Back to Blog

Boarding for BoJack Horseman - Alex Quintas

By Adam Korenman

Storyboards are an integral part of the animation process, and they can be a place for an artist to truly shine.

Animation careers come in all shapes in sizes. From hand-drawn cels to massive 3D worlds, artists work together to bring stories to life. We've mentioned it a few times, but one of the most important steps in any project is the storyboard, and specialized artists work tirelessly to bring the story to life.
MKT-Alex-Quintas-Podcast_20201116-Article.jpg
Alex Quintas originally had a different plan for her career. After studying CG animation at Ringling College of Art and Design, she set out into the world as. 3D artist. She got her start with the incredible folk at Rhythm and Hues. The work was challenging, but rewarding. Sadly, the studio filed for bankruptcy in 2013, and Alex found herself burnt out on CG work.
As she worked to find new footing in the industry, she created stills and storyboards to show off her abilities. That led to an opportunity at Shadow Machine, where Alex began work as a background artist. When her skills became apparent, she was moved into storyboarding for some iconic animated shows. As she likes to say, "Anything in animation is 90% skill, 10% dumb luck. I was just in the right place at the right time."
Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 9.23.36 AM.png
Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 9.23.47 AM.png
We're super excited to share Alex's story, artwork, and advice with all of you motioneers. So grab a pen and paper because ALL of this will be on the midterm. It's time to go to the boards with Alex Quintas.

