Storyboarding a script essentially transforms pages of dialogue and description into a comic book. Sequential single-frame illustrations are compiled to depict sequences or scenes that may be too complex to accurately describe in words alone. The director and other members of the production staff rely on storyboards to demonstrate camera angles and lay out shots that may require considerable post-production with the inclusion of visual effects. The storyboard serves as a guide for the director and DP, but also as a tool for the rest of the production staff in understanding the director’s vision.
The storyboard artist is hired during pre-production. He or she works with the director to break down the script and identify specific scenes or sequences that must be storyboarded. Rarely will a director elect to have the entire script laid out in such a fashion. Instead, the artist is charged with rendering (on paper) scenes that involve complex action sequences, intricate camera movements, fights, chases, or computer-generated effects. The director will outline for the artist the particular requirements of each shot, giving additional information concerning camera angles, sets, vehicles, etc. The time taken to sketch out these scenes saves the production the cost of shooting unnecessary or unusable footage and allows for better logistical planning ahead of principal photography. In the storyboards, the director is able to work out the kinks. The artist may elect to use pen and pencil to illustrate the storyboards, or any number of computer applications specifically designed for use on film and television productions.
Depending on the project, the storyboard artist may work in the art department offices on the studio lot of a feature film or television show, or may work at home on deadline to deliver completed illustrations. The advantage to working alongside other art department staff in pre-production is proximity to senior staff like the production designer or art director if questions arise. In the design offices, the artist typically has access to scale models and other materials that offer inspiration and reference for the storyboard layouts. The more specific and detailed each cell (single frame) is, the more useful the storyboard is to the director.
Skills & Education
A college degree in fine art or film and television production is recommended. This career demands a proficient illustrator who is also capable of capturing the key moments of a story in an expressive and dynamic fashion. It is not enough to simply draw two people in a frame; the cell must consider camera angles, lighting, and the tension of the scene. Courses in traditional illustration and photography are beneficial, as well as the study of creative writing and the foundations of story. Because the storyboard artist must work under the direction of others, this person should be capable of working in cooperative teams and able to translate another’s abstract ideas into clear visual representations.
What to Expect
The process of storyboarding and the latitude given to the artist will depend greatly on the director. Some directors take a very prescriptive approach, precisely detailing for the artist the exact shots and framing to be depicted and used as a reminder on set. Others may allow the artist creative freedom to interpret the script with additional input. Most important to maintaining a positive working relationship with the director is the ability of the storyboard artist to adapt and play by the employer’s rules. This is mainly a freelance career that depends on references and reputation to secure a gig. However, there are opportunities to work in-house at a production design studio that is then contracted by the producer and director to work on a project. The first step is to obtain employment (freelance or otherwise) in any area of the art department on a film or television product.
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