African Watercolor, Part 2
Interview with Laura Pelick
News for December
StoryboardingAsk an Artist
by Annie Rodrigue
The fabulous Ellen Million wrote to me a nice list of subjects I could tackle in this column when I feel unsure what to write about. This month is one of those months and now I see on my list: something about storyboarding. I'm thinking I could probably talk about this in a whole different angle than most storyboard books or teachers would do. My relationship with this particular subject matter has been rather tough.
First, it must be mentioned that in college and for a long time after college (probably even today) I never was any good at storyboarding. I just did not get it. I could see the use of it; it is after all a visual version of your script. But it was very difficult for me to take words and turn them into images that would best describe what was going on. This might sound silly, but it's not. If I found in my script that I had to draw a boy reading a book, I would actually draw the first idea I had in mind without analysing if this was the best way to present the subject. When I looked at my full storyboarded project, it would often feel like it worked, but it didn't always make sense between the panels. And a lot of times, I had the impression that I wasn't reaching any kind of potential with my ideas.
For a long time, I told myself it was because I didn't have any talent for it, but with experience, I've learned to understand that talent very rarely has something to do with it. And so, I searched for good books on the subject and I have found this wonderful book just a few years ago: Directing the Story, by Francis Glebas. After devouring the whole thing, it gave me a whole new perspective to storyboarding that just never was introduced to me in school.
At the same time, I started doing comics, and it turned out that both had some similarities in composition and storytelling techniques. So, after a lot of reading and practice, I started getting along with storyboarding and after a little bit more time, I even started to enjoy it! The truth is, when I really got into it, I realised how storyboarding and comics required a huge amount of skills and versatility. You have to handle perspective, character designs, anatomy, composition, storytelling and writing (if you do the script beforehand) all together to make it work. To me, it was very humbling and frustrating. But when I got it right, it was also very rewarding! It would allow me to learn a set of skills faster than any other discipline I tried before.
If I had to give some tips for storyboarding and comics, it would probably be these:
1. Learn Some Perspective Basics
Doing storyboards and comics without it is impossible in my opinion. At first, I got through without much of it, but you soon realise that variety in angles will make your storyboard or comic much more dynamic. To be able to play with angles, a good knowledge of perspective is essential!
2. Play with Expressions
Doing storyboards or comics with characters that have no expressions quickly becomes repetitive. Some will say that with comics, you can get along with a good dialogue and people won't notice the expressions all that much, but I tend to think that this is not true at all. You can get a message across with an expression or a dialogue, but which one is more interesting? As for storyboard, yes again, the character can talk, but if the pose and expression add to that dialogue, wouldn't it be better?
3. Vary the Shots
If you have done storyboard or comics before you will be familiar with this. When I say shots, I refer to the cropping of the scene. You can use a close-up, long shot, bird's eye view or any other type of framing in scene that will help understand what is going on. It's easy though to always use the same type of shot for many scenes or panels without noticing how repetitive it is. For example, it would be easy to do only close-ups while two characters are talking together. But it might be more informative to the viewer, if they could see more while the characters are talking. So changing the shots to reveal or hide information is a good way to keep the viewers to their seats.
4. Study Other Comics or Movies
Sometimes, readings books is not enough. I like to learn by observing others' work and with comics, that's fairly easy. With one single book you have access to a fair amount of panels. Study angles, perspective, characters and colours! You can do the same with movies. If you don't mind pausing a film to sketch a scene and study it, even better!
5. Add Depth to Your Scene with Foreground, Middle ground and Background
Now this is something I knew about, but didn't apply until fairly recently. But after studying pencilled pages of a comic I was helping with for colours, it hit me. So many great compositions can be created when we add a clever foreground! You can also show your viewer where to look at in your panel if you do this right.
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