Boarding for BoJack Horseman - Alex Quintas

Show Notes

Artists

Studios

Pieces

Resources

Transcript

Ryan Summers:
All right Motioneers, this is a special one today. We have someone whose work probably [inaudible 00:00:06]. If you've seen shows like BoJack Horseman or Bob's Burgers. You've seen Alex Quintas work through the storyboards that she's done, and I want to try to explain to you how involved and intense story boarding for television actually is. Now, you've probably done some storyboards before for commercial projects for a pitch, but this is a totally different world. We're talking about someone who has a full understanding of backgrounds, of characters, posing, timing, character design. She's basically doing her own shorts when she starts doing storyboards for these shows. So Alex, I just want to have everybody understand how amazing you are, and I'd love for them to actually get a chance to hear a little bit of how you found your way to doing storyboards for all these shows that we love.
Alex Quintas:
I mean, best hype man around. Thank you. Self-esteem through the roof right now.
Ryan Summers:
I think I would love to kick off. None of this is hype because it's true. You sent me your demo reel from, I think it was 2019, and I'd love to be able to share it with people after this. You have to take a look at it because if you've ever tried to do character animation, pretty much everything within character animation is in this demo reel. And then if you go to Alex's site and scroll down, you can see that she actually has an amazing skill at creating wonderful backgrounds, but you didn't start doing storyboards. Where did you start your career off?
Alex Quintas:
I did not start on storyboards. I went to school for CG animation at Ringling College of Art and Design. I graduated in '09 and then I started off doing motion capture cleanup for video games, animation for cleanup. And then I got into Rhythm and Hues and did environment lab design, which is if you see actors on a green screen, we have to create the actual world that they're living in. So that was it. And then when Rhythm and Hues went under, I was burnt out with the effects and CG. And I did as many little hodgepodging storyboard assignments and things like that for myself to try and build a portfolio. And I applied everywhere and as luck would have it, a studio called ShadowMachine was starting a 2D branch. And I got on board on that and little by little doing backgrounds first professionally, and then eventually storyboards.
Ryan Summers:
That's so cool. That ShadowMachine, they used to do stop motion if I'm correct?
Alex Quintas:
Yes. They used to do Robot Chicken.
Ryan Summers:
Right, right. We had actually one of the creators of Robot Chicken check-in earlier and it was awesome to hear him talking about the entire process of starting the show that long ago, but still making shows now. But I think the thing that might be interesting is did you feel like you got a little lucky being able to get in to a studio that was starting to do 2D while you were also starting to find your way 2D? Was that timing just kismet?
Alex Quintas:
Anything in animation, I feel like is 90% skill and then dumb luck.
Ryan Summers:
Yes.
Alex Quintas:
But I think that's any kind of entertainment job. Right place, right time. And I feel like the more you put yourself out there, the more chances you have of it being the right time. Being okay with rejection, being okay with all of that, which is something that any kind of creative person has to be okay with. But definitely ShadowMachine starting when I was starting is pretty damn good.
Ryan Summers:
That's awesome. It's great to just be almost in lock step for them figuring out how to do it at the same time. It's probably maybe a little less intimidating, but maybe at the same ways, we talk about imposter syndrome a lot here at School of Motion. I bet that there was a bit of that running through, at least at the beginning when you're starting to do storyboards.
Alex Quintas:
There's always going to be, even today with some people that you work with, you're just like, "Oh God, okay, great. I'm working with them. That's awesome."
Ryan Summers:
I can imagine, especially with something like boards where sometimes there's just a couple people out there that when you watch someone draw, it just looks like magic. Doesn't it? You're like, "I don't know how you do this."
Alex Quintas:
Or it's a still image, but it feels like it's moving and you're like, "God damn it."
Ryan Summers:
I bet that's actually a super important, almost super power for doing boards.
Alex Quintas:
Absolutely. More so with people that can do action boards. And you're just like, "Oh my God."
Ryan Summers:
That's a great segue actually into just starting to explain to people how expansive and extensive doing storyboards for TV shows can actually be. I was passing around a demo reel of somebody who was working on the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle show. And while I was doing some investigation on that, I didn't really realize this. And I don't think our audience really realizes, that you can not only have to do a lot of stuff doing storyboards, but there's actually specialists in different types of storyboards. There's some people who are just astounding at action, doing boards. Have you run into that before in your career?
Alex Quintas:
Oh yeah. A friend of mine named Jeremy Polgar. He's a genius when it comes to action boarding. I believe he did also work on the Ninja Turtles TV show. And he has some of his stuff up on his Instagram, which is just looking at his process. You're like, "I don't know how your brain works this way."
Ryan Summers:
Exactly.
Alex Quintas:
And especially for action, it's such a specific thing to do because of the way that you have to understand cutting, shot choices, but also when to let the camera breathe, but also acting and timing. It's just fascinating.
Ryan Summers:
We'll try to link to a couple of those examples, but there's several people who post to Twitter all the time and show their pencil boards and then the finished piece. And it's almost exactly one-to-one. But the thing that really blows me away is it's almost like these people must be able to imagine it in their head and they're just using their brain as a camera. And they're just literally drawing out what they see, that almost seems like it already exists. Because like you said, the timing and the action and the choreography, but one of the important things I think you've said was those moments where you have to let stuff breathe. I think that, that's something most people forget about.
