Ask an Artist #3
- Name: Deena Beck
- Website: deenabeck.tumblr.com
- Current: Storyboard Artist at Cartoon Network on Ben 10
- Past Work: Animator at Titmouse on Turbo FAST, Superjail!, and China, IL.
Where are you from, and where do you work now?
I grew up just 20 minutes north of Richmond, VA then moved out on my own immediately after graduating high school to go try to go to school in NYC at School of Visual Arts. I was in NYC for about 7-8 years before moving out to California this past March.
Describe your current job. What are your daily responsibilities?
I’m currently working on the new Ben 10 series Cartoon Network is doing! I’m liking it a lot. Every week is different depending on what stage of the process we are in. We do boards in teams of two. My board partner is Dashawn Mahone (GO CHECK OUT HIS WORK! Dashawn’s Tumblr).
For every new episode the schedule goes like this:
- Kick off meeting : Go over the script with show runner/directors
- 1 weeks to do thumbnails
- 2 weeks to do roughs
- 2 week to do clean ups
And you kind kinda do that however you want to as long as you hit your deadlines but Dashawn and I have seemed to nail down a system that works for us.
THUMBS: We do thumbs on extra wide post it pads and stick them to the wall and we go through the entire script from start to finish together. Some people split up the workload and then do their parts separately. But I find if you go through together it’s way faster, you end up with less things you need to change, it’s funnier and overall more cohesive.
Then you pitch your thumbs to the directors and they give you back notes and/or changes. Before we start doing our roughs, we will sit down again together and thumb out the notes and fixes. Once that is done it’s time for…
ROUGHS: This is kind of the hardest part. Our motto while doing thumbs is “Like this but better.” So this is the stage where you have to fix all the sloppiness or change up the compositions to look better. We will split up the episode at this point and work separately in Story Board Pro.
Then pitch your roughs! Again you’ll get notes to fix things or change things mostly (hopefully) just for clarity reasons. And once again, we will sit down together and help thumb out each others’ notes and changes before moving on to Clean UP.
CLEAN UP: This stage is your time to polish and clean up any loose ends. The artwork itself doesn’t have to be on exactly on model or perfectly clean or anything like that, it just needs to be clear and everything in the right places.
At the end of those five weeks then you pitch the episode to everyone! All the peoples. The other board teams, the other artists, the show runners, execs, etc. It’s a little intimidating but it’s really fun to get to see how people react and laugh at jokes.
How long have you been drawing and what inspired you to become an artist?
I’ve been drawing for a long time! I loved coloring books and doodling when I was a toddler and kind of always kept up with it in some way or another. Then when I was 10-14 years old I was very very depressed and basically threw all my energy into drawing. I would draw all day every day. I remember my teachers telling me to pay attention but the only way I could pay attention in class and learn was if I was doodling at the same time.
I remember being in the car driving home I think from looking at Halloween costumes when I was very young. Either the first couple years of elementary school or possibly before that. One of my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I thought about it hard and said I wanted to make cartoons. I don’t think at that time I could articulate why I wanted that but I just knew that’s what my gut was telling me.
Did you go to college or are you self taught? A mixture of both?
I was one of those kids who started looking into colleges when I was like 12. So I was researching a lot about SCAD, CALArts, RISD, Sheridan, etc. All these big name schools and then I made a friend who went to School of Visual Arts while I was still in high school. I never heard of that before but I discovered they supposedly had a good animation program so I decided to do their pre-college program the summer before 12th grade. I wanted to figure out if animation was just something I liked or something I could actually see myself happy to be doing for the rest of my life. I had a really great experience that summer and SVA ended up being the only school I applied to!
If you did go to college, what are some of the most important things that you learned?
I learned a lot from Don Poynter who was one of my teachers. He taught perspective, layout and an advanced class that was basically film theory and composition. He was also my thesis advisor. I had a lot of other great teachers but I think Don was the only one who really challenged me to be better than I am and I’ve always appreciated that.
College itself however gave me a lot of opportunities to learn about life. I met a lot of people and no matter where you end up going to school or whatever you do, it’s a time in your life where you end up figuring out what is important to you and who you want to be. I guess that never stops being true but college tends to be a good catalyst for young people to question themselves and ask themselves what will make them happy. (I hope this makes sense and isn’t too rambly! Let me know if you want me to elaborate?)
