Updated: Apr 14, 2021
This last week, the SCAD HoneyDripper team arranged to interview a SCAD sequential arts professor, Robert Castillo, about his experiences in the industry as a storyboarder for the last twenty years.
Interview conducted by Editor-in-Chief of SCAD HoneyDripper, Jackie Kuhn.
Transcript of the video interview above available below.
Kuhn: Okay so, I'm Jackie Kuhn for people who are watching the recording, this is Professor Castillo from the sequential arts department. I'm the Editor-In-Chief of HoneyDripper and for my first question I wanted to say, Professor Castillo, your IMDB page gives a lot of information and you have a very long list of experience storyboarding in your field, from stuff like “Jumanji” to “Spider-Man.” Do you have a favorite job you'd like to share?
Castillo: Oh wow, favorite job, favorite job, oh my God there's so many. Let me see if I could think of one. Off the top of my head, I think it would be the first movie I worked on, it was called “The Cookout” with Queen Latifah and the thing is, even though it was the first movie and I didn't make a lot of money, I don't think people knew what my role was going to be as a storyboard artist. So they kind of asked me, they were new to it, they're like “Hey what does the storyboard artist do?” So I kind of wanted to be around the actors, there were a lot of actors there. All kinds of actors like Queen Latifah, there were rappers, and there were other actors there, so I said “Yeah I can be on the set.” So I got to be on the set of the movie and be around all these actors, like well known actors that were in that movie so they let me be on the set and I had a lot of fun. I wanted to be on a movie set and see how it all came together.
Castillo: I got to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Queen Latifa in the woods.
Kuhn: That probably helped with shots too.
Castillo: Yeah definitely, because I was there, you know? Usually you're not there, you're in your room or you're in an office somewhere. So that would be number one, maybe if there's a number two, I would say “Captain Marvel.” Because, I love Marvel, as you can see behind me, I love superheroes. So when they called me to do concept art and storyboards for that I was nervous but excited at the same time, you know?
Kuhn: Yeah! I never actually got to see that one, but I heard so many good things that I’ll definitely check it out.
Castillo: It was good, it was good, some people have mixed feelings, but I think it was a lot of fun, it was great, and also they wrote an article on it. They actually contacted me about what it meant to work on that movie which was interesting. It was great, I got to say that it was great to have a female superhero, you know? A lot of girls can look up to her, and that's important with the world we live in. This world is changing, you know, most of the superheroes I grew up with had the men as the superhero and the women in distress. That's the old world, you know?
Castillo: Women are superheroes now, which is great! They’re also different colors, different races, it’s a great thing, you know?
Kuhn: I’ve noticed that a lot. One thing that stood out to me was the new “Incredibles” movie that came out a couple years ago. Where Elastigirl was the main character, which was very fun to me. It was just nice to see that stuff going around, and I'm glad that you get to work on that stuff too.
Castillo: Yeah, we are all different people, different races, different sexes, different sexual preferences, it doesn't matter! That’s what makes us all interesting and that's why it's great to work in an industry like that, where you meet people that are different from you. You respect where they're coming from and you get to create with them, so I love what I do. I love it.
Kuhn: Yeah! Well clearly being an industry that long and just talking to you now, you have a lot of passion for the craft, I can assume. Could you speak a little bit about why storyboarding became your career choice and did you have any other plans before you chose storyboarding?
Castillo: That's a really good question. It's funny because when I was young, I loved looking at Disney books, like a lot of us. And you watch movies like “Dumbo,” “Cinderella,” and “Bambi,” and I wanted to do animation. I was like, “I want to work at Disney! I want to be an animator!” So I tried to set that goal, and then I applied to school. I remember studying traditional animation, I realized getting into animation was so much work and how patient you have to be with how you have to redraw things and shoot it again. Then I tried 3D animation, and I was like, “I don't have the patience with this!” I realized I like drawing quickly and getting things done quickly. Revising things in animation took a lot of time and patience. I started looking around and I remember watching movies and seeing at the end where it said, the making of the movie. I saw storyboards and went, “Wow, I could do that, I draw well, I could do that,” so, I looked into storyboarding. I started doing it for students, when I was at the School of Visual Arts, where I got my master's. Students then would pay me like $50 or $80, and from there it led to a music video. My brother was in a movie, he's an actor, and I went on a movie set with my portfolio and I ended up working on a music video and then from there it was good money. I said, “Wow I could do this. I can make money doing this. I'm quick and I don't have to do animation, I just draw frames!” So, I got to still draw, do it quickly, and get paid. That's how I got into it and I just kept doing it and it's now been twenty years. My god, it's crazy.
Kuhn: Yeah, I think that that's a pretty universal experience- that's one of the main reasons that I’m in storyboarding- for people who are in the sequential arts major, just because the technical aspect doesn't appeal to me as much. But, I do like working out the basic shots and stuff like that.
