Storyboarding for Hollywood on iPad Pro

Apple Pencil (2nd generation)
Apple Pencil (2nd generation) (Image credit: iMore)


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Rene Ritchie: I'm Rene Ritchie and this is Vector. Vector is brought to you today by Mint Mobile. Mint Mobile lets you pay much, much less for premium US wireless service and right now, if you buy three months, you get three months free.

You can even get free first-class shipping on any Mint Mobile purchase by using promo code VTfreeship. That's VT as in Vector, Thank you Mint Mobile.

All right, so joining me today, I have Rob McCallum. How are you, Rob?

**Rob McCallum((: I'm fine, thank you. Nice to be here.

Rene: I met you at a developers' meet and greet where people were showing off how they used...Not developers, maybe, what's the right word, professionals meet and greet where people were showing off how they used iPad Pro. Before we get into that, I'm curious a little bit about your background.

Maybe if you can tell us what you actually do for a living, that would be cool.

Rob: I am a storyboard and concept artist working in film and TV. I've done movies you've all heard of and TV stuff you all have heard of. I've worked films like...There's a long, long, long list. "Pacific Rim,"" Four Brothers," "Victor Frankenstein," "Hairspray,"" IT," the recent summer blockbuster, highest earning horror movie of all time.

Rene: Maybe I've heard of IT.

Rob: You may have heard of IT. That's always really confusing [inaudible 1:31] when people will say, "What are you working on?" I say, "I'm working on IT." "On what?" and you're going to the [inaudible 1:37] . Most recently, I've been working for just under a year-and-a-half on the new "Star Trek -- Discovery TV" series.

What are storyboards?

Rene: That's brilliant. When you say you do storyboard, is that sort of when we see the behind-the-scenes footage on DVDs, or Blu-rays, or iTunes Extra? It almost looks like the comic book that gets made before the director films the scenes?

Rob: Basically, it's the cheapest way of making the film for the first pass. Typically, it will be the more complicated scenes. A lot like I have done this, I have storyboarded this stuff but, technically, you wouldn't have to storyboard dialogue scenes with actors or anything.

It's usually visual effects, complicated stunt sequences, anything that the other departments would benefit from knowing what they would have to do ahead of time, basically, so that they can do what the director has got planned. Basically, it also helps with working out the budget for things, how many visual effects, shots you're going to have, things like that.

Rene: If somebody sees a visually-impressive scene in IT, or Pacific Rim, or Star Trek -- Discovery, chances are there is an illustration that you have made before that ever got shot.

Rob: Yes, yes. Sometimes, they look exactly like I drew it. Other times, it looks like, "Well, yeah, OK, I can, you know, I can see why they changed it." Pacific Rim was heavily, heavily storyboarded.

Rene: Yeah, I bet.

Rob: The storyboards that I did were basically for the opening and for the ending. It's very, very similar. It's very similar, which is nice. [laughs] It's nice to see it when you go, "Oh, wow." Then a lot of times, there's one job that I had recently that I was doing as this side gig. I worked on it really, really hard in my spare time, like evenings and weekends and stuff that.

Then, I finished it and I handed it in. I was, "Oh, great, great. I've done that, that's fantastic." Then, the new version of the script came out, and my sequence was completely gone.

Rene: Oh, no! [laughs]

Rob: I didn't have to give the money back, so that was OK.


Becoming a storyboard artists

Rene: How did you become a storyboard artist?

Rob: I used to draw comics. I worked in Marvel and DC, "2000 AD," "Judge Dredd." I actually started off in a dirty Glasgow humor comic called, "Electric Soup," alongside the artist known as Frank Quitely. That's not his real name, but we'll go with that. Frank Quitely draws Superman. He's stayed in comics, he's done really very well.


Rene: He's Grant Morris's frequent partner-in-crime.

Rob: He is, and Mark Millar as well. He did a bunch of stuff for Mark, too. He just had a huge exhibition of his work in Glasgow, which I arrived two days after it finished.


Rene: Like "All-Star Superman," and "The New X-Men," and that kind of stuff.

Rob: All that kind of stuff, yeah. We both started off on that, and I used that as my student job when I was at Glasgow School of Art. Rather than get a job behind the bar or waiting tables or something, I drew comics for this comic that you wouldn't show your mum.


Rob: It was just the most base humor. Through that, I had the visual storytelling thing going on with the comics, I ended up doing stuff for Judge Dredd, and then I branched out into more mainstream comics after that.

At the same time, I was making my own short films at art school, which involved me to having to storyboard it. That was going along at the same time. Eventually, I was working for Stan Lee, on Stan Lee's "Excelsior!" line. This is about '96, '97, something like that. It was only for about a year and a half, nearly two years. Nothing ever came out. It was a lot of development and stuff like that.

