I’ve always loved drawing and animation, but my connection with storyboards wasn’t solidified until I watched the audio commentary by director Ridley Scott on one of my favourite movies: Alien. He talked about trying to get a budget for the film that would do it justice, but they just didn’t get it.
It seemed no one could see his vision for what an amazing and groundbreaking film that he saw in his head. But really, how could they? Most executives aren’t visual people – they’re business people. And if you’ve ever read the script for Alien… well, it’s pretty dry. The first 3 pages are *literally* descriptions of a big empty not-very-high-tech-feeling spaceship and a bunch of computer readouts:
“INT. ENGINE ROOM
“INT. ENGINE CUBICLE
Circular, jammed with instruments.
All of them idle…
Console chairs for two.
It goes on…
“Long, empty… Black, empty.”*
*Excerpt from final draft of “Alien” written by Dan O’Bannon – used without permission for demonstration purposes*
See what I mean? It’s not exactly riveting – unless you have a big imagination for production design and can see the story through the mood – which Ridley Scott could.
So, he took that frustration and put that energy into storyboarding out the entire screenplay himself – and not just stick figures, but fully illustrated, beautiful, detailed storyboards which were heavily influenced by H.R. Giger’s artwork. They’re amazing, google “alien storyboards” to have a look!
When he went back to Fox, they immediately doubled his budget, and one of the most well known sci-fi horror movie franchises was born.
Reasons To Storyboard
There are a bunch of reasons to storyboard, beyond pitching to investors of course (though that is certainly a good reason). Practically, it helps visualize a written script in a way that can be broken down into actual shots for scheduling and shooting purposes, and creatively, it helps ensure that you’re telling the story in the most visually interesting way.
A good storyboard artist knows how to use picture composition, content, and angle to manipulate emotions and tell the story clearly. For example, they know that it’s important to establish geography, or the environment or room in which the scene takes place close to the beginning of a scene. Many times they’ll work with the art and locations departments to ensure that they’re drawing spaces that will resemble the actual places!
They also know when to use what kind of shot, like a close up for emphasis or emotion, or an insert to help show a sequence of events. They’ll work closely with the director, and sometimes even the DOP, to come up with shots that tell the story clearly and beautifully.
Breaking Down Boards
Once the boards are complete, the Assistant Director and the Producers can start figuring out how many shots and setups each scene needs, and can schedule accordingly. They’ll also work with the Director of Photography, who will break down the shots by planning out lighting, lenses, and floor plans. But we’ll talk about that more in another video!