- "We had to come up with our own credit, because what I was doing sort of became a lot more expansive than just storyboards. Gore and I started working together when he was directing commercials, and I would storyboard for him. Then, when he started making movies, he would bring me in from time to time and my work expanded. For 'Pirates', we would talk about the script, story, themes, character beats, things that go beyond traditional storyboarding. The best part about films like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' is that there’s lots of room for creative enhancement."
- ―James Ward Byrkit
James Ward Byrkit, sometimes credited as Jim Byrkit, is an American film director and storyboard artist. He worked as the conceptual consultant, alongside with director Gore Verbinski, in the making of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films. Along with helping Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio creating the screenplay, Byrkit directed the Pirates short film Tales of the Code: Wedlocked.
Early life and career
Not much is known of Jim Byrkit's early life, only that he loved to draw as a kid. As he grew older, he realized he enjoyed acting, music, photography and travel, things which seemed to combine in movie-making. A CalArts theater grad turned storyboard artist, Byrkit had been involved in many film projects. At some point in his career, Byrkit met Gore Verbinski, who was directing commercials. They would work on many projects together, including Mousehunt.
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Pirates Trilogy
To help conceptualize the original Disneyland ride as a sprawling film of curses and cutlasses, wenches and wit, director Gore Verbinski hired Jim Byrkit as a consultant in the making of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Because they had worked on tons of projects together, when Gore called Byrkit up to say he was doing the first Pirates, Byrkit said "I'll be right over!" Bykrit soon found himself on the very first location scout to the Caribbean with Gore where they conceived Jack Sparrow stepping off the sinking boat, the Jolly Mon, the musical introduction to the skeleton pirates, and other key moments. He would have done three weeks of consultancy work on The Curse of the Black Pearl, doing the very first drawing of the Black Pearl and other ships.
Byrkit continued to work on the Pirates films in the sequels, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, as the storyboard concept artist. Although Gore had his hands full with two movies that were lacking finished scripts, they worked out all the action scenes together, had more adventures on the location scouts, and had to develop a new set of pirate bad guys. On the very first day they got together to talk, Gore and Byrkit came up with the idea of "bodies that had suffered a sea-change", which Crash McCreery used to develop Davy Jones and his crew soon after. In addition to the more than 3,000 storyboards for Dead Man’s Chest and At World's End that Byrkit created, he also bounced back and forth between departments, such as production design, props and the pre-visualization team, helping with simplified animatics of the overwhelmingly complex action sequences that were a blueprint for Verbinski on set, and later, for Industrial Light & Magic's visual effects.
Of all his experiences with the Pirates trilogy, Byrkit enjoyed the location scouts, saying that they were "quite adventurous and fun" and that he loved cruising around remote parts of the Caribbean looking for just the right place to set a scene. Byrkit had stated that his favorite location, which was also the most dangerous in his opinion, was the island of Dominica. He also enjoyed making Sao Feng's Map, which he wrote a lot of death-inspired passages included on the map that were translated by the calligrapher. There were different versions of the map, one of which was barely seen in the fourth film On Stranger Tides (which was the only thing he worked on for the film, uncredited). Byrkit also helped Kris Peck, the prop master, with making the "Pirate codebook", in which he would help fill the pages with the kinds of things pirates would include.
- "I had been helping conceptualize the big action scenes [in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'] with Gore, so I was on set a lot. We had these amazing sets that Rick Heinrichs designed for sequels No. 2 and 3, and it seemed like we should put them to use somehow. We would be in the misty bayou set and Gore would say, 'Somebody give Jim a camera so he can shoot a movie here.' I got Brigham Taylor at Disney interested in the idea for a short film. Then it was all about rounding up the writers. I envisioned something based on the Pirate Code Book, because that implied a device that could tie other stories in later. That's a hint, by the way."
- ―James Ward Byrkit
While Byrkit was on a set for At World's End, marveling at the work of Rick Heinrichs (the Shipwreck Cove set piece), he told Gore Verbinski “we should shoot a movie here in off hours.” And he said “Go for it!” So he went to Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and asked if they had an idea for a short about the Pirate Code. They thought that Vanessa Branch (Giselle) and Lauren Maher (Scarlett) should have their own story and the three started writing Tales of the Code: Wedlocked. The script made recalled the Disneyland ride more than the movies, which would include new characters made up by Elliott, Rossio, and Byrkit.
The DVD department gave them some money to put together a crew, rent a camera, and had filmed the short for three days. Directed by Byrkit, the short would feature Vanessa Branch and Lauren Maher in center spotlight as a saucy, comically gifted duo—in what Byrkit calls "a chance for the wenches to have their own wacky moment". Wedlocked also allowed Byrkit to display his directorial gifts, as a cast and costumes and sets were speedily assembled on the California Pirates soundstage for this passion project.
And when Verbinski decided to attempt his first feature animation film, Rango, it was Byrkit the artist right there behind the literal drawing board, spending long months trying to determine how a shaky-gunned chameleon dropped into a “Chinatown”-parched desert could ever be visually expressive enough to become a Depp-voiced cartoon hero. Byrkit also provided several voices, most notably the character "Waffles".
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - Conceptual consultant/Storyboard artist
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - Conceptual consultant/Storyboard artist
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - Conceptual consultant/Storyboard artist
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Tales of the Code: Wedlocked - Director