Uglydolls story art by David Trumble
Artwork by David Trumble

Interview With Animation Story Artist David Trumble

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There are dozens of paths to follow when it comes to entertainment art. But story art might be the most varied (and possibly the most complex).

It feels like a mix between writing, character design, and directing all rolled into one. It’s certainly a coveted role across the entire animation industry, and David Trumble is a name to keep an eye on in the story art space.

In this interview we cover a lot of ground (and it’s a long one so strap in!)

We’re going over his history with art, how he got into story art professionally, plus a lot of nitty-gritty details about the day-to-day life of a professional story artist working in the industry. Lots of gems in here if you want insider advice on the best traits to cultivate for work in this industry.

If story art is something you’re interested in, whether as a fan or as a career, definitely check this one out.

And if you’re interested to learn more about David’s work you can check out his portfolio here.

How did you first get into art? Did you have any formal training before getting into entertainment art?

My parents tell me I’ve been drawing since I was two years old. So I literally can’t remember a time I wasn’t obsessed with storytelling.

But as with a lot of people in my industry, the path to animation was winding and unexpected. I have a twin brother who is also a talented artist, and we spent most of our childhood making up stories together and drawing a voluminous amount of pictures to go along with them. Our love of creating and acting out stories together was so intense that for a long period we were oblivious to the world around us, in a creative bubble no-one knew how to burst.

He was my first Story collaborator, kind of a hive mind situation (he is currently a standup comedian in the UK, but has worked as a storyboard artist for commercials and other media). By the time we’d graduated high school both of our attentions had turned to film-making and we studied Film Production at the Arts University Bournemouth (AUB), one of the only practical courses in the United Kingdom, where we got to work with 16mm film and both directed graduation shorts.

It was there that we found a larger group of collaborators, and continued to make independent shorts well into our twenties. That, too, turned out to be a bit of a bubble, and I ultimately became disenchanted with the rigors of low budget filming and fell back into freelance illustration, working as a political cartoonist for the Sun Newspaper and writing and illustrating children’s books here and there.

It wasn’t until the latter half of my twenties that I realized all the various career paths I had pursued all intersected in the realm of animation.

I had been generally aware of how storyboarding functioned, but it wasn’t until I read Ed Catmull’s book “Creativity, Inc.” that I truly understood the collaborative, integral nature of the Story department and fell in love with it.

Newspaper cartoons and illustrations by David Trumble
Artwork by David Trumble

My whole life, I had kind of discounted animated features as a medium I adored but felt unqualified to pursue.

But it was in reading that book that I realized that, after having tried my hand at so many other storytelling mediums, I had been training for this skillset my whole life without even knowing it; as a draftsman, as a satirist, as a practical film-maker, all of these disciplines combined in Story.

So for the first time, I felt like I had stumbled upon an artistic pursuit to which I was uniquely suited. I just came to it the long way round.


How did you get your first gig doing story art & what did that look like?

There is truly no one way to get into this business, and my story is a prime example.

In 2015 I applied for the Pixar Story internship and didn’t get it. But in the course of not getting it I received what felt like a mixed message from the head of that internship, who had requested to see more of my work before sending a follow-up email to inform me they had filled all their spots.

I had a very supportive American girlfriend (with whom I was in a long distance relationship from the United Kingdom) who strongly believed that this guy had wanted to give me a shot.

My portfolio, while filled with illustration and cartooning examples, had been sorely lacking in terms of actual storyboards. So naturally I hadn’t made the cut, but she urged me to continue pulling on this thread.

I had gone to the lengths of getting a visa to work in the U.S., on the off-chance that I got the internship. I basically took a leap of faith in both my life and my career by packing myself up in a suitcase and going straight to this Pixar veteran’s Story masterclass in New York.

On the final day, terrified of being rejected in person but having been badgered by my ever-supportive girlfriend, I took the chance to show him my portfolio again at the close of the two-day workshop.