Marvel, I think they were going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the time, and they kind of pulled the plug on everything. Then, the next day, I got a call from a film director who had got my name from the "2000 AD" editor, because he'd asked if there was anyone in Glasgow, might know how to do storyboards.

He'd used comic artists in the past. I just happened to have a bunch of comics that I could show him more finished artwork, but I'd also showed him the storyboards from the short films that I'd written and directed while I was at art school. He was sold on a film called "The Ruby Ring," directed by Harley Cokeliss. It was a Hallmark TV movie, which I've never seen.


Rob: I've always been searching for it. I've never seen it. That was the first thing I storyboarded. I went on to do another two Hallmark movies, and then my name started getting known around Glasgow, and I did some short films.

Then, I storyboarded two of the three short films that went to make up "The Acid House," the Irvine Welsh adaptation, directed by Paul McGuigan, who I still know and still work with to this day. Did Victor Frankenstein with him, and "Luke Cage," and a whole bunch of stuff.

Then, I moved to Canada, because I'd met Jacqui, who's now my wife. It's another very, very long story...


Rob: ...bear with me. Nah, I'm not going to bother. Basically, my first job in Canada was doing storyboards for "The Recruit." Then I got the "Bulletproof Monk." I've really been kept busy since then, and now it's today. [laughs]

Selling sequences

Rene: I guess, in comic books, you're channeling the script into visuals. Here, you're not doing the final visuals, but you've still got to create a vision for what is on the page before it gets put onto video.

Rob: Yeah. Comics are actually kind of a good training ground for doing storyboards, as much as a storyboard, realistically, could just be like a bubble with somebody's name written the middle of it to know where they're standing in the frame.

If you can sell the sequence, if you can give everyone as much of a feeling of how it flows, even if you do it really quickly, but learn cinematic framing and stuff like that, comics are a very, very good training ground for that.

Basically, you're directing it. You are doing the costume designs. You're doing the casting. You're doing the acting. You're doing the lighting, the set design, the prop design, everything. When you go to do storyboards, sometimes you're doing a wee bit of that.

Sometimes it'll all have been designed for you. You'll work closely with the art department to find out what the space, the set that you're going to be working is, so that you know where the walls, so you don't put the camera in the middle of the wall and make it difficult for anyone to film certain shots.

I've had films, I think it was "Silent Hill -- Revelation," the second one, where I came on that really early. None of the creatures had really been designed yet, so I kind of just drew something. Then it went through the whole design process with a few other people. The director ended up saying, "You know what? I like what Rob did. Just do that."

Rene: [laughs] That's great. Also, because I follow you on Twitter and I've seen little bits of your work here and there, what you're allowed...


Rene: I should preface it by saying that, when you work for big companies, you often do not have control over what you're allowed to talk about or show, but I have seen some of your stuff, and there's a real emotionality to it. When I look at some those panels, I don't just see the position of things in space but I get a real sense of the emotional impact of them.

Rob: You're trying to tell a good story. This is a good diversion onto digital versus practical art. When I used to draw storyboards on paper, I used to try and use the kind of comic logic to it.

When you're drawing a comic, you plan the panels out so you're aware of how the reader is going to actually be reading the comic and experiencing the story. If there's a huge impactful moment that you want to convey, it's good if you turn the page to that, so you plan the panels accordingly so that this huge last page is going to be something that people turn the page onto.

That will impact you because when you're drawing comics, you have to be aware of how your timing and how your pacing of what is being seen affects the reader. I try to do that with the story boards, as well, so if there was one big shocking review I would try and basically time the story boards so that you had to turn the page to it.

When you were flicking through a big stack of storyboards, which were frequently as big as two phonebooks on some movies, which is something you can't really do these days. [laughs] That's one thing that a PDF does not [inaudible 11:56] .


Going iPad Pro

Rene: Let's get into that. What brought you to iPad Pro?

Rob: The very first iPad I ever saw in the world was, one of the artists, Guy Davis, had one on Pacific Rim. I think it was the iPad, the first generation, the original one, and I thought that looks really cool. I said, "Can you draw on it?" and he said, " [inaudible 12:22] " doodling on something or other.

Then I got an iPad 2, that was my first iPad, and I spent a fortune on different styluses or stylii or whatever. I had the rechargeable ones, it charged a USB with a disk on it, and big chunky ones and stuff...

Rene: There was the Cosmos, the Adonit Jot, the...

Rob: Yeah, but those were pretty good, if you think about it.

Rene: The Ten One Design. There were so many of them.

