Tuesday, April 10, 2012


JOHNNY CHAZZ: Alfred Hitchcock once said (when discussing the idea of planning a scene and a specific shot): “You have a frame. Now, close your eyes and fill it.”

In order to properly maintain a balance between a film’s visual effects, sets, and plotline, many directors and producers will utilize the “storyboarding” technique. Hence, this is our topic this week on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT.

One might consider Hitchcock as prime advocate of storyboarding in his films. Hitchcock basically looked at storyboarding as an artistic process of filmmaking. As the script was the guide, the storyboarding was the path paved towards creating the visual aspects of the film.
A facinating look, through storyboards, on the original ending for Hitchcock's THE BIRDS

You may have noticed that many DVD’s today will contain storyboards in the “extras” for the film. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (the scenes inside the tree as well as the buffet table) is a prime contemporary example, and a film such as “Taxi Driver” (the final shootout scene in the hallway) would qualify another from years gone by.

When beginning the process of storyboarding, directors must consider the creative as well as the fantastic (fantasy) aspect of the film in full detail. Angles, colors, lighting and movement within the frame become paramount to the storyboarding process if the final visual is to have a heavy impact on the audience.
Actual storyboards for Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER
Often times – although quite pricey, storyboard artists will be hired to develop the right images and detailed sketches for the film’s planned imagery and aspect ratios. However, on the other hand we once again look at Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” where he basically drew his own storyboards that, in essence, were stick figures. Thus, one might conclude that the process of storyboarding can be complex and full-detailed, or simply a tool to help tell the story without becoming a drawn-out process (no pun intended).

Understanding now that storyboards are the visuals of the written script, let’s discuss a bit of the details of what goes into storyboarding. Computer art designs and programs are often used in many of the films today with such tremendous effects and imagery. Storyboards that are drawn by the hand are usually done in black and white. However, many of today’s animated films utilize color palates with computer design software.
GONE WITH THE WIND: example of action on storyboard
The storyboard comprises several pieces included within the scene. Secondly, the characters are then drawn into the frame with the background remaining a blank. The actual scene number is tracked and typically in the upper corner of the frame with a simple description of what is taking place in the scene along with height, distance, and color aspects. Often times, arrows will also be placed or drawn into the storyboard frame to depict how and where the camera is to move within the scene.

In sum, we can positively say that storyboards are the visual interpretation of the script that, in turn can only make the written word explode off the screen. The key is to draw an image that is a proper interpretation of the story that was intended to be, while keeping key cinematic aspects and techniques in mind.
Storyboard of the helicopter sequence from APOCALYPSE NOW
My feeling here, Jer, is that films today could benefit a great deal by reverting to the types of storyboarding that we have seen in the past (Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”; Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” and “Rear Window”, and Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” are key examples) where the visual details within the frame and scene are paramount to the film’s impact and success on audiences. Films today have lost their creativity, and have simply become just plain boring to watch. Additionally, by not paying attention to the direction where a film is headed by outlining it with a storyboard, production costs rise and production deadlines are extended. Thus, by creating professional and detailed storyboards, films today are virtually guaranteed to stay within budget while resulting and a film that is truly outstanding.

JER: Although true that directors need the visual aspect to help relay the concept to both cast and crew…I don’t generally agree that the hand-drawn format is neither better nor worst than any other.

To start, it is a common fact that all human beings are picture- oriented. We must have the visual in order to help illustrate a concept, a story being told or flesh out characters and locations by an author’s written words. We have been using similar art forms since the dawn of man, etching crude drawings on cave rock to help tell a story.

Walt Disney reviewing STEAMBOAT WILLIE
Tracing its history, it turns out it began at the Walt Disney Studios back in the early 1930s. The first project to work on full storyboarding was the 1933 animated short, THE THREE LITTLE PIGS. The artist credited was Disney animator Webb Smith. His idea, like a comic book, was to illustrate drawings on small sheets of paper, or “story sketches”, then pin them in a story sequence onto a bulletin board for review. However, records show that the first animated storyboards dated further back into the 1920s, as artists illustrated concepts for animated short subjects STEAMBOAT WILLIE and PLANE CRAZY.

One of the first live action films to benefit from complete storyboarding was GONE WITH THE WIND. The illustrations were credited to artist William Cameron Menzies. Other directors began to take notice of the new visual concept and by the mid 1940s; it became a standardized format in the film industry.

Storyboards from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Storyboarding, it seemed, would serve other purposes other than just for illustrating the visions while filming. For example, directors Joel and Ethan Coen have been known to use storyboards extensively before taking the pitch to their funders to approve (‘green- light’) their project. This has helped them grasp the concept much better than what could have been described within words.

Animation and complex live action scenes seem to benefit the most from the use of storyboarding. As JOHNNY CHAZZ mentioned, directors like Scorsese and Coppola have effectively conveyed the drawing to the screen, but let’s take a look at a few others as well.