Storyboard pitch for Uglydolls
Artwork by David Trumble

To my absolute astonishment, he saw the first page of my portfolio pop up on my laptop and said “Oh…you’re that guy!”

After hearing my story and chatting through everything I needed to improve upon, he told me he would make it his mission to get me a job in animation.

After one year of sending him more of my work for feedback, taking online courses, and a few false starts for potential jobs, he got me a job drawing beat boards on my first animated feature, which would turn out to be “Uglydolls” by STX Entertainment.

I drew beat boards and visual development for multiple story pitches to the studio, then was hired on the film as a full-time Story Artist in 2016.

Though “Uglydolls” did not make a big splash in the marketplace, it introduced me to collaborators who continued to hire me on even more exciting projects. I’ve boarded pre-viz sequences for Robert Rodriguez’s live action superhero film “We Can Be Heroes” for Netflix, have just completed work on “Wendell & Wild” by stop-motion legend Henry Selick in collaboration with director Jordan Peele, and this month I’m about to begin work on Netflix Animation’s “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory” series with Taika Waititi.

It’s been a crazy-lucky run of projects. And they all happened because of referrals from a film that didn’t do well, and that first pivotal foot in the door only happened because I failed to get into an internship.

So yeah, it’s a funny, funny business. Because had I actually gotten what I was going for, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

But that bad luck was flipped on its head because I had people around me who believed in me and advocated on my behalf, my girlfriend, my mentor, and for that tireless support and inexplicable optimism I will always be endlessly grateful.


For the storyboarding process, how do you approach drafting scenes from a script? Do you get any directorial guidance, or are you expected to just “understand” how to visualize it yourself?

Put it this way, if you’ve been hired as a Story Artist on a feature and are being launched on a sequence, it means you’ve already demonstrated an understanding of cinematic techniques in your audition process.

There’s a reason they call it “Story Artist” rather than just “Storyboard Artist”.

They’re hiring a storyteller, period.

So the amount of direction you receive in a launch depends very much on the director in question and their specific vision for the scene, but you are going into that process with a reasonable expectation of your fluency in visual language. As far as guidance is concerned, every director is different.

I’ve had directors who’ve drawn a series of quick thumbnails to map out how they see the shots progressing. And I’ve also had directors who will be upfront about genuinely not knowing how they want the scene to unfold.

Storyboard for Uglydolls preview scene
Artwork by David Trumble

Sometimes they’ll encourage you to stick faithfully to the script, and sometimes they’ll encourage you to disregard it entirely and try out new ideas. Many times, rather than receive a specific piece of direction, I’ll be given a reference point, a scene from a film or a moment of performance that strikes a similar tone.

On my last feature “Wendell & Wild”, director Henry Selick asked us all to watch Charles Laughton’s 1955 film “Night of the Hunter” in order to get a sense of the composition and shot progression he was after.

Other times he would go outside of cinema and refer to paintings, photography, fashion, anything that would give us a sense of the “feel” of what he was after. Sometimes it comes down to just a conversation about the themes or emotions the scene explores. But in other instances, I’ve been launched by my Head of Story without the director present at all, and their first chance to actually direct me would be in response to my first pass of the boards. Which is pretty nerve-wracking to say the least.

This broad variety of approaches, while all having merit, can create a lot of anxiety in a Story Artist. Especially when you’re starting a project and have yet to fully slip into the groove with a director. So it’s important in the first few pitches to exercise great mindfulness and give yourself permission to “fail” a bit.

Central to this is coming up with your own personal method that can be adapted to fit each assignment.

For me personally, I like to spend the first day thinking broadly, “globally”, about the scene. And by that, I mean answering the simple question of “What is this scene fundamentally about?”

Obviously you have to go through the script and make note of all the elements that must be juggled in terms of characters, actions and events, but pretty much any scene of a script can be broken down to one essential beat that moves the story forward. Something that can ideally be articulated in one sentence.

“This character want this”, or “these characters discover this”, or “this character loses this”, etc.