Alex Quintas:
Yeah. Especially when it comes to, like we've been talking about, action or even comedy, any kind of emotional beat needs that wiggle room music, breathing room. And when to put it in, it's an art form.
Ryan Summers:
Your reel, the 2019 story reel that has that first sequence from Bob's Burgers is such a great example of that. As much as we're talking about action, to a certain degree, you can love action and that's great. And if you have the craftsmanship and the skill to show it off, it is amazing. But I think being able to do comedy and being able to do comedic timing is highly underrated because you watch a show and when it works, it almost is invisible. But if you ever sit down to actually make something that's aiming to make someone laugh, it's the hardest thing to possibly do. But even that opening shot with a ukulele and you're in the diner, there's so much great little stuff. The little finger picking and the cross dissolve. I'd love to know how long did it take for you to feel confident in your ability to, not just storyboard action, but to actually convey the timing that creates that comedy?
Alex Quintas:
I feel like a lot of the confidence comes from... One of the things that I normally tell myself is that failure is okay as long as you've learned from it. So as long as you have that feedback on when things work and when things don't, which for the most part, a lot of directors that you work with, a lot of shows that you work with, have that back and forth with you. And then just a lot of it too, is the voice actors. They tell the story with just their voices enough that you can give it that room. It's easier. It's made easier when you have actually good acting.
Ryan Summers:
I bet.
Alex Quintas:
But a lot of it too is just practice, just watching a lot of movies and seeing what works and what doesn't. And just your own personal, humorous objective. All of this stuff is super subjective. So what do you find funny? And what would make it funny for you?
Ryan Summers:
Once you started boarding, did you start finding yourself interacting with the world differently or with friends? I know when I started animating there are so many times where I'd just be sitting at a coffee shop and I would just start noticing the way people would sit or hold themselves or stand up to go walk to do something. I'd imagine, especially for shows that they're so script driven and they're so performance driven, just watching people talk must be fascinating for you now.
Alex Quintas:
I definitely, just from doing animation myself sometimes, seeing the way people walk, seeing certain mannerisms or certain ticks, you pick up on that and you start sprinkling into your own work. Oh man, I remember they did that really weird twitch when they were nervous or I remember they coughed a certain way and I was just like, "Why are you? What?"
Ryan Summers:
Where does this come from?
Alex Quintas:
Are you human? I've never seen that before. Just building a database in your mind of all these little fun quirks.
Ryan Summers:
I love that. I know. I have a library of stuff. I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but I get myself in trouble a lot because, especially with walks, I'll see someone across the street or I'll be walking behind someone and you find yourself actually imitating or mimicking it to the point where if they turned around, they'd think you were probably making... I've actually been caught doing this before. They think you're making fun of them and call you out on it. But you're like, "No, no, no. You're fascinating. I'm just studying you. I don't know where this comes from. I want to remember it." I almost feel like as board artists or as animators, you have to almost feel it out. Do you ever actually get in front of a mirror as a storyboard artist and actually act out different ways of delivering something?
Alex Quintas:
Oh yeah. For the longest time I would do what's called straight ahead, when it came to story boarding stuff. As I've started really getting into it and really, as you want to get better at your own acting in your boards, I always recommend stand up, act this out as if you would, and then try to figure out what's the personality of this character? Don't do it as yourself. Do it as, you remember that one old guy that was a pain in the ass? How would he do that? Or this one snobby lady? How would she do that? And then just look at yourself a couple of times, do a couple of different takes and then take what you like most from each take.
Ryan Summers:
That's awesome. I'd love to get in some of the nuts and bolts about this because I'm really interested in that. Do you ever, when you're putting boards together for a sequence, do you ever offer up multiple options in a rough form to your supervisor, to your director? Or do you just go with your one home run swing? You've tested out a couple ideas and you're like, "This is it." What's the feedback work, like for a storyboard artist?
Alex Quintas:
So each individual show has its own, what the schedule allows. Some of it is just so hectic that it's just first thing you can do, slap it on there, we can't. But some of these shows where they're a little bit more established, you can have a little bit more fun and a little bit more back and forth with the director. When I was working on Big Mouth, a lot of it is presenting ideas. Pitching what you think and then your director and your supervising director, you all have a powwow and you all know, "What if they do this because of this." And then you can counter it. So it's more of a discussion that takes place.
Ryan Summers:
That's awesome. So you get to feel more like there's some invention on your part. You're not just rotely, just animating to the performance.
Alex Quintas:
Yeah. It definitely feels more of a collaborative thing. So it's really awesome in that respect.
Ryan Summers:
That's very cool. I wanted to ask you too, you said you graduated from school with a 3D background and you actually worked as a 3D art student doing the effects, which I really wonder how many people have had that experience of going all the way to the top of something like... Rhythm and Hues work at the time was top tier. Life of PI was award-winning. But then when you make that switch to go into something like 2D, I feel like there's a lot of intimidation. There are a lot of trepidation, but is there also anything that you learned from that time working on visual effects for feature films that maybe gave you an advantage versus somebody who just was boarding the whole time through school?
Alex Quintas:
