Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Storyboarding 101

Following on from the article about Scriptwriting...

I’m not great at doing quick drawings/sketches from nothing. On my best days, I make James Thruber look like da Vinci. So storyboarding is not something I like to do. I nearly used the Storyboard Composer app on the iPhone, but I was going to have to take a lot of photos at locations I didn't have, or find them and upload them to the phone.

With few other options, I decided to draw it myself, mainly using photos found on the internet - and some of my own - as a basis, and then doing quick sketches based on those. Even that took a lot of time – as there were 40 panels – and I was sometimes reduced to using very crude shapes to represent the characters just because I didn’t have the time to draw even a quick sketch.

Quick sketch in Illustrator using photo as template

I used Illustrator to draw the sketches (using a mix of the pen and brush tool.) I prefer sketching in Illustrator to using Photoshop’s brush tool. For a hack like me, the Illustrator brush creates very clean, smooth lines. It actually smoothes the curves you draw quite a bit; this can sometimes be frustrating when it “over” smooths, but most of the time it actually improves the look of the scratchings I make. The other thing is that it’s very easy to remove - and move - lines and shapes.

I put the photo in one layer, lock it, then create a second layer and draw on that layer using the brush tool. You can turn the visibility of the photo layer on and off quickly to see how the drawing is going; it doesn't have to be perfect, just good enough to convey the message.

Once the sketches are made, I usually assemble the storyboards in Illustrator; adding the frames and descriptions in a separate document. This time I used Apple’s Pages, which - in addition to the Script template - has a storyboard template. That storyboard is 6 up, but I changed it to be three up, with more space for dialog/action below the panels.

Apple Pages Storyboard Template - adjusting the Mask of the panel

One of the really nice things about Pages is that the rectangle for the sketch is a mask frame; the drawing dropped into the shape is scaled and matted within the frame, but you can then scale and drag the graphic around within the frame.

Pages is definitely not perfect if you're doing a lot of storyboarding; if later on you have to change the panel order you have to do a fair bit of work; you can’t just drag one panel and have it reorder the rest for you. Basically, you’re limited to inserting additional pages.

Still, I was very happy with how it worked, and at the end it’s easy to export to PDF for the final output.

Final storyboard in PDF format

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