Dan Schaefer has a long career in film industry. Two recent films are “Mania” and “Figaro.” “Mania” is a comprehensive history of the Portland Trailblazers examining the unique bond between a city and its only professional sports team. “Figaro” follows the cross-cultural collaboration/experiment between university-level music academies in Louisville, Ky., and Kratowice, Poland, as both departments’ head to each other’s turf to give performances of Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro.”
Dan’s career began in print, creating illustrations for such companies as Marvel and DC Comics. After studying with Stan Green (Disney animator), Dan entered the world of animation working on two seasons of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, James Bond Jr. and episodes of The Mask and Wildcats. To view more of Dan’s work, check out his Copic gallery feature.
Dan will be in Eugene for the Open Lens Festival as Host. Dan will discuss his career in the film industry as storyboard artist and illustrator. Using pen and paper he will demonstrate his techniques, and share his influences and experiences in the industry. This event is presented with support from Imagination International and Copic pens.
Sat. Jan. 29th 10am-11: 30am. Tuition: $50. $25 Students/Festival Entrants. UO Baker Downtown Center 975 High Street, Eugene, Oregon.
The following is our online interview with Dan.
Tell us where are you from and what are your education and artistic interests?
I was raised in Mulino, Oregon and was heavily influenced by television, film and comics from an early age. My education includes Clackamas College, Portland Community College, Portland State and apprenticeships. My artistic interests include classical drawing/painting and contemporary illustration by illustrator’s such as Jack Kirby, Patrick Nagel, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, William Stout, Dave Stevens, Howard Chaykin and so many more.
What is your earliest memory of drawing or making art/film?
My earliest memory of drawing probably be of drawing pictures of Batman and Superman when I was 3 or 4. I was always drawing and watching cartoons.
Do you have formal training or are you self-taught?
My most important educational experience comes from a course I attended, taught by Stan Green who was an animator for Disney, and my work as an apprentice for several comic book professionals. I was able to work as an assistant to Chris Warner (Dark Horse), Randy Emberlin (Marvel), and Ron Randall (DC Comics) on many projects including books such as Predator, The Warlord, G.I. Joe, Spider-man, etc. This helped me develop professional examples for my entrance into professional illustration.
My training for film comes from working with so many directors as a storyboard artist, which I have done since late 1989. Going through the process of working with people who have very different work styles has given me options in how to deal with problem solving.
What inspires you to create?
Figure drawing has always been my biggest inspiration and fantasy Sci-Fi stories in film or books. Interesting people and subjects usually inspire filmmaking for me. I’m usually most inspired by either reading a good book or seeing a good film.
What have been the various media areas of your creative life and how have they emerged and changed over time?
I was lucky to start my career when I did in the mid eighties, as many of the tools used by illustrators were primarily traditional. Pen and ink, pencil, and painting were the norm. As an apprentice, I was taught to use both the pen and brush to ink drawings with and that led to my work as an inker for companies such as DC Comics, Marvel and Dark Horse Comics. Inking is a special art form, in that you are responsible for refining and finishing the pencil artwork. Not only are you refining the work, but your also using line weights to add three-dimensional depth visually. These skills helped me when I started storyboarding on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 1989-1992, as I was responsible for maintaining character designs. The influence of the computer coincided with my entrance into commercial advertising in 96 when I was illustrator/designer/storyboard artist at Adidas. I had been storyboarding for a number of years and decided that I should be more involved in the rest of the filmmaking process. In 2001-2, I went back to school to learn the technical aspects of filmmaking and almost immediately began directing, editing, and shooting my own films while in school. All of the skills I had learned in art traditionally were then combined with my new skills as a filmmaker.
How did you develop your particular style in your current work?
My drawing style is still very traditional and relies on my knowledge of figure drawing and perspective, which always come into play as a storyboard artist. Storyboarding is the art of visually mapping out a film scene by scene as the director tells it, so you need to be able to both have a good understanding of “film language” and be able to interpret the director’s vision. Watching film and taking notes has been very important in my development. You also have to be able to put your self in any spot the camera might be and draw it from that angle, usually very quickly. The process of storyboarding is a lot like the writing process, as you are interpreting the story visually and thus adding to the story.
Can you briefly describe your process in your current work?
I read the script before the project starts and sit with the director making rough drawing notes as he describes each scene. I will then refine the boards and get approval for that stage before I move on to finish them. Most of the time there are revisions reflected in a new version of the script or new/better approach to the material the director has discovered.
As for filmmaking, the process starts with research (reading or collecting everything you can on the subject) and then (in my case) contacting people to interview on camera that can then be combined into the final documentary. Having a good small team to help you with other roles in the process (sound editing, camera work, music) if it’s available.
How did you happen upon Copic Markers?
I found out about Copic markers from two comic shows I attended and then found them at my local art store.
What motivated you to use them?
I really like the variety of colors and subtlety between the colors. They also last a long time and blend well together. Those are all important elements when you want the work to look good! Copic markers are very similar to water color paint in the way you can build up the color more gradually. In the end you have a work that looks more like a painting that a marker drawing.
Who are some of your favorite artists and why?
I have so many favorite artists hat it’s hard to list them all. Jean Giraud (Moebius) is one of my favorite artists, as he seems to have limitless amounts of imagination. I like that and how it inspires my own work. Andrew Loomis was my standard for figure drawing and is still a very big influence. I always go back to the Loomis book if I need to know something! Howard Chaykin is also a great influence for me as he uses a cinematic approach to his comics and is a blending of both comics and film.
What comments from a teacher or mentor have you received about your work that helped you develop?
I’ve been very lucky, in that I’ve gotten advice from many great teachers/mentors through the years. Will Elder, whom had both worked for EC Comics in the 50′s and Playboy told me that, “If you love doing the work, don’t let anything get in your way to doing it.” I’ve gotten good advice from many of the people I’ve mentioned and worked with in the past. I try to use all of it!
What’s your favorite part about being an artist/filmmaker?
I like the process of making the work whether it’s drawing or film. Also, the reaction to the work when it’s done is satisfying!
What is the worst part about being and artist/filmmaker?
Trying to keep up with multiple projects can be hard, although I’ve always done it that way! Making a film and having to promote it afterword can be a difficult process in that it is changing gears so radically. A different mindset takes place.
Do you have any special or particular advice for others looking for artistic inspiration or wishing to work your artistic field?
Being a storyboard artist is very much like being a director, so know your film language (framing, camera moves, etc) and learn to draw fast and get along with people. Have fun doing it!