So I spend a lot of that first day just thinking about that. I sketch very fast thumbnails in my notebooks, collect reference materials, watch similar scenes or sequences (helpful for action), listen to movie soundtracks, and play/act the sequence over and over in my head while I’m doing other things like having a coffee or taking a walk, without putting pressure on myself to put it into boards immediately.

Scene drawings vs storyboards by David Trumble
Artwork by David Trumble

I start properly drawing on day two, usually the shots for which I’ve developed a clear vision regardless of where they sit in the scene chronologically, and then use them as my true north as I work out how the rest of it fits into the puzzle. Provided I have the time, I try to allow one day in my schedule for freaking out, looking at what I’ve done and giving myself permission to completely rework it.

But as you fill in the gaps the sequence starts to tell you more and more the shape it’s meant to be so you ultimately end the process in service of, rather than dictating, the boards.

So if I’ve been doing it right, I begin my assignment on a global level, and end it on a purely technical one, ticking off my shot-list and making sure the draftsmanship meets the standard for pitching.

The average turnaround for a draft of a sequence tends to be within a week, but closer to the end of the schedule. It can be two or three days if not a one day turnaround, so it’s helpful to have an approach that is collapsible into different time-frames at a pinch.

Ultimately, your anchor will always be the blueprint of the script. So if you lose your way just refer back to that.

And crucially, never put too much pressure on the first pass. My first passes tend to be mainly for me, my own cinematic sensibilities, then it gets pulled apart in the pitch and the second pass is about putting that preciousness away and bringing it closer to the director’s vision.

By the third pass, hopefully the scene has started to show us what works and what doesn’t so it just becomes a matter of refinement.

Even if your boards end up revealing fundamental flaws in this blueprint, it’s all good data for the director. The Story pipeline in animation is very much an iterative process of trial and error, so understand that even when things don’t work, you’re actually making progress, ruling out wrong paths in order to hone in on the right one.

Know that going in, and create an approach to the boarding that works for you.


What does your typical day-to-day look like in the animation pipeline?

This varies depending on whether you’re remote or in-house, but unless the day in question is a launch or a pitch day, you tend to be in charge of your own time management.

The Head of Story or a Production Assistant may schedule check-ins midway through an assignment in case further brainstorming is required, and there’s always the chance, especially close to a screening, for a stream of additional shots and pickups to be requested alongside the sequence you’re working on.

We often get requests from Editing, who are cutting scenes in tandem with Story, and if you’re on a stop-motion you may get requests from the animation stage to clarify a shot or re-draw an environment so that it aligns with the latest designs from Art or Props.

Conversely, Story/Edit Coordinators prove invaluable for reaching out on your behalf to other departments for the latest scripts, designs, and assets you might need for reference in your sequences. Story is the intersection point for a lot of departments, so having a good relationship with these teams is paramount.

Training montage scene storyboards for Uglydolls
Artwork by David Trumble

Also because you’re constantly reworking the film through the various reels, you can get the odd moment where you draw either a prop or character that then ends up in the finished product pretty much as you had designed it, which can be a thrill to see.

But for a few brief exceptions, I’ve been a remote artist for every animated feature I’ve worked on. So when the pandemic hit it wasn’t much of an adjustment for me at all.

That being said, there are pros and cons to being remote.

On the one hand, your director and HODs trust you to schedule your workload so long as you deliver your work on time. You have flexibility, within reason, to give yourself breaks, exercise, and generally balance your work with your mental health.

But on the other hand, you also don’t get the same community feeling you’d get going into the studio every day, having lunch with peers, being inspired by unexpected conversations, etc.

That’s why it’s incumbent upon remote artists such as myself to be proactive in creating and maintaining that collegiate atmosphere from home.

I regularly text back and forth with my fellow Story Artists to either kick a few ideas around or offer moral support, and my last feature was the first I’ve boarded on that had a dedicated Slack channel for all departments.

I’ve been very fortunate to have experienced the best of both worlds, in that every production I’ve worked on has flown me to their respective studios in Burbank, Austin, and Portland for a week here and there when deadlines became crushing.

