Drawing & Composition for Visual Storytelling

The Close-Up

"Casablanca" film still

When the emotion or the reaction of the character is especially important, it’s time to cut to a close-up. A close-up can best be defined as a head-and-shoulders shot.
There’s no real room for the character to move, so the audience can focus on the expressions and emotions of the characters. The way characters act and react is always very important to understanding the story.

"The Apartment" film still

A common mistake of less experienced storyboard artists is framing their shots too tightly. Even a close-up should have a bit of breathing room, unless it is the rare occasion of an extreme close-up.

This also has to do with pacing… it’s best to save those high-impact shots were the moments in the story that have the greatest impact. If a storyboard artist were to fill their board from start to finish with lots of crazy angles, fancy camera moves and extreme close-ups, it would leave no room for the artist to show any real impact when it’s really needed. It’s all about contrast.

The Pan

This term is short for “Panorama Shot,” a camera move in which we move the viewer from left to right, or right to left, or vertically or diagonally.

Here are samples of various camera move combinations and how to display them in your boards.

The Cut

The general principle to use is to always try and get as close as possible to show whatever is most important at that moment, while still leaving enough room for any actions that might occur in that scene.

Storyboard drawing: Car makes a U-Turn on the turnpike

That may mean that the shot is very wide — for example: if I need to show somebody driving a car around the corner, the shot needs to be wide enough to see all of that action. If I’m trying to show a guy sitting in a restaurant drinking a cup of coffee, I would want the framing to include just the guy, the table, and the cup of coffee.

Cut from Gerald talking on a radio microphone to the broadcast tower, spreading his message across town.

Cut from Gerald talking on a radio microphone to the broadcast tower, spreading his message across town.

It’s all about how important the specific action is to a scene. If the man at the coffee shop is putting a couple of creams in his coffee, there is no need to make a special emphasis on that action; so I would not cut in closer on him pouring in the cream. But… if somebody was putting poison into his coffee cup, that’s a perfect time to cut in on that action for emphasis.

Cut from Grandpa sitting in car to a close-up of him turning on the radio

Cut from Grandpa sitting in car to a close-up of him turning on the radio

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