Visual Storytelling Structure & form at Fullerton College, Fall 2018

If you are in Southern California and want to master storytelling, I will teach Structure & Form for Visual Storytellers this fall at Fullerton College on Saturdays 11:30 – 6:30. It’s community college cheap, and you will learn a ton from masters about how they create stories…

We will watch, analyze, discuss, and work on our own stories, creating key events and images, and (if you choose), producing story reels or animatics. If you have a visual story project you’re working on, this will take you through the timeless basics of story creation, and we will watch no fewer than twelve great live-action and animated movies to inspire us toward our own best work.

Register at  

Class info: ART 218 F Visual Storytelling: Structure & Form, CRN#14219

Here’s the syllabus: FC218_Structure&Form_2018WithMarshallVandruff

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Traditional Media Techniques at Fullerton College, Fall 2018

If you want to master traditional media, including Pen & Ink and Watercolor, I will guide you through a semester devoted to classic techniques this fall at Fullerton College. You can choose your own materials and methods, but we will emphasize pen & ink (the old “steel pen” methods of comic book and illustration masters), and watercolor/wash drawings that allow you to create images in the tradition of classic illustration and animated feature backgrounds.

We will meet on Thursdays 3:30 –10pm, and will study master drawings throughout the semester, analyzing the technique of great artists to inspire our own skill.

Also, this class is very inexpensive – community college pricing!

Registration is at Class info: Sketching for Animators and Illustrators: Traditional Media Techniques. ART 147F, CRN#14220

Here is the syllabus if you want to see the homework load and agenda:


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Draftsmanship Crash-Course: Gallery Nucleus

Sunday afternoon
July 29, 2018
1–5 pm

This is the concentrated four-hour crash-course in Draftsmanship that boils down the best of a semester on how to apply perspective to anatomy and everything else in the world.

It will be at the famous Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra.

This seminar is for artists who want to draw realistically without photographic reference. I will make every minute worth your time with instruction, demos, and inspiration from great masterpieces of drawing by artists who have used this skill for over 600 years to master drawing problems, and especially to invent from imagination.

You can sign up here.

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Staging & Scene for Visual Storytellers at Fullerton College, Spring 2018

If you are in Southern California, I will teach Staging & Scene for Visual Storytellers this spring at Fullerton College on Saturdays 11:30 – 6:30. It’s community college cheap, and you will learn a ton from masters about how they create and stage scenes…

We will watch, analyze, discuss, and work on our own scenes for storyboarding and (if you choose), live action. If you have a visual story project you’re working on, this will take you through the timeless basics of staging principles and scene dynamics, and we will watch no fewer than forty great scenes from the history of movies for inspiration.

Register at  

Class info: ART 221 F Staging and Scene Development, CRN# 24876

Here’s the syllabus: FC221_Staging&Scene_Spring2018

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Expressive Drawing at Fullerton College, Spring 2018

Last semester’s Expressive Drawing class at Fullerton College was a party of experimenting with media to create new styles for both abstract and realistic images.  If you want to take it in Spring 2018, it’s on Thursdays 3:30 –10pm, and very inexpensive.

Registration is open at Class info: Expressive Drawing – ART184F CRN# 23391

And if you know someone interested – tell them! Here’s a little of what students did in 2017:

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About Marshall’s 2017 EARLY SCIENCE FICTION Production Design Class at Fullerton College


If you are developing imagery for a Science Fiction project, or if you you simply like classic science-fiction and want to try your hand at designing monsters, robots, aliens, fantastic worlds, space ships, ray guns, or special effects, this design course at Fullerton College will give you structure and resources to help you develop your ideas.

The class begins on Feb 4, 2017, and meets on most Saturday afternoons (1 to 6:30 PM) throughout the spring semester. It costs about $160 – less than $3 per hour of class time – and includes a classic SciFi movie every week on our 20-foot screen in BluRay.

I’ve been working on this class for the past year and am excited about the lectures, movies, and especially the imagery that filled the first half of the twentieth century with wonder and surprise as the genre evolved. As popular as modern science fiction is now, I propose that the old magazines and movies, the retro environments, the low budget and campy (and sometimes amazing) attempts at special effects, and the “vintage look” of classic science fiction is a rich and neglected visual resource for creative people working on production designs.