That has allowed me the chance to make stronger connections with my colleagues, across departments, relationships that have endured long after I’ve gone back to my office back home.

For all the additional stressors of being in the belly of the production beast, a few hairy days in the studio can be an incredibly cathartic bonding experience for a crew. And you’ll never forget someone who went through those wars with you.

So if you are a remote artist and you get offered the chance to spend a few weeks in-house I also highly recommend that.


What do you personally think is the trickiest part of nailing a scene?

Every scene is tricky in its own unique way. Which is why Story Artists need such a broad bag of tricks to draw from.

But I’d say the trickiest part is figuring out which tricks not to bring to the table.

When you’re essentially the first draft of a scene’s layout, it can be very tempting to go overboard with the cinematic devices; throw in every cool camera move you can think of, belabor every subtle tick of a performance, or indulge in half a dozen inserts when a master wide would have done the trick. Especially in computer animation where you can achieve any shot, within reason.

The best storyboarding tip I ever received was from Valerie LaPointe of Pixar, a Story Artist on “Inside Out” and “Toy Story 4” among others.

She said the simplest thing to me, which was:

“Board as though you’re on a live action film set and the crew is running out of light.”

This is because, though animation is seemingly limitless in what it can render, it is nevertheless built on rules developed by a medium defined by its practical limitations.

On a live action set, for example, you can only use this actor for an afternoon. You can only break this prop once, or you only have the location for one day and there’s a storm on the horizon.

Limitations, on the face of it, are negative things. But they really encourage (or rather, force) creativity and prioritizing of story mechanics over stylistic indulgence. And what’s more, the audience will thank you for it. Because they’ve been raised on the visual language created out of those limitations.

Throw in too many virtuoso shots and you risk losing the audience, because they’re too cine-literate, they subconsciously expect judiciousness and clarity.

So the number one thing I’ve had to learn (the hard way) in animation is imposing stricter limitations on myself, in order to achieve more with less.

Early on in the storyboarding process for “Wendell & Wild”, which is a stop-motion feature, I boarded an ambitious long take that followed a character as it crawled under a larger creature’s legs. It was a real “show-off” shot. But when I visited the production in Portland I realized that the geniuses in the workshop had had to build an entirely new rig with larger scale versions of the models just to pull that shot off.

It ended up in the movie and I’m very proud of it, but it really brought home to me just how much extra work I can create with a flick of my tablet pen, and how important it is to “earn” a shot like that if it requires the building of new assets.

So it’s important to know when to reign yourself in.

Moxy and Maizy movie - storyboard sequences
Artwork by David Trumble

As much as the film fanatic in me wants to create the most audacious, cinematic visuals possible, there are times when the simplest most understated techniques work the best.

That doesn’t mean you can’t go all out on a crazy camera move or play with an unconventional composition if it feels right. But you have to choose your moments.

The good news is the edit never lies. So if a scene you’ve delivered isn’t landing, it doesn’t matter how precious you feel about it. It goes in the bin.


Since a lot of story art tends to be more “cartoony”, how often do you practice drawing from life? Do you feel realism is still necessary as a story artist?

I’ve done my share of life drawing in the past (it is a must for a Story portfolio) but I wouldn’t say I’ve made it a big focus in my job. Probably because I don’t subscribe to the notion that there’s a huge difference between “realism” and “cartoony” in animation beyond the superficial.

When people say that an animation style is “cartoony” I think what they really mean is “pushed”.

So much of animation is about push/pull, in terms of lighting values, color temperatures, shape language, and character models.

So there are certainly character designs that are more stylized. But even the animations that feature more proportional body shapes are not what I would call “realistic”. Their poses and movements are still “pushed” somewhere beyond reality, in order to be instantly recognizable to the viewer. And that’s especially true in the Story process where we have to convey movement, behavior, and emotion in as fast and clear a way as possible.

