Category: Pixar Storyboard Class

Pixar Storyboard Class – Toy Story Beat Boards

This semester I am taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar Story Artist Kristen Lester. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given, as well as watching the films assigned. Happy boarding!

For our second to last assignment, we were tasked to create our very own Toy Story short. I greatly enjoyed this assignment, as Toy Story is my favorite film of the Pixar Canon (Wall*E and Monsters U are in a close tie for second).

We had to come up with five short ideas and five beat boards for each.

Camp Out
In the story Camp Out, Bonnie and the toys are camping in the backyard. Trixie decides to go on an adventure and ropes Rex to come and join her. They are captured by a band of toys who were left outside too long and have gone feral as a result. After Rex and Trixie defeat the leader in a series of challenges, they become the rulers of the backyard.

 

A Very Potato Head Christmas
Mr. Potato Head hates everything to do with Christmas – the lights, the sounds, the wrapping paper, everything gets on his last nerve. He heads up to the attic for some peace and quiet and to wait out the holiday. While up there, he stumbles upon the Christmas toys, who share with him how fortunate he is to get to spend time with Bonnie, her family and the other toys all year around. Once Potato Head realizes how fortunate he really is, he comes to love Christmas.

 

Summer Showdown
Bonnie and Buttercup are enjoying a day at the beach, but start arguing with Bonnie’s cousin Troy and his Seahorse toy. They both enter a sand castle building contest, but realize that they can only win if they work together. Once they join forces, they build the best castle on the beach, and Bonnie, her cousin and her toys learn a great lesson – two heads are better than one!

 

Super Chop!
Hamm is tired of always being the villain and decides to be the hero for once by becoming Super Chop! Along with his sidekick Rex, the Dino Wonder, they play out their fantasies as super heroes. But when Dolly and Buttercup are accidentally thrown in the washing machine, only Super Chop and the Dino Wonder can save them.

 

Wildflower Round-Up
After listening to a gallant and romantic story about a magical flower, Buzz decides to venture into the backyard to get a flower for Jessie to show her how much he cares. What he doesn’t count on though is the giant rabbit guarding the treasure.

After presenting our ideas, our classmates voted on the two I liked best. The consensus was Wildflower Round-Up. I personally liked the Christmas Story better, but Wildflower proved to have more comedic opportunities. Tune in next time to see the full story!

Pixar Storyboard Class Week 3: The Force Will Be With You, Always

This semester I am taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar Story Artist Kristen Lester. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given, as well as watching the films assigned. Happy boarding!

*In order to fully discuss Kristen’s notes, I detail events that occurred in the films we watch. Watch the film, then read on to see how we analyzed the film. And you should watch the film, because this week we watched Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Hello Dear Readers!

StarWarsPoster

Yes you read that title right – for our homework assignment, we watched Star Wars. Yep, that is why I am paying the big bucks to be in art school. All you poor business majors have to write reports. I get to talk about Luke Skywalker. Nah nah nah.

Why Star Wars? Well by now I hope that many of you have read or are currently reading
The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Star Wars is the seminal hero’s journey. Classic storytelling. At its time, Kristen told us, no one had ever told a story this way before. Hard to believe, as it seems like every summer blockbuster is told this way, but someone had to start, and that someone was George Lucas.

 

 

 

STAR WARSNow this movie holds a special place in my heart, because I did not see it in its entirety until I was 16. I saw Return of the Jedi numerous times on NBC (thank you NBC Sunday Night Movie!) and Dad recorded The Empire Strikes Back from HBO. In fact, our first VHS copy of Empire was so old and overplayed that the first ten minutes of the film were practically unwatchable — pale dudes wearing white on an ice planet fighting snow monsters on a VHS tape where the color had bleeded out. YIKES. So I knew those films, but not the original. In fact, this assignment marks the SECOND time that I saw Star Wars Episode IV. But it will not be the last.

One of the great things about this film is that the entire world is set up before we even meet Luke. We meet almost everyone else first, but then when we meet Luke, we can tell by the music and scenery that he is our main guy.

Kristen used the film to clearly define the pinnacle of screenwriting and filmic storytelling, the Three Act Structure.  (Cue John Williams’ fanfare here.)

ACT ONE

Act I defines these important questions:

Who?
What?
Where?
When?