Also, I’m preparing lectures to help you find what most inspires you for the kind of images you will create at your best – in any genre.

This is a community college course. You get college credit. There is homework, which I have designed to provide deadlines for you to work on your own ideas and projects. The main work is to come up with 60 ideas (about five a week), roughly drawn, and carry six of them to finish with orthos. Also, we will collect and display our favorite images to inspire new and innovative ideas.

The Course Outline is here: ScienceFictionProductionDesign_Public

If you would like to take the course, go to and look it up. Here is the official info:

Production Design for Entertainment: Early Science Fiction

Class Catalog # DART 197 F

CRN# 24271

If you lack a pre-requisite, I can waive the requirement to give you a shot at this class if you have enough skills to ideate in simple perspective.

Looking forward to this!

Tell me: What is Your Favorite Classic SciFi, and Why?


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Your Favorite Classic SciFi & Why

THE OUTER LIMITS (Season One, 1963) The Architects of Fear

THE OUTER LIMITS (Season One, 1963) The Architects of Fear

If you are into Pre-1967 Sci-Fi, can you help me? I am collecting resources for an Early Science Fiction Production Design class.

This is mainly about movies as inspiration. What old Sci-Fi (or Sci-Fi-ish) movies do you consider worthy to inspire?

Below is my first-draft list. If it’s missing a must-see, tell me, and feel free to add comments, recommendations and warnings…

  • Metropolis (1927) (148 minutes)
  • Dracula (1931) (85 minutes) Not science fiction, but distinguishes Fantasy from SciFi.
  • Frankenstein (1931) (71 minutes)
  • The Invisible Man (1933) (71 minutes)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (75 minutes)
  • Young Frankenstein (1974) (105 minutes)
  • The Thing from Another World (1951)  87 minutes
  • The Man in the White Suit (1951) (85 minutes)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) 91 minutes
  • Invaders from Mars (1953) 77 minutes
  • THEM! (1954) (94 minutes)
  • Godzilla 1954 (96 minutes) and Godzilla 2014 (123 minutes)
  • Forbidden Planet (1956) (98 minutes)
  • The Blob (1958) (86 minutes)
  • The Crawling Eye (1958) (84 minutes)
  • Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) (98 minutes)
  • ZOTZ! (1962) (87 minutes)
  • La Jetée (1962) (28 minutes)
  • Last Man on Earth (1964) (86 minutes)
  • Alphaville (1965) (99 minutes)
  • Seconds (1966) (100 minutes)

THE TIME MACHINE (1960) sucked, but the few minutes of the special effects were great. Examples with caveats like that are welcomed. This is a production design class, so cool looking stuff is priority, and I appreciate it if you warn us away from full viewings that don’t pay off. So little time, and so many movies!

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Learning to Tell Stories, Part 4: Toward Mastery

Making Storytelling Easier

Whether you like story templates or don’t, this is my last thought on what I think is their first problem: they give students the illusion that they will make story-crafting easy, or fast, or less messy. On paper, the recipe looks simple. In the kitchen, things get complicated. Even for seasoned professionals, suffering is part of the process. Some of the best admit it.

Paddy Chayefsky (1923-81)

Paddy Chayefsky,
Three-Time Oscar Winning Screenwriter

Paddy Chayefsky, the revered television and screenwriter of the 20th century, warned about times when a writer “cannot pull himself out of a fruitless line of thought for hours, even days, sometimes never, and the script has to be abandoned in the middle.”1 This is a pro, and he’s not alone. Joseph Heller said “Every writer I know has trouble writing,”2 and Gene Fowler said “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood Continue reading

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Learning to Tell Stories, Part 3: Recipes

PlotGenieSRTemplates & Formulas

Story templates are not new to the 21st century. In the 1930’s, The Plot Genie helped writers assemble a plot with a spinning wheel and lists of situations.1 I tried it decades ago, but couldn’t bring myself to care about my story because it wasn’t mine. It felt like putting a frozen dinner in the microwave and claiming I cooked it.