Rob: I ended two favorites were actually the Fifty Three Pencil one, but if I remember back, I don't think that actually worked for pressure sensitivity on the iPad 2. I can't quite remember.

Rene: I think the only way they did pressure sensitivity was through Bluetooth back then, and you had to support their SDK.

Rob: Yeah, but I ended up finding these little metal ones in the Dollar Store, and they ended up being my absolute favorite just because the rubber they used is so hard.


Rob: Which was actually nice. I used to sketch and draw on my iPad 2, and I kept the iPad 2 for a very, very, very long time. The next iPad I got was the iPad Pro, so there was quite a jump in specs because I'd used my iPad 2 for...Trying to think, we had the sketch club, the paper and there was another one, I think it was a written sketchbook.

I used to use it for doing prop designs, and especially knives. Knives were really good to do on anything that could do symmetrical drawing. It was just really good for banging out shapes and stuff, and then when I saw the iPad Pro announced, because I really was wanting to upgrade but I just had the feeling there was something coming that I was maybe was holding off for.

Then I started reading rumors about, "Well, there might be a pencil or a stylus or something coming with it." An awful lot of people that I know, they use the Cintiq and I had a really old iPad and I had a really, really, old Cintiq, a 12-inch one, the very first one that came out, and everything was badly in need of an upgrade.

More than Cintiq

Rene: I had an Cintiq, as well, before iPad Pro. [laughs] I remember it...

Rob: Cintiq, all good and everything, but then I got the iPad Pro, and I got it home, and you couldn't get the pencil at the same time because the Apple Pencil was very hard to get. It was really, really, really hard to get on launch, so I'm sitting there and more and more of our work had been becoming digital over the years.

All my concept paintings were digital, my storyboards, if I was in a real hurry, I would do them digitally because then you didn't have to spend like half the day scanning stuff, so I'm sitting here with basically what was a huge iPad and I was saying, "This is a massive iPad. I'm really not sure of it."

Rene: [laughs] It was 12.9 inches. There was no 9.7 or 10.5 when it first came out.

Rob: 12.9 was the one, and my kids were coming in and going, "Oh, wow. Look at the size of that thing," I'm going, "I know."


Rob: I stated drawing with my finger and actually realized it had palm rejection, so you could just draw with your finger and with your hand actually traced on it, and I said, "That's pretty good," and then almost by accident, I managed to get an Apple pencil just when I was browsing that website for the two seconds that it was on it.

It arrived, and I started drawing, and I was like, "Right. OK. I get this now. I get it. This is good. I can make this work." I was just finishing off "Ghost in the Shell," and then I think I got a call from "The Strain."

It was an episode of The Strain TV series and I thought, "I'll try this. I'll give this a try," and if nothing else, I got to swan into the offices with one of these brand new iPad Pros and an Apple Pencil, and everyone would nod over it, and I got to show off Procreate and how it could draw straight lines, and all that stuff. [laughs]

I managed to do the storyboards on it and I managed to work out a workflow incredibly quickly for being able to do this. I was like, "I think this actually may work," because the Apple Pencil is by far the best drawing experience I've had digitally. This is as close to a real pencil as I've ever experienced, so the iPad Pro basically has changed everything about how I work.

It's streamlined it, and made it so much better, and I do enjoy drawing again because I was getting sick of the grind of the blue pencil, draw over it, and then fix it, scan it. It was taking forever and it was wearing me down, but working on the iPad Pro has changed everything, and I would highly recommend it, to be honest.

The fully digital workflow

Rene: My workflow, too. It brings a lot of the tools that we used to be analog into one easy-to-maintain digital package.

Rob: Everything's there. Given that everybody's got computers these days and is looking at everything on computers, you don't need to jump between platforms or hand over USB drives. You can AirDrop things. You can create PDFs, you can strip them down, you can upload them, you can share things. It's great.

And the fact that, like you said, every one of your drawing tools is there. I've been doing full-color boards just regularly, and that's not something that any sane person would ever do. [laughs] If you had to not do it digitally, it would take you forever.

Rene: No, absolutely. It is revolutionary in the kitschy sense of the word. [laughs]

Rob: Oh, yeah [inaudible 18:46] . It's just this little black rectangle that you carry about with you that can be [inaudible 18:44]. Like I say, it's totally changed everything about my entire workflow. I don't think I could actually begin to describe how much it's changed things and how pleasant it makes things, as well.

Rene: It was the same for me. I loved the Cintiq, but once I got to the Apple Pencil, you didn't have that parallax, you didn't have that reticule. It felt like you were connected to the screen.

Rob: Yeah, and the best thing was there was no lag. It was fantastic. It was incredibly accurate. Once I managed to get my brushes sorted out in Procreate that I liked, then I was flying. It was great. I did The Strain, and then I got the call to do "Downsizing," the Alexander Payne movie that's coming out very soon.

