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Last time I talked about how storyboards can help visualize a written script as well as break down shots, but in really big productions – particularly ones with big action sequences – they sometimes will take it a step further and create fully previsualized sequences.

What is Previs?
“Previs” is a shortened term for Previsualization, and the concept is becoming more and more prevalent in the Hollywood movie process. I like to think of it as “storyboards+”, as at its most useful it’s essentially animated storyboards with a lot more technical information. They can be as complicated as the production needs them to be, and is intended to be a reference tool for not only story, but camera, art, stunt, and VFX departments.

In Indie terms, a previs team consists of people who are able to break down the technical information and relay it in a realistic and meaningful way – this usually means taking the storyboards and doing some sort of CG or Sketchup environment to scale so they can block out each shot as if it was actually being shot.

In Hollywood terms, it can mean a whole team of animators working together with whatever departments are available to create a fully animated sequence.

Why Previs?
So, why is it useful to fully animate a scene in a movie before it’s shot? There’s a couple of reasons:

Firstly, it helps to know if the story and action is actually working visually. Storyboards can do this to a high degree, but when there’s a big action scene or something with a lot of visual effects, it can be hard to visualize a camera move from a few still pictures. Things like shot composition, pacing, and logistical viability are taken into consideration when constructing a previs sequence.

Which leads to the next benefit: it can help work out if something can be realistically shot, and provide information as to how to shoot it most effectively. The best previs generally is animated with realism in mind.

For example, I had the pleasure of working as the Previs Editor on Ant-Man and the Wasp, and on that film we worked closely with all the departments to make sure that we were creating sequences that were not only awesome to watch and told the story in the most entertaining way possible, but that were actually able to be shot!

The Art Department provided us with designs, plans and props, which our asset builders built to scale for the animators to use. The stunt team provided us with their choreography and ideas so that we could integrate their amazing hard work into the shots and showcase it. And the DOP told us what camera gear and lens kit he wanted to use, so that we could create shots within those parameters.

From there we could work with the director and producers to make sure that their creative vision was accurately being portrayed.

Which leads to the final and probably most important reason why Previs is useful (for the producers at least), is that knowing how to shoot everything ahead of time helps save time and money! Rather than potentially spending millions of dollars on a huge on set crew and trying out multiple angles on the day, they can play around in previs and come out with a detailed blueprint of the sequence which they can follow and add to if needed during production.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Previs can do for a movie, as it can get very technical depending on the needs of the show, and you’d be surprised what movies and tv shows have been previs’d in the past few years!