Interview: Warner Bros. Animation Artist Emi Yonemura

Storyboard panel by Emi Yonemura. © Warner Bros. Animation & DC Comics

On May 30th, I had the chance to interview Emi Yonemura about her career in animation, publishing, influences and the process.

DBMI: Mind naming your official position, what drew you to that field and what a day for you is like?

Emi Yonemura: I’m a storyboard artist which means I take a script and make it into something visual (typically an animatic) that an animation studio will then use to fully animate. I work with my director to make sure shots work and that we tell the story the best way possible. The idea of creating an animated movie or show from scratch really appealed to me, especially the fact that one day I could direct as well. A typical day for me is draw, draw, draw. It depends on what part of the schedule I’m at (breaking down a script, doing a rough pass to pitch to my director, etc) but most days I go to work early, meet with my director to check in on how the project overall is going, how my part is going, and we try to problem solve together any issues he’s encountering (mostly with script/storytelling). Then I draw for the rest of the day, trying to make sure I can hit my deadline. Sometimes those days become long nights if we have a tough deadline to hit, but it’s usually worth it to make sure you get good work done.

Storyboard Panel by Emi Yonemura. © Warner Bros. Animation & DC Comics

Knowing all the steps and the inner-workings is a valuable toolset. That will help immensely with directing.  I was pleasantly surprised when Joaquim Dos Santos moved on to directing. Is that your ultimate goal? Also, what artists inspired you growing up?

Yes, I’d love to direct! I don’t know if that is my ultimate goal (it’s always changing as I learn more about the animation industry) but it’s on the list. At some point I’d like to create and run a show, but that’s much further down the line when I have the experience. I haven’t worked with Joaquim Dos Santos yet, but he’s definitely on the list of professionals I’d love to work with. I look up to his and Lauren Montgomery’s work a lot. Growing up I had a lot of inspiration, especially in comics and manga. I’d have to say Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura, and many of her short stories) inspired me the most, as well as Disney animated films/shows (Lion King, Darkwing Duck, Gargoyles). When I got older, Steve Dillon’s art in Preacher was a big influence. I’ve read a lot of comics and watched an unnatural amount of animated films and shows, so there are many influences scattered over my formative years, but those are the names that jump out as strongest.

Image © Vertigo/DC Comics

What genre do you think your show would fall into? Can you talk about how you got into the comic book field?

I have a few shows in mind, one based around science education and another would just be a fantasy/sci-fi action. There are so many genres to play around in that I would probably want to do a few!

I always wanted to draw comics so trying to do them and breaking in have been two totally different beasts. I learned about the Kubert School after bouncing around a junior college for years, and when I realized I could go to a trade school for comics I did everything to make that happen. As for breaking in, I never really managed with my own comic art (not in the published, this-is-my-source-of-income, sense). But I did land a job doing production design for BOOM! Studios and that was a blast. Comics are still something I would like to do in my free time on the side, especially getting back to my webcomic. It’s hard to find free time when working in animation, though.

It’s has to be frustrating spending so many hours, burning the midnight oil on a project and not be able to share it with friends. How bad did you want to scream that you were working on The Killing Joke? Is it usually like that?

It is always like that! Luckily for me that was a big enough project that I didn’t have to wait too long before it got announced. I think Justice League Action was a harder wait because it wasn’t announced for a long time, and it was (and still is) one of my most favorite of shows to work on. When you’re on a project you love it’s especially hard to not want to share it with everyone.

Image © Warner Bros. Animation & DC Comics

Can you talk about or hint about what you’re working on now? How intense was it working on JL Action? Was it a more compact process? Was the process different?

Sadly I can’t share what I’m on now but I hope everyone loves it! Haha! JLAction had its intense moments and all-nighters but it’s actually one of the best shows I’ve worked on. I think it’s mostly in part to having a strong crew that knew how to keep it going, plus the show was just so fun it made the hard moments worthwhile. It was interesting to work on a show that only has 11 minute episodes; that definitely made it feel compact! You’d think cutting a show’s length in half would make it easier but it actually doubles the workload. But like I said, totally worth it.

Yeah, cramming a whole story into 11 minutes must make you change your process quite a bit. What’s your favorite DC animated film/short? And favorite DC animated character to draw?

I think Under the Red Hood is still one of my favorites, but of course Batman the Animated Series is an all-time favorite. It’s so good and holds up so well! My favorite version of Batman, too. For my favorite DC character to draw… I’d have to say Dex-Starr! Ok, I’m biased because I love cats and his backstory makes me cry every time I read it, but he’s an angry ball of fuzz and I love drawing that. Otherwise I gotta admit, it halfway depends on the voice actor. I didn’t think I would, but I had a blast drawing Firestorm in JLAction simply because P.J. Byrne brought so much life to him that he was fun to animate. That really goes a long way!

Ha, Dex-Starr. I didn’t expect that. Great choice.

Image © Warner Bros. Animation & DC Comics

Seeee how perfect he is?!

I want to go back to your web comic to finish up, but before that, can you tell us what shows you’ve worked on?

Sure! I started by doing revisions on Lego DC Superheroes: Cosmic Clash (another project I adored and I highly recommend those Lego movies- they’re good!). I’ve done revisions on numerous projects but boarded mainly on Justice League Action, Bunnicula, and a few DCU films like Killing Joke.

Image © Warner Bros. Animation & DC Comics

Today it was rumored that Animaniacs are being rebooted.  Thoughts?

I haven’t heard anything but now I have to ask! I loved that show and always wanted a reboot. Thanks for the tip! ; ) I’m seriously gonna run around and ask a billion people who also won’t know anything. If it’s true, I want to work on it!

Ha, that’s the way it usually works, no one knows anything. By the way, Society Sucks is a great name.

I created my webcomic as a means to draw comics even if it wasn’t paid work. They say you gotta get out there if you want to work, so I got out there. But it was mainly to vent about things that frustrated me or random thoughts I had, like being unable to actually survive a zombie apocalypse no matter how badass I think I’d be. Looking back on it now it could sure use some updated art, but I’d like to continue it one day. And thanks! Society DOES suck! ; )

SocietySucks (And All I Got Was This Blog) © Emi Yonemura

Do you prefer digital or classic drawing tools?

Oh, that’s tough. I miss the feeling of pencil on paper and ink on brush, but I could never use traditional for boarding; the Cintiq is just too necessary and the programs they have now make boarding so much easier (or harder, if you like to get in there and really animate your boards). But I do miss physically getting my hands dirty.

I’m the same, those Wacom tablets back in the day were tough. I need to look at what my hand is doing for some reason.

I agree, it never felt quite right with the Wacom.

Well, thank you very much Emi for sharing your experiences with us here at FilmExodus.

It was my pleasure, thanks so much for interviewing me!

A very special thanks to Emi Yonemura for taking the time to talk to us. You can find Emi Yonemura’s webcomic here.

Batman The Catador by Emi Yonemura