Bad Blood's Storyboards

"If you can board, you should... Story-boarding is critical to all movies I've done. It's the best way to get ideas across to everyone, from studio heads to the production team. You are literally working out what you can do."

Ridley Scott




What to expect from this page

In this page I will provide a step-by-step description of how I create storyboards. My way is probably not the way you were expecting to see, but nonetheless, I believe you will learn valuable lessons from viewing things from another perspective. Story-boarding is about rendering images and there are many ways to do so. I use a rendering method that suits me and serves my projects well. But notwithstanding the method or medium you use to render boards, the end result of story-boarding is always the same.


Regardless of the project you want to visualize -be it a film or a documentary, a television show, a theatrical production, an advertising campaign, or a play-by-play process (such as a sport's play sequence or the creation of a culinary dish), story-boarding will help you "picture" and improve the quality of your production. Now, before you continue reading, keep this in mind: story-boarding equals understanding. It does so by providing knowledge, awareness and insight on any subject, action, or sequence of events.


However, in story-boarding, in contrast to the written word, understanding is achieved through pictures -though descriptive text and symbols are sometimes used to further elaborate on an idea. The pictures can be line drawings, symbols, painted images, or photographs. They may even be a combination of all of the above. But if bringing understanding is the primary goal of story-boarding, doing so in a fast and expedient manner has to be your second highly desirable goal.


Keep in mind that you will end up doing hundreds of individual panels, so the rendering method you chose to create your storyboards depends entirely on your own artistic skills. Okay? So let's get to it!



IMPORTANT NOTICE

Before you begin with this reading, I have to make something very clear: This section on story-boarding is intended for directors or people who would like to visualize their own projects. Directors should never allow the storyboard artist to direct their films; the film should be the director's vision. Having said thus, storyboard artists will find my observations and experiences useful in their own work and in their interaction with directors.



illustration for bad blood

Bad Blood is a "Hitchcock-style" action thriller.


Why storyboard?

My intention to make a film led to story-boarding. I wrote a screenplay titled Bad Blood with the intention of directing the film (see Bad Blood in the Writings page to read a few scenes from the screenplay and pictures of the cast). But as soon as the screenplay was completed and budget projections were made, it became obvious to me that, in order to make the film I'd envisioned for a minimal budget (meaning: I had no money!) I would have to do some "creative manoeuvrings" to make this film happen (see From Errol Flynn to DreamsVcom in his Writings section of this website for the complete story -you will be amused).


When you have a burning desire to do something creative -like a movie, but with only the possibility of adquiring very limited resources, you have to dedicated an exhausting amount of time to figure out how to make every penny count. To show more on screen for less money meant preparing well in advance to successfully overcome the enormous challenges of film-making. So, how do you make a movie for less? Answer: By spending more time on thinking and planning. And, how do you think and plan for a movie? Answer: By making storyboards.


I was determined to make a movie. My first move was to analyze my situation. It immediately became clear that hiring an established production studio to shoot the film was out of the question; this simply not in our financial landscape. So instead, we used what we had within reach and planned ways to get what we lacked. Consequently, my colleagues and I decided to produce the film on our own. DreamsVcom (Dreams Visual Communications Production Studio), our newly created enterprise to produce Bad Blood, would contract a number of critical talent and professional personnel, but for the most part, we had to depend on own skills and other local less expensive resources such as college students.



dreamsvcom logo by john rivera-resto

Dreams Visual Communications Production Studio


The studio’s organizational chart was kept simple. Nancy Lewis and Peggy Krysinski, two of Bad Blood's four co-producers, would be handling the day-to-day studio operations; John Ban, our third co-producer would be running the crew and dealing with technical challenges, and I would handle the creative aspect of the project. Taking the responsibility of all creative decisions encompassed being the film’s director, production designer, and director of photography. It was up to me to decide the look, the mood, the style, the pace and the feel of the entire movie. Since I was also the film's editor and the screenwriter, I had complete creative control in the fullest sense of the word.


From my experiences in the theater and the visual arts, I knew well that the success or failure of any collaborative undertaking depends greatly on good communication. Bad Blood's production team and its department heads (many of whom I had not even invited yet to join the project), with few notable exceptions, had never worked on feature films before. So it became imperative that everyone involved had a clear picture of what was being done and why things were being done in a particular way so that confusion, the misused of time and resources, and dejection on the set could be eliminate to the greatest extent.


In film-making, just to remind you, the process of communicating in pictures is called story-boarding. A director with good verbal communication skills is a plus on the set but I had long known that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this situation a thousand pictures were even better. From my point of view, storyboards are "the bible of a film's production". They are more than just the derivative visual form of the screenplay. They communicate at many levels! They are the renderings of a director's mind and the most powerful tool of visual communication between the talent, the production team, and perhaps more importantly, with potential investors. When confronted with a difficult problem more often than not a simple drawing is all that's needed to heard the magic words -"I totally get it, dude!"



alfred hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock


akira kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa


ridley scott

Ridley Scott


Forty years of painting and designing placed me at an ideal spot to render a 'picture' version of the screenplay. Three movie directors that I greatly admire used their arts background to great effect in story-boarding their entire films. They are Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, and Ridley Scott. If you don't know who these gentlemen are, then you do not know about films!


To be sure, there are many other prominent directors, such as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and George Lucas, who have used storyboards extensively. Most films use storyboards, especially films that require complex action or special effects sequences. But what set Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and Scott from the rest is that they drew their own boards -though they had storyboard artists at hand to elaborate, render changes and further polish their visuals. It goes without saying that, in preparation to make my own boards, I studied theirs.



alfred hitchcock's drawing for lifeboat

Hitchcock's sketch for Lifeboat (1944).


akira kurowawa's color sketch for ran

Kurosawa's sketch for Ran (1985).


ridley scott's sketch for kingdom of heaven

Scott's sketch for Kingdom of Heaven (2005).


This is how you begin to learn the art: COPY from a master. Go find a director whose style you would like to emulate, study their work and how they "interpreted" the film's screenplay visually. Study a copy of one of their screenplays (you can find copies of most screenplays online or at the library) and then compare each written scene with the finished scene on film. This will help you see things like a director does. Just make sure you pick a good one as your motivational and inspirational guru.


I began creating Bad Blood's storyboards in the fall of 2003 and completed them in April of 2005. Yes, story-boarding takes a long time! But no, I did not work on them full time; I only worked as many free hours as I could muster during the night. In between work commissions to pay the rent, I used some of my spare time making drawings. Every week I tried to do a set amount of panels. A panel is finished rendering (though people often refer to them as "drawings" even though not all panels are made with drawings).


A board is a collection of panels. In the end, I story-boarded the entire film in 133 boards containing about 2300 individual renderings and diagrams. What I discovered from doing my own boards is that everything that was foggy by the time I started was completely clear by the time I finished. Story-boarding allows time for the brain to think, to study problems and work out ideas and solutions; it also provides a way to experiment with new approaches. Let me give you an example.



phycho-shower-scene-still

Movie stills from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).


Let's say you are working on a thriller and have to do a scene of a beautiful woman being stab as she takes a shower. The screenplay reads: "The murderer silently approaches the women as she showers, violently pulls away the shower curtain, and stabs her to death." You want to film the gory scene showing the murderer approaching the shower stall, raised knife in hand ready to strike, then pulling away the curtain thus revealing the beautiful nude body of the woman, and then attacking his victim with multiple knife stabbings until she falls dead -every blood drop captured in glorious color! This is a key sequence in your film, a turning point, and it has to be absolutely memorable.



phycho-shower-scene-still

Movie stills from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).

