Benton Jew is an Asian-American professional illustrator/storyboard artist/comic artist living in Los Angeles, CA. Starting out drawing comics and making short films he worked for the special effects powerhouse "Industrial Light and Magic" (ILM) for thirteen years before branching out working on blockbuster films like The Incredible Hulk, Green Lantern, and Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides.
Stick around at the end of the interview for a series of storyboards from the mermaid sequence for Pirates 4!
When people ask you what a storyboard artist does what do you tell them?A storyboard artist helps the director take that first pass of translating script words into script images. The storyboard helps translate the directors vision into a format that everyone on the crew can understand and use as a tool to plan, budget and shoot a film.
Tell us about some of the recent films you've worked on?
Image: Storyboard from The Thing (2011)
A lot of films I worked on over the past couple of years came out in 2011. I did storyboards on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; a bit of costume illustration on Thor; some concept art on Cowboys and Aliens; some post-production storyboards on Green Lantern and some storyboards on The Thing.
Every once in a while, you get on a show that gives you an opportunity to travel. This year, I got to spend several months in New Orleans on [G.I. JOE 2: THE COBRA STRIKES]. I actually think this will be better than the first one with it's stronger emphasis on action.
Image: Storyboard for Star Wars - Episode 1:The Phantom Menace
If you mean in my entire career, probably the thing I'm best known for storyboard-wise is the final battle with Darth Maul in [Star Wars - Episode I:The Phantom Menace]. It was fun for me as it allowed me to put to use my knowledge of Hong Kong martial arts films. More recently, I helped do the mermaid sequence in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It was fun. I love drawing sexy girls so it was a perfect sequence for me.
They gave me and Giacomo Ghiazza (who also helped board the sequence) a lot of creative leeway. We got to contribute a lot of our own ideas in that one.
While everything you have done is rewarding, is there one project that you're proud of the most?
Some of the best boards I've done were done for a film that never got made.
A few years ago, director Dean Deblois (half of the directing team that brought you Lilo and Stitch and How To Train Your Dragon) was working on his live-action debut at Disney. It was called The Banshee, and it was one of the best family oriented fantasy scripts I'd ever read. I boarded on that film for nearly nine months till Disney decided they didn't want to do it. There was some really nice fantasy/horror visuals in that one, mixed with a lot of heart.
I also did some boards that I liked on McG's sci-fi flavored version of Captain Nemo. Another show that didn't get made. There was some really great artwork generated by the art dept. for that show. Would have made a great "Art of" book if the project had gotten the go-ahead.
What's your background as artist?
I've been drawing since I was 5 years old. I was always drawing my own little comics.
When I was in junior college, I was an award-winning editorial cartoonist. I went to the Academy of Art College (now called the Academy of Art University) to study illustration. I had many good teachers like Barbara Bradley, Chuck Pyle, Thomas Blackshear, Drew Struzan. I did small bits and pieces of things for some magazines and small comics publishers.
I was a visual effects art director at ILM for 13 years, working on The Mask, Men in Black, Mummy. ILM loaned me out to Lucasfilms to storyboard The Phantom Menace.
I struck out on my own and moved to Los Angeles on 9/11. Worked on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Chronicles of Riddick, The Day After Tomorrow, The Incredible Hulk, Green Lantern, and Pirates 4.
Still keep my fingers in comics a bit. A couple of years ago I worked on a couple of short projects for Marvel. Also did some work on other small press projects like "Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology" and "The Adventures of Unemployed Man"
How did you decide to become a storyboard artist versus other types of art?
So the road was kind of set for me. While I was still an art student, an illustrator named Stan Fleming came to give a talk at the school. Stan was an amazing storyboard artist who was incredibly fast. He boarded Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom among other things. Afterwards, I showed him my portfolio and some comic book work I did (I remember he was impressed with a comic story I had done for the Oakland A's magazine).
At some point Stan had been asked to work on a project called Body Wars at ILM but wasn't available, so he recommended me through the the school. I interviewed at ILM and got the job. Once the show wrapped a few months later, ILM called me and said they were putting together their permanent art department and invited me aboard. The money was better than if I was doing comics. My interest in special effects helped, and it was a more stable form of employment than magazine illustration. Everything seemed to click. It was my first job out of art school, and I stayed there for 13 years.
What are the three biggest influences in your art and why?
I'm also inspired by the great illustrators of the "Golden Age" of illustration. Dean Cornwell, Noel Sickles, Albert Dorne, Robert Fawcett. These guys really new how to DRAW! I really appreciate good draughtsmanship. The artists of that time really knew what they were doing. Ditto for comic strip artists of that time, and later: comic book artists during the "silver-age".
I guess you can also throw in most of the European comic artists over the past 30 years. I really love good solid drawing. And good classic films, those are always an inspiration! Hey that's more than three! Oh, well...
Can you name the strangest place your inspiration has come from?
Nothing really strange. If I'm working on a project, I try and immerse myself in that world as much as I can. Imagine what it's like to live in that world, sleep there, eat there. I do my research, read stuff, look at photo reference. If you just immerse yourself in the world, the ideas will flow more freely.
Tell us about your book project "Babes in Space."
Babes in Space" was a self-published comics anthology I did many years ago (2004?), along with several other talented artists. We are always doodling girls and sci-fi stuff outside of regular work. After working on other people's projects all day, many artists like to have an outlet for their own creativity. These small, vanity press projects are one way of doing that.
Since "Babes in Space", I've done several self-published little projects, and try to have something new at my Artists Alley table at San Diego Comic-Con every year.
Where will we see your work next?
A short EC style comic book story that I wrote and drew will appear in "Bela Lugosi's Tales From The Grave #3" It's scheduled to come out early next year. I also did some artwork that should appear on the TV comedy series, "Parks and Recreation" in early December.
Thanks for the outstanding interview Benton! Since I loved his storyboards so much, I decided just to put them all up for you to enjoy.
IMDb page and check out his superb blog at http://bentonjewart.blogspot.com/.
Plus, buy his book "Babes in Space" today!
What do you think of Benton Jew's work? Any favorites?