Storyboarding is not a new concept to many of us, but it seems out of any given group of digital artists, few of us have used the technique in personal video projects. Anyone that is familiar with the process knows it's a tool to improve or tighten up your project. Some of us may use it in a commercial context but hardly if ever in our private works.
Before we jump off into why we should be at least doing a rudimentary storyboard let's bring everyone else up to speed on what a storyboard is if you are new to this digital art thing.
Simply put, a storyboard is a visual roadmap that helps to shape the end result which saves everyone time, money, and gray hairs. It is a series of images that tell the story in a linear fashion. They are not the blueprint so much as they are the roadmap. A lot of things change over the course of a production and so the storyboard is either updated or at some points lapses into obsolescence as the project matures.
Now, this where I think a problem starts popping up and that is overcomplicating the storyboard process. There seems to be a fair amount of us out there that want to make the storyboard as authentic as the movie. I know that doesn't make sense when you read it like this and for good reason. The storyboard is not the final product, varies during production, and needs to be as fluid as possible at the beginning stages.
If you create a detailed storyboard then you have devoted almost as many resources to the storyboard as the movie it maps out. Even if you have a talented fine artist popping these things out as quickly as possible it can bottleneck production, drain resources, and hamper creativity.
It's hard to stay excitedly creative when your daily production slows down every so often because the storyboard has to catch up. Next thing you know you are either hiring more help or diverting internal resources that may be better used elsewhere. Nothing like signing on to do one thing and then being asked to do something completely different to tamp down enthusiasm.
A storyboard can be as simple as hand-drawn stick figures and still serve its purpose. Granted you will have to spend a bit more time captioning or labeling those images, but it shows actor and prop placement among other important aspects.
This being said, what is so important about story boarding?
Not only of the story but camera angle, narrative focus, and cinematic considerations. Even the ability to follow cut-aways, close-ups, and conversations to make sure they take the story forward and not muddy it. If, for example, you are following a conversation from a certain angle, cutting between actors, you want the camera to be from the same side so as to not confuse the viewer.
In terms of a live-action shoot, it's much better to find out that you have a real-world problem that prevents you from setting a camera up in a certain manner during the storyboard phase instead of in the field or on the sound stage with actors and crew on the clock.
These are just some of the technical aspects that a storyboard can improve. This doesn't even go into the story itself. The continuity of a storyline cannot be overstated. A storyboard can flush out plot holes and impossible scenes among other problems.
So, whether you are ham-handedly drawing out grade school level sketches on napkins or using a storyboard application, maybe even programs like Photoshop, iClone, Poser, or Daz Studio, try to find that sweet spot that conveys the purpose of the image without constructing the entire scene. Place your actors, block your shots then use the storyboard to fine-tune the production.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.