Castillo: Yeah, you're still doing a lot of stuff! Really, people don't understand what goes into storyboarding. You're a designer, you're a storyteller, you're a craftsperson. You have to know a little bit of film, and a lot of shots. It's like you're directing on paper, so it's like you're one like visualizing it on paper and making a lot of decisions. Of course, you’re speaking to the director, but a lot of your stuff ends up in the movie or the video. When you're watching it, you’re like, “Oh my god, I remember coming up with that idea!” It's awesome, you know, because you're balancing almost everything in the spectrum of light, and tone.
Kuhn: Yeah, you can have a lot of power creating the story, because so much of it is really the visuals. Well, obviously you've made a pretty good place for yourself in the industry after two decades, but did you find that it was an industry that was easy to break into? And, do you have any advice for recent grads trying to enter the industry?
Castillo: It wasn't easy at first. I learned in the beginning that it was about making connections, it was also about skill, you know what I'm saying? I remember the first job I got. I had got out of the School of Visual Arts and I’d just won a student academy award doing a short film where I got to draw. The first movie I got, they were excited to have me, but there were a lot of things I didn't know about shots, about transitions, about composition, that I wish I knew more of and I ended up losing that job. It wasn't easy because I didn't have a lot of knowledge. Nowadays it's better, and there's so much knowledge, there's so much out there. But also my advice to people that want to do it when they graduate is to try to learn as much as you can about films and try to learn about film language and shot composition, and how shots work. Like the 180-degree rule, there's so many things that if you learn it's just going to help you. So the more shots you know, the more versed you are the better. But also, make contacts! Stay in contact with your peers, I know you know SCAD has a film department and that's a great way to start right there. Start helping some of those students with their projects. Because they might hire you, they might be writing movies out there one day, and you might be working with them! But also, you could get a lot of skills, by working with students now, and learning how you could help out with their movies.
Kuhn: Yeah, I think one part that I've always really enjoyed about SCAD is how collaborative it is with the departments overlapping. I know that a lot of the sequential arts department overlaps with the illustration department, which is fun.
Kuhn: Well, being in the industry for so long, have you noticed any shifts in demand for the types of storyboarding jobs that you're getting? Or any specific types of jobs that you get more than others?
Castillo: Yeah, I'm seeing more of a shift towards advertising commercials. Advertisements online, there's so many advertisements, to the point where I have dedicated myself to do a class. I'm talking with my peers in sequential arts and I’m trying to create a class that deals with commercials, advertising, and music videos because almost like 85 to 90% of the jobs I’ve been doing for the past five years have been advertising commercials for products. Even going to the movies, I remember when I was younger, there were no commercials in movie theaters. You probably grew into them.
Kuhn: What at a time.
Castillo: Yeah! You see commercials online, there's ads playing on your phone. So advertising commercials are such a big portion, I get called almost every week for a job where they're selling soda, hair products, food, or whatever. It's just amazing, you know, there’s billions of dollars in it. So that is the big one, the next one I would say is games. There's a lot of need for storyboards for games, whether it's the little intro movies, or just how the game is going to work out. So that's a big deal, but yeah mostly advertising. I'm doing more of that more than ever now, you know?
Kuhn: Yeah, I think that I see a lot of that from specifically music artists. I see a lot of people doing their own work as artists for how they want to shoot music videos. It definitely shows that there's a need for that in the industry, and that it is getting more popular.
Castillo: There always is. There was a time where I was nervous, because there were these programs that came out. There were storyboard programs that came out where you can put people together and and then do the shot. Now this helps to an extent, but a person talking, like me and you, and then sketching is still way faster than that because you’ve still got to set things up and you’ve got to render and do all that. But when you’ve got two people talking, sharing ideas, and sketching, I mean you can't beat that. The commercial I'm doing now, I talked to a guy named Mike, and I worked with him ten years ago. It's been a long time, so I talked to him on Friday and he's like, “Hey, this is what I want,” and he sent me all these photos and ideas. So what I did was a really quick sketch, sent it to him, he approved it. Now I'm cleaning it up. That's it and then you have that connection. We're still human, we still have to connect as humans, no matter how much technology we have. You still have to try to figure out what this storyteller is trying to say. I don't think any program can do that.
Kuhn: Yeah I agree, I think a good comparison of that is one of the projects I had with you. We used Sketch Up to create a scene versus the actual sketch of the scene. The Sketch Up model didn't look very energetic or anything. It doesn't quite get the same feeling.
Castillo: Yeah, it helps to some extent to get certain things worked out so I tell people don't worry about programs. They’re like, “Oh, I should learn all these programs?” But use them sparingly, use them for yourself. The best computer, the best app is your brain. Your idea and who you are is important, there's no one else in the world like you. There might be someone with your name but there's no one like you. Your feelings, your experiences that you went through, your voice is important in the world. A lot of people could connect to it like, “Wow, I could connect to Jackie’s stories, I also went through that.”
Kuhn: Yeah, I think that's an important part of any sort of art field, is just being able to take in experiences from people that you don't know. Just using the human experience in general, outside of just using a program.
Castillo: Exactly and I learned that when I was at the School of Visual Arts. When I won the Student Oscar I remember, there was a student who, technically, his movie was so beautiful, technically. But then my movie was rough, it was just me drawing but I beat him because people cried, and people laughed when they looked at my movie. When they looked at his movie they were like, “Wow, that's so cool, the lights and the 3D render he did,” but you know that that's not what it's about. It's about touching people, really we’re in the business of emotion. So when you read a book, when you look at a graphic novel, or look at a comic you could get emotional by that image, and the image is playing with your emotion still.
