I felt that Richard Corben’s boards were damn near perfect (I’ve always admired Richard as a great graphic storyteller), so I didn’t vary much from his opening page of storyboard panels. After that, I was on my own.
Here are the first boards I did; they’re in a more traditional storyboard format. They were drawn on vellum, hence the wrinkling.
After John Milius told me he wanted comic book-style boards I began telling John’s tales of Conan as if it were a comic book.
On the very first day working on the film, I tacked this picture near the top of my drawing table:
Next to this photo I had written in bold hand lettering: “This actor has to be in our movie.”
The two actors being considered for the role of Conan’s father were Jack Palance and William Smith. Had either of these fine actors been younger, I think they would have been perfect for playing Conan. I was there when both actors came in to meet John on separate occasions.
Jack Palance was the first to be seen. He was enthusiastic and in great shape. So much so, that he insisted on being cast as Conan — not Conan’s father. We couldn’t do that; Arnold Schwarzenegger had already been cast as Conan. In my boards, though, I drew Jack as Conan’s dad.
I had loved William Smith as an actor ever since I saw him in Grave of the Vampire, a great little cult horror film with an amazing opening written by David Chase (creator of The Sopranos).
We knew we were going to shoot Conan the Barbarian in and around Zagreb, Yugoslavia. It turned out that William Smith was not only in great shape and up for the role, he was also fluent in Serbo-Croatian, the language spoken in that part of Yugoslavia. Bill got cast.
Each page of the Conan storyboards was taking me forever because as I was telling the tale of Conan, I was simultaneously designing all of the armor, the Cimmerian village, the horses’ armor and the costumes. Plus, I was taking the time to do very finished art — a true rarity when it comes to storyboards, which typically are very quick and loose, just tight enough to convey the composition of the frame and a sense of what’s going on in the frame (I’ve seen “finished” storyboards that were no more refined than the Richard Corben roughs I just posted). I’m known to be very fast as an artist but my speed wasn’t exhibiting itself on these pages.
Within the script, a scene describing Thulsa Doom’s assault on the young Conan’s Cimmerian village surprised me. After the impalement of a Cimmerian mother, one of Thulsa Doom’s troops, while riding through the village, grabs her Cimmerian baby by the arm and dashes its brains out on a post(!).
Robert E. Howard‘s Conan stories have been described as “a pornography of violence” but I felt that this particular bit was way over the top.
“John! You’re not going to really shoot that are you?”
“Of course not,” Milius replied. “But if I include it in the script, Dino (DeLaurentiis) will be horrified. He’ll demand that it be taken out.
John imitated Dino’s Italian accent: “Don’t keel the baby!”
I’ll reluctantly remove it from the script. Dino will be happy and he’ll feel like he’s made a real contribution to the film. Having gained that satisfaction, he’ll leave me alone on the stuff that I truly want to include.”
I also took the time to include a joke panel to surprise John. He was delighted.