I think it's a couple of weeks, might even be next week. I thought, "Right, I'm just going to turn up with the iPad Pro and see what happens. I'm gonna leave the computer in the car so I've got no safety net or anything, and let's see what happens." It was absolutely fine. Gradually, as I went along, I was managing to make PDFs and edit them in iOS.

Really, to be honest, when you're working in a production office, the only problem that I had was connecting to the network printer.

Rene: OK. [laughs]

Rob: They like to hardwire everything and things like that, so that was the only problem I had. I just AirDropped it to somebody's computer, and they printed it for me.


Rene: You mention Procreate. Big fan of James Cuda and Savage Interactive's work. What drew you to Procreate initially?

Rob: I had initially tried Procreate when it came out on the iPad 2, I think it is. I quite liked it, but it just kind of was one of the drawing programs that I tried. I've got a bank of them that I used, but when it came down to trying to find the best app to use, I did a lot of research. I tried a lot of different apps.

Rene: There was Brushes really early on.

Rob: Brushes was really early on, yeah. Do you know what I ended up doing? Procreate was the one that allowed me the easiest options to export files in a mass batch. When you're doing a storyboard sequence, it can go anywhere from 5 to 200 pages. Procreate, that was the app that you didn't have to go through...Have you ever tried exporting stuff on Adobe Sketch?

Rene: No, I haven't, [laughs] especially not on your scale.

Rob: Oh, you will want to break a window.

Rene: [laughs]

Rob: It is so hard to get anything. I don't like programs like Adobe Sketch. Actually, there's a lot of potential in that, but you can't get anything off it. You can't even really export it as a PDF.

Rene: I get frustrated and I end up screen capturing, but that is such low resolution...


Rob: Oh, yeah.

Rene: ...solution.

Rob: Yeah, I can't do that. I've thought about that. [laughs] That was one of my grand schemes, "I'll screen capture everything." It doesn't work. It's not as good.

Rene: Nope.

Rob: Procreate was basically the one. Then, once I got the hang of my brushes and once I got the hang of the perspective tool, the perspective's incredible. It makes it so much easier. I've been talking with James and the two Matts at Procreate and giving them wee hints and tips as to things that I've...

I won't say anything in particular, because the thing works, because the thing works great, as a whole. I keep sending them, "I know that I might be the only person that ever needs this, but if you could do a way that I could save my perspective gauge for every panel."

Rene: Oh, yeah.

Rob: [laughs] If I've got to jump back and fix something, it takes me ages, because I've already moved the perspective gauge to somewhere else. But that's in no way a criticism, because I don't imagine any other human being, other than me and maybe a few other people, will ever need to do that. [laughs]

Rene: I know, but I love that. I love the idea of persistent, non-destructive elements being mixed with images. That's why I love the new formats, like HEIF, where it can store data alongside the image bundle.


Rene: If we could just figure out ways of making all of that stuff go with you, it would be fantastic.

Rob: Yeah, or even just save it on a layer and say that this layer's perspective guide is this, and then this layer's perspective guide is this. But, like I said, there's only me and a few other people [laughs] who would probably ever really notice that that thing existed or need it.

Procreate became the one that I started using, I think it was, halfway through The Strain. I started off with another one, a Manga drawing sort of thing. Then, when I found Procreate could export much faster, that was the one.

It's become second nature using it now, although James did have to explain to me...what was the thing? I think it was the [inaudible 24:27] I was doing it wrong. [laughs] Yeah, I'm still learning.

Rene: You mentioned the perspective guide. You mentioned brushes and layers. Are there certain tools you find that have become your workhorses?

Rob: Yeah, I've got maybe three or four variations of the same brush that I tend to keep going back to. You've got airbrush and stuff like that, and things that are in Star Trek. Some nice people have made some free brushes and I paid for a whole bunch of them, as well. You get really good nebular brushes for quickly knocking together space and stuff like that.

The whole fact that you can put properties onto a brush, like add and screen, color dodge and burn, and stuff like that, it's phenomenal for doing lighting effects.

Rene: I was never a professional like you, but I worked in design. I didn't get to draw illustration professionally, but back in the day, you did, literally, pencil or blue pencil. Then, either you or someone else would ink it. Because ink was permanent in the real world, it was really hard to change later.

Rob: Inking was the most terrifying thing for me.

Rene: [laughs]

Rob: I am traditionally not a neat person, as far as that. I tend to be very quick when I draw. I also tended to be very quick when I inked, because I feel you keep a lot of the energy of the drawing when you do it that way. Yeah, I used to blue-pencil them, ink one, and then White Out.