With visual effects too, a lot of the times you're getting a product after the shot selections and things like that, and the acting has already been done and your job is just plus it as much as possible. So that's your thing. And getting to see that when it came to these blockbuster, like you said, Life of PI. Getting to see some of the choices that they made and also being not really responsible for the editorial process. You are so far down the line when it comes to things, that the product is already almost finished. It's another learning experience. You're just watching what worked and [crosstalk 00:13:02], instead of seeing all the failures that go into it. So just absorbing all of that is pretty cool.
Ryan Summers:
That's awesome. It's so fun when you're actually getting into boarding or animating because I feel like as an animator, you get to experience the actual performances differently. Do you remember any moments where you got some voice acting and you actually laughed out loud from hearing something the first time? Versus, I'm sure you read a script and you see it, but then when you actually hear what someone does or maybe they improv a riff on something, do you have any great memories about anything that stood out from any of the shows you worked on?
Alex Quintas:
Absolutely. Scripts are amazing in their own respect because they're just the bare bones blueprint. It isn't really until an actor comes in and reads the line in a way that you weren't expecting, you were like, "Oh, I thought this was going to be more deadpan." Or I just read it as matter of fact.
These little nuances that they're doing, especially Bob's Burgers is a great one because it is a relatively flat read sometimes. But the little nuances that they give it is great. And same with Big Mouth. It isn't until you hear Jason Mantzoukas do Jay that you're like, "Okay, yeah, this is brilliant. No notes." [inaudible 00:00:14:32]. I was not this aggressive when I was reading this. And this is great. This'll be so much fun to actually... In table reads a lot, they let us sit in and watch these actors, well maybe not nowadays. But in the before time you could actually see these actors act out and you could just, "That's definitely moving into what I'm story boarding. All right. That's definitely the expression. That facial expression that he made right now is perfect. I would have never thought of it. Thank you. Done."
Ryan Summers:
That's awesome, because I was going to ask you, I didn't actually realize that you'd get exposure to something like that, but I was guessing that you'd go back and do research and reference and see other roles that they might've done to just see facial ticks or posing or anything, but that's got to be super cool to actually see the table reads to be able to get that information. I was wondering, as a storyboard artist, an animator can get into the stylings and the character models fairly quickly, because they're just doing so much drawing. They have to get familiar with the characters pretty quickly because it's as close to the final product as you're going to get. But for storyboard artists, looking at your portfolio and the list of things you've worked on, there's such a wide range of characters. Do you find it difficult getting into character and staying on model? Or do you have any tricks or tips that you could share that you've used to try to get up to speed very quickly?
Alex Quintas:
For most shows, unless it's the first season, or pilot episode or whatever, they usually have turnarounds of these characters. And I like drawing them as much as possible, breaking down the shapes of these characters as much as possible because everything's a shape. If you just break it down to squares, triangles and all that, it makes it easier on your brain. Also, I like having a file open with just a traced version of it so that I can have a copy, paste it into the sidelines of my file and just always have it as reference to be like, "Okay, that's not how his nose is. Nice try." Or, "No, his mouth is a little bit wider. Her hands don't really work that way."
And I would say that for most people, it does take an episode or two of working on a show before you actually get the style, get the acting, get all of that. It does take a while to ramp up, regardless of how... I've seen old timers from Disney when they used to do it in pen and paper and it still is relevant to them. So never feel bad that it takes you an episode or two, which each episode generally is about six weeks on the storyboard artists from beginning to end. So 12 weeks, I would say, of ramp up time to get fully the nuances and things like that. Never feel bad about that.
Ryan Summers:
That's great. That's great advice too. Because I feel like that stops a lot of people from going... And you have to remind yourself too, even when a show starts, even in the final product, you can see the team finding their way. I feel like that's probably why a lot of shows actually don't air the first episode that they actually created because it just, I've talked to a couple of other different people, show runners and they try to aim to be like, "I'm going to do the third episode first. And then we'll get to the first episode once we have everything nailed down and we actually figure out who these characters are, and how they look when they turn."
That's good advice to really hear. In that same vein, I'd love to ask you, with all these different shows with all the work you do. And I urge the listeners to go and take a look at Alex's reel because the amount of background work, the amount of camera angle changes, the perspective changes, and keeping these characters on model all while juggling the timing and the comedy. It's pretty amazing. I'd love to know from you, do you have one? I feel like every animator I know has that one shot that was the mountain that they had to climb. And then once they got past that, they're like, "Okay, I'm an animator. I'm a board artist." Do you have one of those? Do you have a great challenge that a show or a shot or a character or a performance that you're like, it just was the hardest thing to crash through, but once you got through you consider yourself a storyboard artist?
Alex Quintas:
Man, I feel like every show that I do has one of those. Definitely one of the most challenging shows, just in scope that I've worked on was Big Mouth because it is so established, but also the attention to detail and the strive for perfection on that show. It just really pushes you to be a better artist. So there were some shots, I worked on season five, which will not be coming out anytime soon. Maybe 2022, I guess.
Ryan Summers:
Wow.