But when you get together with your various department heads to discuss the actual shooting of the scene, you realise that it will take convincing the actress to, first appear nude in the scene, and then spend countless hours in makeup so that the makeup artist can apply a progression of knife wounds (in between shots). In addition, the prop master has to construct a body dummy to be used for the shots when the knife enters flesh, and then you will need other technicians to operate tubes that squirt gallons of fake blood on both the dummy and the actress! The result is a very time consuming, complicated and expensive scene but you feel its worth it.



phycho shower scene still

Movie stills from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).


However, your budget person tells you there is no money for it, so, you have two options: you can raise more money or... you can go back to your drawing board and think hard of a way to do the scene cheaper and faster -but without loosing its visual impact! Your first instinct is to find other ways to fix the problem while still sticking to your original gory conception. But after more meetings and consultations with your staff you have to face up to reality: no extra days, no nudity, no dummy, no complicated special effects, no additional technicians, no actual stabbing, no knife touching flesh, and no gallons of fake blood. So what to do? I can't answer that for you, but I will advice you get a copy of the film Psycho to see how director Alfred Hitchcock did it in his famous shower scene. To this day, people worldwide gasp in horror every time they see it -and he did it in Black & White!


So, how did Hitchcock pull off one of the most terrifying masterpiece of a montage in the history of cinema without no extra days of filming (though he spend a week on this scene alone), no nudity, no dummy, no complicated special effects, no additional technicians, no actual stabbing, no knife touching flesh, and no gallons of fake blood? He did it by carefully thinking about the scene elements in advance and ultimately story-boarding the montage as edited in the final scene. Like Hitchcock, you too want to interpret your scenes within the context of the story in your own visual style. But to follow Hitchcock's example, story-boarding will help you immensely to visualize your interpretation of a scene working within your means BEFORE you move into production. Even better, you might come up with a more effective and powerful scene! -Money is not everything; necessity is the mother of invention.



Keeping it simple

What follows is a description of my story-boarding method and routine. Please keep in mind that there is no standard way of preparing storyboards. Certain things remain constant but each production will determined its own story-boarding needs. My working style and procedure "works for me". For your own production you must "do what works for you". For a more traditional approach to story-boarding I encourage you to seek out other sources. I'm not traditional! But look hard. Don't be ashamed to admit your limitations. EVERYONE has to learn things once. So start learning. Ask questions, READ books, work at it.



the_art_of_the_storyboard book cover

A book from my personal library with very useful information about creating storyboards.


Don't limit your reach by only watching YouTube videos and tutorials. There is a wealth of know-how and wisdom in books that still hasn't been made into short video summaries. Movie business is not for lazy people or cowards. The more you know, the greater your confidence, and the less fear of trying out new things and making mistakes. That's how you learn. I'm still learning and I'm almost 50! (actually, as of this latest update, I'm 61!) Thankfully, the City of Cleveland has one of the best library system in the nation. I borrowed and read just about every book they had on the subject. Then, I purchased those I found most useful for my personal library. Remember, you can order new or used books about story-boarding, basic drawing and film-making online or borrow them for free from your local library. There is no excuse for remaining ignorant.



how_to_draw_the_marvel_way book cover

A book from my personal library with very useful information about drawing characters and scenes.


Now, before I begin introducing Bad Blood's storyboards, I want to tell you right from the start: -"You do not need to be a Michelangelo to draw your own boards!" Let me prove it to you. Below is a picture of the boards I used when filming a few scenes from my play Death of a Mercenary. They were created for a finals project being done by communications students at Cleveland State University. Five scenes were filmed with a total of one hundred and ninety camera shot/edits during a three-day period. It was filmed in the department's small production studio, using big and clunky TV cameras, so we had to prepare well to complete all the shots in time.



shot_by_shot book cover

A book from my personal library with very useful information about film making and trade terminology.



My good friend Theron Evans, the ex-Marine web designer who put together the original Muralmaster site, was then a student in charge of the editing. The class professor and project supervisor was none other than the peerless John Ban. Indie films veterans Andrew Scofield and Frank Mixson were part of the cast, which also included Cleveland arts icon James Levin and acclaimed choreographer Gustavo Urdanetta. Actor Marty O'sullivan stole the show. I was so impressed by these gentlemen that I made a mental note to work with them again if I ever had the chance. Now they are all now involved in the production of Bad Blood -Karma.



death-of-a-mercenary-storyboards sample page

Storyboard for Death of a Mercenary. They were simple pen and ink drawings on black paper.


Story-boarding comes effortless to me. Even as a teen working in my own theatrical productions (for years I did Spanish theater) I sketched everything to help explain my ideas to others since the crews were made of volunteers. But now was the first time I had to do boards to be followed by a production crew that spoke in film-making language. So the first thing I did was learn the vocabulary of the trade (the kinds of shots, camera movements and so forth) and then find an effective way to say it all in visual sound-bites. Notice how plain and simple my storyboards were -even though I can accurately paint you a copy of the Mona Lisa! (see his Paintings page in this website). On black construction paper (8-1/2 x 11 inches -that's 216 x 279 mm) I made a series of 1-1/4 x 1-1/4 inch panels (13.75 x 13.75 mm) in comic book style using white ink and a paintbrush. At the bottom of each panel I wrote a description of the action or a piece of script.


These finished boards were then photocopied on legal paper (8-1/2 x 14 inches -or 216 x 356 mm), put in binders and passed along to the crew. On the right hand side of each sheet the shot-numbers were listed and then marked with a red marker as each shot was filmed. Since each panel was basically a amall thumbnail, the boards were relatively fast to create. Also, I was in intimate terms with the material because I was the author of the play being filmed. The drawings were minimal, sometimes stick figures, but they were effective and everyone understood clearly what they were supposed to do. Camera setups were fast and efficient and the actors commenced the blocking of scenes by just glancing at the pictures.



Orson_Welles

You can learn a lot from this guy. Get DVD or online copies of his films, Citizen Kane and Othello, and study every single frame. Practice by creating storyboards of the opening scenes.


storyboard of citizen_kane's el_rancho_sequence

Storyboard of the El Rancho cabaret crane shot, including the roof sign, from Citizen Kane. Many movies on DVD, such as the two disc edition of Citizen Kane, contain a comparison of film stills with the storyboards. This is a great way to learn visually about how it's done.


There is an important lesson to be learn from this (let me repeat): -"you do not have to be a Michelangelo to draw your own boards!" Just keep things simple; say what you want to say with an economy of line. The key is to communicate your ideas visually and not to show off your drawing prowess. Take your time to consider what you want to say. As you move along it gets easier. If you have trouble visualizing what you want to draw, here's a simple tip I give my art students: take pencil and paper and write a description of what you want to say. Make your description is as detailed as possible. Then read it allow to yourself. Is the description clear? Does it make sense? If not, get back and rewrite it until it does. Then illustrate what you just described in words. That's your road-map. Trust me, it works!



A "Needs" Evaluation


Before you begin any meaningful journey, it's imperative that you know in advance what your destination is. At the beginning, you may not have mapped every road along the way, but you will always know the correct heading. With story-boarding, it's the same concept. This is not a casual trip of exploration to see what may come, because story-boarding is about answering specific questions and solving problems in advance, before you begin the journey. What's more, this is not a journey that you complete alone as you will most likely fail to reach your goal.


I have observe many young aspiring film-makers so inebriated with the perception of their own talent, that they view storyboards only for their own exclusive and well-guarded use and benefit, thus forgetting the first fundamental truism of film-making, which is: film-making is a collaborative art. Therefore, storyboards should be thought in advance as a tool for the use and benefit of all the people involved in your production.


Once you begin thinking in broader terms, place yourself in the shoes of every single person in your production-team, and note their roles and responsibilities. Then make an evaluation of how your story-boards will supply answers to their particular needs. When I started visualizing Bad Blood, I gave a great deal of thought on how everyone would benefit from having story-boards made. This was the result of that evaluation:


  1. The director needed to visualize his interpretation and feel of the script.

  2. The director of photography was concerned with the mood of the film, as expressed by camera placements, camera movements, and the lighting of each scene.

  3. The production designer was concerned with sets, colors, props, and the costumes. In general, with the entire look of the film.

  4. The post-production crew needed to visualize the special effects shots, the titles and closing sequence.

  5. The film editor needed to see how various shots created scenes.
  6. The assistant director would like to see how the crowd scenes would play out.

  7. The stunt coordinator needed to learn how the each shot had to be choreographed.

  8. The actors needed help visualizing the blocking of a scene or how to play out for effect shots on green screen.

  9. The location scout needed to know what look for.

  10. The producer needed to see -and justify, that the budget was visible on screen.

  11. The investors needed to see and understand what the producer and director were going to do with their money. And so on.

  12. The advertising and promotions team needed to view ways to advertise and sell the project.

Almost everyone planning to storyboard a screenplay for a film project could benefit from this evaluation. These are important considerations that should be seriously studied. As for me, I felt I had to think things three times as hard. Bad Blood's storyboards had to provide a lot of information and come up with a lot of answers, particularly since I knew then that I would be working with an inexperienced crew, and some of the shots and scenes were quite complex. So in preparation for the task ahead, I had made a list of the people I would need on my production team, took time to read and learn as much as I could about their duties and specific tasks, and tried to imagine me doing their work.


This gave me a whole new perspective and a greater level of respect for the work of everyone involved in a production. I was able to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fitted together to take a film from the script to the theater. I now had a clearer view of the destination and what it would take to get there. My storyboards would be key in mapping the road ahead. So I prepared well in advance and planned a working method to produce storyboards that could supply insights and answers to the entire production team.



A Personal Confession

I have to make a confession: -"I can't draw… with a pencil, or pen." I became an artist late in life, too late to develop the skill and hand dexterity one needs for drawing. But I can paint with a brush, and it keeps me from getting too detailed. So, same as with my early thumbnail drawings I did for the Cleveland State student project, I was going to do Bad Blood's panels in brush and ink. Sometimes I use a pencil to sketch, but it is usually a sketch of a stick figure, which I will flesh out with the brush at a later stage. The most difficult thing for me was to stop detrimental tendencies to embellish the renderings. With so many hundreds of drawings to do I had no time to decorate.




trying to draw

This is me sketching.


storyboard with stick figures

Example of an effective storyboard using stick figures. Storyboards are intended to convey information visually, not to end up as art.


Here's a note of interest: Alfred Hitchcock used a regular lead pencil to do his storyboards; Akira Kurosawa created his boards with a paintbrush and did them in color; Ridley Scott uses three gray felt-tip markers, with tip widths from fine to broad. With these he could quickly create a variety of tones and washes that gave the storyboard much more atmosphere and depth. In same manner, I combine black and white ink to paint tones and washes into my panels. Try it. It's quick and easy. Just keep it simple. Even if you can afford the latest 'story-boarding software' (there are a few on the market), sometimes the most effective way to get your thought down is with a humble pencil and a blank sheet of paper.



anotated scrip by ridley scott

Pencil thumbnail sketches and notes by Ridley Scott on the screenplay for Kingdom of Heaven.


storyboard panel by akira kurosawa

A panel from Kurosawa's Ran. He did painted his boards in glorious colors which would be beautifully recreated on film.


storyboard from the film Phycho

Storyboards of Hitchcock's famous shower scene in Psycho. The master used several storyboard artists to flesh out his sketches.


Gathering Visual References

Where do you begin? READ the screenplay. Read it the first time for general understanding. Then read it a second time as a director does, with pencil and notebook in hand. As you read, visualize every scene in your mind and note down every conceivable item, location, and character type and description you encounter in the story. These are the visual elements that make up every frame of film. And since they are going to be images visible on screen, you need to know what they look like in the real world to be able to represent them on paper -in your storyboards!


So, immediately after reading the screenplay and jotting down the list of visual elements, you go and collect reference images of everything on that list. Search for them in books, in Google Images and all around you. Take photographs, make drawings, do diagrams, collect maps. I recommend you keep things organized as you gathered your visual references instead of waiting to do everything at the end of your search and ending up with a pile of crap to big to handle. I was already compiling lists and assembling information of all the visual references for Bad Blood as I was writing the screenplay. And then, I added a visited and photographed all the places I wanted to use for the film’s locations.



cleveland_police_reference-image

An example page from my reference files. Sometimes I scanned and image from a book and printed them for my files, and at other times I simply cut images from magazines and pasted them on a blank sheets of paper. I made little use of Google Images at the time because this search service had just been launched and it still took for ever to download an image.


You can organize your references in many ways, but here's what I do. First, I create a paper morgue. Then, I scan everything and transfer the material into individual computer files classified by subject. Let me explain how this works. A morgue is like a scrap book or a photo album that you organize by subject where you store printed material and other reference material in addition to photographs. Everything and anything relating to a specific subject goes into it, from magazine clippings, to photocopies or photographs; from drawings and sketches to even travel brochures. For a large project, you end up with a collections of morgues containing all your reference material.


For example, this is how it worked for me: following my notes on each characters, I went searching through dozens of magazines cutting out images of any article of clothing I envisioned them wearing (dresses, pants, suits, hats, belts, shoes, purses, coats, jewellery, uniforms, and so on). Then in my morgue, under that characters name heading, I would paste all my clippings of images, written descriptions, and even samples of fabric. Also things that you considered obvious need to be researched, like photographs of police officers. Have you ever considered what is the proper uniform and equipment of a police officer in your area? Chances are that if I were to ask you to draw one right now, your memory would not be as good as you think. This is why you have to get visual references of everything!



storage cardboard filing boxes

Your one-stop resource center. Keep all your research material where you can store it and find it again easily. I discovered that storage cardboard boxes with removable tops worked best for me.


Early on I had met with most of the talent that I wanted cast for the film and had made a picture portfolio (see Bad Blood in his Writings page of this website to see the portfolio). Other visual references included pictures of sites and locations, pictures of building, interiors, and architectural details; pictures of police officers, crowds, musicians and any other character mention in the screenplay; pictures of props, cars, skies, animals; copies of historical maps, weapons, emblems, logos -and anything else I could think of. I was not sure that I would need all the things I was gathering, but I didn't want to stop the drawing process once I sat down to do it.


As your collection grows, so will the size of your files. My image morgue for Bad Blood's characters alone ended up being about 6 inches thick! At this point, your morgue files should contain all you will possibly need to begin working on your storyboards. But I took this a step further by scanning the material and transfering each page in my morgue into computer files. This made sense because many of my reference images had been downloaded from the web and were already saved in my computer. So storing my paper morgues into digital files made sure I would never loose or damage my hard earn collection.


Another advantage to storing files in your computer is that your image viewer allow zooming to better study specific details. What's more, you can create new visuals in PhotoShop (or any other image compositing program) by cutting and pasting visual elements from multiple sources and combining them into one. In the end, regardless of the method you use for gathering and storing your visual references, do what's more convenient to your situation and working style. The important thing is that you know where to go to for help when you get stuck on a panel.