Rene: All the time!

Rob: Actually, back in the day when you used to FedEx artwork to people -- and faxes, we used to fax things, and then you'd FedEx it to them -- I actually got a complaint that my art work once jammed up one of the sequence scanners. I had so much White out on it because I had messed up the inking so badly, and the thing ended up being about a quarter of an inch thick.

Yeah, I love digital stuff. I'm glad I don't have to deal with that anymore.

Making the digital migration

Rene: I feel like I brought all this baggage with me, because I'll still pick, in Procreate, a pencil-like tool to do the first layout with. Then, I'll go over it with an inking tool and much more carefully, even though I know in my head the ink is no more permanent than the pencil anymore. It's just my mind is in that mode.

Rob: That's what I do. I think I'm evolving. It was always the HB pencil and the 6B pencil, and I did it in light blue. What I would tend to do is reduce the opacity down, so you could still kind of see it. It was maybe about 20, 25 percent opacity, so you could still see the under-drawing, because I always liked how that looked.


Rob: I always thought it gave a wee bit more meat to the actual drawing itself. Yeah, I still do that, and then I'll draw...Layers have spoiled us these days. It sorts you out when you basically know that the one line that you do is going to matter, and that's the line that you're going to...

It's like when my daughter, she's got one of those instant cameras that take 20 pictures on a roll of film. I'm trying to explain to her that you cannot do this the same way that you do digital photographs on my iPhone, because you can take as many as you want.

I feel my nerves are much better since I've started doing digital stuff, because you can go back and history's there. Delete the layer, you're good.

Rene: It's funny. I have friends who come from a painting background, and they use it so differently. They don't do the line out. They start putting down blocks of color, and then refining it by adding more blocks of color around or beside it. [laughs]

Rob: Yeah, yeah, definitely. When I'm doing a concept painting, I will tend not to sketch out first. I'll just get stuck in there and, hopefully, it should start to take shape eventually.

Rene: It's like clay almost.

Rob: Yeah, yeah, you're just bashing it around to see what happens. I've been doing that a wee bit more over the past few weeks, just to relax at night, producing some terrifying stuff that my wife can't look at. [laughs]

She just goes, "That looked really angry." I'm like, "Oh, well. [inaudible 29:20] ." I wasn't really very angry, at the time, but maybe I was getting something out that I didn't really know was there. [laughs]

Rene: One of my favorite things about Procreate is that you can also export the animation of you doing the drawing. Jim Lee, who used to draw X Men and WildStorm and now is co-publisher of DC comics, was sharing some of the Procreate animations of his drawing. I found the whole process fascinating.

Rob: I only discovered that you could do that not that long ago. When I've got time, I've been going back and digging up all Procreate back-up files that I've made and pulling that out. It's funny, because there's a huge amount of them that, obviously, I'd started doing something and I'd worked on it for a significant amount of time.

Then, I had just cleared it all, and I must of used that as the base for an awful lot of my pictures. Every time you do that, it wastes 20 seconds of me doing a storyboard from "IT" and drawing Pennywise down in the sewers. Then, that all vanishes and something from Star Trek appears on top of it.


Rob: It's like, "All right, OK. So don't use the same panels, right." [laughs] Remember to do that.

Rene: Do you do a separate canvas per panel or do you ever do multiple panels on a canvas?

Rob: No, I tend to do three panels a page because that way, you get a good flow from that because there was a job that I've just done that the director wanted one panel a page so that he could edit them together in iMovie or something, I think.

Just basically do a quick animatic of it to see how it was flowing. I found I couldn't do that because you're drawing one standalone panel when actually, each panel relates to the panel before it and after it. For storytelling purposes, I had to draw three a page and then I just screen-captured and cropped.


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Storyboards vs. animatics

Rene: Has animatics changed the way you think about doing storyboards at all?

Rob: No. I've been working, on "Star Trek Discovery," I've been working with an animatics company as well, and a few other ones. It's becoming more and more common but the kind of...It's all storytelling. Animatics, they can look incredible. You also get ones that you wonder, as with storyboard as well, you can get ones where you wonder, "Why did you do an animatic of that?"

Rene: [laughs]

Rob: Because there's some things that...It's going to come alive on the set. There's some things that you're going to basically see how the actor's going to do. Animatics or even storyboards of certain things are kind of restrictive, I would think, to why you would try and plan something when it should be forming organically with the actors and the set and stuff like that.

Rene: And I think also, there are separate stages as the thing goes from the two dimensions of the script, through the storyboards to the beginnings of three dimensions in animatics, or now they're doing VR or AR layers before you actually shoot it practically. It's like a continuum, almost.

