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Comic Con 2015: Illustrators – Film & TV’s Hidden Gems

The 2015 Comic Con fans who packed the Art Directors Guild special panel “Illustrators: The Hidden Gems of Film and TV” learned, within the first five minutes, storyboards can be as diverse as the content they depict. The work of the panelists including Amy Lynn Umezu (Kong: Skull Island, Insurgent), Robert McKinnon (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Terminator 2) Patrick Rodriguez (The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2), Jeffrey Errico (Terminator Genisys, NWA Straight Outta Compton) and moderator Tim Burgard (Fantastic Four, Jurassic World) ranged from simple pencil drawings to fully realized graphic art that left no detail unturned.

Representing as diverse a range of ages as styles on the Comic Con panel, the illustrators shared their experiences breaking into the field. Now fully integrated into the ADG (Local 800), the illustrators and matte painters have found breaking into the film and television field and acquiring jobs a simpler and more streamlined process. Prior to 2008, illustrators and matte painters had an independent union – an organization that had gone through a multitude of names and leaderships since 1930. Working on major films and television series required union membership and many hurdles to overcome.

Errico got his start in comic books while working for free on friends’ independent films. After years of developing his skills in New York, Errico decided to move to LA and “said yes to everything” in order to obtain contacts and remain at the forefront of people’s minds.

“I had to show up and be persistent,” said Errico.

Umezu’s earliest ambition was to break into animation. After learning she didn’t have the proper painting skills, she fell back on the storyboarding class she’d taken in college. She also moved to LA and took any opportunity – including unpaid work – in order to gain experience and make contacts.

“I met Jeff (Errico) early on after I moved to LA,” said Umezu. “We kind of grew up together as story board artists.”

McKinnon described his initial foray in the business creating designs for theme parks. His earliest forms of storyboarding came through working on music videos until his lucky break when he was asked to do concept drawings for “Independence Day.”

Rodriguez joked about his early attempts at breaking into the illustrator business:
“When people would ask me about what I’d like to do, I’d tell them, ‘I’d like to do storyboards, and I’d also like to be an astronaut.’”

He spent years developing comic book pages and eventually studied previs to break into the business.

The panelist reflected on how digital has affected their jobs. McKinnon recalled a moment during “Iron Man 3” when he wanted to quickly illustrate a concept and wasn’t able to find a pen in the art department.

“The art department used to have a heavy ammonia smell and be filled with light streaming in from open windows,” said McKinnon. “Now it’s a dark room with screens – everything is digital.”

While traditional sketching may still be requested, each panelist expressed satisfaction at the speed they can approach projects, specifically when it comes to making quick adjustments. While admitting he sometimes wishes he could simply hand draw an idea, Rodriguez voiced his enthusiasm for the electronic shift. “The applications really open doors. I sit there and ask myself, ‘Which one should I chose?’ We can really provide the exact detail for our designs.”

“I saw the writing on the wall in ‘Jumanji’ – I saw the switch to technology happen in that movie,” said Burgard. “Production design was using Photoshop and scanning paintings and pictures. Eventually it is like the rapids – you just have to jump in your canoe and wear your trunks out.”

Noting a long line of attendees eager to ask questions, Burgard allotted plenty of time for questions and answers. When an attendee asked how they keep up their creative motivation, the panelists shared tips about constantly practicing on anatomy, learning as much about camera moves and perspective, study other artists, particularly those with very different styles, and to also allow for time to take a break and unplug from long days that can range from 12-15 hours.

“For me, I always have my own personal projects, it gives me something to show that presents my passion,” said Rodriguez. “I want to be able to do my own thing.”

To learn more about the Art Directors Guild and their upcoming activities, please visit their website: