The storyboard process is the most creative and energy consuming part of my job. Sometimes it takes me hours before I can even start imagining and planning the story in my head. I work on different tasks while mentally preparing myself for a storyboarding session. I try to tune my psychological and emotional state, so I can better feel my cognitive processes and hear my intuition. The creative process should not become a mechanical process – I want it be spontaneous and yet coherent.
Preparation for a storyboard session
I try to get a script a couple of days in advance so I can spend some time just carrying ideas inside my head. When reading the script the first time, I don’t see words. I see fuzzy sequences and sometimes just sounds. I don’t reread the script right away, as I want the first impression to last longer. I want the images I envisioned to plant and grow in my imagination. I don’t concentrate too much at this stage. Intuitively I give myself several seconds to think about what I saw while reading the script, and then I switch to doing something else. I let my subconscious mind further process and develop the material. Later on, maybe a day before the scheduled start of the storyboard session, I read the script again. This time I read it more carefully, however I still don’t break down the script and I don’t concentrate on the structure and elements. During this process, my subconscious mind has already come up with some camera angles, shots, cuts and even concepts, so I just arrange everything in my mind. Once everything is in place I switch to different tasks and don’t think about the storyboard. I wait until the next day.
Hand drawn storyboard
One seven-minute Tellur Alien episode has around 270 cuts, with approximately the same number of shots. It takes three to five days to create a complete production ready storyboard. In the past I preferred hand drawn storyboards over digital, for a number of the advantages involved. The first advantage was that my very talented concept and storyboard artist Francesco Mazza and I were not attached to a computer. We could storyboard on the soft carpet on the floor in a quiet room, or we could draw near the balcony and breathe fresh summer air. The second advantage was the possibility to arrange drawings on a table or a floor and have a birds-eye view on the progress, while the digital workflow limited us to small thumbnails on a relatively small monitor.
On the other hand, digital storyboarding is much faster and allows multiple iterations and versions without getting too messy. Once we tried the digital process we managed to cut down our time by almost 25%. We could storyboard the whole episode in just three days. In addition we managed to employ more detailed shading, which helped to add depth to the drawings. Digital is all about efficiency and speed, though we were attached to a desktop computer without freedom to go en plein air.
The storyboard is quite repetitive by its nature, since most of the time it is made out of conventional shot framings such as wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, etc. Most of the time shots feature the protagonist and some secondary characters. While the shots and their containment may vary, the whole thing can be drastically simplified.
When Francesco and I started storyboarding we decided to simplify our characters and break them down into more simple shapes and forms.
Despite being simple, the character perfectly illustrates its action, position and orientation in relation to a camera. Moreover, after 10 minutes of storyboarding, the hand gets used to drawing the simplified character. It all becomes a part of muscle memory, so every time you think of making a close-up of a protagonist your hand automatically creates the outline of the hero. This technique allowed us not only to greatly accelerate the process, but also to make the storyboard reading very simple by other team members.