, but everyone’s time when I apply to some jobs, only to learn later that the portfolio I sent in was not appropriate.
As for teaching, it’s the academic standards. I never knew as a student but there are all these academic institutions that set standards at universities. None of these institutions know anything about art it seems. Because the language we use to judge and understand art is so loose and un-specific at times it does not translate to other professions or even to the general public. Consequently, you see a lot of good instructors leave to form their own schools, or professionals get discouraged from teaching. I think that’s part of why we have an explosion of all these small unaccredited art schools out there. For a lot of them, students are just paying to say I studied under “so-and-so-famous-artist”. And they may be famous artist, but that does not mean they can explain what they do, let alone be helpful to others. For a lot of these schools class rooms are just to feed egos.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Not really huge, legendary names – like Glen Keane. But I have met a lot of great professionals who have all been really helpful. Guys like Ron Lemen, Louie Del Carmen, Octavio Rodriguez, Erik Weise, Jeff Snow and Rad Sechrist have all been really helpful to me. Easily the most helpful has been my teacher, Sherrie Sinclair. Meeting the “greats” is nice, but they may not be all that helpful.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I had one art lead that just could never please it seemed with any of my work. Even when it was “acceptable” it just did not seem good enough to him. And I wasn’t the only one on the team feeling that way. It was never that crits I got were wrong, in fact they were all right and really helpful. But the personality was so exhausting. It just made working absolute drudgery. Genius’ are great but they are almost never pleasant to deal with.
Not at the moment. Got a lot of work that I’m building to. So some day…
I know a lot of history. Pretty much from the Bronze Age on up I know a bit of it all. But I can really keep going on the Roman Empire. Lately I’ve been reading or watching whatever documentary I can get on the Dutch Republic, Common Wealth England, and the Inter-War Years of the 1930s.
There is always the classic of “draw all the time”, but I would say be mindful that you can’t draw all the time, because you’ll get exhausted. It’s training just like for a sport. So you can’t beat yourself up and expect to get it in a day. When you hit a drawing problem you have to take it bit by bit. Sometimes that means it will take a lot of time. And no two artist are the same – one artist will get a drawing concept before another. The truth is that if you don’t love it, then why are you doing it? As much as you try to avoid the exhaustion, it’s going to be a part of it. You have to be in for the long haul.