Drawing & Composition for Visual Storytelling

What is the key to success in visual storytelling? A willingness to collaborate, the flexibility to evolve, and an understanding of the basic rules of cinematography.

Storyboard Example #01Space

Why Learn How to Storyboard?

  • A story artist is like a mini-director
    • In control of creative content
    • Visualizing (and improving) the idea or script
    • Lots of responsibility, but lots of freedom
  • A good story artist is always in demand
    • Story is the one discipline that is still not being outsourced
    • Job security & career path for growth with many diverse projects
    • Whether it’s freelance or contract work, storyboards are ALWAYS needed to bring the concept or screenplay to the next phase.
  • Storyboard artists are some of the highest paid artists in the industry
    • Why? Because you are near the top of the creative food chain
    • Commercials, advertising, interactive media, motion graphics, pre-viz for special FX, 2D or 3D animated feature films, televisions series, music videos, and video games; all require storyboards of some sort to visualize a script or idea, to help uncover any potential problems and to help the client / producer / director visualize the end product.

Storyboard Example #02
A Storyboard is a series of sequential art that conveys the story and character in a visual media (movie, television, or game). It’s like a comic strip for media. Its purpose is to communicate the visual story to the crew; so everyone is clear on how to achieve their goals, and to the client; so that they can understand how the story and scenes will be portrayed.

The storyboard is the simplest and accurate way of conveying specific visual ideas to multiple people. Sort of like a blueprint for media. Traditionally storyboards were drawn on paper from pen or pencil (and other drawing supplies). However, with integration of computers, storyboards can be created entirely on the computer now. But still, even nowadays, someone always has to imagine it and draw it.

The Function of Storyboards

  • Staging: The positioning of characters in each scene for maximum emotional content and clear readability of actions. In Animation it refers to the purpose of directing the audience’s attention, and make it clear what is of greatest importance in a scene; what is happening, and what is about to happen. This can be done by various means, such as the placement of a character in the frame, the use of light and shadow, and the angle & position of the camera. In live-action this is refered to as ‘Blocking’.
  • Storytelling: Each panel’s sketch clearly communicates to an audience the important ideas expressed through the action of each scene. This is all compromised of different types of shots, framing / editing principles, and scene transitions, and how they are used by filmmakers to help tell a story. These depict many elements like the poses and expressions of the characters, as well as how the scenes will cut and how close (or far) the camera is to the subject.

Storyboard Example #04

Storyboarding Usage

  1. Film / Television / Video Games: The storyboard is essentially a large comic strip of the film or some section of the film produced beforehand to help directors, cinematographers, video game cinematic director and advertising clients to visualize the scenes and find potential problems before they occur.Storyboard Example #06Storyboard Example #05
  2. Animatics: In animation and special effects work, the storyboarding stage is followed by a mock-up called « animatics » (also known as leica reels or story reels) to give a better idea of how the scene will look and feel with motion and timing. All the panels get strung together in a slideshow with the voice actors saying their lines in conjunction to the scenes. This is how you plan out the length of ever shot and sequence and ultimately time out the length of the entire episode or film.
    Storyboard Example #07
  3. Interactive Media / Advertising / Business: Storyboards were adapted from the film industry to business for planning ad campaigns, commercials, workflow proposals or other projects intended to convince or compel an audience to action, and to pitch a concept to the client. Storyboarding is even used in the fields of web development, software development and instructional design to present and describe interactive events as well the display of flowcharts, audio elements and motion graphics.Storyboard Example #08
  4. But the most important reason is for yourself. Whatever animated thing you are about to create or develop, storyboarding it first will always help to PLAN YOUR WORK, which is vital to figuring out the staging of all your characters and backgrounds and how the camera will frame these elements. Planning is probably the step most often missed by students, and at the same time, it is probably the most essential tool in your entire animation toolbox, especially in the first few years of your animation life. You should never sit down in front of your computer, animation disc, puppet, or camera setup, until you know exactly what poses you are planning to use, when you are planning to use them, and why. Before you begin any shot, it’s so important to study references, work out your thumbnails, and make your timing and acting decisions on paper. This may seem like an « extra » step to some of you, but believe me, it will save you time in the long run and your work will look so much stronger than it would have otherwise.

