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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Using Moviestorm for animated storyboards

One of the things we regularly get asked is whether Moviestorm includes any specific storyboarding tools. It doesn’t but I’ve found that it works fairly well as a storyboarding tool in its own right, whether you’re creating stills or animatics. I’ve worked with various people on film productions, mostly amateurs and students, and what’s tended to happen is that we’ve often ended up ditching the traditional storyboarding approach altogether and going straight into Moviestorm to create an instant rough cut.

If you just use stock characters and minimalist sets, you can put together a storyboard extremely quickly. You just put the characters into position, and set up the camera angles plus any necessary props. You don’t need much of a set - just walls, necessary doors and windows, and key bits of furniture. If you want, you can use imported images on flat screens as placeholders for props or set backdrops. Don’t bother with too much choreography, sound, lighting, and so on - just the absolute minimum. It literally takes just a few minutes to block a simple scene. It’s much faster than drawing out each image for a storyboard, even if, like me, you’re only capable of drawing stick men.

You can then use screen captures to grab the stills and build those into an traditional storyboard if you want. One big advantage to this is that you get a proper visualisation of your scene in 3D space, not just as a series of isolated 2D images. This means you avoid the sort of problems you get when the storyboard looks great but doesn’t tally with what’s physically possible or consistent.

But that’s not the way to get the best from Moviestorm. A traditional storyboard, in a sort of comic format, doesn’t gives you as much information as you really need. You get much better results if you also add in placeholder dialog and put in some basic choreography and camera moves. You’ve then got an extremely rough cut of the scene. This is usually called an animatic. You’ll get a good idea of how long it’s going to be, whether the planned edit will work as intended, and whether you have any issues such as line-crossing. One major advantage of this is that everyone - cast and crew - can then watch the animatic and get an idea of what the director is trying to achieve.

The sort of thing we’ve found this useful for is that when we’ve played back the animatic, we’ve realised that shots which looked great in the storyboard don’t work well in the final edit - they’re jarring, or they take too long and have to be cut for storytelling reasons.

Here’s an example: I was looking at a sequence where one character is explaining a chunk of back story to four others. It was a longish speech.  The director wanted to break up the shot by showing how each the four people were reacting differently. His storyboard called for close reaction shots on each of them, cutting back and forth to the speaker. When we came to block it in Moviestorm, we realised the speech wasn’t actually long enough to get all those shots in without feeling rushed.

If we’d shot it as per the storyboard, the editor would have been left with these four options:

1. Cut it as per the storyboard, and accept that the sequence is going to be rushed.
2. Skip the cuts back to the speaker, and just go with the reactions. We tried blocking that, and it felt awkward.
3. Try to do something fancy with the audio, introducing pauses to make the speech longer.
4. Ask for a reshoot - an absolute last resort

What we did in Moviestorm was to spend a couple of minutes trying out three other blocking options:

1. A single reaction shot that moved across all four faces in closeup - this didn’t work well, and we decided to stick with static shots
2. A single reaction shot that had all four people in it - this didn’t work either, as we couldn’t get the facial detail we were after
3. Physically grouping the listeners so we could get two in each shot and just doing two cutaways.  This worked much better, but meant we had to adjust the placement of those characters earlier in the scene so that they were less spread out and the grouping was consistent. Originally they were arranged with A next to B, C off to one side, and D seated, but the new version called for B and C in the same shot, and A standing right behind D’s chair. The original grouping made for a nice shot, but we sacrificed it for a better edit later in the scene.

There are two important things happening here. First, we identified the potential problem in pre-production, before even dressing the set, let alone shooting anything, and were able to find a solution within a few minutes - less time that it would have taken to redraw the original storyboard! Since the new cut involved rechoreographing an earlier part of the scene, we were able to consider options that wouldn’t have been possible if we’d found the problem on set once filming had started. And second, we were thinking about editing at a very early stage. We weren’t just concerned with getting great shots: we were extremely conscious of how they’d look once there was motion and audio in there, and how they’d work together in the final cut. That’s the kind of thing that makes editors very happy and makes post-production go much more smoothly.

If you’re making your final film in Moviestorm, you can then either start again from scratch, using the animatic as a guide, or carry on developing the animatic into the finished movie. Personally, I’ve found that while it’s tempting to keep polishing the rough version, it’s often quicker to start over, but not always.


(2) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Hugh Hancock on 03/14 at 10:14 AM

Another note on whether one should keep going from an animatic - there’s a further stage of evolution between animatic and final film. When we shot BloodSpell, I’m really glad we didn’t have the ability to reuse camera moves from the animatic. Some of the time, I shot exactly according to the animatic, but quite a lot of the time, when we came into the virtual space with a clear blueprint (the animatic) beside us, alternative, better directions presented themselves.

I went with them because it was as easy to do that as to shoot the currently planned shot - I’d have to create it either way. But if it had been a choice, every time, between “new stuff that needs more work” and “old shot that we can just slot in”? I doubt I’d have polished as much as I did.

Rooney on 03/19 at 06:21 AM

First of all, I need to geek out. I love the Venture Bros! I’m 40, and while I still like some of the current sci-fi, fstaany, and even most comedy, I always end up just wondering if I’m getting too old to love this type of stuff the way I used to. But TVB has confirmed that it’s still possible.When the show’s hitting on all cylinders, it manages to be funny, interesting cool, and often has something dark moving under the surface. In a word, it’s rich!It has effected my own animation in terms of everything from story arcs to line style. I had started out wanting to do animated B-movies. But first the lowbrow artists and now TVB have put a little english on this basic goal. At this point, I’m having to make a conscious effort not to imitate the show. It has actually effected my default mode, if you know what I mean.I’m very much looking forward to season 3, and particularly to the box set. I hope you do serious extras on this one. I’d love to have a copy of the original comic story, and to see some early designs. I’m a dork!TobinPS: Charles Napier IS Brock’s father!

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