Alex Quintas:
That's the nature of animation. But some of the shots that I had to work on, that I did work on, when you start and you open up and there's a blank page and you're just reading the script and you're hearing the audio and you're like, "How am I going to do this?" When you finally turn it in and you're like, "Okay. Yeah, I did that. Holy crap." It's just that sense of accomplishment.
Ryan Summers:
I feel like sometimes it's like playing a role-playing game where it's like, I've just leveled up. I've just increased my skill set. And now I have all that experience to go on and there'll be more daunting, more difficult shots and shows, but you know you're capable of something new. That's awesome.
I wanted to ask you because I always am amazed by, especially storyboard artists for TV, maybe even more so than feature, you have to do so much. You have to do it so quickly. And over the course of your career, you jump from show, to show, to show. Do you ever have the inclination to create something for yourself? Whether it's just a web comic or a property for yourself? All the way up to potentially show running or creating your own show. Do you ever get that inkling of like, "I think I've seen enough. I think I've done enough. And I have this idea. Maybe I take it to the next level"
Alex Quintas:
It's hard sometimes too, when you draw for a living to draw for yourself. So I like to tell people, something that was taught to me, was find something adjacent to what you do that might not necessarily be like, I want to make my own storyboards or whatever. But I've picked up writing as a fun hobby and maybe eventually I'll turn it into a graphic novel, or pitch it as a show or something like that. But it's just another outlet that makes me feel like, "Hey, I'm still doing something creative, but I'm not drawing right now."
Ryan Summers:
Right, right.
Alex Quintas:
[inaudible 00:21:00] nine hours during the day.
Ryan Summers:
Oh my gosh. That's a long time. I love drawing, but that amount of time, and that seems really fast to me when you said six weeks for an episode. That seems, just from getting the script and working your way through it. And then figuring out all the solutions and all the invention. That's a good procedural question to actually ask, when you're given an episode, how much of that episode are you sharing with another person? Or are you pretty much doing that episode from scratch yourself?
Alex Quintas:
So for television, there's usually the 11 minute episodes which you see on [inaudible 00:21:36] network and stuff, usually for the Teens or Adventure Time or Amazing World of Gumball. Those types of shows. That's usually a one-person gig. They are responsible for it, but they're also storyboard driven shows, which is different from what I do. On the show, it depends on, sometimes we have a director, assistant director and then a board team. Sometimes it's a director and a board team, sometimes it's just the board team.
So the previous show that I was on was four members, assistant director, and a director. But that's very rare. Usually it's a director and then two other boarders. So I'm responsible for, if not a third of the episode, half. That much.
Ryan Summers:
That's a lot. That's a huge responsibility.
Alex Quintas:
And television animation, something like Bob's Burgers, Simpsons, Family Guy, is 22 minutes. So you're responsible for 11 minutes yourself, from beginning to end.
Ryan Summers:
That's crazy. That's so much. The exciting thing to me about that is it almost feels like you have the capability of being almost someone like a writer, who's also in the cast of something like Saturday Night Live. Where you could just be getting your assignments and getting them done, but you also have so much ownership and authorship by either doing the whole 11 minute episode yourself or half of it. Do you feel like you get to inject a bit of your own personality because you're controlling so much? Or do you really feel like you're serving someone else's vision when you're doing that much of one episode?
Alex Quintas:
It definitely, again, it feels like it's show dependent. Some shows, they definitely want the artists to have that kind of input. So when you see your little background gag, that makes it. It was a throwaway joke, but the way that you acted it out or the way that you shot it, it sells everything. And sometimes you just don't have that kind of creative freedom. It is the nature of the beast when it comes to working as an artist commercially. Sometimes you will get that creative freedom and sometimes you won't. So finding places that you can and getting enjoyment through that.
Ryan Summers:
That's awesome though. That's cool. Sometimes it's probably nice though, just to be able to have the assignment, I'm going to make it work. And other times you get to make it a little more Alex than it would normally be. I was wondering, when you finish up an assignment or you finish up a contract with a show and you go out looking for your next gig or your next show to work on. We talk a lot about positioning here, because there's a lot of people at School of Motion who freelance. And a lot of people are just starting to get this idea that I should let people know what it is I want to do or what my specialty is. When you go out looking for another job, do you have a log line or a way of describing what you do versus other people that do storyboards, that makes you unique? Or do you do that more so by the type of show that you go after?
Alex Quintas:
I feel like when it comes to story boarding specifically for television, you tend to get pigeonholed on what your previous job was. So it is definitely, the jobs that you accept define who you are as a selling point. So if you don't want to be adult comedy storyboard artist, then I wouldn't recommend working on only those shows because it is very difficult to switch into. If I were to try and go into children's animation, it would be very difficult for me.
Ryan Summers:
Would it have to be a relationship thing? You'd have to have someone vouch for you to be able to make that jump from one side to the other?
Alex Quintas:
Yeah, definitely. You would have to have that connection. You would have to have that previous relationship that someone else did that jump and you're riding on their coattails, which it definitely happens. And there's still a lot of times you do test for shows, which they give you... That Bob's Burgers thing on my website is a test for Bob's Burgers. And it's just a sample of, "I can definitely work on the show. Here. You gave me this chunk. So this is what I would do if you hired me."