Rob: It depends. Animatics have their place and a lot of the time, from what I've seen, it's almost been like the company who's doing the visual effects are actually doing the animatics as well so the animatics would be like a rough draft.

But then I've seen other animatics where it looks like a bad PS2 cut scene. It's just simply distracting from the fact that you've got people floating about and things.

There's a place for it. There's definitely a place for it. I think it's basically...Just because you can do everything in one shot doesn't mean you should do everything in one shot. Basically, storyboards are all about storytelling.

A lot of the time, I don't get as long to draw it as I would like to, which in some ways has destroyed my patience for being able to do longer stints of drawing because I go, "Right, that'll do. Next." You're just flying through sequences and this actually is one thing that the iPad Pro has really helped with, working on iPad Pro has helped with.

It shaves off wee bits of time here and there. When I do my roughs, I do it on the iPad Pro. It used to be, I would do it on a separate sheet of paper. Then I would put the separate sheet of paper above the proper bit of paper that I was drawing it on.

Rene: So, sorry, did you go through that phase where you just had to draw it first? I went through this phase where I just had to draw it on paper and then scan it in, work on it digitally before I could adapt.

Rob: When I did "The Thing," the 2011 Thing prequel, and on Pacific Rim, all about the same time, I drew the roughest, roughest storyboards. Some of them were stupidly detailed but I did rough ones and then I would scan it and then I started doing it in Photoshop, then I would add lens flares and all sorts of stuff. 25 lens flares on every panel just to make it all flashy.


Rene: Because you could.

Rob: "Look at me. I'm in Photoshop." But, it's one of the things that the iPad Pro with the split screen now, is fantastic. Also, I can just import my jpeg roughs and try and keep the same energy in the roughs.

But then on something like Star Trek, it's a TV series so you don't have as long a prep for every episode so you're basically just getting stuck in and tweaking things and stuff. The great thing about when you're doing stuff as part of the bigger art department and everyone's all talking, which is the way it works well, all the departments all share stuff.

I can import sets onto iPad Pro through SketchUp or I've got an obj viewer for any specific props and stuff like that, then you screen capture it, you import it into Procreate, you cut it out easily, stick it on. It saves a lot of time, which everyone loves because they get to know what's happening faster. [laughs] That's the thing. Basically just, my life is one huge ticking clock...

Rene: [laughs]

Rob: ...of everyone asking me to do stuff faster.

So. Many. Tools.

Rene: You mentioned Procreate, you've mentioned Photoshop, Sketch. I've seen you do some stuff in Linea as well. Do you find different apps are just...? Different tools work better in different apps or it gives you different elements that you can use?

Rob: Yeah. It's nice to jump around as well, just to keep interest. Linea's really good. I used that a lot for the roughs on various things. Paper by FiftyThree I love sketching in that just because they have I think my all-time favorite pencil tool, pencil brush, whatever.

It's very, very subtle. Linea also has a good one as well but pencil was the one I found first, I like the tweaking you can do in that one. What else? Let's see what's on my iPad.


Rob: I've got Affinity Photo, which I've never actually managed to sit down...I've never had time to sit down and crack how to work it yet.

Rene: That's really good because it really takes advantage of all the power that you have on an iPad Pro now. Once you start finger-painting with deformation tools, you'll just go on for hours.

Rob: I'll have a go at it. It's on my list of the next ones I've got to do. Paintstorm can be quite nice. Art Studio was one of the first ones that I ever used because it looks like Photoshop and it's got the same layout as Photoshop. Art Studio is pretty nice.

Concepts, I've tried that as well. There's a new beta for them come out. That's quite a nice one. But like I say, I've got to have time to sit down and do it. My main apps are Linea, Paper, Procreate and Notability. Notability's invaluable because it's almost like a hub where I can just keep everything.

Before the files app, the [inaudible 39:50] files app came out, Notability, it was really my files app. It's where I kept everything. I still kind of do, just through habit.

Rene: I've played with Pixelmator too but for me, I end up doing more photo work than art work in Pixelmator and in some of the other ones.

Rob: It's one thing I need to find an app for because when I do concept stuff...I've been doing more and more of it through Procreate but to be honest, almost since the minute I got the first iPad Pro back in 2015, I've been doing nothing but storyboarding.

I did one batch of concept art for panels, Cosmatos, for his film "Mandy" that's coming out. Nicolas Cage one. I was able to actually sit down and do fully painted concept art on Procreate. There's some stuff I did on Paper just for the pencil brush. It ended up looking almost like a photograph itself. I was quite pleased with that.

Normally, what you would do in Photoshop, you kind of do photo bashing where you would basically just slap a whole bunch of photographs together, get what you want and then start painting between them all and stuff. I've yet to really try that.