Equipment and Preparation

After gathering visual references, I went back to the script. When writing a screenplay I only identify the scenes, never the individual shots. At this stage I like to pass it along to test readers for criticism. Not marking the shots or camera movements makes the reading experience more enjoyable and less distracting, as if reading a novel. Later I reformatted the screenplay, color-coding the manuscript in preparation for the script breakdown. Color coding is a standard industry practice used for budgeting and scheduling by which elements in the screenplay are underlining in a specific color but ease of identification (look for samples on-line). During the story-boarding process I broke down the screenplay into individual shots. I suggest you get a paper copy of the screenplay (or print one) and begin marking your shots. This is your worksheet. Notice on one of the previous images how Ridley Scott worked out the page of a screenplay with details.



storage cardboard filing boxes

A sample color-coded script taken from google images.


Before we move on, let me give you some definitions you'll be glad to know. Films are made of shots, scenes and sequences. A shot is a continuous strip of motion picture film (or video), created of a series of frames (individual pictures), that runs for an uninterrupted period of time. Shots are generally filmed with a single camera and can be of any duration. A sequence of shots create a scene. A scene is a part of the action in a single location. A series of scenes which form a distinct narrative unit, usually connected either by unity of location or unity of time, is called a sequence. It is common practice to film shots out of order since they can be edited into a story sequence later on by the editor.


During editing, a shot is sometimes cut into sections and montaged with other shots to form scenes. So what was first filmed as single shot during production, could end up as more than one shot in the film. When a film is shown to the public, what they see is the final version of the edit -the finished product. In essence, storyboards are the hand-drawn version of a film. When you storyboard a script, what you want to render is the finished film. So in storyboards, for the most part, a panel corresponds to each shot in the final edit. My general practice is to create one panel for each shot, so by counting the shots I have a good idea of how many panels I need.



script-breakdown-template

This is a good example of a color-coding template. Make sure you have a collection of color markers at hand and a copy of this template as reference. In time, you will memorize what each color and marking symbol means.


script-breadown-colors-in-pre-production

This color-coding template example shows how colors are not always assigned to the same things (as compared to the previous image). Sometimes you do not have specific color markers or pencils at hand. Or perhaps you have your own color preferences. The important thing that you use the same pattern within your entire production.


After making a list of shots, next I considered the aspect ratio of the finished film so that I could make the panels match the proportions. For example, the Cleveland State student project I mentioned earlier was going to be seen on television, which uses an aspect ration of 4:3 (the traditional size of television screens), an image four units wide and three units tall (my thumbnails were only square, but close enough). Bad Blood will have a 16 x 9 aspect ratio (16 units wide by 9 units tall). The panels would be drawn to proportionally match this format. I strongly suggest that, once you determine the aspect ratio for your project, make a template and use it to trace your panels. You will be using it a lot! Notice in one of the images below, the cardboard template I used.



blank-storyboard-template

This is an example of a storyboard template page. You draw on the panels and write a description at the bottom. The finished sheets can be copied and put together in a binder.


Finally, I had to decide the size of my storyboards. Many artists do them the size of typewriter paper, that's 8-1/2 x 11 inches (216 x 356 mm). They make a few panels in each sheet of paper that can later be placed in some kind of binder. This method makes handling convenient because copies can be easily reproduced and passed around. Some storyboard artist simply print sheets of paper with a series of empty panels to work on. But I do not like to do it this way. I much prefer a larger format -something with weight on my hands. Keep in mind that my working style (developed from theater productions) was to gather everyone in a room and fix large size boards on a wall for everyone to see.



sample-storyboard-for-la-casa-de-bernarda-alba

My story-boarding method has become more sophisticated, as shown on this example from my current 2020 theater pre-production work for La Casa de Bernarda Alba. But my working method is exactly the same as when I story-boarded Bad Blood in 2005.


So what I did was to draw the panels on separate sheets of inexpensive color paper (also called craft paper or construction paper), and then cut and paste them onto a larger board, as you will see later on. Once completed, the storyboards were photographed and recorded on CD. Nowadays, I produce a PDF file that I upload to Dropbox for other to access. As needed, I have the option to print the entire doc and place in a binder, or only print the pages I need. The point is that way of working boards is adaptable to my needs, be it for a film or a theater production.



I have always kept things simple when I work. I make sure everything fitted inside a small box so that I could carry my kit anywhere. Back then, I did the most of the work in my basement, siting in front of a small writing table with a cork-board in front of me. My references were pinned on the cork board, and my kit was kept in a shoe box. A desk lamp and blank sheets of construction paper completed my setup. On rare days, I would go to the park with my kit under one arm and a bag of snacks on the other, sit on a picnic table, and work the time away.



storyboard-drawing-kit,-john-rivera-resto,-muralmastser

My story-board drawing kit (2004).


My drawing supplies and equipment:


  1. Two bottles of artist’s acrylic inks (or opaque water-based airbrush colors), one black and one white;

  2. construction paper in assorted colors (also called craft paper);

  3. a fine point black marker for writing and doing diagrams, and two drawing pencils, one red and one white;

  4. asoft eraser (a kneaded eraser works best);

  5. a number 6 artist sable brush (or a number 6 artist nylon brush);

  6. a straight edge (I use the side of a clear plastic triangle);

  7. a knife to cut out individual panels (also for sharpening pencils);

  8. a small cutting mat (cardboard or rubber);

  9. a water dish (to rinse the brush);

  10. a blotting cloth or napkin (to clean or dry paint brushes);

  11. a bottle of white glue (such as Elmer’s glue) to paste panels and labels to the board;

  12. an ink reservoir and mixing dish (I use a section of a styrene egg tray);

  13. panel identification labels and camera setup labels (I printed and cut my own);

  14. a flat working surface (I use a small portable wooden drawing board);

  15. black poster board (I use 4-ply poster board, 22 x 28 inches, which I will cut in half to the size of 22 x 14 inches, the measurements of each storyboard. However, the poster board can be cut to any size; it’s a matter of individual preference.

  16. models –figurines, action figures, toy cars, and so on (or a live model);

  17. a 16 x 9 aspect ratio template (that I cut out of cardboard). The opening cutout was 4 by 2-1/4 inches, which is proportionate to a 16 x 9 aspect ratio;

  18. and a shoe box with lid, to store everything.

  19. And finally, a 28-inch, heavy base architect black swing-arm desk lamp;


  20. a 36 x 24-inch cork-board and push pins (to pin up reference material);

  21. and a digital camera with an LCD display.


figurine-models

Articulated toys and figurines are excellent tools for posing, planning and composing your shots.


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The Canon PowerShot G1 digital camera. This was my first digital camera and probably the best pro-consumer camera of its time.


My digital camera was the most important piece of equipment. I used it to photograph models from different angles to serve as reference for my panels. A digital camera with an LCD display was ideal. You can shoot tons of reference shots without spending money on film developing. Or you can print a reference thumbnail sheet after downloading the pictures to the computer. People with good drawing abilities might prefer drawing while viewing the models, thus eliminating the need for photographic reference. But viewing models through a camera lens feels more like viewing the actors through a film camera on the set.


Keep in mind that all you need is a pencil, a sheet of paper, and a small ruler to make your panels. These are the only items used by many professional storyboard artist. Use what works for you. You do not need a large place to work (you could but it's not necessary). I kept my supplies in a shoe box on top of a small table. In front of the table is a cork-board attached to the wall. I use the cork-board to pin up my references. I've see other artists simply taping references to the wall. I also had a lamp close by since I usually worked at night.