There are many templates, matrixes, grids, and formulas. The classic three-part “Setup, Conflict & Resolution” is so universal and general that it’s hardly a template, but “22 building blocks” is definitely a template.

Some people love templates. They feel comforted having the sections laid out in advance. Some people hate templates. They feel bound by formula as if in a straitjacket. But straitjackets are Continue reading

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Learning to Tell Stories, Part 2: Books

TooManyBooksSRA Glut of Knowledge

When screenwriting books became popular in the 1980’s, I was ready for them. Here is a recollection.

I started with Syd Field’s Screenplay, which I read cover to cover twice. He taught that a story has a predictable structure based on three acts. In that first edition, he even made a big deal about act reversals happening on particular page numbers. The page-number thing put me off a little. Continue reading

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Learning to Tell Stories, Part 1: Scrounging

Seeking Story Knowledge

A World of Difference (1960)

A World of Difference (1960)
from season one of The Twilight Zone

You want to learn how to tell a story. So did I. Let me tell you the story of how I didn’t learn.

Like you, I was raised on stories. For me it was television shows in the 1960’s, which I loved and thought about all day and still think of fondly except when I try to sit through some of them.

By the time I was twelve, I wanted to write for TV. Our neighbors wrote popular prime-time television shows and I admired them above all the grownups I knew. They made up stories about space travelers, time travelers, cops, outlaws, pop-musicians, and conspiracies – worked from home, and made lots of money. I wanted to be like them.

I didn’t go into television writing. Our neighbors moved away and left television forever and I couldn’t find anyone to teach me the craft. I took college classes in creative writing but they taught me nothing about how to tell a story and it wasn’t for lack of asking.

It didn’t stop me. I wrote stories without knowing what I was doing, making up scenes that I couldn’t weave together or even judge what “weaving together” meant. I didn’t know the ingredients of a story, nor how to assemble them. I was trying to make ratatouille without knowing anything about how to cook. But I was determined to learn.

I figured that if I couldn’t get training from teachers, I could get it from books. I checked out every book I could find on writing, but they almost all dealt with how to write essays. They weren’t answering basic questions, like:

  • How do you craft a surprise ending like a Twilight Zone? And how do you do it on a deadline?
  • Are there rules for making up characters? How much do you need to know about them? About their past?
  • Do you make up scenes as you write them, or do you plan them somehow beforehand?
  • How do you plan a plot? Is it better not to? How do professionals work?

Nobody seemed to know.

Lajos Egri

My favorite of the old playwriting books

Eventually, I found a category of books that addressed character and story. They were for playwrights, written before TV existed. Most were philosophical, meant for critics, and hard to read. Many had contradictory advice. One would insist that story was more important than character. Another would hammer away that character was more important than story. Several said you should begin by writing a character biography. I found years later that many pros don’t. Paddy Chayefsky called it a “palpable waste of time” for a professional writer.1 John Cleese and Kevin Kline knew nothing about Otto’s past in A Fish Called Wanda — they simply made up his actions according to what they thought was funny.2

I came across this a lot. One writer likes to jump in without a plan because it taps improvisational skills. Another devotes 80% of the process to planning with stacks of notecards. One says that you find characters by observing other people. Another says that to find characters with any depth, you examine contradictions in your own personality. One says you have to study your genre thoroughly, while another warns that it can entrench you in what has already been done and stifle your creativity.

I felt as if I’d entered a kitchen of competing cooks with such diverse approaches and so critical of each other that I didn’t dare learn anything from them for fear I would learn it the wrong way.

Then, in the 1980’s, the era of screenwriting books began. I began to learn about story craft in ways that helped… and hindered.

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Build a Pet Cube

Here’s a template to build a cube for Perspective lessons. You can build it out of poster board, or thin illustration board.

  • The outlines are where you cut it out cleanly.
  • The inner red lines are where you score it lightly so it will fold neatly.
  • The most important thing is not to cut your fingers violently.
  • The flaps are where you put glue.

Besides the explicit “be careful not to cut your fingers” warning and the implied “do it accurately”  Continue reading

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