Rene: Have you tried Astropad yet? Where you get to draw on your iPad and it shows up in Photoshop?

Rob: I have. I've got Astropad. I've also got Duet Display. I've tried both of them. They both work pretty well. I love those apps. I think they're great. They're incredibly handy and it basically turns your iPad Pro into a drawing tablet, but I would rather not have to rely on the computer in any way at all, is my ideal situation.

Case in point, my car was broken down. I had a big deadline on. I was able to work in various coffee shops just moving... [laughs] I was a transient coffee shop worker. I was moving from various places. They started staring at me.

I was like, "Right, I'm going. See you later," and I'd just go next door. I was working there and then I got the job finished, connected the hotspot up to my phone. I now have an LTE iPad so that's OK. I don't need that anymore. I emailed it off. I put it into Notability then I managed to reduce it through an optimizing program, sent it off.

Then picked up my car and I was driving home and it was one of the producers called up and said, "Look, we really need you to do this. We need this fixed, this fixed and this fixed. We need it within the hour." I went, "OK," so I pulled over into the side of a country road, whipped out my iPad, started drawing, finished it, sent it off 20 minutes later, started the car up and drove home.

I essentially was drawing storyboards in a ditch, basically.

Rene: [laughs] That makes a lot of sense.

Rob: Before, in situations like that, where you've got your drawing board, all your pencils, your blue pencils and electric eraser and stuff like that...This actually happened once. I just left all the work downtown, as you would in the studios to come home and enjoy your weekend.

I got a phone call on the Sunday night, saying, "The director needs this done. They're shooting it tomorrow morning, they need it done." I said, "I don't have any of my stuff with me." So they had to basically go in my desk, empty the entire desk into a black garbage bag, so that they knew they had everything that I needed.

They stuck it in a taxi. The taxi got to my house at 11 o'clock at night and I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning drawing it and then scanning it in and I sent it all off at like 5:00 in the morning, I think. You don't have to do that anymore because it's all there. It's all with you now. It's a big relief.

Everyday iPad Pro carry

Rene: The last question I have for you, if we pivot from software to hardware, you're using an iPad Pro. Is it still the 12.9 inch? Do you like any particular cases with it? How do you bring your pencil around with you? What is your gear bag like for this work?

Rob: What is my gear bag like? It's a 12.9 inch, which I think is actually...It's a perfect drawing size. It's not too big. The Cintiq I had was 12.8. The 12WX one that I had. It's a bigger screen. It's more real estate.

I've got the 12.9. I've got a leather smart cover on it and I'm using the leather sleeve and the Apple Pencil just sticks in the leather sleeve and that's that. I had a bag for it but it was getting too tough to get in and out.


Rene: So you just carry it like a book now.

Rob: I've got the sleeve and that's there to protect it. That's fine. I've also got, for when I'm on set...that's my office set up iPad. I use my older iPad to run over to set. That's in the silicon case that they used to do for it. It's got the silicon cover. I've got a rubber sleeve on my Apple Pencil, ABA iTec.

I got it off Amazon. That was like 11 bucks, which basically, it covers the entire Pencil so you've got a bit of a grip. It covers the charging, the cap as well. If you want to charge, you basically just pull it and the cap's caught in the end of the...This is fascinating for anyone listening to this. Sorry. I apologize. [laughs]

Rene: No, because actually, there's a lot of theoretical stuff with this and would it work in my workflow? For example, when Apple first showed off charging the Pencil in the iPad, I, like many people, said, "That just looked ridiculous."

But then I was at a coffee shop and I had to work and the Pencil ran out and I would've figured my way around it but I just put it in the iPad for, I forget, 20 seconds, and then I kept on working.

Rob: Yeah. This is my on set one. Back in January and basically I started charging it, then I was like, "What am I going to do with the cap?" Usually, if it's in the office, you just stick it to the magnetic bit of the iPad so that you don't lose it. Now, I'd stick it in the sleeve. It's fine.

I was all happy, hadn't lost a cap, put the cap back on my Pencil, dropped the Pencil on set, middle of a spaceship. The Pencil hit the ground, the cover with the cap shot off never to be seen again. Basically, I've got a kind of rugged sleeve that I've got for the Pencil.

I like it. It gives a good grip but for a long-term drawing, I just prefer the actually Pencil itself because you do have a tendency to grip too hard when you don't need to. I know that I've been talking to you, when we first met, basically.

I suffer from psoriatic arthritis. That's one thing that drawing digitally has really helped with, is the fact that you don't really need to lean as hard anymore, and you don't need to grip the Pencil that hard either.

You can actually be really light with it. You've adjusted your settings in Procreate so that the brush is doing exactly what it needs to do.

