Nayro: Do what you love and it will surely get noticed
Marina Makarevich, storyboard artist at Heroes of Envell project, told us about her creative way, and the specifics and technicalities of her work on the most mature project of the studio.
MARINA NAYRO MAKAREVICH
Hi! My name is Marina, and I turned 26 almost a month ago. You can find me under the username Nayro on the web, specifically on ArtStation, Instagram, and Twitter. I’m an illustrator, a concept artist, and since recently a storyboard artist on the project Heroes of Envell.
How did it all start?
I was born 1500 kilometers from Moscow in the wonderful city Ekaterinburg, where I spent the first quarter of my life. This is where my desire to work in animation has sprung up. I didn’t study art anywhere, but literally started drawing since I was one month old. At the age of 8, thanks to the support of my lovely mother, I enrolled in the animation studio Attraction that had been led by director and animator Sergey Aynutdinov during those years until its closure in 2008.
I remember that the experience left a lasting impression on me, even though it didn’t last as long as I wanted it to. At the studio, I managed to create a short cartoon that lasted only 40 seconds but took me about a year of work. By some miracle it snatched third place at a local film festival. Naturally, it inspired me for further heroic deeds, but I made no attempts to make animation anymore even though I had a dream to become an animator, and in a studio none other than Pixar! Eventually I realized that animation just wasn’t for me; I simply didn’t have enough patience for it. However, I still had a desire to tell stories through pictures.
At that time, I had no idea that a profession such as a storyboard artist even existed. Though, essentially, I was doing all the things storyboard artists do but at an amateur level, just for myself. It was ten years later when I managed to meet an animator and director Rodrigo Huerta online, who quickly directed me to the right path. Despite my weak protests, he insisted I sketch some storyboards for a couple of his projects. Somehow, he was confident in my success. Rodrigo, if you are reading this now — thank you for everything!
Your place for creative work – what is it like?
I own a mini studio equipped with love — this is the most comfortable place for me to work. As for my work tools, I’ve got a real Frankenstein of a machine that is made of spare parts of varying ages that still work on Windows 8. Graphic tablet monitor Yiynova MVP22U has been my faithful assistant for two years after it had replaced a well-known Wacom. 12.9-inch iPad Pro is very convenient when travelling and in other force majeure situations. And of course, there’s always good old paper and pencil.
Tell us about your recent projects
Designing icons for the (then-upcoming) indie game Legion TD2 was one of the recent and most cumbersome projects I’ve taken upon before Parovoz. Before that, there were some projects in collaboration with Rodrigo Huerta, one of which was the pitch for a new animated show for Cartoon Network. Unfortunately, the project’s been put on hold for now. I’ve got a bunch of materials left over after this project that were created for the so-called «pitch bible» — a brief but well-founded presentation of a new concept aimed to gain the interest of producers. The pitch bible may include materials such as comics, illustrations, storyboards, concept arts, short synopses of plots for potential episodes, and even complete animatics with sounds and a voiceover. I can say for sure that this kind of diversified work on the pitch has prepared me for what I’m doing now. And most importantly, it helped me find the direction I wanted to follow.
What was your acquaintance with Parovoz studio?
My first experience with the studio was very unexpected. By a twist of fate, I got a business card with its precious phone number, though I hesitated to dial it for nearly a month and a half. It was pretty stupid of me, but better late than never – I don’t regret my decision. This is my best advice to everyone without exception: when you see an attractive opportunity, grab it fast and hold it tight!
When I first arrived to the studio I met Anton Lanshakov, the director of Heroes of Envell – only then I learned what project I was going to be working on. Being a gamer from an early age (back in the days of of IBM «dinosaurs» and classic pixel games with acid graphics like Pipe Mania), I couldn’t imagine a better job than this. So, that’s how it started.
Let’s get to the point! The main thing that a storyboard artist has to do is to create a visual prototype, a type of «carcass» for future animation. It is the main instrument in pre-production, and a storyboard or an animatic can provide an early view of the final result. Heroes of Envell is a very dynamic animated series. Traditional hand-drawn storyboards are not necessarily used. Every one of our episodes has an action scene that requires a specific approach. In cases like these you won’t get far with the help of a traditional storyboard and it’s just too difficult to explain it in just words — that’s why 3D locations created specifically for a future animatic are used. The locations are made out of separate 2D layers in After Effects. If the final 3D location for the cartoon hasn’t been designed yet, we use a simpler layout like this one.