I don't listen to music while I work -it's distracting. Instead, I listen to the screenplay playing inside my head. I play the scene, I speak the lines, I get inside the world I'm creating until it flows into my storyboards. Every 20 or 30 minutes, I take a break to stretch out and rest my eyes. Then I get back at it, one drawing at a time, hour by hour, day by day -however long it takes, until you are done!



Creating the Boards

As I mentioned earlier, I paste my story panels (renderings) and diagrams to a board. I begin by gluing a shot identification label (ID labels) on the upper left-side corner and marking the scene number, the shot number, and the scene's location. I also mark the type of setting (interior or exterior) and the time of the setting (day or night). If the shot requires special effects (SFX) I add a check-mark too. If the shot requires in-camera effects or camera movements, then I add a Camera set-up label underneath the ID label. I use this label to write down technical details such as camera placements, lens used for the shot, and so on. This label is not strictly required and it is not the concern of the storyboard artist. But since I'm also the director and visual designer of my projects, I like to consider this information in advance and mark it on my boards accordingly.



storyboard_labels

I printed a sheet of ID labels to cut and paste on the boards to identify each shot.


After pasting an ID label and perhaps a Camera set-up label, I drew the outline of a panel under the labels using my format template. I repeat the process until the entire board was ready for the next step. The only thing missing on the board were the individual panel renderings. Next I drew/paint each corresponding panel, cut them to size (again using my template) and pasted them on their proper place setting on the board. Once the all the empty spaces filled with finished panels, I'm ready to begin another board.


Note that I created panels on different color papers to represent day, night, and interior, exterior and so on. For example: I use blue for night exterior shots, red for dark or mood interiors, black for shots in total darkness, white or green for interiors with strong lights, and yellow or pink for daytime exterior shots. Again, my color choices were entirely personal. I also liked the fact that this got rid of a blank white space in the renderings. I feel that a color background adds atmosphere to a panel which would be lacking if it were to simply worked on white. But in addition to using color to identify the time and place setting of a scene, I use color backgrounds for a more artistic reason.



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Story-board brush-rendered panel from Bad Blood.


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Study the images above. Which is more cinematic? The same brush-drawn image on white paper and on a dark background. The advantage of getting rid of the white is that mood can now be perceived through the representation of light.


I'm a professional painter; I painted my panels. I know that lines do not exist in the real world -we do not look like line drawings! Instead we distinguish forms by the way natural or artificial light reflects on them. This is the way our minds work, this is how film makers visualize films, and this is how I see things. So to be able to paint with light in my renderings, I use color backgrounds which allow me to use white color ink as my strongest light while modelling forms through variations of grey (by adding black ink to white). The result is a more photographic, three-dimensional rendering. Since I'm a painter rather than a drawer, I can get away with it without much effort. But the resulting panel is also loaded with valuable information for the director of photography and lighting technician since they can see the lighting effect I want to achieve in a shot.



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Sample board from Bad Blood. They read top to bottom, beginning with the left column. Each panel is identified by an ID label. Dialogue lines (cut directly from the screenplay or scripted by hand) are added under the panel. A Camera Set-up label is added under the ID label on certain shots. Notes and short action descriptions are scripted and added under the panels on non-dialogue shots. Sometimes a blank panel is temporarily added on the board to represent a repeat shot or the space is simply marked down to be filled later.


Another thing I do differently than most artists is that I do not add arrows to indicate camera movements as many other artists do. I like my panels to look like stills from a movie. So instead of using directional arrows in certain shots, using a fine point marker I simply write down descriptions, instructions or relevant information about the shot and then paste the note to the boards below the panel. I also cut and paste dialogue lines when required. Sometime I take shortcuts to avoid rendering the same shot. If a similar shot is repeated, like for example, a close up of a character, instead of drawing the same panel again, I simply leave the blank space on the board empty and later fill it with a printed copy of the panel (by scanning and then printing the original panel or by making a Xerox copy). This is another example of my finished boards:



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Different color panels represent differences in time and scene locations. All panels are rendered in black and white acrylic inks applied like watercolors. Detailing is kept to a minimum. Each board is finally sequentially numbered at the top left.


After I complete a board, I number them at the left top corner with a white grease pencil or color pencil. In case you haven't notice it, I use a black board to paste the panels because it makes them pop out like a movie screen. The finished boards are sturdy, loaded with information, easy to see, and also attractive -since you know you have to dazzle potential investors! My final step was to photograph each board in high resolution and storing the data on CD. As a safety precaution I make two copies of the CD and store them at different locations. The original boards are stored in a specially constructed wooden case. Even if they are not intended to be art, they look damn artistic! Some day they could prove valuable.



Action Sequences

The next set of sample boards illustrate how some of the action-crowd sequences would play out (read this section of the screenplay by clicking Bad Blood in his Writings section of this website). We have at least four large action sequences in Bad Blood. These sequences combine great numbers of extras, in-camera effects, stunt work, mechanical effects, CGI work, and extensive choreography to achieve the desire illusion. Just about every department head would be involved in their planning. I would be almost impossible to accomplish this task without the use and aid of storyboards. The safety of cast and crew is a major concern when designing these elaborate million dollar shot sequences.



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Bad Blood story-board no. 87: The Orsini assault on the Borgia Vatican compound sequence.


In several shots with complex camera tracking, I rendered more than one panel for each shot to better illustrate the action (notice the camera placement diagram on the board above center). I'm a firm believer in carefully compose shots and fluid editing to visually enhance the artistry and poetry of the story. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, David Lean and Jean Cocteau were masters of this type of editing and compose the rhythm and tempo of each shot into truly powerful and mesmerizing montages. But this was not achieved on a whim during final editing. All was planned in advance, story-boarded in detail, and filmed repeatedly until perfection was achieved.



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Bad Blood story-board no. 88: The Orsini assault on the Borgia Vatican compound sequence continued.


In my early days in Puerto Rico, I used to do big productions from the Spanish Golden Age of Theater -the equivalent of Shakespeare. In some scenes we had over two dozen actors involved in sword-fighting scenes. That was over two dozen Puerto Ricans with sharp weapons. Every move was choreographed on storyboards. We never lost a soul.



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A very crude and simple cardboard model was used for the Orsini assault sequence.


Action scenes are perhaps the ones that benefit the most from the use of storyboards. While it helps to storyboard an entire movie, you don't have too. But it you must board some scenes, make them your action scenes. To visualize the action for The Orsini attack on the Borgia compound, I built a very simple scale model of the set (see Set Design in his Writings page) and photographed the model from several angles with a macro lens, sometimes using tiny paper figurines to represent the actors. Then I used these reference shots to render the panels.



Jean-Maurice-Eugène-Clément-Cocteau

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (1889-1963).


Jean Cocteau, the multi-talented French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright, artist and filmmaker, was a master of the mise-en-scène. Every visual element seen on screen -sets, actors, lighting, costumes and props- was arranged under his careful scrutiny and poetic control. Exhausting planning and preparatory renderings resulted in his lyrical masterpiece -La Belle at la Bette (Beauty and the Beast). When you consider that this non-Hollywood film was made with 1948 technology, the resulting visual effects and sequences seem even more astonishing.



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La Belle at la Bette (Beauty and the Beast), 1946, one of the finest fantasy films of all time.


Camera Set-ups

The next examples shows a panel illustrating a long shot of 'The Macho Man', the gay biker bar at the beginning of the Bad Blood, and a diagram detailing the set piece to be used on the shot and through out the scene. It also shows the camera setup. The inexpensive illusion of the bar will be created by attaching a false porch to the side of an existing brick building.



storyboard-panel,-long-shot-of-macho-man-biker-bar

Long shot rendering of The Macho Man biker bar.