Rene: I've had RSI -- Repetitive Stress Injury, for people who aren't familiar with it -- for a long time, and I've had not a single issue. My biggest issue with the Apple Pencil is for about three months, I was just not used to having it so I would travel a lot and I would invariably leave it behind. I left a couple in Manitoba, in San Francisco, in New York.

The joke was, I would land in a city and then have to go to the Apple Store to go and buy another one. I've managed to regulate that now. I'm keeping it with me now.

Pencils in all the places

Rob: I've had a couple of scares but I've always managed to find them. I've got three Apple Pencils now. I've got one for each iPad and a spare but if I lose the spare, like for about six weeks, I couldn't find the spare so I went out and I bought one and I kept it. Went to the Apple Store, and they're just sick of me in there because I just go in and I go, "New Apple Pencil. I can't find it."

They sell me one and I keep it in the box and I don't even open it. Eventually it'll turn up and then I'll return it. [laughs] Psychologically, I need to have one at hand so that... [laughs]

Rene: I know, right. I was that way with my old pencils too. Is there anything you'd like to see Apple do with the next generation Apple Pencil? I know some people just want other colors. Other people want the Wacom-style eraser on it. Some people want the octagon shape instead of the circle shape. Anything you'd enjoy?

Rob: I was thinking about that recently. I'm honestly not sure. Maybe a we bit thicker sometimes but to be honest, it's weighted very well. Colors, I couldn't care less about...

Rene: [laughs]

Rob: be honest. Maybe a button here and there on it because that is one thing that was...But on the other hand, I've have to adapt to having a button now because I've got my thing going on where you know where things are. You've got the other hand dancing across pressing stuff. [laughs]

Rene: A lot of people were upset that Apple didn't have an eraser on the back like Wacom but I never used it because when I went to art school, the eraser was separate and so I use my other hand to erase and one hand to draw and I just never learned otherwise.

Rob: Just flipping it round, trying to...I actually think I've maybe used that once ever on any Wacom device.

Rene: Like kids in school have an eraser on the back but when you're in art school or when you're in graphic design, you have a gum or...

Rob: Eraser, yeah. I couldn't care less about the eraser and I couldn't care less about the color. I like the fact that it's white, which means it's got a better chance of being seen when I drop it or leave it somewhere.

Rene: Yes. [laughs]

Rob: I bought one of the standalone pencil cases and I got a red one because I needed to be able to see it. Black and very subtle colors don't help me when I've lost something.


Rob: I want a speaker on the Apple Pencil that I can beep it.

Rene: Like, find my Apple Pencil, you just go in, there's a button that goes beep, beep, beep.

Rob: Yeah, or a wee rocket that it can shoot, like a homing rocket that you press the button and the Pencil takes off and fires towards you killing anyone...

Rene: Like the Iron Man armor, like the Extremis armor.

Rob: Yes. Thor's hammer.

Rene: Yes. Mjolnir but a pencil.

Rob: [laughs] Yeah, right, I think that's that sorted. Let Apple know that we've sorted out the next generation of Apple pencil.

Rene: All they need is some Uru.


Rene: So Rob, if people are interested in seeing more of your work or following you on Twitter, where can they go?

Rob: Twitter, @rob__mccallum. M-C-C-A-L-L-U-M. Two underscores because somebody got there ahead of me. I've got one @robmccallumart. I don't update it as much and you'll tend to hear less of my rantings on that one. It's basically just to post art.

I'm on Instagram @robmccallumart as well, and also @robmccallum. I don't know why I sign up to all kinds of things, but it's a good idea at the time. My website is It's M-C-C-A-L-L-U-M-A-R-T dot com. Again, I haven't updated that for a while, so basically Instagram and Twitter as well, I do tend to post stuff because I haven't had...this week is actually the first in about two or three years that I've actually had any real time off.

Rene: I really appreciate you spending some of that with us.

Rob: I said to you I will do that a year ago or so, I forgot.

Rene: No, I saw that you had a minute or two, so I figured I'd just take that away from you.

Rob: No, I've enjoyed. I've wanted to do this. I wanted to chat to you.

Rene: Terrific. I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for spending it with us.

Rob: Thank you very much.

Rene: You can find me @reneritchie on Twitter, Instagram, all the social stuff. You can email me at if you have any feedback on this show, any thoughts on future shows. I want to thank Jim Metzendorf for the great job he does producing and editing this podcast every day, because daily, wow, what was I thinking? I want to thank you for listening.

If you haven't already, you can subscribe in Apple Podcasts, you can subscribe in Pocket Casts, Castro, Overcast, all your favorite podcasts or clients. The links are in the show notes. That's it, we're out.


Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.