You’ve probably seen Mark Swan’s name a dozen times, but didn’t know it. As an animator for over 30 years, he’s worked for Walt Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and MGM, among others. Some of his credits include An American Tail, Land Before Time I, II, III, IV, Space Jam, A Goofy Movie, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Rock-A-Doodle, Thumbelina, A Troll In Central Park, Cats Don’t Dance, The Princess and the Pea, and for t.v., Thundarr the Barbarian, The Incredible Hulk, and The Smurfs. His work has taken him from L.A. to Dublin to Budapest and Barcelona. And the most amazing part of all of this is that he’s my big brother. I grew up watching his artwork on Saturday morning cartoons looking for the secret pictures he’d drawn for me to find. I’m thrilled to interview him about his career and his upcoming Kickstarter campaign for a comic book series all his own.
You’ve worked in animation for a long time. As such, you are quite familiar with storyboarding. Can you talk about the role storyboarding plays in creating an animated movie?
For people unfamiliar with storyboards I’ll often define it as making the comic book version of the movie. You’re drawing out the story shot by shot. It’s a lot like being the director because the storyboard artist reads the scripts and starts breaking things down into different shots and you’re making decisions like, should this be a long shot, medium shot or a close up, a pan shot, a dolly shot. You’re concerned about the composition, the acting and the transitions from shot to shot. You have various story points that you have to keep in mind, and in storyboarding, the artists think up much of the visual humor, and visual interest.
When you get a script, how do you go about creating the pictures to go along with it?
As I read a script, I get images in my mind and I’ll make a little thumbnail sketch or write a little note in the margins. I’d probably read through it a few different times and then start sketching things out. After getting the first sketches done then you have to review and edit things. In the old days we used to pin up sketches on a cork board so you could move things around, add new drawings or pull some down. You are looking for the flow of the story, the entertainment value and checking to see if you hit all the important story points for that scene.