These simple panel and diagram shows the construction supervisor, the lighting manager and the art director (or set dresser -if you can afford it) what they need to prepare and dress the set, and also gives the matte painter the required information needed to complete the shot in post-production. Notice how the false front porch is moved forward to allow the camera the needed space to film from that angle. While this illustration is not technically a storyboard panel like the one on the left, it is a handy diagram to have on your boards.



storyboard-panel,-camera-setup-for-exterior-bar-sequence

Diagram of false porch front.


I use storyboards not only to visualize the film on paper, but also to explain how the visual illusion is created in some shots and scenes. Having prior knowledge of set pieces (I'm also a set designer) helps the storyboard artist understand the mechanics of a shot and the best way to illustrate it. To see how this set piece and the resulting panels features in the scene, see 2006 -Bad Blood animatics on his Writings

page.

storyboard-panels,-blocking-movement-diagrams

Diagram showing the mechanics of the scene.


The previous image shows a top-view diagram for camera placement and movement. A track illustrates the direction of the move, beggining with the 'black camera' position, and ending with the 'white camera'. The diagram also shows the initial position of the actors and arrows marking the direction of their movements in the scene. Additional information for the camera crew is added on the labels. Bad Blood was going to be filmed (old fashion) Hollywood style, using one camera and careful lighting of each shot. The film would be edited on camera. Only what is required would be on the shot.



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Storyboard of the scene on the diagram being played out. Camera follows the biker from title sequence to The Macho Man club.


Every shot was planed in advance and the photography followed the storyboard precisely. Since I wore all the creative hats, I could have a conference in my head and there would be very little second-guessing. Unless there was a good (creative or logistical) reason for changing the shot, or to add additional shots, the production would continue on a well thought-out schedule. However, you do not have to include production diagrams on your boards. I do so because is satisfies my own needs. On the other hand, thinking as a producer, if a potential investors asks how we plan to shoot a particular scene, I can easily explain how with these diagrams on my storyboards. This not only shows how prepared we are, but also that we know our business and thus his or her money is well invested.


These small ink drawings were done very fast. Using the white drawing pencil, I made a few guideline and stick figures and then finish of the panel with brush and ink. I use a white pencil because it shows well on the blue color paper which I selected to render night exteriors. On light color backgrounds I draw my sticks with a red pencil. Again, color here is a matter of personal preference. A note worth repeating: I do not use regular lead pencils because graphite smears easily and dirties the work.


I used a fine point marker to write descriptions on separate pieces of paper, which will end up glued to the board. Notice also that I am very specific about where the main source of light is placed and how the shot is choreographed. All this is noted in the diagram. These are the types of shots that forces you to think hard and plan ahead. As I storyboard a shot I'm thinking of how to make the best transition into the next shot and how they will strengthen the telling of the story. I feel that story-boarding is more than just showing how a character moves from point A to point B. It must also capture the manner of the movement and how this movement affects everything that is seen on the screen. In doing so, I transition from being an illustrator and transform into the filmmaker.



sketch_for_storyboard_of-ivan-the-terrible-by_Sergei_Eisenstein,

Study of an Sergei Eisenstein's sketch for Ivan the Terrible. This Russian master and cinema pioneer also put his artistic background to good use for the production of his monumental epics.


I take inspiration from the Russian film pioneer Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein. He was an award winning director, writer, editor, producer, actor, art director, production designer, costume designer, and creator of one of the top-15 most influential films of all-time: Battleship Potemkin (1925). Eisenstein used his considerable art background is carefully planning and constructing every shot in his films. Such a degree of dedication produced some of the most memorable images in cinema.



film-director-Sergei_Eisenstein,-muralmaster

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1889-1948). Creator of classics such as Ivan the Terrible, Alexander Nevsky, and The Battleship Potemkin.


Even though the use of storyboards was not an established standard in his day, he was a great admirer of Disney animation. During a visit to the United States in 1930, he was welcomed by leading Hollywood luminaries, including Douglas Fairbanks, Josef von Sternberg, Charles Chaplin, and Walt Disney. Disney and his staff had developed a storyboard system in 1928 to organize and facilitate the creative production of their animation projects. In fact, Disney takes credit for being the first to use storyboards as a standard film-making tool. Eisenstein visited the Disney studio and was greatly impressed with their use of storyboards. Thereafter he adopted the process and produced countless renderings and diagrams which serve as practical storyboards to prepare for his huge projects.



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Movie still from Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible.


I can still vividly remember specific images burned into my subconscious by four movies I saw televised through WVPR, channel 6, the first educational television station in Latin America (Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corporation, f. 1958). The were Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, Orson Welles Othello, Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, and Lawrence Olivier's Richard the Third. They were broadcast in their original languages, unedited or uncensored. Even the scene showing bare female breasts in The Seven Samurai was there!



This was remarkable enough considering that this was 1969 and I was only 10 years old. Yet the truly remarkable thing was that then I could only speak Spanish, not Russian, or Japanese and much less Shakespearean English (a language more foreign to American ears than Klingon talk), but still I could follow the story and sit spellbound by the artistry of the imagery! That's the power of cinema in the hands of masters! And what did these masters have in common, aside from genius flowing through their veins? You guess it: they did extensive preparation and visual renderings before shooting began. These are the results that story-boarding can help you achieve. About genius flowing through your veins, well, that's entirely another matter for others to decide.



There can be one drawback to being well prepared. Alfred Hitchcock considered the shooting of a scene the most boring aspect of production because he had already done all the guess work and creative planning on his boards -he rarely made a change and his production team worked like clockwork (he also required everyone in his production crew to wear a tie). This shoots to flames the argument that a director needs to make spontaneous decisions on the set to capture "the magic" of the scene. Granted, Hitchcock was Hitchcock and we are not. But I have been in sets where the crew and cast languished for hours while the director tried to find magic with his or hers "spontaneous" decisions. So do your planning ahead and come prepared to the set; if an epiphany hits you, then by all means be spontaneous. In the meantime, time is money; don't waste it. And if being too prepare causes you the same type of boredom on the set it produced in Hitchcock, well, congratulations!



Visualizing Shots

A digital camera is an invaluable tool for helping you visualize a shot. Remember, you create your panels from the point of view of the audience! It is they who are looking through the camera. Your panels show what they see. So the camera "frames" what the director wants the audience to see and "hides" away all distractions (everything that exists outside the frame). He or she directs the viewer's attention focus by what they are "allowed" to see. This is how you tell a story visually. So practice using the camera like a director would. Compare the reference photos below with the boards on the left.



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Articulated figurines stand in for actors. They are a great aid for studying shooting angles.


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The corridor sequence in Bad Blood was created from the previous reference shot.


For the most part, while story-boarding Bad Blood, my models were inexpensive wooden figurines about six inches tall. On rare occasions I was fortunate to have one of my friends to model for a pose. Unless you need facial expressions, I suggest you stick with the wooden dummies –they are less distracting!



friends-posing-for-reference-photograph

Sometimes, friends can model for you. You can also light them to match the shot.


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A panel rendering aided by a reference photo from the live model. Always keep in mind that you are not doing portraiture, but a one-minute rendering that captures what you need to show in the shot.


Figurines are great aides in planning multiple character shots, camera angles and movements. This is the same technique I use to plan movements of actors on the theater stage (referred to as blocking the scene) or when planning a complex painting involving people. For some scenes I use cardboard boxes and other at-reach objects to simulate furnishings. Paper cut-outs can help complete an illusion and even GI Joe can do double duty.



