Drawing & Composition for Visual Storytelling

Retro-Boarding

One of the best exercises for learning all about cutting and staging film is to draw thumbnails while watching a section of a film.

Play and pause on each shot, and draw what you see, indicate any camera moves, changes in poses and expressions, recreate the posture, framing and subject placement for every shot. Keep it rough and simple, imagine you are reverse-engineering the sequence as you break down these shots to storyboard them. Think about the pacing and editing, why the shots are framed the way they are, where the negative space is, when and why does it go to close-ups, and where is the main focal point in each shot.

So whenever I “step through” a sequence or section of a film. I usually have a reason why I’ve picked that particular clip, and it usually relates to something I’m working on, or I found the clip or sequence to have some striking compositions or nice editing techniques.

I’ll draw a small thumbnail to represent each scene. If it’s a short scene I’ll usually pick a “key” frame from the scene – an image that best describes what the scene is about. Or is it’s a long scene, I’ll draw more images – whatever is necessary to get the idea of what the director has done with the staging and the camera work (if there is any).

Studying film this way forces you to really grasp what is happening in minute detail. Having to “transcribe” what is happening onto paper forces you to really notice every little thing about each scene, and you can learn a lot more about filmmaking than you can if you spent the same amount of time just watching films.

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