• Everfree NW Panel Writeup: Meet the Storyboarders

    If you don't know who Sabrina "Sibsy" Alberghetti and Raven Molisee are at this time, this is the time to fix that. Everfree Northwest 2013 was lucky enough to bring these lovely ladies down from Canada for a panel exploring their indispensable role in creating MLP. Hit the break to learn what it is storyboarders do exactly, and why they're overworked and awesome.

    What is the job of a storyboarder?

    Essentially, storyboarding is a visual representation of the script. Sibsy likens it to a long comic book. It's all about deciding how the characters act on screen, how each shot is framed, how shots cut between each other, actions, angles, etc. Everything we see in the show descends from how storyboarders plot out the visuals. In a way, storyboarding is very much a directorial role, even though they do have proper directors who must be satisfied with the boards they turn in. They want to show things the audience will want to watch and enjoy, since there's nothing worse than cutting between groups of talking heads.

    Can you talk about some of the scenes you worked on?

    Since Sibsy's usually stuck with the back halves of episodes, she got to board a scene before "B.B.B.F.F." in "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 1" where Twilight mocks the arrival of Shining Armor's wedding announcement with a sandwich puppet. Meghan's script didn't mention it -- storyboarders get to look at scripts and decide "how can we make this funnier?" Since voice recording on MLP is completed before storyboarding, Sibsy listened to Tara Strong's delivery for that scene, noted the anger in Twilight's voice, and decided that if Twilight had hands she would have been flapping them. At first, Sibsy was going to animate a picnic basket, but she then decided a sandwich was the better option.

    Sibsy also noted she always gets scenes when Twilight's angry.

    We can't imagine why. She's always so chipper!

     Since you also worked on Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy, was there a shift in how you board for the different shows?

    E3 scripts were more like outlines, and the dialogue had yet to be recorded. The boarders therefore had more control over how an episode played out, even writing some lines, but there was a lot more that could go wrong and was a lot more challenging. Redoing sequences was lethal -- after you spend a week on something and getting attached to it, only to get it rejected... "Killing babies" is the unofficial term in the industry. Many a dead baby fell before their directors' feet.

    It's important that they accept that this will happen, as the next version of the scene will always improve upon the first. There's no magical way to cut down on getting your boards rejected, either -- Sibs's been burned before suppressing her first instinct when it turned out to be the best idea. There's so many different ways to approach scenes like Twilight entering her library -- does she use magic? Bust in? What kind of mood is she in?

    Raven also brought up how important an issue consistency was. You want to keep the acting consistent through the episode, and want to consider what came before and what's coming after. For example, Raven used Twilight's ear-twitches and teleports to track her state of mind in "Lesson Zero", ramping up the occurrence of both as the episode wore on her sanity.

    What was your inspiration for the scene between Twilight and the CMCs in "Lesson Zero?"

    Tight deadlines and being up at 4 AM.

    Really, when else are you going to come up with the idea of teleporting into the beach ball? Originally, the script called for Twilight to hide behind a tree, but Raven found a more dynamic way of inserting Twilight into the scene.

    What about Snowflake?

    He was a collaboration. When storyboarders get bored, they call a handoff meeting to address changes, rework gags, or, most usually, take things out. My recording's a bit unclear here, but I think Snowflake went through Ridd, Jayson, and Raven during one of these meetings.

    Do you guys have any in-jokes you put on the storyboards that weren't in the scripts?

    Sibsy had to do a G3 Pinkie face in "Too Many Pinkie Pies" after wanting to do that forever. The moment she saw "betcha can't make a face crazier than this!" in the script, she was going to fight to get that gag in. Another Pinkie did the thing with her fingers -- credit for that goes to Dave Weibe. He couldn't believe that got through.

    There's another in-joke Sibsy has coming up "soon" that no one will get but her, and she'll laugh and no one will know why. We made her promise to tweet the moment it happened.

    On something less in danger of violating an NDA, Sibsy boarded a subtle moment in "Dragonshy" where Rainbow Dash looks pretty satisfied with herself after the dragon pointed out how she kicked him. Then she frowned when Fluttershy apologized on her behalf, as if to say, "What? I'm not sorry about that at all!" Storyboarders often inject their own personalities into their drawings, and Sibsy could see herself in Rainbow Dash there. She said she felt the need to add that little nuance to that character.

    As a quickaside, Sibsy mentioned getting all of the Fluttershy episodes in the first two seasons, and she had to work with the CMCs a lot. Thankfully, she's warmed up to the latter.

    Raven was responsible for the "shame window" during Twilight's hallucination in "The Crystal Empire, Part 2". You know how they always make those stained glass windows to commemorate the victories of the main cast, right? Well, "you know what'd really rub it in?"

