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Timing for Animation
By Harold Whitaker John Halas Tom Sito
Focal PressCopyright © 2009 Harold Whitaker, John Halas & Tom Sito
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Storyboard
A smooth visual flow is the major objective in any film, especially if it is an animated one. Good continuity depends on coordinating the action of the character, choreography, scene changes and camera movement. All these different aspects cannot be considered in isolation. They must work together to put across a story point. Furthermore the right emphasis on such planning, including the behavior of the character, must also be realized.
The storyboard should serve as a blueprint for any film project, and as the first visual impression of the film. It is at this stage that the major decisions are taken as far as the film's content is concerned. It is generally accepted that no production should proceed until a satisfactory storyboard is achieved and most of the creative and technical problems, which may arise during the film's production, have been considered.
There is no strict rule as to how many sketches are required for a film. It depends on the type, character and content of the project. A rough guideline is approximately 100 storyboard sketches for each minute of film. If, however, a film is technically complex, the number of sketches could double. For a TV commercial, more sketches are produced as a rule because there are usually more scene changes and more action than in longer films.
The original form of storyboards originated in the 1920s, when artists would pin up their gag ideas on a corkboard on the wall. The idea quickly expanded and a specialist arose: the gag-man or storyboard artist. He or she would create a continuity of drawings delineating the cinematic flow of the film project to come. All the starts and stops of a potential character's actions would be spelled out in a series of sketches. These drawings could be 'pitched' or discussed openly in story-sessions, then photographed and matched to a rough soundtrack to further clarify what the final film might look like. These storyboard films have been referred to in the past with various names: the Animatic, Workreel, Storyreel or Leica reel.
The finished quality of the artwork varied according to the demands of the project. A storyboard only to be seen inside the company by the creative staff could be drawn quick, rough, and to-the-point while a storyboard to be shown to commercial clients or other outsiders, not used to rough drawings, would be highly polished and slick. Filmmakers have added accents like elaborate soundtracks, temporary background music and after-effects technology to 'sell the idea' of the film.
The important point is to convey an idea of the flow of the narrative, and to explore the visual possibilities for additional drama or humor. Live action filmmakers, from Cecil B DeMille to Steven Spielberg, have relied upon storyboards to anticipate potential problems and grasp the impending production issues of a film. This way they could formulate a strategy long before expensive shooting with full crew, movie stars and location permits commenced.
Live action storyboards tend to emphasize frame composition and mis-en-scene or cinematic narrative, and do not focus upon the individual actor's performance. Some actors make it a personal rule not to look at storyboards so as not to be influenced. That's why, in live action storyboards, the figure's individual performances are downplayed. By contrast, storyboards for animated films place great emphasis upon the character's performance and what they are thinking or feeling.
In live action, the unit of the film known as 'the scene' can be made up of dozens of individual shots and can last a few minutes, for example Alfred Hitchcock's shower scene from the film Psycho, while in an animated film each individual cut is called a 'scene' and the sum of all these cuts constitutes a 'sequence', like the 'under the sea 'sequence in Walt Disney Pictures' The Little Mermaid. In television production, the emphasis of storyboards is on economy: many reused scenes, simpler staging than a theatrical, relying on the dialog to carry a story more than complex pantomime action.
Since the 1990s, computers have become part of the storyartists' tools. In the past, traditional storyboards were sent out to be photographed by a cameraperson using a down-shooter or rostrum camera (UK), and then the film was developed, cut together and matched to a soundtrack by an editor. This was a process that took several days at its fastest. Now, the storyartists alone have the power to create storyreels on their laptop computers, with multiple soundtracks and effects, all with an instantaneous playback.
This opens up new possibilities, but it also places increased responsibility upon the storyartist. He or she has to be much better versed in film editing and composition. There is no longer a quality control person to double-check for numerical errors or drawings out of order. The artist has to spend more time tightening and rendering the drawings, as well as additional digital effects and sound effects.
There are many off-the-shelf storyboarding programs that are introduced each year, and large studios customize their own proprietary programs. Most programs can be classified into the categories of 2D and 3D.
This is a system where the drawings are still done on paper. They are then digitized into the computer and placed in order in the allotted time slots of the storyboard show file. This system can be used for so-called 2D animation programs like Flash and Toon Boom, as well as for films using 3D animation techniques like Maya.
Many of these storyboard packages now allow for drawing your storyboards directly into the computer by using a tablet and digital stylus rather than a pencil and paper. The first tablets were a challenge to learn—they left no image on the drawing surface and the screen image appeared after an interval of time, which proved tedious.
Current models are much faster and simpler for the artist to use. You can also set the frame size to stage shots for a widescreen or a television format project. The soundtracks can then be added, either from an external drive or downloaded from a network site. Large studios create a network site for an entire movie. This way the individual storyartist, after completing his or her portion of the film, can simply add it into the network file, or as we used to say 'cut it into the reel'.
This is a process known since 1992 as 'pre-visualization' or 'pre-vis'. A virtual set is constructed in the computer, and the characters placed in them as maquettes, often just simple graphic symbols without color. When the various cuts are considered, the storyartist not only has to take into consideration the camera angle, but also the camera lenses to be used and the light sources in the scene.
One single action of the actors could be restaged again and again from any angle in 360 degrees, with a myriad of possibilities for active camera moves. This all takes advantage of the in-the-round nature of 3D character animation.
Many times the storyartist begins with a rough traditional storyboard, then creates the pre-visual set with characters. At this time the director, and in the case of live action the cinematographer and lighting supervisor, would be invited to have their input.
In some big budget 3D films this process is done in the layout stage of production. This process was very useful when used with live-actor-based systems like motion capture or performance capture. The director films the action using several cameras, and all that data becomes the basis for staging the scene afterwards. Sometimes the camera position is the only thing captured, and it's position is computed in real time so that a live view of the 3D scene can be displayed through it's viewfinder. This allows the cameraperson to film a synthetic action as if it were a real event. This technique was used to support the 'documentary' hand-held feel in the Sony film Surf's Up, or the sweeping camera truck out as the Steward of Gondor aflame leapt to his death in The Return of the King.
Additional Storyboard Effects
In the past, storyboards could be roughly drawn and simple enough to get the idea across quickly. Few outside of the production crew would see it, and they all understood its meaning to the final film. The exceptions were storyboards for commercial projects, which required a high degree of polish since some of the clients may have trouble imagining the finished product. But today many producers and backers of film are new to the field, so you have a better chance of getting your project approved by creating a look as close to the final film as is possible. Storyartists now routinely add temporary music and sound effects to their soundtracks and camera moves that in the past would only be suggested by red boxes and directional arrows.
Because of easy-to-use effects programs for your personal computer, many storyartists enhance their completed reels with additional tricks, done using software such as Adobe After Effects.
Programs such as these enable the storyartist to move a character through a scene like a simple cut-out. You can replace characters in a heavily detailed background without having to redraw that background over and over. You can add effects like real-looking smoke and flash-frames. You can also add motion blurs and fade through poses to approximate motion. Also, you can achieve a credible sense of depth by digitally breaking your composition into foreground, middle ground and background, and changing both field and focus in between them.
Excerpted from Timing for Animation by Harold Whitaker John Halas Tom Sito Copyright © 2009 by Harold Whitaker, John Halas & Tom Sito. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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