Hellboarders II: Simeon Wilkins

Your first storyboard gig was Hellboy, right? I know you’ve probably told this story many times, but how did you find yourself working for GDT?
Yeah, Hellboy was my first big deal gig.

Basically the story goes like this:

I moved out to LA with the notion of trying to do storyboarding, but basically knowing nothing about how one actually goes about getting one of these gigs. So like many industry hopefuls I got a job at a video store. I lived a block away from the Hollywood Virgin Megastore, so I got a job in the video dept. there.

It’s a pretty heavily trafficked place, and I eventually steeled myself up to talking to directors- asking them about storyboarding, where they find their artists, etc. And I got lucky and Bryan Singer agreed to take a look at my portfolio, and even invited me to the X2 offices, but they were way past boarding (I think they were just getting ready to shoot) and I was still shucking DVD’s. But it was a good experience, and I found I could actually talk to strangers if it meant getting a boarding gig.

And then I met GDT. He was shopping for about fifty or so dvd’s and I recognized his name on the credit card, and proceeded to tell him how much I enjoyed Cronos and Mimic, and asked him what he was up to- and Blade 2 was about to come out, so in his usual friendly manner, Guillermo thanked me for the kind words and told me to go see Blade 2. Which I did. I went with a friend of mine who told me that GDT was going to do Hellboy next….so I was excited. I had already met the man, and now he was going to do a film that I would love to work on. Now I just had to hope he came back into the store.

Basically I got lucky. I had put in my two weeks notice at Virgin, and the last week there he came in! Of course, he remembered me, and we bagan talking Blade 2, and I broached the subject of Hellboy. He told me they were just starting up preproduction, so I blurted out, “Do you need a storyboard artist?” So Guillermo agreed to take a look at some of my work (which I started stashing at the counter I worked). He told me that he liked what he saw, and could probably give me a week of work on Hellboy- as a trial period.

And that was it…pure dumb luck, with just a dash of foresight and talent thrown in. I never thought in a million years that I’d stay on Hellboy for eight months, working so close with so many amazing artists, and even going to Prague to finish up. I just couldn’t think of a better way to learn the trade.

From what I’ve heard GDT say, you, Paul, Mike and the others had a lot of fun working together. What was it like?
Fun is an understatement- If I knew that working in film could be such a blast, I’d have been out here sooner.

The very first day of work, it was Paul, Jeff Rebner and I reading the script, and I didn’t know it, but the faster you read the script, the sooner you got to pick you desk area….and I read scripts really, REALLY slowly. So when I finished, there was only one space left for me, and that was in a room with Mignola and Ty Ellingson.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t scary as hell, but Ty and Mike are both super nice guys, and it wasn’t long before we all got along quite well. I learned a lot from sharing a room with those guys. I’d never worked with the Prisma markers before, but both Guillermo and Ty were confident that I’d pick it up, and with a little guidance from Ty I did, and I can’t thank him enough.

Since I thought that that would be my only week there, I wanted to do some really impressive work. Looking at those early boards now (the infamous Noodle Factory) I cringe, but Guillermo was so happy with them, and when, at the end of the week, Guillermo said I wasn’t leaving (he said I was a “permanent resident”) I knew I was doing what I really wanted to do…..drawing monsters for the movies.

From then on things were just great, Mike and Ty were full of good stories, and to be drawing Hellboy everyday with Mike looking over you shoulder and being happy with what he saw was a trip.

Guillermo really likes a small art department, and it becomes a family-type atmosphere. Guillermo was always wanting to take us with him to look at new creature designs and the luches….lunches with del Toro are always memorable. I highly recommend it.

All in all, its an environment that really promotes collaboration and everybody has a chance to have their ideas heard.

You ended up doing a lot of boards for the movie – how long were you working on Hellboy? I imagine Hellboy opened up a lot of doors, as well. What followed?
I think I did somewhere around twelve hundred rendered boards for Hellboy- most of the sequences that involved visual effects. I was on for Eight months and spent my last six weeks on the show in Prague- just trying to finish up what we could. There were some good sequences that we didn’t get to do- I remember we started boarding Hellboy’s fight with Kroenen, but never got back to it.