It establishes the intro and the setup (A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…) It also establishes the characters and their relationships, their back stories, and the character’s expectations for their futures.  For example, we learn that Luke Skywalker lives on a desert planet with his aunt and uncle, that his father was killed by the Empire, and that he longs to join the academy and fight the Empire for the freedom of the galaxy. And that he would rather get power converters than tend to a moisture farm.

Luke looks across the barren landscape of Tatoonie, longing for adventure.
Luke looks across the barren landscape of Tatoonie, longing for adventure.

Act I also establishes the INCITING INCIDENT. This sets the story in motion. It changes the character’s sense of self, disrupts their plans for the future, and forces them to deal with something because their sense of the world has changed. In Luke’s case, meeting R2D2 and C3PO leads him to discover the distress call from Princess Leia, which leads him to search for Old Ben, aka Obi Wan Kenobi, which leads him off of Tatoonie and onto adventure.

In Toy Story, this is Buzz’s arrival to Andy’s room, causing Woody to soon be replaced as the alpha toy. In my previous post from ANM 372 Storyboarding class, in A Cake Story, this is when the chemical spills on the box of cake ingredients in the delivery truck.

Often the Inciting Incident is a new set piece, like when the Green Army Men in Toy Story leave Andy’s room. So if you look for a new environment, you’ll often see the Inciting Incident.

Also, this often occurs on page 10. If you are familiar with screenplays, you may have noticed this. It’s not always on page 10, but if it hasn’t happened by page 25 you’re movie may be in trouble.

Next in Act I is the First Act Break – this happens when circumstances change and something makes the character make a choice. In the case of Star Wars, Luke is on the fence about joining Obi Wan until he returns home and sees the charred remains of his aunt and uncle. He cannot go home again, he can only move forward. He must make a choice.

And this leads to the problem many stories face – if the character does not make choices, the movie will not work. So if you’re movie is boring, ask yourself “is my character making choices, or are things just randomly happening to them?” Because the choices your character makes will lead them to their goals, and the established goal in Act I will ultimately lead to the global goal of the entire film.

Next: ACT TWO

In this act, our hero pursues his or her goal through increasingly difficult obstacles. This leads to the MIDPOINT, which:

– Changes the direction of the story – for example, we’ve been led to believe that once the Droids reach Alderan, all will be well. But then Darth Vader using the Death Star destroys the entire planet. What will Luke and his cohorts do now?

– Raises the stakes – With the planet destroyed, Obi Wan’s worst fears are realized, the rebel plans cannot be delivered to Leia’s father, and all may be lost.

– May prove to be a false victory. As an example, think of Monsters University. After Mike wins the scare games, we think the movie is over. Au contraire.

This brings us to the Second Act Break:

– Setback in the global goal of the film

– Forces the stakes to be raised even higher – there’s not turning back now. And these stakes are often external, internal and philosophical.

For Luke, the stakes are win the day or be destroyed by the Death Star. Even worse, what will happen to the ethos of the movie? Will evil triumph? Is evil right and good wrong? Hard to believe things will go well when you see our mentor cut down in front of you by a guy in a black suit and a weezing problem.

This is also when the Evil Character often states their view of the world, i.e. We meet again, you will never defeat me, you have no hope, etc. etc. The Villain will pose a question to the hero, a question that the hero will be at a loss to answer. That he/she can’t answer…yet, because the hero does not yet know the answer.

For example, in Toy Story 3 (aka the film that makes me weep openly-farewell my childhood) Lotso asks Woody at the dump if he (Andy) loves you so much, then why are you here? Woody does not yet have an answer for the horribly cruel bear.

ACT THREE

Resolution of the story and its subplots!

It is here that your questions are answered.

Climax

– the hero’s POV of the world changes.

– the hero achieves an epiphany, one that enables him or her to answer the question posed by the villain at the end of the Second Act break

– main tensions are brought to their most dramatic point

In the final battle scene, when Luke and the Rebels fight the Death Star, we are at the edge of our seats. Will Biggs take down the Death Star? No! His X-Wing is shot to bits! Will Wedge succeed? No! It’s up to Luke. But wait, will he use the targeting computer, or listen to the disembodied voice of his mentor and trust in THE FORCE? Luke stops messing around and completes his journey – he defeats the Death Star and becomes The HERO.

Resolution – Wrap Up Party and stuff that will be in the sequel

Everyone is safe and happy – they’re in casual wear, the angles of the all the buildings are straight and flat, the world is safe. Luke and Han get medals (no medal for the Wookie? Travesty!) They smile for the audience, cut to credits and epic music. The End.