What are your go-to tools to create your art?
I usually doodle a lot in whatever program I’m using at that moment. So most of my drawings are done in flash or Storyboard Pro. Occasionally I’ll open up Photoshop or Sai Painter. I really love painting with acrylic and want to start painting again! But recently I’ve been making little dudes with sculpey and that’s been really awesome.
Any favorite past times?
I am pretty anti-social! Friendly but anti-social I guess? So it’s hard to get me to go out and do parties and what not. Mostly my partner, Jon, and I go out and go thrift store shopping, to flea markets, marathon TV shows together and play video games. I really like Star Trek and other Sci Fi shows. We just recently finished up X-Files right before they announced they are making a new season. WHAAATTT.
How long have you been working, and have there been any challenges during your career?
I have been working in Animation since 2010-ish? I worked for John Dilworth while I was still in school. Then I worked for the Rauch Bros just as I was graduating. I was at Titmouse in NY for a few years before taking a freelance gig to animate for a webseries for Nickelodeon. While I was freelancing I decided to move across country and thankfully landed a job at Cartoon Network where I am now!
I think my biggest challenge has been the normal challenges. I know what job I want but I need to gain more experience and skill before I can get there. I’ve always known that storyboarding is what I want to do and what I enjoy most but you gotta start where you can! So I was doing a lot of production stuff at the beginning, then I got the opportunity to do Ink and Color. Then I got the opportunity to do animation. I didn’t want to do animation anymore and didn’t seem like there were opportunities for me to do storyboarding where I was so I decided to go seek those opportunities out. And now I’m doing storyboarding and I’m loving it! I just gotta keep getting better and do good so I can keep getting storyboard jobs in the future. Crossing my fingers.
Was it difficult entering the animation industry, and what do you think are some of or the most important factors that determines success?
I want to preface this by saying I have worked very very very very hard to do good work and that’s ultimately the basis of my success. However! I’m also not the best at self promoting and getting myself out there. So my success so far has been because of people who know me seeing my work and recommending me and that’s how I got my foot into the door. The hardest part is getting in but once you’re in and if you do a good job it’s infinitely easier. In the very least you feel a little bit more confident about finding work. But getting into the animation industry (or any industry really?) is very stressful and scary. So the best thing you can do for yourself is to 1. Do good work and 2. Make friends! 3. Be somewhat professional helps also. (I feel like this advice is applicable to most career paths)
What has been your favorite production to work on thus far?
I can’t tell you! But no seriously. So far Ben 10 has been awesome. My favorite production before this is the web series for Nick I got to work on. That was wonderfuuuull. It was off site freelance so I could work at home in my PJs and fart it up all day. The show runner was awesome to work for and a great dude. (ALANNNN)
Have you ever been the only woman in the room or production; if so, what was that like for you?
Not yet! Which is awesome! I work with so many wonderfully talented ladies and I see more and more young lady animators looking to enter the field. Thankfully that hasn’t been my experience yet.
Who are some of your favorite female animated characters? What is it about them that you particularly enjoy?
I am really really digging basically all of the Gems on Steven Universe. I love seeing characters that just happen to be female but it doesn’t define them. Amethyst is Amethyst who happens to be a chick. It’s not Girl Gem #2 who’s name is Amethyst.
Any productions that you would like to work on, or would you like one day have your own show?
I would love to have my own show! I’ve been sitting on a personal project that I think I’m ready to pitch. We will see what happens!
Any personal projects that you’re working on now?
My partner and I are working on a short film! He created, wrote and did most of it. I’m doing the animation and layouts. Look out for it by the end of the year I hope!
And finally, any words of wisdom to students aspiring to enter your line of work?
Never stop asking yourself questions! Always ask yourself honestly “What will make me happy?” Ask yourself hard questions and be brutally honest with yourself. This field is hard and the first thing you need to figure out is if you actually want to do animation or if you just love animation. Are you just a fan or not? I think I see a lot of people mistake their love for animation as a desire to do animation and only after a lot of time and a lot of money wasted they finally realize it’s not for them.
Thank you Deena! As always, if interested, check out our other interviews!