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The Art of Storyboarding with Ridley Scott, Sam Mendes, and Conrad L. Hall

Previsualization and storyboarding will vary production to production, but it’s important to have some sort of idea about what you’re shooting before you shoot it. Often there are stories about famous directors coming on set and making it up as they go along, but this isn’t the most ideal way to work, especially when your budget can’t afford 50 crew members to move set pieces and lights to compensate for your on-the-fly planning. Below are two videos, the first is a conversation with Ridley Scott about his own storyboarding work, and the second is a commentary with Sam Mendes and the late Conrad L. Hall comparing storyboards versus screenshots of American Beauty.

Ridley Scott on Storyboarding:

The next one is a bit long, but it’s absolutely fascinating to see masters of their craft talk about the storyboards and final shots.

Sam Mendes and Conrad L. Hall:

Storyboarding to this degree is certainly an art, and if you want it to look like it does in the videos above, it’s not going to be cheap (unless it’s digital and you’re doing it yourself). For independent filmmakers, however, just getting your thoughts onto the page in some form can be helpful. Storyboarding and previsualization software can be extremely helpful for those less artfully inclined, and if you want you can actually create a moving image of all of the scenes in your movie with 3D sets and characters relatively easily. Even if you’d rather not go through all that hassle, having some sort of drawing, regardless of quality, can help get everyone on the same page.

Another helpful possibility besides storyboarding (assuming you have the time), is to go to the location ahead of time and take photos where you want the frames to be. Anyone can stand in for the real actors, but many times this can be a lot faster than storyboarding or previsualization, and it’s certainly a lot cheaper. Time and resources will often not allow for this practice, but I’ve found that taking that extra day to go to the location and take photos with replacement actors lets me ponder over the shots and it also gives other crew members a very clear idea of the shots that need to be accomplished for the day.

[via Filmmaker IQ]


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  • You do not know how amazing you are.

    At the moment we are studying American Beauty in English at school and the exams are in a week…

    I thought I was sorted but a whole freaking hour of the director and cinematographer talking about their craft and purpose? HOLY JESUS.

    So yeah. Apart from that, it’s some great stuff.

  • shaun wilson on 05.26.12 @ 12:23PM

    Buy Storyboard Artist Quick and you could have a feature film storyboarded in 2 hours…

  • Great post Joe. I loved the conversation between Sam & Connie – great mutual respect as storytellers. I think storyboards are helpful for distilling the visual and dramatic essence of a scene. I don’t mind working from them as a beginning point. However, they often need to change radically due to physical reality of the shooting location. Lower budget indie filmmaking can rarely build extensive sets to a director’s specifications, which would match storyboards. Instead of figuring out how to make a storyboard fit what is available, I find it more useful to explore the visual possibilities fresh – and design the shots after the location is selected based on what is possible or not. Unfortunately, at this point in pre-production, time is often at a premium. I like using Joe’s suggestion of taking stills with stand-ins or even test video storyboards without lighting etc. For me it’s quicker than drawing and more accurate since I’m lousy at sketching.

    • What I’m doing for a film I’m working on is using Blender as a round sorta pre-vis. That way, if I find a awesome location then I can re-make the whole scene in Blender in an afternoon.

      It’s really great that you can make the scene work and then place the cameras to get coverage. If you feel something is missing, don’t stress – just render out a new camera angle.

      Actually- I think that Joe or Koo should do a post on pre-vis. I think it’s a great thing.

  • This is the kind of posts I like to read in nofilmschool. I can’t afford almost any of the products that are mentioned on the tech posts, but posts about knowledge balance things out and that is why I keep coming back to this blog.

    Great post Joe.

  • Speaking about Ridley… anyone know why they haven’t announced the semi-finalists in yourfilmfestival yet?

  • There is definately a benefit to having a highly paid artist do professional storyboards, but I like that you mention that it isn’t required in order to visualize the scene. Great examples of basic storyboards by mediocre sketch artists include Scorsese’s doodles laying out the final confrontation in Taxi Driver, as well as Hitchcock’s previsualization of the infamous shower scene.

  • Any aspiring director should know how to draw their own storyboards- if not- be able to draw stick figures or sketches or thumbnails. A good idea is not to feel intimidated by feeling you have to draw on A4 paper.Instead buy 6 inch by 3 and a half inch notebooks.They are available at most stationary and art shops (but are more expensive,at the later).
    In your mind,always have a idea of what you are looking for. Pre-visualisation -means mapping out something before it is fully realised.Remember: it is the director’s job to work closely with the director of photography.Their interaction will determine how thefilm will be shot and what the feel will look like intends to make the movie.In the past, the DOP was considered to be the lead cameraman, but now the person responsible for framing and composing the who in turn enlists the help of his team;the gaffer-(electrician), Art director-(Storyboarder)
    Set designer and camera and lighting team.

  • corrections of previous article … how the film will be shot and what the film will look like and how it will be made.


    Thank you.