INTRODUCING ED GOMBERT...
Ed Gombert was one of the new team at Disney who joined the
studio in the early Seventies. Along with such talents as Don
Bluth, Randy Cartwright, Glen Keane, John Lassiter and others,
Gombert formed a crew that the studio hoped would eventually take
over when the original "nine old men" retired. Gombert worked
his way up to an animator, but the studio felt his visual sense
and staging made him a better candidate for story. He's done
story work on a several films including the Oscar winning
blockbuster THE LITTLE MERMAID.
We talked with Ed at his office in one of the many animation
buildings Disney uses in Glendale. His walls were covered with
sketches and ideas for the upcoming ALADDIN feature.
Q: Could you just give a general description of your career.
EG: Okay. Well, I've worked for Disney almost exclusively from
1975. I came in through their animation training program and
started out as an inbetweener on THE RESCUERS, the original
feature. I moved up to animate on PETE'S DRAGON. At the end of
PETE'S DRAGON, I was made a full animator and then animated on
FOX AND THE HOUND. After FOX AND HOUND, I spent a brief four
months on THE BLACK CAULDRON and skipped over to MICKEY'S
CHRISTMAS CAROL, where I animated and did my first storyboarding
under Burny Mattinson. Then I moved to THE GREAT MOUSE
DETECTIVE, where I did storyboarding.
I Left Disney for a year to work on various Keebler cookie
commercials and things like that. Then came back to Disney to
work on the "Sport Goofy" project for a year. After that THE
GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was still being made, (laughs) and I
finished up animating on that. Next I moved over to Disney TV
animation and did character design work on DUCK TALES and some
other shows that were never developed fully for production.
I came back to do storyboarding on THE LITTLE MERMAID and that
was the first time I was officially classified as a story man and
really got to learn the business of storyboarding. On THE
RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, I did storyboarding again and stayed on to
animate. That brings us up to this year. I'm now doing work on
the upcoming ALADDIN.
Q: What, if any, art training have you had?
EG: My original goal when I came out of high school was to go to
CalArts. But CalArts hadn't opened up officially as a school,
when I graduated from high school. They were in a transition
period and they weren't accepting any new students so I ended up
going to a local junior college in Azusa, Citrus Community
College. After two years of that I realized CalArts would be too
expensive for my parents, so I went to Cal State Long Beach. And
put together my own program of classes that I thought would get
me into animation.
Q: How did you break into the business?
EG: The year I graduated from college, I submitted a portfolio to
Hanna-Barbera and they turned me down. I was about to submit my
portfolio to Filmation but decided to mail it to Disney instead.
I had been told there was no way you could get into Disney.
There were no openings. Forget it. But, I decided what the heck,
I'll send it anyway. It turned out Disney had an animation
training program, that nobody knew about, and I got accepted. It
was all very easy. (Laughs)
Q: What does a storyboard artist do?
EG: Well. There's a system in animation, at least here at
Disney, we refer to as "plussing". No matter what phase of the
operation you're in, you're expected to make it better than it
was when it came to your desk, whether you're animating or
cleaning up the background or whatever. In story, we take the
script and we're supposed to visualize it, but more than that
we're supposed to plus it, make it more entertaining. We bring
the characters to life in "comic book" fashion. We have the
freedom to explore relationships and come up with business that
is more visually entertaining.
The way we storyboard here is different than any other studio.
In other places where I've worked the director knows exactly what
he wants and he dictates to the artist what he wants them to do.
And on Saturday morning I know the storyboard artists are, pretty
much because of the lack of time, just visualizing the script.
They pretty much do the layouts instead of what I consider
storyboarding, which is fleshing out the personalities and
exploring ideas. This is the only place in the world I know of
that allows us the kind of freedom to explore situations and
expand on the script. And that's why, if I couldn't storyboard
here, I probably wouldn't be storyboarding. (Laughs)
Q: At what point do you become involved with the project?
EG: Generally speaking, it's after the script has been written
and a lot of visual exploratory work has been done. People have
played around with character designs, played around with set
designs, things like that. When I come on, I have a lot of
information to draw from and I can focus on the character's
personalities and what they might be doing, while they're saying
the lines that someone else has written.
Q: How much assistance do you get from the writers and the
EG: From the writers... that's tough, because in MERMAID and on
ALADDIN the directors are also the writers. It's not so much
assistance as getting direction from the directors. In THE
RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, I worked with them like anybody else around
the department. You just work together trying to find the best
ideas for the sequence, but generally speaking, when a writer has written a script, he goes away and that's that. The director is
making his picture based on that script. Storyboarding follows
the script just as layout follows storyboarding. They are
seperate aspects of production.
Q: What is an average, daily routine for you as a storyboard
EG: Well, if you're preparing for a presentation, your door is
closed. You don't see anybody. You're sitting here cranking out
ideas as fast as you can to present them to the directors, to get
their okay, before it gets presented to Jeffrey Katzenberg or
Once it's presented to them, you get a list of their reactions
and the directors decide how many of them they want to follow
through on. That's what the average day is like. Once you've
initially boarded a sequence there's months and months of
Q: How much freedom are you given in this stage?