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Figurines are great for setting up group shots. You can work the composition by moving the figures around, take several photographs to study the best camera view and the best lighting scheme.


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You can make storyboards by simply using photographs like this one. This eliminates the need for hand-renderings and saves you time. The drawback is that, while this would be a very effective way to choreograph action shots, it tends to miss the nuances you get from a rendered image.


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Having a camera with a macro lens is a must for close-up photography. It helps you compose shots through the lens and you would on your movie camera.


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Action figures are excellent for studying how lighting affects facial features. I use a desk lamp as the lighting source.


I pay less than $10 for a car replica at a toy store. The wheels turn, its doors and hood open so when you get tired of drawing you can play with it! For scenes involving more than one vehicle a couple of matchbox cars will do the trick. It helps if your camera has a zoom lens and a macro feature for extreme close ups.



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Scaled replicas help eliminate the guesswork when rendering vehicles and other mechanical equipment.


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Notice how the above photograph of the vehicle was used in this rendering.


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The model was also a great aid for composing this shot.


Sometimes I draw a larger panel (still maintaining a proportional aspect ratio) when a complex sequence needs to be explored in detail, like in the following example. Well lighted and composed shots are not only attractive to look at but can also save a lot of time and money when used to convey stylized scenes of violence and action. This rendering was particularly important because it would be used to illustrate my intention to dolly back and forth and pan through the various parts of the mise-en-scène to focus on three different elements of the story in one shot.



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Rendering of final shot at The Macho Man bar.


You have to be a student of films (on your own) to make films. I studied the films of Akira Kurosawa and Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles’ Othello and Citizen Kane, and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia in preparation for story-boarding Bad Blood. Being the writer, director and editor of a film is an enlightening experience for many reasons, but in particular for discovering how one can tell a story through a screenplay one way, through the use of words, or by giving the story a completely new spin by the way the camera focuses attention, or by accelerating or slowing down its heartbeat in editing.



Location shots

Finding the right location to fit your vision is not always easy, especially if it costs money to secure. For Bad Blood I intended to combine set pieces into the illusion of a huge space and to later add computer generated details (set extensions, etc.) and matte paintings in post-production. Notice below how a local Cleveland theater under renovation served as the model for the The Lollypop Night Club scene sequence.



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I'm always prepared with a shot list before visiting locations. After getting all the shots on the list, shoot more pictures. They may give you another perspective on composing a scene. And, always take reference wide shots facing every wall because they help you map out the space.


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The Lollypop Arena sequence benefited greatly from the location reference photo.


Studying a location in advance (whenever possible) is an excellent way to plan complex shots before the rush of production. It is also a good idea to visit the location and walk through the space to get a feeling of the actual scale. This shot sequence was designed to take place at an existing location dressed up to look like a more impressive (and expensive) set than what it really was. Having the experience and the references from an actual location really helps to visualize the feel of the scene.


Sometimes there is only one place to place the camera to get that million dollar shot. Working the logistics of the shot on your storyboard means that once you are filming on location you will get that shot. I have been on sets were the director has spent hours hunting for the shot, shooting at everything but never getting it. If only they had prepared in advance!



Designing Panels

A great benefit about doing your own storyboards is that you are forced to think long and hard. Here's another example showing a shot sequence diagram on the left. In this scene, taking place inside a police station, the camera tracks officers Dusti and Olivero as they make their way to captain Mason who is in the process of packing his personal belongings into a box. The following panels illustrate the beginning and the end of this tracking shot. This is all it takes for everyone to understand a complex shot.



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Tracking shot at the police station.


As mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of working with black and white ink is the ability to visualize 3-D form instead of just 2-dimensional shapes (as in a line drawing) by adding light and shadows. Inks (or liquid acrylics) are very fluid and easy to work with. I use the same brush to do all my panels. I simply rinse and blot the excess water before switching from one color to another. I like to use construction paper because it absorbs ink well and because the paper's color immediately adds substance to the scene.



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Security room sequence.


As I paint I am not very concern with the color scheme but with tone and mood, with lights and darks. But don't misunderstand; color is also important to me. However, one of the few drawbacks of digital film-making (as of this 2005 writing) is the loss of the rich color captured by film (we intend to film in HD video). So instead thinking about color, I concentrate on value and compose my scenes in an artistic way that takes advantage of the contrasts between lights and shadows. (Note: as of this 2020 update, digital cameras have basically caught up to film cameras, so color is no longer an issue).


When creating your panels, work at achieving good composition by the correct placement of your visual elements (characters, props, and so on). One advantage of doing your drawing on a separate piece of paper is that you can crop the image. So, if you are not too confident of your compositional skills, just move the template over your rendering until what is inside the frame "looks right". Then you mark the frame with a pencil and cut away the panel when you are ready to paste it on the board. Framing with the template is comparable to looking through the camera's viewfinder when you are shooting on location.



How long does it take?

Some panels in the storyboards look more elaborate than others but in reality there is not much difference. I follow the script in chronological order and this helps maintain a sense of visual continuity. On average it takes between 10 to 20 minutes to produce each panel after I have studied the particular section of screenplay I'm about to work on. Some panels need to be more detailed and can take as long as one hour, but many too take about a minute. At times I simply photocopy a panel and paste the copy where the same shot is repeated.


On my boards, one page of the screenplay is roughly about one full storyboard (about 12 panels). So for an average 120-page screenplay you will need about 120 boards (again, if done in my style). That adds to about 1440 panels. This means that to complete story-boarding the entire screenplay can take between 240 to 480 hours of work, or, another way to look at it, 6 to 12 weeks of full-time work. Longer or more visually complex screenplays like Bad Blood will take even more time and work to complete. Since I was short on free time, it took me eighteen months (that's a year and a half!) to storyboard Bad Blood.


As you can see, story-boarding an entire screenplay is a lot of work. But keep in mind that I am not just doing a visualization of the movie. At the same time I am also designing my lighting, placing and moving the camera; I am deciding what kind of lens to use on a particular shot, what sequence of shots to make the scene more effective; I'm finding ways to maintain quality while keeping costs down, or better yet, lowering cost. I am creating sets, wardrobe, adding music, thinking of sound effects, visualizing the individual performances and finding ways to make stunts safe. In the end, it took over 2000 renderings to complete my storyboards.


Doing storyboards in this fashion is labor intensive. It is a test of both your knowledge and your artistic skill. But I enjoy it. Everything I have learned or experienced in art, life and work comes into play. Nothing is wasted. It is also a great way to keep your mind occupied while waiting for funding to fall into place. At length, I am keeping track of the overall quality and consistency of the film. This attention to detail will greatly benefit the whole project, the talent, the production crew, the management, the producers and ultimately, the investors. And as an extra bonus, if you have done your work well, the audience will take notice.



How much does it cost?

If you do your own boards, it will cost you time and coffee. Lots of coffee. But since a great deal of movie-making is waiting for things to happen, you probably have more time than needed. If you can draw, you have an advantage. But, as I have already explained, you have other options for making your storyboards that do not require drawing or painting skills. For the cost of some props and a camera (which now everyone has on their phone), you can do it. But if you would rather hire a storyboard artist to do your boards, then you will need money -unless you are exchanging services, or the rent. On the other hand, you may have the artistic skills and would like to sell your services to others, but you need to know how much to charge. In either case, we need to know all there is to know about the money cost. So here's the information I gathered on the subject for a 2009 update to this page.