After the locations are all figured out, I move on to the characters. These images are made with transparent backgrounds, so they’re pretty much like digital cardboard cutouts. A single drawing is made for every action. Each character has their own color — this way it’s easier to tell who is who when you look at the thumbnail.
The main advantage of an animatic with 3D locations is that you can make it very clear what the camera is supposed to show, which optics should be used. It is critically important for a show like Heroes of Envell where dynamic and unusual wide angles are abundant.
Sometimes, we have scenes comprised entirely of traditional, static storyboards. These are generally based around dialogue and other character interactions outside of the main action, and I’m usually the one responsible for these scenes. The most important thing here is to convey emotions and the mood of a scene properly.
Most of the time such visually detailed storyboards are based on loose sketchy thumbnails, created by the director assigned to a particular scene. Once I had to create a whole scene from scratch using just pencils and leftover paper, all while I was 200 kilometers from Moscow. Then, when I got a chance, I redrew the whole thing on my tablet to make it look a little nicer.
It’s important to remember that an animatic rarely matches the final result completely. You can draw or write anything you want in theory, but in practice things are a bit more complex. Anything can change — parts of locations, a character’s appearance, and especially voice lines as a result of improvisation. Those have the potential to add extra seconds to the running time, forcing us to cut some parts out. I find it a bit sad that we always seem to have to make such sacrifices – though mostly it’s just things like jokes and dialogue that directly relate to the plot but don’t play a key role in it.
I make about 600 drawings on average per month, though I have done more. I even dread to imagine precisely how many drawings I’ve created in the past year!
What are you working on now? No spoilers, please!
Let’s just say Morgarth has a couple of surprises for our heroes, and they will have to jump through some hoops!
What difficulties does an artist face working with a director? How do you take criticism?
Here, the directors usually have the final say in any decision. However, constructive criticism is always welcome in our team. I believe the delivery is the most important thing here. In our case, both sides are always tactful about giving feedback and address issues without flaring emotions, and that makes me happy. This kind of atmosphere tends to inspire and motivate. You get all these fun ideas and you immediately want to share them without any fear of judgement. Though, disagreements do happen. We all have our bad days when every single thing seems to irritate us to no end for no good reason. I guess that’s okay — the important thing here is to be able to see your mistakes and make up for them. It is good to challenge your own beliefs and leave your cozy comfort zone every once in a while.
This is the kind of profession where you should always keep in mind one thing – that you’re here to work under somebody else’s vision, and that vision might not necessarily match yours.
What directions would you choose for further professional growth?
Well, to be honest, I’d really like to return to making concept art and creating more rendered art in general, and also finally try to learn ZBrush! After that, we’ll see!
Do you have your own unique art style? Should one try to find it intentionally?
You can’t just intentionally force your style to form, I think that’s a huge misconception. Just like handwriting or accent, your style evolves on its own for a long time (years, not months) whether you want it or not. It’s not always consistent and tends to change as you do. You can and should help your style develop by doing exercises, such as drawing from life and analyzing styles of your favorite artists, but never blindly copying them.
In no way you should limit yourself and try to forcibly change something that comes to you naturally. You won’t have any fun, certainly won’t get a desired result, and instead will turn the entire process into psychological torture.
There are artists who have signature art styles that are very easy to recognize. And then there are «chameleons» who can easily adapt to someone else’s if needed. In the industry, there is an equal demand for both.
My style is so chaotic that I prefer to think I’ve got several — one style for every one of my projects, including Heroes of Envell. I don’t draw characters with triangle noses anywhere else outside of work, it just… happened. Initially, I tried to imitate the style of concept art where the upside-down triangle was actually a shadow under the character’s nose, and at the same time I used a bit of my own style. Eventually both styles merged into one. Well, here you go — an example of an art style’s evolution.
So here’s the thing: there’s simply no easy answer for this question because each and every artist has a different upbringing, different life situations, and different experiences as a whole. The only real answer is do what you love. Just begin and keep at it. Your passion will be reflected in your work in one way or another, and your employer will surely notice this.
Who or what inspires you?