EG: In the very beginning, before there's a storyboard for each
sequence, there's a lot of freedom. Because everybody is
searching, even the directors, for the best ideas, the best
things to happen, the best visuals. There's a lot of freedom at
the beginning, but once there's a storyboard for each sequence,
like I said, it's corrections after that and you're pretty much
responding to other people's requests.
Q: When do you finish with a project?
EG: I can be finished with a project when the next project is
screaming for my help, or there's just nothing left to do.
Depending on your status as a story person, you can be taken off
early. The person that draws the best and has the best ideas
could stay on for a long time. He updates sketches in the story
reel to accommodate changes the producers want, or the directors
want. That's a very boring part of the job and everybody hates
being the last person off.
Q: Do you think animation is a prerequisite for storyboarding?
EG: Definitely. As an animator you're combining the drawing and
the acting. Storyboard people who don't have the animation
experience, don't give as much information to the animators. It's
that idea of plussing, again. The more alive it looks on my
board, the more character and fun I can put into the scenes, the
more information the animator has to build on and improve, or
plus, his animation. The animator has to work harder to pull the
acting from a dull sketch than from a sketch that looks like,
"Gee, all I have to do is in between that."
Q: Speaking of adding a life to it, when you deal with a script
is it harder to storyboard a bad script than a good script?
EG: Well, it depends on who's deciding it's a bad script. If the
directors have decided it's a bad script, you have to figure out
what it is they think is bad. If you think it's a bad script and
they think it's a great script, (laughing) then you have the
trouble of trying to figure out what they think is good about it!
That's probably the hardest part about storyboarding, picking the
director's brain, trying to figure out what kind of movie he's
trying to make. What he sees the character's personality as
being. Once you find your boundaries of creativity, then you can
go hog wild.
I think we have good script right now. It's not very specific.
Everything hasn't been nailed down, just a lot of basic, good
ideas, and good situations for characters. I would say a good
script leaves me room to be creative.
A bad script would probably have a lot of detailed stuff that's
pretty boring. Scripts that I hate have sections that are worded
humorously. When you read it, it sounds very funny. When you take
the words away and start thinking about what the situation is,
you realize that there's very little there to storyboard. It's
just a clever combination of words.
Q: Personally, what project have you worked with that's given you
the most personal satisfaction?
EG: Without a doubt THE LITTLE MERMAID was the most satisfying.
Because you could see the potential, when you read the script and
it held on to that potential throughout the entire production.
And a lot of what I did, as a storyboard artist, stayed in the
film (laughing) and were animated.
One of the saddest things about storyboarding is how many changes
it can undergo once you're finished with it. The layout man can
change the staging. Or the animator may come up with another way
of doing it, and your idea is gone and now it's someone else's
idea. That's the down side of plussing. In LITTLE MERMAID a lot
of what I did stayed in the film. That's the most gratifying
part, to sit down and watch the "Under the Sea" sequence and just
see my storyboards brought to life by the animators. That's when
storyboarding is the most fun.
Q: So that was a sequence you were key in.
EG: Right. That's about ninety percent of what I boarded. That
and the sequence that follows it where Sebastian spills the
beans. That was challenging. The song was easy for the most part
because I had the timing and pacing of the sequence. And when
they say things like "the carp plays the harp," there's not too
many things you can do except a carp playing a harp.
But in the following sequence, we just have dialogue between the
king and the crab. You have to punch it up to make it more
interesting by coming up with visual ideas that are entertaining.
Such as Sebastian crying into the king's beard, or having all his
knees knocking together, when he's really nervous. That's the
most challenging part, taking a script that's just talking heads,
and trying to come up with visually entertaining ideas.
Q: What would you say was a failed projects that you worked on,
that may have been commercially successful?
EG: I thought about this one and it may be wrong of me to say it,
because I never saw the finished film, but to me THE BLACK
CAULDRON was the biggest miss. Half way through production I
knew it couldn't live up to what we saw in Mel Shaw's sketches in
1975. That film was a low point in many people's careers
(laughing) at the studio. They went with every typical,
unimaginative solution to telling the story they could think of.
Everyone wanted to make THE BLAKC CAULDRON, but not the one the
Q: If you were to start today to think about being a storyboard
artist, what would you feel you would need to know, or do?
EG: Acting. That's the main thing. When I was going to school,
I thought the key to being a Disney artist was the ability to
draw well. I focused all my attention on drawing classes and I
learned, once I got here, how important acting is to the whole
thing. I have since taken some acting classes and feel certain
that it's a valuable experience for all areas of animation.
Acting is so crucial for the animator and you don't always see it
in a storyboard. That's one of the reasons I am storyboarding
In FOX AND HOUND there was a sequence of Big Mama and Vixie
talking; just shots of heads back and forth. I said, "This is
boring. Nobody comes to an animated film to listen to characters
talk." I did some thumbnails of what I would have the characters
doing and the director's liked it. During the production of
MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL, the director, Burny Mattinson, liked my
ideas and suggestions so much he asked me to board the section
where Willie the Giant takes scrooge to see Mickey's family.
After that I knew storyboarding was what I wanted to do.
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