2009 Update: How much do storyboard artists make? Wages range dramatically. However, Hollywood Union Artists (which also covers animators) make anywhere from $800 to $1200 for a 40 hour week. Some senior artist are often hired for more. The rules of supply and demand hold court. In some cases, artists are paid by the hour in the 23-28 dollar per hour range. Now, non-union wages anywhere else is another matter. Some get paid the same, but most -especially entry level into the business, get paid considerably less, especially people working non-Hollywood indie films.


The few times I have been involved in similar situations as an artist, I got paid by the hour ($1,200-$1,500 for a 40 hour week), but other artists get paid by the panel. Bottom line, you negotiate your fee. But remember, professional artists do not do charity work -and neither should you! So demand a living wage. If a producer ask you to work for deferment, walk away. And, never surrender your boards until the check clears!



Composite shots and Visual Effects

There is an area of film-making where low budget movies have not ventured much. Take a look at this shot below. In Bad Blood one of the scene locations is the hottest nightclub in town: The Cleveland Lollypop. People line the limousine parked streets waiting for hours to be admitted. Since there is no money in the budget to secure this shot, rent the limos and so on, it would make sense to drop it and somehow find a way to tell the story in some other way. Right?



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Conceptual rendering for The Cleveland Lollypop.


On the other hand, using one of the oldest techniques in movie-making, the matte shot, it is possible to this shot by simply building a wall and a staircase, and placing your extras on that waiting line (as illustrated on the diagram at the bottom right of the image). Oh yes, you will need a few vehicles, but no limos. The club patrons inside the balcony arches will be filmed separate and added later in the composite shot. The way this shot is designed incorporates live action into a matte painting (of the buildings and city background), thus creating a believable matte shot. By the way, the limos will also be painted in.


All that is needed to create a large or complex scene is a little know-how and ingenuity to give a cash-poor production a million dollar shot. And of course, you need a painter who can do the matte and a skilled compositor to put it all together. The computer will do the rest. These are the types of shots that need to be designed and arranged well in advance. This is also the place where you can not cut corners when it comes to hiring skilled personnel. In Bad Blood, I planned several million dollar shots like this one to add more luster to the finished film.


To storyboard these sequences, it is ideal to have conceptual renderings that give you a clear idea of what the scene setting is going to look like. Some producers and directors have a clear vision of what they want... in their heads. This does not help the storyboard artist at all. So the Production Designer (if there is one) or the Director or the Producer needs to sit down with an artist/illustrator and visualize their vision on paper. Conceptual renderings are that important.


2020 update: Nowadays, cash-poor productions can do million-dollar shots using available free-ware. In addition to PhotoShop (or another equivalent program), you need to add Blender (a 3D computer graphics software toolset used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, motion graphics, interactive 3D applications, virtual reality and computer games), DaVinci Resolve (a color correction and non-linear video editing application), Audacity (digital audio editor and recording application software), and Sketchup (a 3D modeling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications such as architectural, interior design, landscape architecture, civil and mechanical engineering, film and video game design) to your bag of tools. And, do you know what you can also do with all that technology? Storyboards and storyboard animatics.



Putting it all Together

The last thing you do with your completed storyboard panels is perhaps the most important task: preserving them. I accomplish this in two ways: first by making a photo-record of each board and burning the data into a compact disc (this was 2005), and secondly, by keeping the original boards in a sealed box.


To do the first, set up an easel or support for your boards against a wall and then set a fixed camera in front of it. Shoot in daylight or light well. Then photograph each panel in high resolution. Then transfer the data into your computer, save into a file (which will be huge so make sure you have enough space in your hard-drive), and burn the data into disc. Make several copies and keep one as your master. Test the copies to make sure everything works correctly and then, and only then, erase your computer file.


To preserve my original boards, I made a wooden box with a hinged top to keep them safe and secure. The most important thing was to store the box in a dry place and prevent them from being exposed to sunlight, or they would bleach and fade away in time. Keep in mind that the more boards I made the heavier the box got. So I made the carrying case sturdy enough to carry around.


Don't forget to properly identify your box or case with your name and contact information. You will carry your original boards to show them around on occasion and, just in case they get lost, you want to make sure they can find their way back. This is a real possibility if you travel by plane and have to check your belongings. So don't take unnecessary chances but do take every precaution!


2020 Update: With CDs going the way of the dinosaur, I'm happy we now have laptops and flash drives for storage, data back-up and for transferring of computer files, and online file hosting services. Preserving, moving and sharing your storyboards has never been easier.



Bad Blood Storyboard Animatic, scenes 6-8

I hope the content of this page was informative and proves useful. I leave you with a storyboard sequence from Bad Blood. I include scripted scenes from the screenplay so you can read it and compare how the writing is visualized in the storyboard. Lastly, I added an animatic that includes the scene so you can see how the scene plays out. If the video catches your attention, you can find the page on how I put together the animatic by clicking His Writings page-ling on the Menu, and then scrolling down to 2006 Bad Blood animatics. And finally, schedule time and go do your own boards! Wishing you all the best -j




BAD BLOOD

CHICAGO HOSPITAL FOR THE CRIMINALLY INSANE

INT. CORRIDOR - LATER THAT NIGHT

We HEAR footsteps. The corridor is deserted with most of the lights turned off. SINI walks to the guard station. An opened BOX OF DONUTS with a card that reads, "compliments from the staff" is on top of the station counter. The SECURITY GUARD, powdered in donut crumbs, is in a deep drug induced sleep. Sini reaches over and presses an access button. He goes through the same doors he had crossed earlier that day taking the box of donuts with him.

INT. STAIR WAY

On the way down to Simon's cell SINI drops the box of donuts into a trashcan.

INT. SIMON'S CELL

Simon is lying on his cot sleeping. He continues to be confined in a straightjacket. He wakes and listens sensing an intruder. He turns his head toward the cell's entrance. Then we hear footsteps.

INT. OUTSIDE SIMON'S CELL

SINI goes to the CELL DOOR and inserts a KEY in the DOOR LOCK.

INT. SIMON'S CELL

The cell's door opens. Light coming through the opened door creates distorted shadows in the room. SIMON sits and remains motionless as SINI enters carrying A CHAIR with him. SIMON follows the movement with feral eyes.

SINI places the chair in front of Simon and sits facing him. With unconcerned poise, SINI lights A CIGARETTE, inhales and lets out a cloud of smoke. Calmly, he stares at Simon; SIMON stares back.

A BEAT. Suddenly with unnatural speed, SIMON'S HEAD lunges at SINI, neck inhumanly extended, teeth glaring and canine. With equal speed SINI reacts to the attack by placing his hand on Simon's forehead stopping him cold.

Slowly, SIMON returns to his original position and studies SINI with renewed interest. SINI takes another puff from his cigarette calmly taking Simon's scrutiny.

SIMON (voice even and guttural) Who are you?
SINI I'm one of you.
SIMON (eyes squint followed by a sneer) You are like us, but you are not one of us.
A beat. SINI remains silent.
SIMON (now bewildered) Why are you here?
SINI I came to free you.
Still sitting, SINI drops the cigarette and steps on it. Then he pulls out a SMALL WOODEN BOX from the inside pocket of his coat and opens it. Inside the box is A METALLIC DART like the ones fired from miniature crossbows.

INT. OUTSIDE SIMON'S CELL - MINUTES LATER

SINI places the chair against the hallway's wall and closes the cell door. Then he calmly walks away and seems to disappear in the light at the end of the hallway.

INT. SIMON'S CELL

SIMON is lying on the floor, eyes wide-open in an expression of surprise, dark foam coming out of his mouth. He is dead.

FADE OUT

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Scenes 6 - 10 Animatic










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