Learn to storyboard or sharpen your boarding skills! New Lessons posted on Mondays. Sometimes more often.
Interesting characters are the lifeblood of a story. If the characters are strong enough, you almost don't care what they are doing. A good example of this is Spider-Verse. It is more fun to watch the two main spidermen (trying) working together than watching them disable the machine.
Think of the friends you like to hang out with the most. Being with them is more fun that what you are doing. Now lets think of the friends you have been through the most with. They are the ones you can depend on. They have seen you at your worst and are still with you. They probably come to your rescue or even told you hard things that you didn't want to hear but needed to.
Lets apply this to the characters in a story. Think of 3 stereotypical students:
Most likely a shy person. You see them in the library or on their laptop all the time. When they speak, they usually only speak about things they are confident in. You want this person on your team in science lab.
Think Bernard in Megamind or Ned Gold in 17 again.
Usually gets bad grades, thinks everything is a joke, doesn't take things too seriously. Probably is not paying their own bills. Think Sully in Monsters University
The Popular Kid
Seems to be eveyones favorite. Loves attention. Sets the trends in school and makes others cool by association. Often does not like things different than themselves. Think Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller's day off.
Now I've described a stereotype, a one note character. These type of characters are fine for a background character or a somewhat supporting role or for some contrast. You need a character deeper than that to maintain attention (in long format storytelling).
Lets take a look at Reese Witherspoon's character, Elle Woods, in Legally Blonde (great movie title by the way). She starts out very stereo typical popular kid.
Elle stats the movie very superficial. When her boyfriend breaks up with her because she's a "dumb blonde" she sets out prove to him she's more than her looks. Her character develops as a result of further adversity. She uses her stereotype features to beat the bad guy and win the day proving she is not a stereotypical blonde.
In your quest for good stories and great storyboards you must cross the threshold of stereotype. It's ok to start with a cliche, but finish strong and surprise the audience!
here's a few other examples
Definitely not your typical pirate!
Lets try this out
Start with a character
lunk-headed, all muscle no brain
one is saving money for college
Two drug dealer guards happen on the boss' suitcase full of money with no apparent consequence.
Board this out for next week
There are several elements that make for good staging.
- Character placement
- Camera angle/position
Suppose you are doing a story about a girl who hopes to ask a popular boy out to the dance, but gets turned down. You could start with a shot of the girl slipping a note into the pocket of the boy.
For your initial staging, think in terms of foreground, middle ground, and background.
This will keep things simple. As a general rule, darker shades closer to camera, lighter as you go back.
Later in the story after she gets rejected, she laments to her cat about her troubles.
Your placement of the characters in the shot can make or break the story Idea you are communicating. I wanted to show how sad/desparate the loveless cat girl is so I put her low in the frame. I contrasted her loveless-ness by showing the indifference of the cat.
She is clearly the needy one in this drawing. If I were to place her larger in the frame, it wouldn't be as effective to show her sadness.
In the shot above the girl is the dominant figure. But she is disconnected from the cat. She is absorbed in her book while the cat looks on. Staging her in this way doesn't say pathetic. Her dialog tells us that she is. Using dialog as your only communication tool is poor filmmaking. SHOW, don't say.
The Loveless Girl projects her feelings on the cat. By framing the cat with her arms I'm suggesting the cat is trapped.
In the drawing above, the shot is playful. We can make it more sinister. It depends on the tone you are going for.
You wouldn't shoot every scene with the cat framed in or trapped. Just when you want to punctuate the cat's feelings.
Here, he's not trapped. Same expression on the cat, different feeling in the scene. See the difference?
This last composition has less feeling to it.
When you frame something in your compositions it is called frame in frame. Here's a few more examples:
Hogarth is framed by the kitchen door. This scene was staged to keep Giant's hand out of sight of Hogarth's mom. We're anticipating Hogarth's secret will be exposed. It's a good example of escalation.
Here's a very famous one from "The Graduate".
"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"
Ben's line wouldn't be as effective if it was shot like this:
Use your compositions to tell the story.
Another great one from Spielberg. Skip ahead to about 00:53 As Quint's boat heads out after the shark it is framed by a set of shark jaws. A prediction of things to come.
Where you put the camera will also help you tell the story.
In this shot, the popular kid doesn't know he's getting a note in his pocket. We see what the girl thinks about what she's doing.
In this shot, the camera is placed in the locker so we see the popular hipster's face and what he thinks about getting a love note.
I can make this drawing stronger.
I tilted the sweet bearded hipster and had her arm coming up from below. His hand is pointing right where I want you to look. So are his eyes and beard. I fixed the composition so it doesn't look like he is sprouting an extra arm. Character placement at work!
In this next version, the camera is eye level. Character placement is such that we see his face and reaction to the note before she does. The audience can develop empathy for the girl before she gets the news.