I even ended up doing a few design pieces- like Abe’s reliquary and in Prague, Guillermo had me coloring the Tarot cards that Broom uses in the Director’s Cut.

Since Hellboy was my first real working experience in the industry I was really quite naive about what would happen afterwards. I’d gotten a bit of press for the boardwork while I was working, and I guess I just thought that somebody would get in touch with me- or that I’d have an easier time finding the next gig. It basically boiled down to: I was very new a thins and didn’t know who to get in touch with, and everyone I did know who would be a good contact in LA was in Prague shooting. So I was really unprepared for the next five months of doing nearly nothing.

But then out of the blue (as I was about to write off my stint in the movies as a fluke) that I got a call from Zemeckis’ Imagemovers about a CG feature called Monster House- which is what I went onto after Hellboy….in fact I’m still on Monster House today….almost two years now.

So yeah, Hellboy’s been very good to me. I went and did almost all the boards on Monster House, and picked up a few freelance boarding gigs- I boarded the “Rings” short film; boarded a teaser trailer for the upcoming CG TMNT; and did a few weeks on a Universal thriller called Whisper.

In March I started on boards for Zemeckis’ next mo-cap epic Beowulf, and since that went on a two month hiatus I’ve been doing a lot of specific set decoration art and promotional art for Monster House, and it loks like there’s going to be a lot of Monster House work for me in the next couple of months…..and I’m looking forward to that.

Suffice to say, I’m also looking forward to Hellboy 2- and I hope GDT invites me back to play.

What can you tell us about Monster House?
Well, Monster House is a CG Mo-cap feature about three kids who discover that the creepy house across the street is actually a monster…makes sense, right? It’s really been a cool film to work on- it’s being produced by Spielberg and Zemeckis (which is how I landed the Beowulf gig), and the director is a new guy by the name of Gil Kenan- who’s done some really amazing short films that I keep insisting are absolutely necessary for the DVD.

I never thought that I’d last this long on a show- but it’s been fantastic being one of the key creative people. I came on as one of the first two board artists, and I think throughout preproduction, we went though seven or eight other guys that did some extra sequences, but I stayed on the whole way. I’d say I boarded at least 75% of the film, and on this we were boarding almost every single shot- for the animatic.

Then there were endless revisions and rewrites of the script- which requires more boards, so a lot of art. And just when I thought I’d be out of a job (this happened about every three months- I’m just paranoid) Gil decided to start using me for other art needs. So I started designing props, and doing design work for a lot of the 2-d background elements (photographs, signs, drawings, packaging, etc.) as well as designing the characters and look for a 16-bit arcade game that one of the characters will be playing in the film. I even designed the films logo.

Really it’s been an eclectic job- I’m hard pressed to say exactly, in one word, what my job even is. I mean, now that the movie’s in Post I’m doing a lot of the promotional art- today it’s sticker design, and there are some books projects that I’ll be involved in. I can’t get too much into it- some of it’s secret surprise-type stuff. good stuff. Looks like I’ll be busy.

Paul mentioned that Star Wars was his first big influence. What influences you creatively, or what was the first thing that caught your eye where you said, “Hey, I want to draw that stuff!”?
I was just telling Paul this the other day. I first started noticing storyboards when I picked up the japanese making-of book for Godzilla vs. King Ghidora, and found the section on storyboards…I still to this day say my greatest professional dream would be to work on a Godzilla movie. But what really made me say…hey, I should try that…was the boards I saw on the Gladiator DVD. I was getting close to getting my master’s degree in printmaking and I was realizing that I didn’t really want to teach. Everything I did harkened back to comic books- which I’ve been drawing in one form or another since I was about twelve. I just knew that I wanted to pursue doing something along the comic vein, and I was starting to develop some of my own books to try to self-publish, and then I saw Gladiator.

I never paid much attention to boards before that….they were so dynamic… I realized that there was definitely a connection between drawing comics and storyboarding, if fact, my own approach to storytelling has alway been cinematic. So I thought I should maybe give that a try- the opportunity came to move out to LA and I just thought I’d give it a couple of years.

So it all stems from comic art, and those influences are too vast to be named here….but I know you can thank Walt Simonson’s run on X-factor for my initial love of the comic form.

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