    The crystal caverns in "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 2" were also Raven's work, and she wanted them to be unfamiliar and scary, with nothing visible except by the light of her horn.

    My Little Pony is a Flash animated show. Do you limit what you board to accommodate Flash?

    Nope! The boarders are actually told not to limit themselves, and they enjoy making the layout and animation teams push the capabilities of Flash to match. This was a problem early on, when assets were still in development -- "try not to do a 3/4 down shot since we don't have the cycle for it yet."

    They'd do it anyway.

    There was a scene in "Call of the Cutie" where Apple Bloom keeps turning around to see her new cutie mark. In addition to changing the angles on the face, the mane, body, and tail, also think about how you'd place her legs and hooves, one after another, without turning it into some kind of tangled tarantella. Sibsy managed to find a compromise by cutting off the bottoms of Apple Bloom's hooves in storyboarding.


    If the directors want to challenge the storyboarders, it's only fair that the boarders do the same for the animators! The boarders help as much as they can by being as specific as possible with posing and motion, and the more detail they put into their handoffs, the better the product that comes back from animation.

    This was especially important in Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy since Sibsy and Raven basically performed key animation. The overseas studios that wound up animating the show would often trace over the boards that got sent over, so things like characters who changed in size between boards or awful perspectives would appear in the final cartoon! There was a lot more to think about for the Eds than for ponies, since there's a great layout team for the latter. Great animation directors, a lot more in-house communication.

    The only downside to all that is that it's less often that the boarders get to poke fun at each other for terrible drawings, as happened sometimes with E3. Even so, Sibsy's seen the blooper reels the pony fandom's put together. "Why would you send me this?" she asked. "I'm not an animator!" And now that there's Tumblr, there will always be gifs...

    What has been your most hilarious mistake?

    In storyboarding? Literally nothing. Everything gets fixed before it goes to animation. *laughter* It's seen by so many people and so many faces that it's usually changed and fixed. And when they don't get fixed, people make compilations that end up on the internet.

    What's the difference between drawing for storyboards and drawing for comics?

    It came to light about now that Sibsy actually has a very exclusive Obama election campaign-style poster of "Darkwing Duck" with the caption "Dangerous" that's apparently highly sought after, seeing how only four people in the world have it. She's done a good bunch of work for comics, including the covers for the MLP micro-series comics.

    She wishes she could do more, but she can't with working full-time in animation. It's impossible. She does the covers to change it up. She finds it's good to have a storyboard background going into comics, since you're given the written word and have to describe it in a picture. It's a bit trickier with comics, since you only have one panel to get in what you want to say, but you also don't have to worry about "matching up" between panels as much -- characters can move around between shots, unlike in animation. You only get one shot in comics, so you'll change around the composition of the shots to suit.

    For Sibsy, doing comics is a bit of a break from storyboarding.

    What mediums do you do your storyboarding?

    Raven uses Cintiq displays and Sketchbook Pro. What's a Cintiq, you ask? Here. That's right: it's a display you can physically draw on. That sound you just heard was your wallet rifling through itself for spare nickels since these things are pretty much artistic [yay] on stands. They're nice for people who don't have the hand-eye coordination to translate tablet drawings to a computer screen, especially considering the kinds of deadlines they have to work with!

    Here comes the audience! I was actually kind of surprised how long this section went on for!

