7 Elements Help Direct a Storyboard Artist

There are times when a director needs to pre-visualize a scene. It might be to speed the camera set-up during a shoot, help the FX team choreograph a difficult series of moves, or help an investor better understand the visual elements of a story they are backing. In every case, there are 7 key elements a director can use to help a storyboard artist.

Tried & True StoryboardLegend of the Lightstone was the first picture I worked on that required storyboards for the FX team. It was used to determine gear, equipment and background plates needed to capture my vision. Since ILM was to produce the effects, I had the privilege of working with their staff storyboard artist who gave me a few pointers.

Here are the key elements that a director can use to help their storyboard artist:

1)   PREDETERMINE THE ASPECT RATIO: Inform the artist what ratio he should use for his frame. Films are shot with various aspect ratios depending on its initial release format. The following is a list of board formats and its corresponding dimensions (length:height):

  • Anamorphic film is 2.35:1
  • Standard theatrical format is 1.85:1
  • HD Video or 16X9 is 1.78:1
  • Super 16mm or European theatrical is 1.66:1
  • The old TV standard was 1.33:1

2)   DESCRIBE THE SHOT CHOICE: The shot is made up of a location, set-up or angle, lighting, composition, and lens length. The position of the camera and its distance from the subject can be referred to by using common shot types:

  • EWS (Extreme Wide Shot)
  • WS or LS (Wide Shot or Long Shot)
  • FS (Full Shot – Entire person)
  • Cowboy Shot (Framed from head to mid thigh)
  • MS (Medium Shot – Framed head to hips)
  • CU (Close Up Shot – Framed top of head to base of neck)
  • Choker Shot (Framed forehead to chin)
  • ECU (Extreme Close Up – Framed eyebrows to bottom of lips)
  • OTS (Over the Shoulder Shot – Camera looks over shoulder of one character at the other character as a CU or MS)
  • POV (Point of View – Follows a CU of the character whose view will be shown and is a MS or WS, but can be a CU of what he’s focused on)
  • Reverse Shot (Shot 180 degrees in the opposite direction of the previous shot)
  • Reaction Shot (Shot of character’s emotional response that is typically a CU or MS)
  • High Angle (Shot from an angle above the characters)
  • Bird’s Eye View (Shot from up where birds fly)
  • Overhead Shot (Shot from directly above the characters)
  • Worm’s Eye View (Low angle shot looking up at the characters)

3)   ESTABLISH EYE LINE BASED ON EMOTIONS: The artist is not able to raise or lower a camera, but he can change the horizon line in his drawing to create a similar effect of changing the camera height. By raising the horizon, the drawing will look like the camera is higher than the character and diminish his power. By lowering the horizon line, the camera appears below the character, making him look more powerful.

In the same way, the artist can draw the character looking into the camera as in a frontal shot, or turned 90 degrees for a profile shot, or create a ¾ shot or ¾ frontal shot. This decision will also impact the emotional flavor of the scene.

4)   SPECIFY CAMERA MOVEMENT: Consideration must be given to camera movement. Common types of movements include: pans, tilts, dolly shots, push in/push out or trucking shots, boom, crane, steadicam, or specialized shots like zolly (pushing in while zooming out), sleeper, corkscrew, or dutch tilt. By describing the use of a long or short lens, or zoom allows the artist to blur foreground or background objects to create a depth of field effect. It would also be prudent to mention other specialty lenses like the fisheye lens if you want the artist to render the frame in a similar fashion as the lens.

5)   CREATE A BLOCKING DIAGRAM: The artist needs to know how many characters are in the shot and their positions within the frame at any given time. This includes their movement and placement. An over the head diagram can be sketched with the camera position to help the artist visualize each characters position relative to the camera and composition. If multiple camera angles are shown in the diagram, it is important to draw in the camera axis line so the artist won’t accidentally flip the character’s POV.

6)   PITCH THE STORY: To give a feel for the scene and the director’s vision, the story can be shared in a similar fashion to a pitch. This is accomplished by sharing with the artist what happens physically, visually and emotionally in the scene. The more the artist understands the tone of the scene and its action, the more the artist’s style will match the vision.

7)   CREATE A THUMBNAIL SKETCH: My explanations to the artist typically generate storyboards to my liking 80% of the time. The remaining 20% need to be reworked or adjusted. If I draw a thumbnail sketch for composition purposes, the artist is able to create a frame that matches my vision.

Tried & True StoryboardKeep in mind that a stagnant storyboard may need to be altered for animatics. If the artist knows that an animatic will be created for a living reel or business purposes, he may chose to draw his boards in layers for various types of output as required. By using a layered approach, he can also save time should only portions of a board need to be altered.

The storyboards in this blog were created by up coming artist Jay Dehlinger. Here’s how he can be reached: jasondehlinger at gmail dot com. (I spelled it out to avoid spiders). He is reasonably priced during his first year as a new storyboard artist and can work over the phone and with scanned thumbnail sketches.

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers




4 thoughts on “7 Elements Help Direct a Storyboard Artist

  1. Pingback: The Production Trinity | CJ's Corner
  2. Thanks for this CJ!
    I just subscribed and am finding many of your posts to be interesting and relevant to my world. I am working overseas in another language and culture leading a team of locals to adapt their own stories, legends, proverbs, songs, and even Scripture into audiovisual ‘art-story’ videos distributed on cell phones. We have found that using local story forms, music, and art (with a Ken Burns effect) tests well. We want to do video work with excellent Western standards, but not transgress the semiotics, styles, and appeal of the local culture. Since you have worked in other cultures: How might I direct the commissioning of local art with sensitivity? Making sure the local artist fully understands the meaning and inferences in the text, but not dictate how it should be visualized from their cultural perspective?

    • Story structure transcends culture, but design and style do not. I recommend you share with your teams how to structure the telling of the story and let them design their won look and feel for the film. By asking questions, you will be able to lead them through a thinking process that will help them cultivate how the story is told in keeping with the cultural styles that are relevant today. I hope that helps.

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