Why Study the Narrative?
To tell visual stories takes rehearsal and study. We need to understand visual timing and how it changes based on the medium. Is it on screen, in a comic book, or presented as a single image. Each and every scene contains more than just a set of actions, it represents a series of complex ideas and emotions, all within a set time limit. A movie has two hours, a comic book has one hundred panels, a commercial sometimes only gets fifteen seconds, while a poster has to tell you everything in one shot.
Add up the constraints, along with the pressure of knowing that your audience truly wants to be captivated, it’s no wonder so many folks have trouble making a great scene.
So where do you study and learn?
One of my favourite places, which also happened to be a favourite of the first animators, is the theatre. A theatre actor has to show all the emotions and actions of a character, to a huge audience, including the person in the back seat in the balcony, and they have to do it live. They can’t rely on pre-recordings or a close-up to focus in on a certain area.
Animators teach us about anticipation, silent movies help us see the visual jokes, and comic books teach us pacing. Turn down the volume on your favourite movies and notice the cuts and emotion, especially in an action sequence.
Storyboarding encompasses all these disciplines and offers a unique perspective on every scene. First we have to figure out what we want to express to the audience, then manage the timing without the benefit of a camera, and finally present it in a way that ensures everybody on set understand the final goal.
The benefit of all this study is that we understand what each person on the project is looking for when they approach the narrative. Actors need to understand their blocking and emotion, the cameramen must be clear on how to set up the shot, or the animator needs to know where to push the actions of the joke.
If you’re a director, art director, or creative director who needs to explain your idea to a large group of people, a storyboard is a great way to ensure everybody knows what your trying to achieve. Take time to study the different types of visual story telling and then show them a storyboard. You have a much better chance of getting the shot right.