Storyboarding: Rediscovering a Lost Art
It is difficult to express a visual idea with words alone. When compared to music, the frames on the storyboard are like notes on the music staff.
Tags: cameras, content creation, editing, filmmaking, IMAG, production, video,
When was the last time you made a storyboard? A few of you would say that you make them all the time. Some would say that you haven't made one since school. Others would say, “Um…well…never.” If you’re in video production at any level, and you’re not creating with storyboards, you’re missing an essential tool in the visual process.If you are not familiar with the technique, a storyboard is a series of rectangles or frames that are used for sketching out a production. They can be as simple as a single page with a few frames, to a wall covered with dozens of frames. It is a common practice in Hollywood for films and television shows. It’s also common practice on Madison Avenue for creating video commercials. Even web designers use them. Some psychologists and counselors also use the technique on their clients. The idea is that a storyboard is the best way to communicate an idea that is essentially visual. It is very difficult to express a visual idea with words alone. Think about music, you can't really describe a composition with words, at some point you need to notate it. In the visual arts, the frames on the storyboard are like notes on the music staff.Annually, the International Animated Film Society gives out the Annie Awards and there is a category just for storyboarding. You can see how this might be useful for an animated project. Walt Disney was an animation pioneer, and huge proponent of starting a project with a storyboard. Today, the Walt Disney company storyboards every video production and even their amusement park rides. A good storyboard is the best way to help understand what the audience will see and how the image will transition from shot to shot.Have I got your attention? Do you think this idea might have merit for your next project? Well, let’s go through some of the excuses that you may already be forming in your mind:I’m Not An ArtistI completely understand. I have a hard time drawing stick figures. I can tell you that is really not an excuse. You don't have to be a Disney level animator to sketch out a usable storyboard. All you’re really interested in is communicating the visual idea. If you want a two-shot with mountains in the background, make your wavy line and draw a pair of half stick people. (Long hair differentiates between girl and boy stick people.) Next we push in to a tight shot. You draw a single stick person’s head with an arrow pointing toward them. Bam! You’ve got the beginning. When you show this to your team, everyone suddenly understands what you want to see – a two shot that pushes into a single. Your vision is easily understood. That's the point.If you are still are reluctant to take a pencil to a paper, I’ve got great news. There are some really good apps for your phone or tablet that will do the drawing for you. Or better yet, you shoot an image of what you want to see. No drawing is needed. In my opinion, one of the best is free app called Celtx Shots. (Sorry, only available in iOS.) It integrates with your Celtx Studio account, if you have one, and gives you the ability to import each frame from your saved images. That means you can use shots from a location scouting trip, and place them right onto the storyboard. If you want to draw, that’s OK too. Just use your favorite drawing app and sketch away. Celtx can import anything that can be saved to your camera roll or photos.I’m Not a PlannerI know, you’re the person who wants to get out to the location and just let it happen. Your phrase is, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Let me ask you: How many times has your production gone way longer than you expected? Have you ever had to return to a location because you ran out of time? If you don’t plan, you’re going to waste a whole lot of time trying to “figure out” what you want to see. Some planning ahead will save you a lot of time on your production, not to mention, keep your crew focused.If you had a storyboard you would at least know the basics and be ready when that perfect shot comes. You can also get your crew started setting up because there are apps for that too. Celtx Shots, for example, includes a second space below the storyboard frame, to plan out where everything goes. It has pre-made stickers with everything from people to production gear, to completely block out the whole set up. (OK now you’re getting interested, right?)Don’t Have Time, We’ll Fix It in PostYou’re the type who is always pressed for time and plans some of the shots, in your head, before you head to a shoot. While you’re there, you just shoot everything that you think you might need. You bring extra batteries and storage, you so won’t miss anything. Let me ask you: How many times have you come back, started editing, and thought of the perfect shot. That is the one shot that you did not get. You search through hours of footage, and have to settle for a second best shot. You thought of everything except that.Again, if you’ve storyboarded the finished product, you would know exactly what cut you’ll need, and you would have it. Not to mention, editing becomes so much quicker. You don’t have to search though gigabytes of data to find something that will work, and if someone else edits for you, they will thank you. I promise you, you are never as sharp in the middle of the shoot, as you are behind your desk. You can think clearly. You can even look at other other videos and snap a shot to include in your storyboard. You can communicate with your team, “I want this shot. I need it to look like this.” Everyone is happier and will work better.The bottom line is that storyboarding makes everything easier to understand and communicate. Visual communications, requires a visual way to plan and express things. Big shoots or small shoots, it doesn't matter, you will always do better if you plan ahead and storyboard before you go.
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