Unlike animators who do incredible work going granular into the subtle nuances of performance, Story Artists have to get their sequences through a ruthless series of screenings. So unless our characters and poses register immediately, we have to redraw.

Ox vs Lou storyboard scene previews
Artwork by David Trumble

To that end, when I’m boarding a sequence, it doesn’t matter if the character has believable body dimensions or not. The underlying techniques we employ to convey their soul remains the same.

So to aspiring Story Artists, I would say: being proficient at drawing bodies and poses from life is obviously an asset in this line of work, absolutely. But just be aware that life drawings are static.

You can draw a figure hugging their legs next to a plate of fruit and it’ll teach you a fair amount about how muscles sit on a skeleton. But if you want to know how to make that skeleton feel like it’s alive, take movement classes. Study theatrical acting, screen-grab dance and fight choreography, and understand how our body language is conveyed in flight.

Because that will ultimately be what makes your characters feel vibrant in a story reel.


I noticed you’ve taken some classes with CGMA. How do you feel about those courses in general? And do you think online courses can offer a replacement for more expensive college classes?

For CGMA I studied Storyboarding for Animation, The Art of Color and Light, Character Design, Character Production, and Anatomical Drawing at CGMA 2D Academy over a period of years as I was breaking in.

The Story class, with a veteran Story Artist from DreamWorks and Illumination, made a huge difference to the way I boarded. Because he hammered into me each week that I had to strip my illustrative style way, way back.

That single piece of advice fundamentally changed my whole approach. But I got a lot from all the courses.

Character design homework by David Trumble
Artwork by David Trumble

The best part of a learning tool like CGMA is getting to interact with actual working professionals from the industry. And every one of my tutors has stayed in touch and offered professional advice long after the courses were over, giving me tips on artist rates and even writing me recommendation letters for visa and green card applications.

It’s been an invaluable support to my journey.

I certainly don’t believe it’s an either/or between online courses or expensive college classes. One could not possibly replace the other, for the simple reason that neither are a guarantee of a job in animation.

It sounds maddening, but the truth is you could go to Cal Arts and not get the job you wanted at your chosen studio. And you could do every course in CGMA’s curriculum and not be what a recruitment officer was looking for on that particular day.

Getting a job in animation is 100% a moon-shot, dependent on so many variables. And we’re starting to see more and more how difficult it is for many groups to get their foot in the door compared with others.

So if you’re a member of a group that has less access to these opportunities through no fault of your own, if you come from a country that has no major animation schools, if you don’t have the money or the ability to attend Cal Arts, or even if you landed on your career path later in life, then online courses like CGMA are wonderful resources to have available.

And I should stress that the Internet has fully democratized our ability to study our vocations beyond even paid courses like CGMA.

Khan Academy, Pixar In A Box, Industry professionals running their own YouTube channels, and even just being able to devour DVD/BluRay extras and commentaries in a matter of clicks, right down to websites like Concept Art Empire itself.

CGMA homework preview - Art of Light and Color by David Trumble
Artwork by David Trumble

In terms of education, aspiring animators have never had such a wealth of resources at their fingertips before. And that is surely a thing to celebrate.

Just be aware that no certificate or tutorial contains the silver bullet that will land you a job. That will be decided by what you take from it, how well you apply it, and a boat-load of luck.


If someone was putting together a portfolio to apply as a story artist, what should absolutely be in that portfolio? (or conversely, what should be left out?)

This one’s good and easy: Storyboards.

Lots of storyboards.

It’s incredible how many portfolios are out there from talented people trying to get into Story jobs that don’t have enough actual storyboards in them. It’s such a common mistake, because most of us come from a variety of artistic backgrounds before getting into film. And we feel the need to use it to bolster whatever deficits we might have starting out.

But no matter how great that other artwork is, a Story portfolio needs to be at least 70/30 (if not more) Story-related work.

Unless you’re showcasing your ability to tell a story sequentially, cinematically and in terms of writing and conception, then you’re wasting the employers’ time.