Art to Film process for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Steven Spielberg joins the ranks of successful directors in the use of storyboards. In the earlier part of his career, Spielberg himself drew all of the storyboards himself, using limited artistic abilities, by drawing stick figures in place of the actors and Spielberg would review the action with both cast and crew. In later days, especially for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, he would hire professional artists to help illustrate his images better. One conceptual artist that became popular between the likes of both Spielberg and George Lucas was Ralph McQuarrie.

Concept Artist Ralph McQuarrie
I feel it was a coincidence that JC selected ‘storyboards’ as a topic, considering the fitting tribute that must be paid to the legendary Ralph McQuarrie while on the subject. Having just recently passed away on March 3, 2012, McQuarrie’s work is synonymous to anyone who is a fan of sci-fi films. He single-handedly created the visual design of STAR WARS for Lucas. Fellow artists that contributed to that world included Joe Johnston (director of CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE ROCKETEER) and John Dykstra (Special Effects Supervisor on STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, HANCOCK and 2004’s SPIDER-MAN). McQuarrie went on to create visual concept designs for both THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. He also did the spaceship designs for Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL. His work branched to television when he designed concepts on the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series in the late 1970s and worked with Ron Howard on his 1985 hit COCOON (he shared an Academy Award win for Best Visual Effects) and for the 1986 film STAR TREK: THE VOYAGE HOME. A book was published in 2007 entitled “The Art of Ralph McQuarrie” that is a must- have for any fan of the genre.
A fitting tribute to the artwork of Ralph McQuarrie-RIP

Moving into the 21st century, all hand-drawn storyboards have been replaced with the new computer-animated visual board known as “animatics.” This revolutionary concept raised the bar in the new world of computer 3D animation and the use of Computer Generated Images (CGI) in film. Directors like James Cameron and the recent George Lucas’ STAR WARS prequels have extensively used this for creating their respective worlds. Considering the new world of green-screen photography and the high- tech use of computer images for both background designs and special visual effects, it was important that Lucas had the use of animatics to help visualize his concepts to artists, actors and crew.
Blending drawings and animatic shots, a preview of STAR WARS- THE CLONE WARS

Animation companies like Pixar and DreamWorks Animation rely heavily on the use of animatics for the pre-production of their respective films including TOY STORY, FINDING NEMO and KUNG- FU PANDA. Storyboards have helped actors get an idea of the characters they are voicing by understanding their physical and emotional appearances presented by the artists.

Detailed boards for Pixar's FINDING NEMO
An exploration of how animation has assisted in the creation of animation may seem ironic, but storyboards and its history has come a long ways in less than 100 years. It is hard to imagine that film and animation have been around for as long as it has. More importantly, the art of storyboards may have been a technique in film making that has never been recognized or thought of before. This is a topic well worth bringing to the spotlight and should be held as a viable tool in the making of films.

We ask our readers to chime- in on their thoughts… do you think storyboarding or animatics are an important tool needed in making films today? Had you ever really thought about it before? We always welcome your comments and opinions and we do reply to all submissions. Please check back with us again on Wednesday April 25th when JER takes a turn on the spinning wheel of film topics! We hope you continue to enjoy our blog- page and thanks for reading!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!


  1. Storyboards are something that I have always been interested in since I have thought about a future and career in the film industry. One class that I took discussed storyboarding processes and it was really fasintating. You both on this blog seem to respect the process and the value of storyboarding with respect to the end product of what a movie or film eventually becomes. It also gave me some ideas of my own and a few movies to look at using storyboarding really successfully. Hitchcok was someone that we were taught about in my class since he used storyboards constantly in the movie making processes. -Glen (WA)

  2. Hi Glen, always great to hear from you and thank you for being a dedicated reader since nearly day one!
    I think that both JOHNNY CHAZZ and myself (JER) have a high respect for all aspects of film-making, since we both expressed similuar interest in the industry as you do. We believe it is important to understand everything that goes into film and how it is made.
    Looking forward to your next comments!

  3. I first heard about story boards a long time ago thru a good friend of mine who knew a lot about the movies and the behind the scenes aspects of the industry. He said that story boards are best used with scenes containing lots of violence (shootouts), movements such as bank robberies or car chases and scenes where attacks are taking place such as Mars Attacks or disaster movies (2012 or Twister are movie from a few years back could be a good example). So, I think storyboards almost have to be used in these kinds of genres.


  4. Hi Miguel and thank you for your comments,

    Yes, it would be of great use to use storyboards for difficult or complex scenes. Cameras have to placed in certain angles. actors need to know how and where to move and lighting and sound need to know their places amongst it all! Great points delivered and great examples as well.
    Thanks for joining us!

  5. hi cinemacounterpoint,

    I am wondering what kind of detail went into the storyboards for the Transformers movies. How do you think they were created and were any of them sketched out?


    Collin from Joplin, MO.

  6. An excellent question: research brought forth the work down by Storyboard Artist Robbie Consing. He did many hand-drawn sketches in regards to TRANSFORMERS. He has previously worked with Director Michael Bay on PEARL HARBOR, BAD BOYS II and THE ISLAND. It would seem, Collin, that many of it were done by hand. That surprised me considering how complex those films are visually!
    I hope that answers your question and thank you for chiming in!