Drawing & Composition for Visual Storytelling

Let’s analyze the importance STORYBOARDING a short film or commercial.

I boiled story down to three “C’s”. The first “C” is CLARITY.

This one is particularly important for a storyboard artist in the process of visualizing a script or idea because you are working within a very small box, in both the length of your film and your “production schedule”. When making a short film clarity is of the utmost importance because you don’t have time to explain a lot. If you’re trying to make a film about an exotic planet where all the rules are different from Earth, by the time you’ve acclimated the viewer to your world and explained all the rules, your film is over.

So I always suggest that short film directors look at TV commercials for inspiration as how to tell a thirty-second story clearly and effeciently. Great commercials are made with a ton of economy, discipline and smart choices. Also, many times they start in a very familiar situation so that the audience gets oriented quickly and knows exactly where we are….then you can take a leap into “the fantastic”, if that’s what you want to do, or turn the everyday on it’s head for comedic effect.

Clarity is tougher than most people realize I think, even professional storyboard artists and film directors have a hard time with this. It’s easy, once you’ve thought through your idea, to think that your drawings are explaining what’s inside your head, but the viewer doesn’t have the benefit of hearing your thoughts. The drawings (and eventually, the animation) have to carry it all. That’s a very tough limitation, and you need to keep your “objective eye” in check, so that you can step back and look at your work once in a while and see it the way fresh eyes will see it. Or find someone you trust and bounce it off them once in a while.

Okay, the next two “C’s” are CHARACTER and CONFLICT. You’ve probably heard all this before, but it’s all vitally important, and it’s basically what the directors, writers and story artists spend all their time talking about in the story room while they craft movies at Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar.

Basically, the “CHARACTERS” part means that you should always strive to create characters that are original, entertaining, appealing, and that the audience can empathize with…meaning that they like the characters and are willing to root for them to get what they want. Then the audience will care when your characters end up in….

…CONFLICT, which of course is the heart of all storytelling. Without conflict you don’t really have a story. In general, the bigger the conflict, the more that is at stake in your movie, the bigger the odds against your characters, the more interesting the story.

So if you have characters that the audience is actually rooting for, and conflict that seems almost insurmountable that they have to resolve to get what they want, then you have a great story.

Also, one last thing: a great story is one that ends by resolving the conflict in an unexpected way that the audience doesn’t see coming. But I don’t know how to make that idea start with a “C” so piss off.

The main point here, start small, someday… write then storyboard a short 30 sec film, storyboard several times, several different ways. Cut these images together in sequence. You’ll see what huge challenge it can be to clearly and accurately tell the story in an effecient and entertaining way.

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