Saturday, July 28, 2007

Back on Board

With so many storyboard assignments I have been supplied with for film and DVD productions I have decided to speed up the process.

The best way to make something go faster is by introducing a routine.

With that I mean a set sequence of steps to be taken from start to finish, with each step clearly defined.

The first consideration when trying to visualize a story is by choosing a frame or window within which the story will happen. If you look around in the world around you there is no limitation to the horizontal and / or vertical broadness of your view. It is 3-dimensional (i.e. height, width, and depth) all round.

In a 2-dimensional (i.e. height and width only) medium like film, the audience's view IS limited both horizontally and vertically, however. This needs a creative decision: what to show and what to leave out. In sum, what to frame. By the way the same counts for a painting, poster or TV commercial.

So, that said, I call step one the FRAMING step.


Below you see an image of the aspect ratio and size of the frame (aka window) that every film maker has to decide on.

Click to enlarge: Frame sizes and aspect ratios for film medium

A few notes are helpful to fully understand my choice of aspect ratio and sizes.

First of all we are used to having a wider size of an image as compared with its height. This automatically suggests that the frame is rectangular and 'on its side' or landscape as it is called. With a photocamera one can take portrait pictures and glue them in the photoalbum, with film we cannot turn the film screen 90 degrees or ask the audience to lay on their side. Film is landscape angled, no exceptions to the rule!

Comparison of three common aspect ratios constrained by the screen diagonal size (the black circle). The widest and shortest box (blue, 2.39:1) and the middle box (green, 16:9) are common formats for cinematography. The most square-like box (red, 4:3) is the format used in standard definition television.

Second, the choice of 'stretch' in a horizontal direction (standard versus widescreen) is an artistical choice. In general, the wider the frame, the more the audience 'feels' part of the scenery; subjective view. In contrast, the more squared the frame is the more distant (say objective) the audience experiences the film.

See underneath examples:

Standard (4:3) used for objective, documentary, technical, instructional, training purposes. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Widescreen (16:9) used for subjective, fiction, narrative, dramatic, emotional purposes. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Next, the reason for the two light blue areas on both ends left and right of the frame is as follows. We will have to draw a "horizon line" at some point to start an image of the storyboard. Just as in real life, every place we visit has a horizon. This line is topic of our next step. Yet, already we need to reserve space for the vanishing point(s) left and right of the frame. The vanishing point is discussed in the next step too.

Finally, to adhere to a European standard I have taken the paper size A4 as the overall drawing space for my storyboards and adjusted the frame size to fit on paper. No reason other than convenience.


By choice of camera angle (high, neutral or low) the perspective of an image is changed.

The eye-line is always at the distance from the ground - where the spectator (or camera) is standing - to the position of his or her eyes cq the lens.
It is a misconception that the eye line is 'on the floor', unless the spectator or camera is on the floor himself or herself. For ease of use the eye-line is also called the horizon line, although one would expect the horizon to be at floor level.

Also if the spectator (whose eye is always at the height of the horizon line) views an object or actor not from straight on (horizontally) then 2 vanishing points depict the scene's (imaginary) lines. As a rule of thumb these vanishing points are always at 1/2 the width of the frame aside, where no distortion takes place.

Actor at spectator's eye-level: neutral

Actor above spectator's eye-level: dominant
Example of dominant actor below provided by AnimatedBuzz

Actor below spectator's eye-level: submissive
Example of submissive actor below provided by AnimatedBuzz


The next step is to bring a new dimension to the width and height of the flat surface of a storyboard paper or screen, i.e. depth. This is by default an illusion, but it has tricked the eye of the spectator successfully and adds a sense of 'space' to the shot.

Underneath figure shows how with a change in size of the character (big in front, small in the distance) and with the use of overlapping (the cloud over the moon) this illusion is applied.

Click to enlarge: Overlap and sizing, creating the illusion of depth.

Another point of interest is the distrubution (or arrangement) of the elements of the image in the frame. From research it has been found that the human eye likes to rest at what is now known as the crosspoints of the 'thirds' of the frame; the Rule-of-Thirds. Here these crosspoints are depicted by little pink circles on the pink dividing lines. We perceive information of interest to reside at those crosspoints, and if so we find this aesthetically pleasing. So, I suggest in storyboarding this should be aimed for.

In addition, placing a character far behind for example another character's shoulder signals to the spectator that he or she takes the Point-of-View (the 'observation') from the nearby character. The spectator sees along with this foreground character and thus experiences his or her feelings. The script will have hinted from whose point the particular shot is experienced, which should be drawn likewise in the frame.



1 comment:

Doerak said...

So we have to work and try to understand the basicitems! You will be glad to be back at home in Edingburgh although you have had a wonderful trip through China.
During summerholidays you have got some work to do around the promotion of a pottery. Just claim enough money for it!
Lessons learn by Emma?