Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The process of storyboarding

A storyboard is a sequence of images which represents the intended shots of a film. It depicts how the filmmaker intends to shoot and frame the film, and illustrates camera movements such as zooming and panning. A completed storyboard should accurately give a clear idea of how shots will work and link together, and should be understandable to anyone.

In the book Teaching Digital Video Production, there are a list of tips for students learning to storyboard.
  • Use small frames - this makes drawing the storyboard quicker and means that your drawing skills are not assessed, only the clarity of your ideas.
  • Photocopy a set of storybard sheets - then you do not have to worry about continually redrawing frame outlines.
  • Draw in pencil - this allows you to make changes easily; if you are going to photocopy the sheets remember to ink them first as pencil does not photocopy well.
  • Number the shots - this makes it easier when you are editing and helps you bin unwanted shots.
  • Make short notes - as mentioned above add some brief directions, eg ZOE enters from left, or camera to track BEN
  • Note down the camera position - this will make setting up the shot quicker and easier.
They are a crucial aspect of filmmaking to ensure that the shots effectively tell the narrative. I read a blog entry from director Zack Snyder, who details the importance of storyboards during the shooting of Watchmen.

"Storyboards play a vital part in my process long before I start sharing them with my team. I’ve always storyboarded my commercials and movies. It is a key part of my process for envisioning the entire film from beginning to end. In addition to using that drawing time to figure out blocking and action, it is also when I can begin to get a sense of whether the dialog and pacing are working. As you can see from these frames, my storyboards aren’t necessarily super-finished art pieces on their own. I often find that the frames that get the most detail are the ones where I’m stalling - thinking of the next shots. In contrast, if I already have a sequence sorted out in my head, the boards tend to be much sketchier."

"Once completed, the boards play a key role throughout pre-production, mapping out every frame that I intend to shoot. Visually presenting the what, where, why, who, when, etc. of every frame. This gives us a starting point for discussions. As we break down each frame, department by department, they help clarify everyone’s responsibilities, needs and expectations. The boards often spur discussions that raise important questions. Many times the answers to these questions are crucial to a successful shoot. Once we finish pre-production and start shooting, mini storyboard sides are distributed to the crew at the beginning of each day. Many of us refer back to them countless times on any given day."


It is clear that the frames are vital for every department involved in the filmmaking, as it describes to them everything they need to prepare and shoot the shot. Without effective storyboarding, a film runs the risk of appearing aimless, the shot styles may not work for the scene, and overall it will look much less polished.

So are drawing skills important in storyboarding? Not entirely; initially it allows the filmmaker to experiment and gives them the opportunity to work through various ideas before committing them to film. The only thing to avoid is drawing stick figures, as there needs to be some indication of how a person will fit a frame using perspective. Rough outlines, similar to Snyder's above, are ideal. These could go on to be refined by an artist, however this does include the risk of some crucial details being lost.

Other steps to this process include the creation of floorplans, which are useful for scenes which feature a lot of action or movement as it gives a practical indication of where the cameras will be placed and/or how they will move to follow the action, as seen below.

To develop a storyboard further, indicating the lighting, tones and values of a scene will really help reflect the mood that is trying to be conveyed. For a scene where lighting is a crucial element, it may be the main focus of the storyboard artist. Alfred Hitchcock is famous for his use of lighting and silhouettes, and so it's unsurprising that his storyboards carefully detail it in a highly skilled way. Here are the ones for, of course, the shower murder scene from Psycho, and also the tower scene from Vertigo.

In terms of our project, the storyboards I created (here's a quick link to the posts) were the result of a discussion about the sorts of elements we'd like in the film, and weren't intended to be a finished product, therefore they aren't very refined as I was focussing more on experimenting with ideas. For the first film, I did pay some attention to the sorts of lighting that might be included; I knew the film was to be quite moody and dark because of the less than happy story.

Another aspect I've looked at with this role is creating moodboards. These could be collages of existing images, a series of colour swatches or something similar to give an idea of the atmosphere that will be expressed in the film. I always like to see the ones that big animation companies create in planning the colour scheme for their films, like this one below for The Incredibles. Animated features tend to alter their colour palettes much more obviously than live action to fit the changes in mood within the narrative, so if it's a miserable atmosphere it tends to be grey and dull, happy is vivid and bright, etc.

There isn't too much actual detail within these pieces, just an overview of the colour schemes for each part of the film.

The final important part of storyboarding is creating an animatic. This is essentially compositing all the sketches together into an animation or film editing program, and creating a very rough version of the film. The length of time that the sketches stay on screen will reflect how long and short the shots need to be, as seen in the below example.

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