THE GODFATHER OF VIDEO/FILM STORYBOARDS
WHO NEEDS A STORYBOARD?
If you’re planning a road trip you’ll want a map to guide you to your destination. Before you can hope to build your dream home your architect will need to get the plans approved before construction can begin. And prior to producing a commercial, corporate video, movie, TV episode or a full-length animated feature film, you must first provide a tangible and visual method of guiding your production from pre-pro through its final cut.
The most common previsualization (previz) tool used to accomplish all of this in both live action and in animation is the storyboard, followed closely by the animatic.
“My job is to take the story as written, with all of the emotional high and low points, and to visualize it in a storyboard. Then we scan the storyboard images to build an animatic, which is built on a timeline much like a film but with sketches. With an animatic you get a sense of the cutting, the editing, especially once it is timed out [with music] and voice actors recording their lines on a soundtrack.”
– Woody Woodman, Story Artist, Disney Animation Studio
Compare story artist J. Todd Anderson’s storyboard & animatic against the final film in this dynamic scene from the Coen Bros. 2007 feature film “No Country For Old Men.”
Animatics are not only useful for keeping a production on track but more and more producers today are using them as a proof-of-concept, often as a tool to help secure financing for their pictures.
WHO DOES WHAT?
But whether you’re talking about animation or live action productions, it’s the story artist who’ll render the panels of the storyboard, interpreting the script or screenplay’s three-act arch plot structure into a corresponding rough visual draft of the scenes, characters, and action.
This ensures that all of your production’s stakeholders are on the same page from day one.
NOT ALL STORY ARTISTS ARE THE SAME
It’s important to note, that storyboards created for animation and live action are not nearly the same thing. For one thing, the story artists themselves usually specialize in one drawing style or another and it’s rare for one artist to be able to draw in the many different storyboard styles needed across the entire industry.
STORY ARTISTS FOR LIVE ACTION
For example, directors of live action features aren’t interested in a cartoonish look for their subjects but one that more closely approximates reality. That doesn’t mean live action characters need to look exactly like the actors who will appear in the film but they should share some resemblance.
If the casting specs or script notes call for dialogue between an older, heavy set, balding Caucasian executive and an athletic Hispanic youth with a pencil-thin moustache, the story artist should be able to approximate those looks in a general way making sure they’re consistent across the entire length of the storyboard.
In fact, as is often the case, casting decisions aren’t always finalized by the time the storyboards are created. Why? Because the production designers, location scouts, costumers, stunt coordinators, camera crews and special effects teams involved with the film all need to begin their production planning as early as possible to meet their production deadlines.
STORY ARTISTS FOR ANIMATION
On the other hand, in traditional 2D animation the animators serve as the actors. And the characters they draw into a storyboard must match the characters on the model-sheets provided since most overseas animation houses render the characters exactly as they appear in the storyboards.
Storyboards for computer generated (CG AKA 3D) animations fall somewhere in between, in that they need not match the look of the final character exactly since, as in the casting of live action actors, the final designs of highly complex CG characters may not have final approval when the storyboards are needed for pre-pro.
It took Woody Woodman several years working first as an “in-betweener,” then as an animator before he finally ascended the ranks and become a story artist in Disney Animation Studio’s Story Department.
Woody’s excellent draughtsmanship was just a start. Next he needed to learn Disney’s approach to animation, which has become embraced by both 2D and 3D animation studios around the world.
TWELVE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF ANIMATION
In 1981 two Disney animators wrote, “The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation,” often referred to as “The Animator’s Bible.” In their book, the pair identifies twelve animation principles established by Disney’s original animators AKA “The Nine Old Men,” from the 1930s onwards. Their goal was to produce more realistic animation.
“The main purpose of these principles was to produce an illusion that cartoon characters adhered to the basic laws of physics, but they also dealt with more abstract issues, such as emotional timing and character appeal.”
Take for example the first principle, “Squash and Stretch,” in which a softer, moving object impacts a harder surface. The mass of the object doesn’t change but it does compress, altering its shape before springing back to its original dimensions. Think of a soft rubber ball thrown against a wall.
Or “Slow In and Slow Out:” In the real world moving objects take more time to accelerate and decelerate. Animators need to add more frames at the beginning and the end of a motion sequence to achieve the illusion of a more realistic action.
These are just two of the twelve principles animators of 2D and 3D animation must adhere to in order to convince viewers an animated character shares tangible physical properties with real world counterparts.
If you’re interested in learning more about animation this book is an excellent resource for this information.
THE STORYBOARD BIBLE
Regardless whether you’re working in animation or in live action, there is another comprehensive 434 page book for individuals who may perhaps aspire to become a story artist, “Storyboards: Motion in Art” by Mark Simon.
An industry legend, Mark has created storyboards for over 5,000 film and TV productions, starting with Roger Corman’s 1980s pulp fantasy “Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity” to today’s ever-popular “Walking Dead,” earning Mark the well-deserved title of “The Godfather of Storyboards.”
Now Mark has compiled a document containing over 1,000 pieces of art outlining every possible aspect of working as a story artist. There are dozens of chapters teaching everything from “How to Draw in Perspective,” to “Staging & Composition” to “Previz in Storyboard Pro” and much, much more. Nobody who deals with storyboards should be without it.
Built for use with either a Wacom Intuos Pro or Wacom Cintiq drawing tablets, this all-in-one storyboard tool integrates drawing, scripting, camera controls, animatic creation capabilities and sound seamlessly.
Storyboard Pro is as good a way as any to get your ideas off the ground since it’s been designed and built specifically for content creators and is used widely by independent storytellers, studios, agencies, schools and students, videographers and video production teams to pre-visualize their work the world over.
THINK YOU’D LIKE TO BE A STORY ARTIST?
The following paragraph is from an interview with the aforementioned Disney story artist, Woody Woodson on his process for creating “thumbnail” storyboards for animation. If this work holds appeal for you then you may be right for a career as a story artist.
“From the script, I’ll write out my basic story points: What does the character want? Where is the character trying to go? What is in the character’s way? I have a formula of how to address the scene. Then I work ‘the thumbnail process,’ which is how you stage the scene. Where do you place the camera? Where do you place the characters within the set? Being able to see that in a down-shot drawing shows where my characters are and where the cameras will be. Then I work out blocking and composition. This is what the cameras will see so these key frames will be very important. I will then present this to the director. They can see the entire layout, the variety of shots, wide shots, middle shots, close up shots, reaction shots and over-the-shoulder shots. They can see all the shots I’m thinking of using. Very visual, very quickly and they might make suggestions: Why don’t we put the camera over here? My goal is to draw fewer, simpler drawings to clearly outline the scene.”
Of course, everything Woody Woodman outlines above assumes the story artist possesses some basic level of drawing skills. And like all skills, they’re improved with practice over time and they atrophy without regular use.
HOW MANY MILES HAVE YOU DRAWN TODAY?
So if you think you’d like to take a stab at working as a story artist in either live action or in animation, you should start practicing to improve your drawing skills now. It’s not as difficult as you might think if you commit yourself to actually doing it. Remember, just like every other skill in the world, drawing is learnable.
But when the famed story artist Tim Burgard once was asked by an eager art student for advice on breaking into a film storyboarding career he replied,
“You’ll need some luck. But you’d better be ready when your chance comes.”