Saturday, March 27, 2010

Working from Germany

I'm David Norman and have been working as a storyboard artist here in Germany since 1983. I studied such a long time ago (in Ireland in the 1970s) that I remember a teacher once remonstrating with a student who had dared to illustrate a poster with new-fangled markers and Letraset! Everything back then had to be done in pen and ink or brush and paint. I now work paperless on a Cintiq and it has freed me up a lot. I have no tension in the back of my mind to get things right, so I feel freer to sketch and scribble. Its faster, too, as I don't have to scan anything.

One advantage of being a storyboard artist is that, unlike say, journalists, musicians or dentists, you're part of a pretty small global community. Its probably true to say that many or even most of us know each other either personally or through hearsay. Here in Düsseldorf I organise the monthly illustrators' meeting. Of 53 email adressees only about 5 are storyboarders. The solidarity is good and we are very free with tips and even recommend each other for jobs. I like that. 

Besides agencies in Germany I also do quite a bit of work for the US market through Storyboardsinc. I find that after a briefing, American art directors usually give me more or less free rein, whereas European clients still do little sketches along with the script sometimes, though this seems to be dying out. This is fine by me, as I can still suggest different camera angles or visual solutions and they are often accepted. Being very direct, German art directors are probably more likely to tell you straight if they don't like something. An important difference is the money or, to be precise, the payment. American clients pay after about three months. Between one and four weeks after a job for a German agency, the money is in my account.

Although storyboards and animatics make up the major part of my workload, I also enjoy doing lots of other types of illustration. When I illustrate an adventure or crime reader for German school kids learning English for example, the job specifications are much different to those for a TV spot. At first this meant a steep learning curve for me, but learning and mastering new skills is one of life's least acknowledged pleasures.

I truly enjoy looking at the work on this site. Its typical of Leif Peng that he should come up with the idea of a blog just for storyboard artists and I'm looking forward to seeing what turns up here over the coming months!


  1. Great story David and great drawings! I use to work for Germany too (several times for DDB in Düsseldorf, maybe you were too busy :D). I've never been there, if it happens I'd like to participate in one of your meetings. Cheers!

  2. Thanks, Miguel! I love your style. You have such confidence in blocking in color and then adding light and details. Your drawing style reminds me a little of Ernesto Melo.

  3. Bingo! Ernesto is areal master for my and surely my biggest influence on storyboard drawing!

  4. Thanks for posting, David - your work is terrific - and its fascinating to hear a bit about the business over there... something I wish we discussed more on the blog. Your experience with that slow payment process is the same for me, not just in the U.S. but more and more so in Canada as well. Makes it very tough to manage cashflow. Its a real shortcoming of the advertising industry here.

    I searched up the guy you two mentioned, Ernesto Melo. Is this him:

    If so, he really is fantastic - but no contact info... very strange. If you or anyone reading this is able to get in touch with him, let him know he's be very welcome here! :^)

  5. I was about to tell him about Storyboard Central (we use to talk via skype), I'll let you know

  6. great to see more contribution from german storyboarders! big welcome from hamburg!

  7. Thanks, Arne. Very nice work - glad to see you've passed your talent on to your kids! ;-)