The Future Of Storyboarding: Blender For Pre-Production

Mar 01, 2021 at 12:46 pm by Press Release


Source: Christian Bunyan

Looking for a quicker way to storyboard? Or a new creative niche? Or simply want to mix things up? 

Hopefully, this User Story can help. 

Alexandre Heboyan is an animation director based in France. He works on large international projects — and smaller scale, more personal films. As well as directing and animating, he’s a senior storyboard artist.

Here, we explore Alexandre’s use of Blender, especially his enthusiasm for Grease Pencil, hybrid 2D/3D storyboarding, tips and favourite tutorials, and his thoughts on VR as part of the production pipeline. 

Inspired by Alexandre’s Blender experience? Download Blender here. As always, it’s free to use for any purpose. 

A still from the animatic for Alex’s forthcoming film, Maryam & Varto. “In the past, an animatic would take me weeks. With Blender, it took a couple of days.”

Blender’s Hybrid 2D/3D Workflow 

Alex has always been attracted to multidisciplinary ways of working. “I love to mix techniques. And that’s what Blender is so good at. Blender reflects my artistic interests. From the perspective of what I do, it offers this perfect mix of 2D and 3D.” 

For storyboarding, Alex often combines Grease Pencil with low poly assets. He’s so passionate about this workflow that he’s considering it as the basis for his whole production. “Maryam & Varto was supposed to be a 2D film, but I’m pushing to make it in Blender, using 2D animation against a 3D environment.” 

Using a combination of polygons and Grease Pencil to do layout work.

Hybrid Storyboarding: Your New Career? 

“When I talk about Grease Pencil with other directors, even with producers, they always love it. Directors are into Grease Pencil because they can previsualize their film, including expressive character drawings in a CG environment, with cameras. Producers love it because it saves time in production — many creative choices have already been nailed.” 

But there’s a challenge, and an opportunity. “It’s hard to find people who do hybrid storyboarding,” Alex says. “I assume that in ten years, you’ll have many artists working in this way. But at the moment, it’s still new. I know very few boarders using Grease Pencil.” 

For Alex, education alone doesn’t solve the issue. “Producers will sometimes say, ‘Just train your storyboarders to use this workflow.’ But I think it’s deeper than that. It’s a question of culture. You see, if you show a story artist Blender, they say, ‘That’s wonderful, that looks great, but that’s not how I think.’ Story artists mostly think in 2D.”

Still, Alex has noticed a new breed of boarder emerging. “You see a lot of younger people, just coming from school, people who have grown up in a world of 3D film. They use 3D more easily, and they’re already using Blender. In a few years, you’ll see more and more people like this.”

Currently, however, the only hybrid storyboarder on Alex’s team is… Alex. “I think this technique delivers the most value in action sequences, where space and camera movement are paramount. As opposed to comedy or drama, where the core of the scene is about timing and performance. There you can convey what’s needed with a traditional, flat storyboard.”

So if you’re looking to add action to your storyboarding — or start storyboarding in the first place — a hybrid approach may be the way to go. 

Alex’s Quick Tips

  • For lines in Grease Pencil, Alex keeps it simple. “A storyboarder’s work will always be replaced with a 3D image, so I stick to basics. The pencil tool is more than enough for what I need.” In fact, Alex considers the pencil tool so good, he’ll be using it in the final version of Maryam & Varto. Alex: “Those Grease Pencil lines will be on screen. The line and the render will all be Grease Pencil.” 
  • Alex likes the shadow effects created by Grease Pencil materials. “When you bring a light into the face of a character, you get this nice soft shadow. It looks amazing. It’s not flat anymore.”
  • He’s a big fan of the sculpting brush, and not just for refining lines. “I’m using this constantly. You can use it to create squash and stretch. In fact, you can pretty much re-pose a character this way.”
  • Because storyboarding relies on speed, Alex animates Grease Pencil objects in minimal ways. “For instance, if I’m animating a character walking, I’ll animate the Grease Pencil object along its axis, with ups and downs, as the basis for the walk cycle. Which means I have to draw less. You can get a lot of expressivity out of just animating this one drawing.”        
  • To get started with hybrid storyboarding, Alex recommends the Spitfire Storyboards channel on YouTube: “It’s the best. I learned so much.”
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