Above: Children's TV legend Johnny Ball interviewed Martin at work at Elstree on Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in Autumn 1986 for his series on jobs and careers 'Think It ... Do It!' (aired on BBC1 13/3/87)
I'd read you next became an in-house artist for a new design studio set up by British comics publishing legend Dez Skinn, Studio System? How did that work out for you?
I was always very fond of Dez but as far as being an "in-house" artist for his new design 'studio' - that was never the case. He created and ran a comic-magazine Warrior for some months. A bold venture and I understood reasonably successful especially considering the financial climate at the time. [Critically well-received, Warrior launched the famous 'V For Vendetta' and won many Eagle Awards - Al] I think I drew and wrote a story for him in that comic.
Is it true that Skinn got you into movie storyboarding and thus opened up a whole new career for you? Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was your first assignment (US rel: Spring 1984)?
I think I was the only guy Dez knew then who actually did 'storyboards' (I had started infrequently to do a few for TV commercials) so when he was approached by Production Designer Stuart Craig who was prepping a new film about Tarzan and was seeking a storyboard artist, Dez naturally suggested me. It was Dez who introduced me to Stuart and it was therefore Dez who got me into the film industry and for that I will always be grateful to him. I hope wherever he is, he is doing well ... Bless him and bless his little cotton socks.
You've worked on a few small arthouse projects since - movies no-one's probably heard of like Labyrinth, Chaplin, Goldeneye, The Saint, Interview With The Vampire, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Tomb Raider, the Harry Potter films, Chicken Run, Batman Begins, The Da Vinci Code, Casino Royale ... I think it's fair to say you are probably the top British artist working in movie storyboarding today? You work in both the UK and Hollywood don't you?
Tell us how you work - basically you draw the film shot by shot to help the directors envisage and make some sort of permanent record of their visual ideas.
Storyboarding for a film is a weird process in that obviously every film, director, and problem is different. Usually the storyboard is the first time a director and producer see anything visual concerning the proposed film. Of course very often speed is of the essence. The director will either ask for a complete 'off the cuff' pass at any given sequence (usually dictated by the existing script) or he will be most specific on what he wants - sometimes it is in between both of those. An average sequence can be as much as 300 to 400 pictures and can be required in 2 or 5 days.
The job I think is essentially to get into the director's head - to think the way he does - to turn his mental image, his vision into pictures that all can see. These will become the kicking off point for discussion, revision, addition and rejection. On the basis that one picture tells a thousand words, the whole crew and shooting unit will know what we are all trying to do on any given sequence.
The other aspect is of course to save money. Storyboards can show whether an action will take place on location or set, and if the latter how much will need to be built, how long a sequence will take, how dynamically it can be shot, where explosions and special effects will take place or where computer generated images will be required. Boards can even show what will be seen using different lenses favoured by the Director of Photography. They can show in an action sequence (like in a Bond movie) how the camera can follow the star and not show his face (except for cutaway close-ups). In that instance Bond can be played by a stunt double and Daniel Craig can be off shooting another sequence in another place at the same time - thus clearly saving time and money.I could go on and on - I love storyboarding and it has taken me all over the world. I have met some wonderful people and made great friends. But I will not bore you further!
Having said that I should say that storyboarding could possibly be a dying art with the advent of a process called Pre Vis. This is a computer process where all the known parameters of set, location, effects, lighting, lenses etc. etc. are fed in, and any given sequence is created like an animatic. Once the information is processed, sequences can be viewed totally accurately and how they can be shot is shown with any given lighting, timing, camera height and lens, at the touch of a button. It is much more different in that it is so accurate. As I said a storyboard is a starting point - will give more of the feel and
atmosphere and hopefully reflect the director's initial concept of the story. At the moment Pre Vis takes much longer and requires two or three technicians taking two or three weeks to produce. But the gap is narrowing ...
Hm, that sounds absolutely loathsomely efficient. Drawing by computer - yuk!
What exciting projects are you working on now?
At the moment I have just come off the latest Bond film (Quantum of Solace) and am currently working on a film for Richard Curtis about pirate radio in the 70s which I am thoroughly enjoying [This seems to be currently titled The Boat That Rocked - Al].
I am just wondering, as a postscript to this, how you managed to retain some of your Look-in artwork? You are selling some pieces off via your new website www.martinasbury.com, including examples from all of your major Look-in strips. IPC sold off the remnants of their art archive to a dealer last year (2007) and this is now being sold to fans piece by piece, so how come you have this in your possession? John Burns (Look-in artist on The Tomorrow People, Space:1999, Magnum PI etc etc) was quite vocal about strip artists' rights and I believe he was instrumental in getting art back to artists?
All rather vague as usual I'm afraid. I think it was John Burns who rang me and said that Look-In was about to jettison all artwork from our strips and virtually 'bin' them. We had approximately half an hour on a given day to retrieve anything we could. I think we met Arthur Ranson, and the three of us got what we could. A bit of a mad scramble. I remember being horrified at the tale that IPC was using Frank Bellamy's work as backing for parcels! (probably apocryphal) But that sort of tale spurred me on.
And yes, John was concerned and vocal concerning artwork return but at the time I was somewhat ambiguous about it all, initially of the mind that the work had been purchased and therefore belonged to the purchaser. However there had been I was told, a test case between a national newspaper and an artist contributor in the 60s or 70s and it was deemed that although the printing and reproduction rights remained with the purchaser, the actual piece of artwork - the art board and the original scribbles thereon - belonged to the artist. Certainly The Daily Mirror people always returned everything I did at their own initiative.
I am saddened at your tale that IPC 'sold off' their archive to a dealer. I think it is shameful and without thought to those who contributed to its success.
Without those wonderful artists Look-in would have been a much duller place. Thank you for your wonderful contribution to its pages on the likes of 'Six Million Dollar Man'. A million thanks for giving me this interview - or should that be six million?
God, I have gone on and on. You must think I am very vain! Thanks for showing such an interest but you did ask!
Martin Asbury, thank you!