Storyboard Example #09

All the shots I’ve ever worked on that turned out great, are also the ones I spent the most time planning out. The shots where I got cocky and thought « Aw, I know how to animate that, I’ll just sit down and do it » are all without exception, the shots that ended up being just « okay, » but never as good as they could have been. I’ll always regret missing the opportunity I had to make those shots special, but at least they taught me an invaluable lesson:

Planning Comes First, ALWAYS!

Storyboard Example #10

Storyboarding Essentials

1. Can I clearly see what is going on?

2. Is the camera angle motivated by the story point?

3. Number of characters in the scene, do they all need to be here)?

4. Can I tell where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going?

5. Has the staging become too obvious?

Often I find that the point of the story is being lost simply by unclear staging. To the left is an example of a scene in which a boy is showing his mom he got an F on a paper at school. The boy is giving excuses at this point in the story and fearful of his mom’s reaction. Though the staging is interesting the focus has been put on the mom. This is a great opportunity for some acting on the boy but it’s missed and most likely will have a long paragraph worth of dialog assigned to this single panel. Many times I will see a panel like this with both the boy’s and the mom’s dialog set to it. No matter if you are creating the dialog or it’s coming from a script, you need to look for opportunities for acting where you can give the audience a chance to know your character.
To the right is an alternate staging for the same scene. It gives the boy a chance to act and it’s easy to tell right away what the scene is about. I would probably add several panels of acting in this same staging.
Now you don’t always have to be so blatant as this but it works. The best would be a combination of the two shots presented here. Start with the boy and cut to the mom’s reaction. Even better would be to have the boy turn away from the mom in the shot where we see the mom. This could give him some good acting where he is making outlandish excuses that we know are lies. Then the mom could call him on it.
Some board artist also tend to misinterpret things like Over-The-Shoulder (OTS) shots, thinking in means the foreground character has their back to the camera and the character in the background is facing the camera. It really just means that one character is in the foreground(possibly partially cut off by the edge of the field) and the other in the background (or other action is in the background). Try to think of alternate ways to stage a scene so it’s clear. Sometimes even simple straight on flat staging will make the scene clearer and actually more interesting. Especially if you’ve been doing more dynamic shots one after the other.

One of the ways you can change the mood of a scene is simply by changing the angle of the camera. In this post I have presented the same basic scene from 3 slightly different camera angles. I purposefully kept the camera on the same side of the character to help show how the change can effect the feeling of the scene. To begin with I have a level camera to the character. Here you get the feeling the lady is remembering something or someone. A scene like this often is accompanied by a camera move either in or out depending upon the point in the story that it appears. Next I have a low camera angle that give a more heroic or dramatic feeling. With this type of camera angle give the character a sense of accomplishment. Either that they will be able to overcome or have already have triumphed. It’s basically putting the character on a pedestal. It harkens back to the age of Kings and Queens standing on their balconies looking down upon the peasants. Of course this camera angle can be pushed to the point that a character appears taller than they are. Even old propaganda posters used images of people from low angles. Accompanied with harsh shadows can make it even feel sinister. Often you will see films in which a character that is in a desperate situation use low camera angles with harsh shadows. The opposite of this is the downshot or high camera angle. It gives a sense of bewilderment or loss. That perhaps the character didn’t get what they were after. Like the first example you will often find a shot like this accompanied with a camera move out. It can also be pushed to give a stronger feeling. A downshot also helps to give scale and place the characters into their world. In many live action movies a crane is used to bring the camera to this angle. No matter how you use these angles it’s always good to keep in mind that the angle should not feel out of place. I find it is always best for you audience to not be so aware of the camera. This included camera moves.

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