Next week, we are watching one of my all time favorite films ever Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then the next week, we are watching a film that is not my favorite, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, to see how it went off the rails. (Hint – doesn’t quite follow the Hero’s Journey).

And now…onto the STORYBOARDS!

So last week we were assigned the hashtag #awkwardpromstory featured on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’s Hastag Wednesdays.

Below is my story:

Prom01

 

Prom02

 

Prom03

 

Prom04

 

Prom05

 

Prom06

 

Prom07

I received a positive response from Kristen and my class. Then, Kristen gave me some excellent suggestions to improve the compositions and the story:

 

Kristen liked the opening shot a lot and recommended making it even easier for people to read. She suggested drawing a grid, crosshatching the mirror ball, adding shine, and setting the stage higher up. And she thought the banners were awesome.

Kristen liked the opening shot a lot and recommended making it even easier for people to read. She suggested drawing a grid, crosshatching the mirror ball, adding shine, and setting the stage higher up. And she thought the banners were awesome.

 

 

Show that the dudes are REALLY alone by placing dancing couples in the foreground. This makes them look like even bigger losers. This also reinforces the MOST IMPORTANT STORY POINT - these guys are ALONE.

Show that the dudes are REALLY alone by placing dancing couples in the foreground. This makes them look like even bigger losers. This also reinforces the MOST IMPORTANT STORY POINT – these guys are ALONE.

 

This shot more clearly shows what is happening - a rubberband shooting out of the guy's mouth.

This shot more clearly shows what is happening – a rubber band shooting out of the guy’s mouth.

 

Comedy is better flat. Kristen recommended I break up this scene into two panels to better convey the action. A Rube Goldberg scenario occurs as the rubber band hits a woman, causing her to spit in a guy's face, he falls back against a woman' who spills her drink on a guy...

Comedy is better flat. Kristen recommended I break up this scene into two panels to better convey the action. A Rube Goldberg scenario occurs as the rubber band hits a woman, causing her to spit in a guy’s face, he falls back against a woman’ who spills her drink on a guy…

 

...then the guy falls back into the table, launching the punch bowl...

…then the guy falls back into the table, launching the punch bowl…

 

...sending the punch bowl flying into the Prom Queen and King. Kristen recommended I make this a downshot so that we see the action from the bowl's POV, making it more dramatic.

…sending the punch bowl flying into the Prom Queen and King. Kristen recommended I make this a downshot so that we see the action from the bowl’s POV, making it more dramatic.

 

And then - UPSHOT! More exciting as we see the Prom Queen's face as she reacts.

And then – UPSHOT! More exciting as we see the Prom Queen’s face as she reacts.

 

And then this shot - we see the Prom Queen glowing with power and the crowd's reaction of what transpired - she stopped the frickin' punch bowl in MIDAIR. What???

And then this shot – we see the Prom Queen glowing with power and the crowd’s reaction of what transpired – she stopped the frickin’ punch bowl in MIDAIR. What???

 

Then we cut back to our Dudes, who look in astonishment. And the one says "Dude. Glad I didn't ask her out."

Then we cut back to our Dudes, who look in astonishment. And the one says “Dude. Glad I didn’t ask her out.”

And there you have it – two versions to the same story, the second with clearer compositions, making for a more engaging story. In them, we show reactions, and a way for the audience to FEEL what is happening.

For our next homework assignment, we drew a word out of an envelope and boarded out images to convey that word. You’ll see my boards and my word next time.

Star Wars photos courtesy of herocomplex.latimes.com, www.thereformedbroker.com and abcnews.go.com

Pixar Storyboard Class Week 2: Economy of Storytelling

This semester I am taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar Story Artist Kristen Lester. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given, as well as watching the films assigned. Happy boarding!

*In order to fully discuss Kristen’s notes, I detail events that occurred in the films we watch. Watch the film, then read on to see how we analyzed the film.

Image courtesy of http://moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

Today we started class watching the montage scene from The Hudsucker Proxy. An excellent film released in 1994 written by Joel and Ethan Coen and Sam Raimi, The Hudsucker Proxy chronicles the rise, fall and rise again of Norville, played by Tim Robbins, an idealistic young man fresh out of Muncie College of Business Administration. He has an excellent idea “you know, for kids!” that he wants to share with the world that becomes the hula hoop. It’s like watching a live action cartoon, and proved to be a great movie to analyze. There are many excellent sequences that propel the story forward.

