Preproduction is one, if not the most important aspect of production. However, sometimes it is overlooked. A part of preproduction is storyboarding, where artists put on paper all the picture frames to visually tell the story. I am sure everybody has seen those "making of" documentaries where you see the directors going through a great number of papers or cardboards. Sometimes those elements are drawn by hand, which can be quite time consuming.
This is where programs such as Toon Boom Storybard come in. Storyboard is a program that lets you draw your storyboards directly on the computer. Just like any other drawing program, the items can be re-used, so if you have to draw similar panels, you can simply copy-paste instead of drawing all the elements over and over. For every panel you can also write some notes about the dialogs and actions that occur on that specific panel, and if you print your storyboard on paper, those notes will be included in the document.
The drawing window is what takes up most of the space on your monitor. You can set layers for your panel so you can separate the background in one layer, then the characters on their respective layers, as well as props, effects and such. This is helpful to keep everything organized, but also because you will be copying elements from one panel to the other, and keeping everything in a layer will make your work a lot easier.
You can change from different layouts, so you can see the panels with their respective notes, or a minimized view of all the panels. However, you will spend most of your time on the drawing layout. I think it's better if you use a tablet, for obvious reasons. Storyboard can sense the pressure you put on your pen and draw the lines accordingly. This is a nice feature, although pretty much any drawing application has it these days, so it's not something that should be considered groundbreaking.
If you are not much for drawing, like me, you will be happy to know that Storyboard ships with a library of content ready to be used. It includes characters, sets, actions.and such. They are ready to be loaded into your panel so you can get started in no time. You can create your own libraries to store your own content for easy access, and you can also import image files so those can be saved in your library as well.
This may sound cool, but a lot of people might be asking what makes it worth it to spend $900.00 (USD) on a storyboarding program. Toon Boom Storyboard makes it very easy to create your storyboards in no time, but it also lets you create animatics for your projects. You can create the panels, using them as representations of your shots, but you can also set a running time, transitions, and also animation. The storyboard can be animated so you can get an idea on how the project will look on the screen. The panels can be grouped in Scenes (or Shots), so you can easily follow your screenplay and start from there.
You can also visualize camera movements. If you have created your background, but you plan the camera to do a pan or zoom, you can animate that in your storyboard. A film is not complete without music, sound and voices, though. These can also be added to your storyboard with a few clicks, and when you are finished you can output the movie to either Mov or Flash. In the end you have a very good visual representation of what your project will look like on the screen.
Storyboard can handle different formats and frame sizes. Every time you open the program you are prompted to create a new project or open an already created project. With the "+" button below the list, you can add your own presets if you don't find one that suits your needs. As you can see on the image, you create a "main projects" directory and all the projects will be stored inside it, just like Maya. It's nice to see how the programs try to keep everything organized.
As I said before, Toon Boom Storyboard can output your storyboards. It will export your document as a PDF file so you can share it or print it if you want. It can also export a movie file, an EDL file (although I don't know what you can use it for) and you can also export it to Toon Boom Harmony or Solo. I don't have those programs, so I can't tell you what that Toon Boom export is for.
Whether Storyboard is for you or not will depend on how much animated work you make. If you only make short animations for fun, you won't have use for it. On the other hand, if you make short films, or even feature films, Storyboard will become a valuable tool if you want to avoid deleting already filmed (or rendered) shots, or you want to know the best way to edit your movie, and so on. In the end, Toon Boom Storyboard will save you some time and maybe some work.
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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.
February 12, 2007