Like we talked about in the last lesson, doling out story information is a good story technique. Develop a sense of when to give out info and when to keep it.
Here's a good example of exploring different camera placements or Buster Keaton trying to get a free ride on the back of a car.
Is it better to reveal the gag?
Or to see it happen before he does?
Here's a bit I did for Peanuts. Same camera placement, different character arrangement. Trying out different way for him to slide down the hill.
A word on rule of thirds
Your job as a board artist is to come up with solutions to story problems that come up in the process. Sometimes you know where you need to go, but have to figure out how to get there.
A girl gets stood up fpr a date, she wishes her cat could be her date -- the wish is granted!
Sept 13 Technique
Let's start with the obvious. There's a definite a storyboard style commonly accepted in the animation industry. It varies from show to show depending on requirements.
A few good examples:
From Finding Dory
Megamind Boards by Toby Shelton
See the whole sequence here.
Samurai Jack Season 5 Episode 3 was written and storyboarded by David Krentz and Genndy Tartakovsky. Storyboard narration is done by Genndy Tartakovsky
Here's a good old school example of boards to finished product:
Interesting to note, if you look at the old Hercules boards vs the Megamind boards you'll see a lot more poses. The computer has made it easier to do that since you don't have to redraw the background every time.
Everything is digital now and that give it a certain look. Usually black and white with grey tones. Some of these examples are more finished that the usual production boards because they were published in a book and people always want to see a more finished drawing. You level of polish depends on what you can get away with. Some directors are cool with rougher stuff others are not. At the very least it should be clear what's going on.
Okay! Enough boring stuff you probably already knew. Here's some real technique as far as storytelling applies because this is what separates good board artists from people who can draw good looking layouts.
Remember the old Apple ads?
That's right. Think different. That first idea that pops into your head is probably the same idea that pops into most peoples head when the are faced with a problem. In this case, a story problem.
Early in my career, I worked with Teddy Newton at Warner Brothers on Iron Giant together. He always came up with great stuff that was way different than what everyone else was thinking. I learned from him that you should approach story from the angle that no one else is thinking of. We came up with this Idea for Dean and Annie to have a date and boarded it out for Iron Giant. It never made it into the movie. Maybe we came from the wrong angle.
On Epic We had a scene where MK, Nod and the slugs/snails had to get out of the bad guy's lair with the royal pod. The first two attempts were epic battles between the heroes and the villains. Yawn. Audiences have been looking at epic fight scenes for the past 100 years of cinema. The scene needed something more clever to get our heroes to safety.
When the scene came to me, I began by thinking about the characters. We had snails and weird bug creatures. called Boggans. I figured our heroes were too weak to take on the boggans so they needed to use their wits. I had them trying to outsmart them. But they fell into a pit of maggots (escalation!) which turned out to be baby boggans. Since snails are sticky, I had the heroes use them to get out of the pit. Here's how it went:
Chris, the director, wound up not using the maggot pit (too bad, I thought it was funny) but kept the sticky snail bit. The boards in the video were drawn by me, Warren Leonhardt, Stephen Neary and Kristin Lester.
Use the characters characteristics to mine comedy gold:
If a slug wanted to punch someone, How would he do it?
Not only should your drawings have contrast but your story points too. Big vs small. Moving vs not moving. Happy vs sad.
Looks dramatic. Emphasize your character's feelings with the bg.
Not sure what we're looking at but it gets your eye.
Same thing with the story you are telling. If you want to build suspense, manipulate the audience emotion by making them expect one thing but don't give it to them when they expect it. It's a contrast in emotions. Create a calm, then shatter it.
Two characters are falling in love? One needs to be the opposite of the other, so when they do fall in love, it is more satisfying. If there's been a sacrifice involved you'll FEEL it more. Why do you (hopefully) love your significant other more as time goes by? Because they have made sacrifices for you. Sacrifice is contrast. Giving up something you want for a greater cause.
Making something funny? Surprise the audience. They expect one thing give them another. Contrast in timing helps. Remember the sloth scene at the DMV from Zoortopia? Perfect example of contrast in timing. You can expand a gag to be more than what the audience originally thought.
When something funny is happening, make the drawing funny!
My friend Bob Camp is the master at this.
July Class: Don't do this assignment unless you it's more inspiring to you than the Big VS Small assignment in the camera placement lesson
For your first assignment, I'm tossing you in the deep end.
Two convienient store clerks are on the job late at night. One is super annoying to the other. The grim reaper stops in for a red bull. The outcome is yours. Make it dramatic, funny, action-y or whatever you please.
Keep it to about 100 -120 panels. If it turns out so amazing you need more panels then DO IT! but it better be amazing if it's going to demand that much attention from your audience.
Thanks for taking the critiqued course!
How to join the class
We'll be meeting online via Zoom video conferencing. You'll need to get a free acct with them and download an extension for Firefox or Chrome for it to work. You will receive an email with the link to join the call a few minutes before class starts.