    • Of the things you've drawn for MLP, what didn't make the final cut?
      • Raven wanted to include a scene in "Hurricane Fluttershy" where Angel got jealous of a squirrel offering acorns to Fluttershy in an attempt to comfort her. He winds up stealing the acorns to present himself--shows he can still be a jerk when he's trying to be nice.
      • Sibsy: Many babies. There was going to be a scene in "Too Many Pinkie Pies" where Rarity goes nuts after the Pinkie horde tears down her boutique. Seeking revenge, she tried to push down Sugarcube Corner, but because she's not Pinkie Pie she fails. The Pinkies came along and demolished the place, anyway.
    • Favorite ponies question.
      • Surely this question wasn't loaded? Not from the "ooooh"s in the audience, anyway. Raven likes Fluttershy. Sibsy likes Twilight.
    • Episode they're most proud of?
      • After some contemplation, Sibsy went with "The Last Roundup" and Raven split between "Lesson Zero" and "Hurricane Fluttershy".
    • Most frustrating thing to draw on MLP?
      • Sibsy always has to relearn how to draw Rarity's hair after coming back from breaks. Storyboarding isn't hard, per se -- it's just time consuming, especially with "Too Many Pinkie Pies". There's a question that addresses this later.
    • What was their roles in the overall design of the characters?
      • Most of the characters were already designed by Lauren in her show bible. The storyboarders usually have designs to work with from the start.
    • How do I into storyboarding?
      • Start as a storyboard revisionist, says Sibsy. You get to watch the whole process of how storyboards come together from start to finish and learn things as you go. If you do well enough, you'll be asked to board a small sequence and work your way up from there.
    • What was your favorite gag to draw?
      • Raven: Barking Mad [Ed. At press time, she is currently known as Screw Loose on the Friendship is Magic Wiki].
      • Sibsy: These up-singing, Peanuts-esque mouths.
      • Be on the lookout for when ponies gesture with their back hoof out. That's Sibsy through and through.
    • What are the easiest scripts to work with?
      • Raven: Short ones! If they're also crammed with dialogue, that doesn't leave many opportunities for acting and visual jokes.
    • How have you reacted to the creative output of this fandom?
      • Raven: She's seen cool things in the fandom where people are doing things that can eventually grow and expand beyond ponies. People are learning how to storyboard and animate and might even get a job. Keep it up for that reason alone -- you're training yourself and you have an audience to give you feedback.
      • Sibsy: She's been inspired by how many people have chosen to pick up a pen or a guitar again. We need an outlet for these kinds of things, and it's cool to work on a show that gets people to come out like that. People get nervous sending her drawings because they're not good enough, but she holds the effort put into those drawings above all else. All the art and music, stuff she can't do, she appreciates seeing what artists can do because it's amazing.
    • How do you reconcile differences between how multiple people board scenes?
      • There's no time or budget for multiple people to board the same scenes. If boarders get partnered up, they'll take one half of the episode for themselves and combine the results at the end. Most of the time, though, the boarders revise themselves, and they tend to pick the scenes and episodes that play to their strengths.
      • It's important that there be some cohesion between multiple boarders on one episode, since some shows Sibsy's worked on made it obvious when one boarder was stronger than the other.
    • The 12 Principles of Animation comes up a lot in animation instruction. Is there a similar resource for storyboard artists?
      • Sibsy: She hasn't read one since college. She mentioned a book called "Shot by Shot". The best thing to do, though? Watch a lot of movies -- everything. Especially the live-action ones and feature films. She tries to stay away from TV animation, especially since the old cartoons were rather straightforward.
      • Raven: Look at the things you really enjoy and think a lot about how they affect you and why. It's very psychological -- there was a scene in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" where Gene Wilder's turned away from Charlie the whole time after the soda incident. used the tone and positioning of that scene to face Celestia away from Twilight during her hallucination.
    •  Was Sibsy responsible for Berry Punch?
      • Pretty much. There was a background with a punch bowl. When Sibsy found Berry's design in the stock book, she immediately went "That's the one! That's the drinker!" She had to convey to the layout artists that she wanted that EXACT model to drink out of the punch bowl, and they censored the burp afterward, but the fandom seemed to catch onto her intent quickly enough.
    • How much research did the storyboarders put into pony gestures?
      • Raven: The series bible had drawings of horses next to the ponies so you could see how things translated between the two.
      • Sibsy: Lauren didn't want human gestures from the start and included a lot of pony anatomy drawings in the bible to ensure legs and hooves bent the right way. And sometimes it's cuter to go with pony gestures -- Sibsy brought up the scene where Applejack's trying to choose what to eat at Sugarcube Corner in "A Bird in the Hoof" , and the scene would have lost its impact had she reached with her hooves and not with her mouth. Same thing with unicorns -- they use their horns to pick things up.
      • A lot of Rainbow Dash's references came from The Flying Donkey. And Rainbow Dash is nice to animate, since she can use her full body in the air instead of being limited to an ear twitch or a head tilt on the ground.
    • What was your experience with Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy and who was your favorite character?
      • Raven was already a fan of the show by the time she was hired on board. And her favorite character was Double D.
    • What recurring gags have you started?
