The Animatress Pipeline

Filmmaking Adventures

Why I Failed the Dora Test

I am still trying to figure it out. Perhaps in a year, I will see the mistakes as I do with my failed Nihao Kai Lan test, but right now, I just can’t see where I went wrong.
I size comped and laid the set out in maya to assure that there would be no guess work in regards to perspective and size comps in the board, but I still got it wrong. Was I inconsistent? Did I place the horizon line smack dab in the middle of the composition? I don’t know. Discuss it amongst yourselves. One thing is for sure, I’ll warn my students to never be thrown off by a simple show. They too have their hidden obstacles.

Comments ( I hope it’s ok to post these. The seem innocent enough)
“Some of the director’s comments were: “Cute drawings. Shows a sweetness to the drawings. Have a youthfulness & playfulness which is great! Too concerned about clean up. Need to work on volume. Size comp. & perspective is off. To help better yourself for the future, study the show & practice the style of the show & practice drawing Dora.”

Here is a response from two friends of mine. The most vocal of the two is a director.

Greg: First off, it’s off model…it’s drawn/acted “Ashanti style”, not Dora style (not that I’m defending Dora style..but it is what it is). Dora’s a pretty flat show…you’re forcing perspective shots in a show that doesn’t need them….on top of that, they’re not good perspective shots. Santa doesn’t look like he’s in the foreground….he just looks really small. Generally strange compositions. You missed the “Dora talking to the kids in the audience” thing…not sure if the script makes it clear when that’s happening, but you’ve got that amazingly long pan & wide comp at the start when you don’t need it at all.
Remember – TV storyboards ARE what ends up on TV…you won’t have layout or animation to re-interpret the boards to put it in the show’s style….your boards don’t look/feel like Dora, so they didn’t feel comfortable throwing you into it. Hey, at least you got some compliments w/ the rejection.
Wow, just saw the 3D model….while that is impressive – it was absolutely unnecessary….I imagine that took a lot of time. That’s time you should have spent on the show’s character style and visual storytelling style.
Oh, sorry…you did do the “Where’s Santa” talk to the camera thing….eh, I’m up in the middle of the night for some reason. πŸ™‚ …but, there’s still a lot of complicated business going on. Needed to be way simpler.

2nd Commentor: These tests are unethical…they ask you to do a ton of work and then throw them out. If you actually see the productions boards they are basically chicken scratches that are pushed through the cycle. Seeing your boards you could easily be directed as a board artist. I think they are fully staffed and are just hiring from within word of mouth. Usually they rehire people they know first and then search for new talent. Keep plugging away at the Maya and FX…Dora isn’t necessarily a premiere creative job.

Greg: David – you are so, so, so wrong. Board tests are essential…there are many fantastic artists out there with wonderful portfolios…but they often don’t have an instinct for a show’s style or context, shot composition and flow. Sometimes they just don’t have a sense of visual storytelling at all. A test is an audition. No artist is entitled to a job. Almost every job I was hired for was due to a test. Now I’m in a job where I often look at tests….and believe me, I don’t hire from word of mouth…I’m looking for more than chicken scratches…and I see TONS of legitimately bad tests. I’d like to think I’m objective…I won’t dismiss a test for lack of perfection. I understand that it IS “just a test”…but I have to see that a person “gets it”. We recently hired someone based on their test and my feedback on it….and she’s done great. NO ONE KNEW HER. She got hired due to her test! Ask her if it was a waste of time. πŸ™‚

Dave This is from your perspective and I respect that, but I have boarded for the cartoon network, Klasky and other studios and from my perspective it’s unfair of the applicants to produce a lot of work. These tests do weed out people, but they are no means should be the end all be all. My problem with them is they ask people to do a TON of work for nothing. Cut down on the amount asked to board. I know from direct experiences that they ask far more from applicants than they do from actual production which has crazy deadlines and perfection is not the goal. Knowing Ashanti, she could easily succeed working for Dora, but knowing Nick, they have a ton of people to pick right in L.A. We would rather hire someone who could start today rather than someone living in another state…even if they had talent. Word of mouth comes from colleagues who have worked together on other shows. As for beginners, sure test them, just don’t ask people to spend days on end to produce a mountain of boards when you can determine with just a few pages whether or not they have aptitude.

Greg: David – I agree that tests shouldn’t be huge. This Dora tests looks like it couldn’t have been more than 1/2 a script page. Ashanti ended up overworking it….that’s not the studio’s fault. And, while it’s true that Ashanti could probably learn and figure it out….lets say they have a pile of tests that show that people instinctively “get it” right off the bat…well, who would you hire?

Ashanti – There is overseas layout. What I mean is – it doesn’t function like features. If you board something with wonky perspective or in a non-functioning way, an in-house layout department & animators would fix that. Overseas studios don’t do that. The board has to be on the nose in terms of what it’s going to be.

Greg: In terms of model…people DEFINITELY shouldn’t trace. I’ve seen many tests where people literally cut ‘n paste the model sheets and augment the limbs. Those are an instant “NO”. However – sizes, proprortions, expressions and poses are EXTREMELY important. Your Dora doesn’t have the right eyes or mouth….she’s too tall…..the monkey is really stringy and lanky. “Loose” means “don’t do feature quality inked cleanups” ….however, it should still “look” and “feel” like the show.

As far as training is concerned…I think you need to DE-TRAIN yourself….understanding these shows you’re testing for isn’t about training, it’s about instinct for context and adaptability.

Ashanti – How do the Koreans adapt to styles when they don’t even know what the fuck the characters are talking about? πŸ˜‰ You still think like a feature animator….that’s not how you approach storyboarding…especially TV storyboarding.

Yup, TV boarding is a job where one has to wear a lot of hats….you pretty much have to imagine the finished film in your head, and board it as though you are the storyteller, layout artist, animator, and editor. There isn’t time as in features to pitch, experiment, rework, repitch, etc…it’s just a different beast.

Actually Steph – I’d submit that feature boards are LESS about acting….because you have animators who are going to call all the creative shots w/ the acting.

I guess I like TV boards cuz I like having the control and seeing as much of “me” on the screen when it’s finished. I guess it’s more responsibility up front, but the end result is satisfying. I should try feature boards one of these days….

Maybe I’ll start some kind of blog over my hiatus and post some of my old tests.

I took a lot of those tests that David hates…lol…but hey, it worked out. πŸ™‚

If your job consists of being yelled at and crying, you’re not in the right job. Find something that makes you happy.


Now the advice given is very good advice for working on a show like Dora or Family Guy, HOWEVER, if you have been working on 2D/3D hybrids like I have been been doing over the past several years, then my methods are justified. My habit of building sets is common in a CG process called pre-vis. A very good friend of mine from the top VFX house in the country confirmed it. So, take critiques with a grain of salt. Moreover, the essence of Greg’s advice is to board in the style of the show you are trying to work for. My sophomore year baording style that was used for Soleil Rocketship would’ve been fine. There was no need to impress the director of Dora the Explorer with fancy live-action 3D staging. Greg could’ve been more specific and less myopic about the application my storytelling abilities in different genres, but that’s the nature of the animation industry; the director is not teacher who’s job it to expand your mind introduce you to different avenues. He has to concentrate on his own project and the philosophy of the studio her works and so do you. It is up to the artist to interpret direction and styles accurately. Judging from my failure of this test that’s easier said than done.
My advice, find a director ( or several) you work well with, that means; someone who’s direction you can follow accurately without fail, and stick to them like glue throughout your professional career!



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