The mentor who got me my first animated feature job advised me for almost a year before my portfolio was up to scratch.

Beat Boards preview for Uglydolls - storyboard by David Trumble
Artwork by David Trumble

That meant culling most of the illustration and cartoonist work from my previous life, studying sequences from my favorite films, throwing out my first few boards and refreshing my portfolio with all-new sequences every few months.

With each pass I was losing more artwork and adding more Story.

In particular, I phased out my more illustrative boards and replaced them with looser, scratchier panels more appropriate for the fast-paced sprint of production.

In the boards themselves, they don’t want to see that you can draw (that will be apparent from your other pages). They want to know you can communicate a story as quickly and directly as possible. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter how good your drawing is.

As for a general guideline, the strongest Story portfolios present the artist as an “all-rounder”, which means demonstrating three essential types of sequence: Drama, Comedy, and Action.

There’s no reason you can’t combine these three in one sequence. But for the benefit of the reviewer try to create three different boarded sequences that emphasize each one.

Also devote at least two pages to supplementary “Gag” cartoons, to demonstrate your ability to take part in brainstorming “gag sessions” within a Story room, which is its own separate skill.

Ultimately, someone reviewing your portfolio is looking for evidence of a firm grasp of film-making. Proof that you understand camera moves, values, and editing techniques, and that you can use this language to tell a story compellingly and sparingly.

Take a couple of your favorite scenes from animation or live action and break them down into thumbnails, analyze them, put them back together, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own sequences.

Do speed-draws where you time yourself in order to develop a discipline for not over-drawing your boards, and un-learn any habits you developed in other mediums or roles. And do this over and over and over. Because you won’t get to the level you need right away.

CGMA lighting artwork homework sample by David Trumble
Artwork by David Trumble

The magic sweet-spot that makes your portfolio exactly what the employer is looking for is something I can’t say for sure, but those are the elements your portfolio definitely can’t do without.

One other common mistake: if you have artwork that’s awesome but better applies to other departments within the field(such as character design, concept art, backgrounds etc) include as little as possible so it doesn’t compete with your Story samples, or send the recruiter a mixed message about the role you are fishing for.

Keep it focused.

You may feel more vulnerable dropping all your prettiest pictures and relying solely on your rough boards, but you are applying to work in Story. You’re telling them you live, breathe, eat story.

And that means: boards, boards, and MORE BOARDS.


Where do you personally look for inspiration & ideas? Do you have any favorite cartoons, comics, or anything that really impacted your style?

It may sound trite to say, but you really have to look for inspiration everywhere, both in art and in life.

Obviously, I make it a point to watch films regularly to keep my cinematic skills honed (and they tend to fall far more into the live action category than animation in my case) but some of my all-time favorite Story contributions have been inspired by conversations or experiences with my loved ones.

I can bang my head against the wall on a sequence all day, then take twenty minutes talking about life in general with a family member or my girlfriend and unlock the whole thing.

Having people around you with whom you share great conversational chemistry is a major asset in this profession. You don’t even have to discuss the specifics of a scene, but rather interrogate its themes or emotions on a human level with someone you trust, and it can make all the difference.

David Trumble Story Artist
David Trumble

Also, be a religious hoarder of notions and ideas.

If you find something interesting, regardless of whether it applies to anything in your immediate workload, write it down, sketch it, screen grab it, record it, and save it for later.

Read books, listen to music, go to art galleries, take lots of photographs, and if possible do it with someone who’s as passionate about them as you are. It all helps to stir the pot creatively, and that’s a process that’s forever ongoing.

In regards to a more direct influence on the work in front of me, I am a strong believer in creating extensive libraries of visual references, inspiration, and research for whatever project I am working on. If for no other reason than I really enjoy that initial discovery process.

Becoming familiar with a director’s style, creating a playlist of other examples from the genre, and collating images that speak to the subject matter, all of these have proven helpful to me from job to job.