I can be inspired by pretty much anything and I try not to limit myself in that regard, because this way is just a lot more interesting! I usually look for inspiration in TV shows and video games that focus on a narrative, and less often — full length films and books. As for artists, I’m most inspired by the ones who invent their own worlds and can tell a story through drawings in an intriguing way. My main idol is Matt Rhodes, a lead concept artist at Bioware. Currently, he is working on the visual novel about the world Tellurion that he has created. Each subsequent drawing in Tellurion tells a certain story and moves the narrative further and further, all without using a single word. You can check out his work at tellurion.ca.
Have you had any creative blocks?
I don’t even remember when I last had an art block. I don’t think I had a single one in the past five or so years, simply because I had turned drawing into a daily habit. To draw something for me is like to make my bed or to brush my teeth. Of course your brain and hands will need a break from time to time. I don’t think these breaks can even be called art blocks. I’ll use this opportunity to recharge my creative energy and give my brain a well-deserved rest by getting out of the city, or by watching a couple of inspiring movies.
The absence of art blocks may sound great, but it also has one serious disadvantage. The longer and more intensively you work, the more you feel yourself a rather depressed robot that does nothing other than spitting out sketches, day by day, all while your mind is being tortured by sheer boredom. The process that used to make you feel good turns into this dull, monotonous routine, and that’s bad too. Things like podcasts, music, and Youtube really, really help.
Which works for Heroes of Envell do you particularly like that you’ve done?
Probably the «photo session» from the 12th episode, it’s easily my favorite one out of all works I’ve ever created. I just can’t call these «storyboards». Really, I could’ve just made some sketches and it would’ve been more than enough, but… I’m a connoisseur of silly faces, you see — and so I simply couldn’t resist the temptation and continued to meticulously render each frame through tears of laughter. I remember how I downloaded a bunch of apps just to try all the effects you see on those frames. Plus, by that point I accumulated a whole folder packed full of funny photos from the internet that could be used as references. As a result, what was supposed to be the scariest episode in the series turned out to be hysterically funny behind the scenes, and I still think back to it with a smile.
By the way, Mark’s monster look was completely different in the animatic. The official concept art had not even existed then, so I had to create my own version for the animatic. Actually, I was only happy to do it. I do love designing characters. At that time the description of his supposed-to-be appearance wasn’t really too descriptive: at first he was supposed to look something like a centipede with lobster claws for hands… Then, there was suddenly a need for tentacles, and the entire episode began to look like a cutscene from Dead Space. Despite significant changes, this version of monster Mark is dear to my heart, even if it’s not as creepy as the official one, and come to think of it, I designed it more for myself anyway.
On the other hand, i found the sounds of fourteen little feet scraping the floor in some dark hallway to be completely terrifying even in thought.
As for my top favorite works of all time — well, unfortunately they were left off screen. there is not a single episode without behind-the-scenes gags. we’ve even got a specific folder in our system for these kind of things, a sort of «treasury» for collecting such «gems». I can’t even imagine my work without them now!
Which book would you want to illustrate?
My own! I wish I had enough patience to finish it but I failed for the same reason as I did with animation — the speed of narrative turned out to be way too slow for my liking. Other than that, I don’t even know, there are so many awesome books to choose from nowadays.
What would be your advice for young artists?
Don’t let envy and jealousy get the best of you, learn to self-evaluate, and be open to criticism. Even experienced professionals aren’t immune to the feeling of inferiority when comparing themselves to other people. It’s not unusual or uncommon. You really need to track these thoughts down and stop them before they cause you any damage, don’t dwell on them. What’s better is to compare yourself to… yourself. Actually, it’s one of the healthiest and most useful things you can ever do — to learn to evaluate yourself objectively, without anybody else’s help. You have to be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and work on the latter. Be your own audience, be your own critic. Though, requesting fresh outside perspective is never a bad idea, and it doesn’t matter who you’re asking for feedback — your friends, your parents, your colleagues or even strangers on the internet.
Finally, what do you think about Heroes of Envell, not as a member of the project team, but as a viewer?
I believe things are just getting started for Heroes of Envell. This show grabbed me from the very first episode, and it’s not just because its main gaming theme resonates with me, no. I’ve always thought it’s very modern, very «fresh», and very sincere in spirit. Things can only get better, I’m sure!