Farmington native Dave Derrick, an author and story artist with Dreamworks Animation, will be returning to Utah Nov. 23-29 to promote his latest children’s book, “I’m the Scariest Thing in the Jungle.” Derrick, who started working for Dreamworks just after college, said that he became an author because it allowed him the kind of singular vision that gets lost during the animation process.
“When you’re making a feature-length movie, you work with a collection of artists to create something bigger than anything you could do on your own,” said Derrick. “It’s really special, but at the same time you kind of lose your artistic voice.”
Derrick has worked on a variety of well-known Dreamworks Animation films, including “Flushed Away,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Rise of the Guardians.” As a story artist, he sketches out the scenes of animated movies and creates story boards that animators use to guide their work. If changes are made to the script, scene or positioning of the character, the changes will be tested out by the story artists.
“We’re the cutting room floor for animation,” he said. “It costs a million dollars a minute to animate something, so the story department will draw out entire scenes again and again until we get it right. We don’t want to waste any animation.”
Derrick laughed. “We’re like the Marines – the first to go in, and the last to come out.”
He said he was inspired to go into children’s literature by the example of Bill Peet, a well-known story writer for Disney who also illustrated children’s books. Derrick, who jumped into the field in 2010 with “Sid the Squid and the Search for the Perfect Job,” said that the two fields are surprisingly related.
“They’re both visual mediums,” he said. “There are a few pages in my books where there are no words. The picture tells the story.”
While that’s true for both children’s books and animated movies, Derrick knows he’ll have far fewer pictures to work with in his books.
“When I do storyboards, I have hundreds of drawings,” he said. “When I do a storybook, I only have between 32 and 34 pages.”
Because of that, each picture in one of his children’s books really has to be as detailed and polished as possible. For someone used to sketching out a huge amount of drawings in a short deadline, those final touches can sometimes pose the biggest challenge.
“We’re trained to be quick,” said Derrick. “So for a story artist, having something that’s really, really finished takes a little coercion.”
The relative brevity of a children’s book also means that the stories are much more basic than those found in the animated movies he’s worked on.
“It’s usually a simple premise with kind of a twist ending, or a nice big payoff joke,” he said.
No matter the medium, Derrick still goes through the same process to make sure the story will resonate with the audience he’s trying to reach. When making a movie, he’ll pitch his idea for a certain scene to the director and see how well it’s received. When he’s working on a book, he’ll pitch the idea to his children and look for the same signs.
“I know from the reaction whether I’m on the right track or have to try something different,” he said.
And, once the book has made it past his children, deadlines and the publisher, he’ll add just a touch of animation magic.
“I always make a book trailer for my books,” he said. “It’s kind of a fun way to bring both worlds together.”
• Nov. 23 – Reading at 11 a.m. at Barnes & Noble, 7157 S. Plaza Center Drive, West Jordan
• Nov. 29 – Reading at 11 a.m. at the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum, 444 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City