Pretty soon I’ll begin work on Taika Waititi’s “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory” series at Netflix Animation. And I’ve had a wonderful time just reading back through all of Roald Dahl’s back-catalogue, looking back on other Dahl adaptations, watching all of Taika’s movies and shows, and generally building up a foundational shorthand for their style, humor and sensibilities.

Now I should stress that all of this research could be thrown out the window once I have a script and direction in front of me. So I never think of research as a rigid template. But you never know when a tiny piece of it might come back around in a sequence or brainstorm.

This is what I meant earlier when I talked about thinking “globally” at the start of a project or assignment; it’s like the analogy of having Scout mentality vs Soldier mentality.

As a Story Artist, your job will eventually become intensely technical and logistical, charging through the schedule with very little bandwidth to do anything but focus on the task immediately ahead of you.

You’ll essentially become Gromit in “The Wrong Trousers” laying the pieces of track in front of the train so the whole thing doesn’t crash. So that’s why I do everything I can at the beginning of the process to get as broad and expansive an overview as I can before the train picks up speed.

That, and it’s just a lot of fun being a scholar of what you love.


For someone looking to get into storyboarding or any kind of entertainment art, what parting advice would you have for them?

This one is very important to me, because I worked extremely hard to get to where I am today. But if I hadn’t focused on this one thing it would have all been for naught.

And that one thing is: Work on yourself.

Of all the advice I received from my tutors at CGMA, the thing that stayed with me the most was their insistence that in order to survive in this business, you have to exercise great “in-the-room skills”.

In other words, how to take harsh criticism, accept creative input, respond respectfully, and maintain a positive attitude to the work at all times.

This was echoed by the Head of Story for my first two animated features, who told me in our first ever meeting that “the one thing in this industry you can never get back is your reputation”.

And he’s so right.

Animation is a small, team-based community where word travels fast. If you do your job well and maintain good relationships, you’ll continue to find work. If you prove yourself to be difficult to direct, unreceptive to candor, untrustworthy or disrespectful in any way, then your career will never get off the ground.

It may seem like such an obvious thing, but before I got my first job I was absolutely not ready to be “in the room”.

David Trumble Artist - Headshot Photo
David Trumble

Like a lot of the young artists applying for jobs in the industry, I had cut my teeth on other mediums: illustration, comics, cartooning, which are by their nature mostly solo endeavors.

I’d been my own director, my own editor, rarely collaborating with others. And the times I had collaborated revealed glaring deficits in my attitude and temperament that had to be done away with before I entered the industry.

In that way, I’m incredibly relieved that it took me so long to get my first job. Because it provided me enough time to evolve into a true team player.

So yeah, work on yourself. Not just for the health of your career, but the general health of your relationships overall.

Animation is an exceptionally stressful profession, and the Story department can be a highly pressurized environment, especially for a young artist. Because we’re constantly feeding the other departments all the way through the process Story can, at times, feel like the eye of the production hurricane.

Deadlines can become overwhelming, directors and producers can hit creative walls, sequences can stop working, screenings can be demoralizing, but the assembly line can never afford to break down.

As a consequence, it is incumbent upon all of us to take great care to preserve our mental health and not become toxic or bully-ish in reaction to this environment, both for ourselves, and our fellow collaborators.

So my parting advice: getting this job requires faith/belief that borders on delusion, and that’s okay. But you must also understand going in…you are going to be part of a team, and your ideas are not more important than those around you.

You will have to watch scenes you’ve poured your heart and soul into get torn apart, revised by another artist, or cut from the film entirely. You will inevitably go from having all of the power while you’re working on it to having none of the power once you’ve pitched it, and that’s okay. It’s baked into the process, and you can’t take any of it personally.

Your professional and emotional well-being depends upon it. There are so many resources out there detailing the technical craft of what’s required to be a Story Artist. But a lot less material about how to live in it once you get there.

Safeguard your emotional well-being a little bit each day. Cultivate good relationships in and out of work, practice mindfulness and self-examination, meditate, exercise perspective and openness, and never lose sight of it.

Work on yourself.