      • Sibsy got Applejack swinging her foreleg across her body when she talks. She also likes using scrunchy faces.
      • Raven's squiggly/crazy smile for Twilight in "Lesson Zero" showed up again with Rarity in "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 2" when she catches the bridal bouquet. And, of course, Barking Mad.
    • Who decides background pony cameos?
      • Layout. Storyboarders draw thousands of panels a week! Most of the time, they leave which background ponies are present in the scene to the layout artists, so Lyra and Bon Bon sitting together in the background of "Putting Your Hoof Down" and the muffin buckle on Derpy's bag wasn't a boarder decision at all.
    • How do I into an animation career?
      • Raven: Draw constantly and get your stuff out there. It's not going to be just a 9 to 5 job.
      • Sibsy: Keep applying, even if you get rejected -- she did. If you want to be an animator, you have to want it. You'll be dealing with incredible workloads and a lot of critique.
      • [Ed. If your aim's to get a career that'll sit you down in front of a bunch of fans at conventions, be prepared to work for it.]
    • Favorite expressions to draw?
      • Raven likes drawing crazy and angry Twilight, as well as sad Fluttershy.
      • Sibsy: Drawing and posing Rainbow Dash. She really sees herself in Rainbow Dash's character.
    • What's under Double D's hat?
      • Sam Vincent (voice of Flim on MLP and Double D himself in Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy) had something to say about that at Unicon! We covered it here before everything exploded, but Sam thinks Double D's hat hides an absorbed Siamese twin with a full set of teeth and a tongue.
      • Some have suggested a black hole. Raven said there was talk of revealing it in the movie, but they ultimately decided to keep the mystery alive. It's usually better that way.
    • Lyra and the way she sits.
      • Sibsy's partner, Nicole Wang, boarded that half of "Dragonshy," but it's weird because Sibsy didn't think Nicole would have boarded Lyra sitting that way. Perhaps it was someone in layout who wanted to have some fun.
    • Who are your signature ponies to board into your episodes?
      • Sibsy will board in Vinyl Scratch every chance she gets, although this only tends to happen during season finales. When Equestria Girls came around, she was like "And I will put her here, and I will put her here..."
    • How many panels do you draw for an episode?
      • Back in Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy, they would make "Frankenstein pages. Raven would be at the photocopier for a long time splicing panels together, since the animators overseas would trace things like abrupt changes in size without compassion or regret [wording mine]. There would be a lot of sticky notes, whiteout -- the pages could get three inches thick! They were more like craft projects.
    Pictured: original Ed, Edd, 'n' Eddy storyboard material.
      • Pony episodes get 30-35 pages with ~20 panels per page. With redraws and stuff, Sibsy draws 900-1000 panels per half episode! 
      • "Read it and Weep" had some 1800 panels alone -- there was a lot of action scenes (the temple run, for instance) that would require some 30 drawings a scene.
    • Schools for storyboarders?
      • Not really. Storyboarding is a product of an amalgamation of classes: character designs, background, art history, storyboarding, etc.
      • Raven: There should be, though -- you never learn more than what you learn on the job. Sibsy was told to throw everything she knew away on her first day of storyboarding and learned what her directors wanted.
      • Storyboarding for television's changed, too. Storyboarding for film, like The Lion King, will have 3 drawings per scene. TV storyboarding incorporates aspects of layout and animation now.
    • Who created Vinyl Scratch?
      • Mike West, the man boarding that part of "Suited for Success", drafted up a design for a DJ pony who wasn't in the show bible and Ridd cleaned it up for him. Vinyl Scratch was something of an exception -- most of the time, character designs are provided for the storyboarders, and the boarders make "board pulls" like Snowflake and Barking Mad when they decide to flesh something out from the script.
    • Who did Pinkie Spy and the Fluttershy suit?
      • That was Tom Sales. Yes, as in Tom THE ROCK. Lauren loved working with him, and decided to name Tom, after Tom.
      • A subtle detail Tom threw in: When Fluttershy walks onto the scene, she has a tiny freak-out moment as she steps into Pinkie's discarded Fluttershy suit.
    • What scenes you worked on brought a tear to your eye, or were otherwise emotional?
      • Raven: Hurricane Fluttershy, where Fluttershy gets trapped in that tunnel of eyes. Being in public is difficult for me as well, so she was just trying to capture that emotion. That whole episode was emotional for her.
      • Sibsy: "A Canterlot Wedding, Part 1", when nobody was listening to Twilight and she was building and building. It always seems that she knows what's going on, and she's trying to get people to listen and no one listens, ever! When she blows up at the table, Sibsy admitted she's been there before, and has felt unheard sometimes. It's an angry and frustrated emotion, and she felt it when she was drawing that scene.
    I think this panel lasted the longest out of all the ones I went to, and it was great getting a glimpse into how Sibsy and Raven could translate words on a page into all of these wonderful gags and compositions. Well worth the time I spent sitting in on it, even if the convention did end up scheduling it at the same time as a writer's track panel I was supposed to speak on. *shakes fist*

    This concludes the panel writeups I'm going to be doing for Everfree Northwest 2013. It's a bit of a relief to finally be done with these for now, won't lie. San Diego Comic-Con's coming up in two weeks, though, and assuming I'm not going to get a volunteer shift that'll screw me over, y'all can expect a writeup from the MLP panels they're presenting over there! If you're heading down to San Diego for that weekend and see EqD rolling around, feel free to say hi!