Be sure Zoom works on your computer before class!
After you signed up for the class, I'll send you a link to a google drive folder to post your finished files in. Save the files you are posting individually as jpg. That makes it easier on my end to download. Post your assignments in the folder with your name.
Assignments are due the night before class so I'll have time to look at it before we meet. I'll go over your boards in class with you.
If you post late, I'll still give feedback but it won't be as in-depth because I didn't see them before class.
Questions during the week
Just email me! or contact me through facebook. There's a Yeti School Facebook group if you'd like to join.
A quick note on using layers in your storyboards
Dialog on top, separate your image so that it's easier to make changes, movement or subsequent boards. I like to keep the characters, background, and foreground on individual layers.
You've just finished boarding your story. Step back and look at it as a whole. Is your story playing slow? does it take to long to start or get to the point? Is the audience missing some of the story points you were trying to make?
Let's take a look at your pacing. Pacing is your timing. It adds variety to your story. If you were to run at a constant speed it will get monotonous. If you vary it your jog becomes more interesting. Same thing with your story. As your story intensifies, your cutting may get faster or slower depending on how you want to play it.
Here's two examples of different pacing for the same idea:
Here we create a contrasted pacing. We make the audience wait for something to happen.
In this version it feels faster because the man is watching the mailman.
Pacing applies to more than just cutting. In a funny sequence, your gags need to build on each other. Each joke gets funnier than the last. In Bully for Bugs, Chuck Jones uses Carl Stallings take on the Blue Danube Waltz (starting at 0:44) for his pacing. It's the same slap gag repeated. The bulls reaction is what makes it funnier with each repetition.
Of course, cutting style also depends on what the director dictates.
Let's look at the opening of the Incredibles:
It starts off with a police siren zooming out to a machine gun being cocked then a full on gun battle from moving vehicles. The pacing slows down to a nice tuxedoed man listening to a report about the gun battle on the radio. The pacing intensifies and subsides as the scene goes on.
This gives the audience time to catch their breath between the action and saves them from action fatigue.
Pacing is also knowing when to cut out of a scene or when to start a scene. Typically you'll want to start the scene in where the story is. Don't linger on unnecesary information. When the scene is over, CUT! Letting a scene play out past its story point bores an audience.
In Moana, the coconut pirates show up and take the heart from Moana. She gets it right back and the movie continues with the coconut pirates never to be seen again. What was the purpose of this scene? to show Maui how capable Moana is? to get him shot in the butt so he is forced to show Moana how to sail? to show the audience what a wimp Maui is by giving up and running from the coconuts? Maybe all of those, maybe not. Overall, this scene killed the pacing of the movie for me. We had to stop for a spectacle then continue on our way. At least have the pirates get away with the heart and come into play later.
Make sure your story points keep the story alive.
In the Sixth Sense, we didn't learn until the end of the movie that Dr. Crowe is dead. It works pretty well. Shyamalan builds a story around this important story bit to a nice reveal at the end. If you knew this up front, the movie wouldn't hold your attention as well.
Is there information you are giving out too soon in your story? Pace your information, tease the audience, don't let them know what you are up to till you can create a moment.
Look at the pacing in this scene from The Graduate. Starting at 1:28 Benjamin tells Elaine about the 'older woman'. We already know who the older woman is, that's not the point of this scene. We want to see how this information will be revealed to Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine. The suspense is in how she will react. Mrs. Robinson is trying to stop Benjamin from telling her.
Ben comes bursting into the scene. Elaine is calm, confused by what Ben is up to. She thinks it's a joke. The real mastery in the scene is the character staging when Mrs. Robinson appears behind Elaine.
Both Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson are wet – tying them together. As Elaine turns to look at her mom the camera loses focus on her. As she comes back into focus it dawns on her who Benjamin is talking about. Very metaphoric. The scene is set up so well there is no need to cut away to Mrs. Robinson.
Slow vs Fast
This is a take on the tortoise and the hare. A slow character and a fast character going for the same goal. Use pacing to emphasize how each character operates.
If you need specifics try this:
A fast moving, slow thinking matador is fighting a slow moving, fast thinking bull.
A hit man (slow, methodical) is out to hit his target (fast, frantic).
Bird vs Worm. The worm has been out partying all night and on his way home, the bird is up early looking for a meal.
Students frequently ask, “How clean should my story drawings be?” The answer to that is, “Depends on what the director wants.” I've seen directors accept one artist rough drawings while requiring another to clean up their work.
I think the decision comes down to clarity and details. The rough boards that get through are clear and have enough details in them that the director can see what was going on and could envision the scene. The boards that got rejected were less clear and didn't have enough detail in them to give a sense of what was going.
I hope it pretty obvious what clarity is (can you tell in one glance what is going on?) so I'll focus this lesson on the details.