Kuhn: I agree, I think that's part of the reason you see a bit of a revival and nostalgia for old CGI because it is so easy to create anything now that it can look a little unrealistic.
Castillo: Exactly. That happens all the time with movies where they spend all this money and then you watch and you go, “Eh, so what?” But then, you see a movie that was emotional and it was about something you could relate to, and it didn’t cost a lot, and then it wins everything you know? It always happens.
Kuhn: I think that's one big factor with a lot of stuff is being able to create a story that has just a lot of heart in it. It's the reason that so many classics still last decades later.
Castillo: Exactly. So as a storyboard artist, I have to tap into a lot of stuff. I was watching a documentary on “Hemingway.” I'm always into something you know, you have to be a student of everything. You never know what you're going to work on, and you never know if they’ll call you and say, “Yeah, we're doing a commercial,” or, “We're doing a movie about this person.” You have to be open to research and not be like, “Well, I don't know anything about it,” you’ve got to be open to a lot of things and be able to work quickly with people. So I'm always a student, I mean I always say if I had a lot of money, I would probably go back to school. But now I'm in school, I'm a professor, so I'm still learning as a professor anyway.
Kuhn: Do you think that there's any advice you would have given to yourself if you had the chance now that you have your experience in the industry now?
Castillo: Oh my goodness. I would have told myself to reach out to more people. My goodness, this is a good question. I know I hustled a lot over the years, but also remember not to burn bridges, because I've made some mistakes and I'm glad I'm still in the industry. When you start out you can make mistakes, like mess up a job or whatever, and you don't want to do that. There’s so many connections. For example, if you're working with someone and you mess up the job they can know someone, that knows someone, that knows someone. So that's what I would tell myself. I'm glad that I didn't do much of that. I messed up, but not that bad where I couldn't work again. That's why you don't take on too many jobs, because if you mess one up and upset somebody that's going to get around. It will come back to you, it comes back. I remember, there was a job and I was overwhelmed, I just had too much going on, I had a family thing going on, and I should have just said, “I can't do it,” but I took it. And I ended up not delivering the boards on time one time and it was bad. Then it came back to me a few months later, and they were like, “Hey, I heard you messed up that job, they lost a lot of money,” and I was like, “Oh my god, never again.” So after that I can gladly say within the past twenty years I think I messed up two jobs, and that was it. Never again, you know?
Kuhn: It's a pretty good track record.
Castillo: Yeah, but it happens! You're not perfect. But I make sure that if I tell you that you're going to have it on Tuesday morning, you're going to have it way before Tuesday morning. If I say you're going to have it at nine am you're going to have it at five am. Like, I totally exceed expectations. l'm almost done with this job due tomorrow morning, so I'll have it tonight and I'll send it out at midnight so when they wake up it's there already. So you have to always be ahead, your reputation is important and that's why I still get called for jobs. Because, when they call me they know they're going to get it quick and they're going to get great quality. And I’m a good person to talk to, so being nice, that's another thing. There's a lot of people that have a chip on their shoulder and they're kind of stuck up. Be nice and it really helps, people want to work with you, because if you're not nice they don't want to work with you because you're difficult.
Kuhn: Well, finally, do you have any recommendations of films, shows or any media with great storyboarding you'd like to share?
Castillo: Oh my god, I’ve got so much, I would say the first movie in my heart is “Citizen Kane,” because that movie was ahead of its time, it came out a long time ago. The shots in there, when I was beginning to do storyboards, a lot of other professionals told me to look at that movie and learn about the shots. They have foreground, middle ground, and background, and just look at the composition. That's a great movie to see. You know, that's one of the greatest movies ever, arguably. Another movie would be “The Seven Samurais” by Akira Kurosawa, another great movie that you can learn from. And then I would say number three would be John Ford’s “The Searchers.” I mean, these are old movies, you know? And then number four would be “Lawrence of Arabia,” like these are old movies, but they're so epic! A lot of movies today, look at those movies. If you watch “Star Wars,” it's very similar to Ford movies, or even Kurosawa, so a lot of the filmmakers today know about the older filmmakers. You know a lot of these movies are just great to look at and look at how they deal with shots and become a shot junkie, become a collector of shots. Even when you're watching a movie, I was watching a movie yesterday on Netflix and I stopped, and I said, “Oh wow, that's a great shot,” and I took a photo of it, because it was so cool the way the composition was set up. Someday I might use that again, so file it in your head. Because I work with the writers, and they love working with me. They get excited because they think I'm a genius but I'm not a genius! I'm just a guy who's into this stuff. I would sit there and roughly sketch out something quick and they'll be like, “That's better than what I thought of! Oh my god, you're a genius!” I'm not, I just love what they love! It helps for them to want to keep working with you.
Kuhn: Yeah, well, thank you so much for your time and I really appreciate it!
Castillo: Thank you! I had a great time. I loved it. Thank you Jackie, all right!