Some of the take aways Kristen mentioned were to have a scene ask a question, then give an answer. For example, in the Proving Room scene, we first see men behind giant windows, then we see men in hazmat suits jumping behind sandbags. We are asking ourselves “What is a proving room?” “What’s with the hazmat suit guys?” Then the camera cuts to a mannaquin with a bomb strapped to him and a hula hoop around the waist. We realize they are going to blow up the mannequin to see what happens to the hoop. The filmmakers could have showed the mannequin first, but they instead opted for us to ask a question, then the answer is revealed later.

In the same montage scene, the shopkeeper throws out all the hula hoop, and the red one rolls through the street on a magical journey to the footsteps of a small boy. We watch the event that eventually pans down to the hula hoop’s POV, as though we are the hoop itself. In this way we are like both the hula hoop and, in a way, Norville, we just want someone to believe in us. We, (the hula hoop) want to reach our full potential.

The montage works because it conveys a lot of information in a condensed period of time. It is a story within a story.

Next, we learned a set of useful terms to help us in our storytelling process.

1. PROGRESSION

Always have something build to something else. Ask yourself, is every shot giving a new piece of information that’s adding to the story? Each shot should have its own moment, an opportunity to build humor, intensity or emotion for example. Also, the emphasis should have the most contrast.

2. ECONOMY OF STORYTELLING

Why say it in 5 shots when you can say it in 3? Why not 1? Always try to move the story forward.

3. CLARITY

This refers to clarity of the idea, not the drawing. Rough sketches are fine as long as they convey the story point. A beautiful drawing is pointless if the story doesn’t shine through. Again, does every scene work?

4. STRUCTURE

How are you telling your story? For this, we briefly discussed The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Glove and Boots made a fun video about it too. We didn’t mention the Glove and Boots film in class but I love it so here you go:

 

5. ENTERTAINMENT

Ultimately, everything you’ve done is for naught if the story is not something that people want to watch. Are there interesting and unexpected reversals? Good staging? Our job as filmmakers is to entertain and educate. That’s why we shell out the bucks for movie tickets.

Last and certainly not least, we each pitched our homework assignment from last week.

Our assignment was to take this image:

HomeworkAssn

And create a story using only 6 cuts and no more than 30 images. She allowed us to use B and C cuts so you can ignore that part at the end of the image. Everyone submitted very imaginative stories. She emphasized the necessity of making appealing drawings that are loose so that we focus on who the story is about and their POV rather than an omnisicient POV. She also discussed the importance of putting the camera in the best place to tell the story and paying attention to the 180 rule, which everyone breaks from time to time. The 180 Rule, of the Rule of Left to Right, can be remembered this way: if a character is on the right, they should always be on the right. This will keep you from crossing the line. Kristen went through all of our stories, one by one, and shortened them. Cut out the fat. It was amazing. Turns out you don’t need that many drawings to tell a story at all.

For example, here is my original story:

ZiegfeldMurders01 ZiegfeldMurders02ZiegfeldMurders03ZiegfeldMurders04ZiegfeldMurders05ZiegfeldMurders06ZiegfeldMurders07ZiegfeldMurders08ZiegfeldMurders09ZiegfeldMurders10ZiegfeldMurders11ZiegfeldMurders12ZiegfeldMurders13ZiegfeldMurders14ZiegfeldMurders15ZiegfeldMurders16ZiegfeldMurders17ZiegfeldMurders18ZiegfeldMurders19ZiegfeldMurders20ZiegfeldMurders21

And here it is after Kristen’s cuts:

ZiegfeldMurders01 ZiegfeldMurders09 ZiegfeldMurders14 ZiegfeldMurders16 ZiegfeldMurders21

You get the same meaning in fewer shots. Still exciting, fewer drawings, story point is still intact. This is the essence of economy of storytelling – simplifying the story into ONLY the images you need. AMAZING. And time saving.

For our second assignment, we are using Late Night Hashtags by the one and only Jimmy Fallon, my favorite talk show host and future host of The Tonight Show. Our assignment was to turn the following hashtag into an amusing story in 10 images or less:

@longdoug35

My friend yawned and a rubber band from his braces shot out of his mouth and hit a lady in the face. #awkwardpromstory

You can watch the whole clip here:

You’ll see my story in the next post! ‘Til next time storyboarders…

The Hudsucker Proxy image courtesy of http://moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

Pixar Storyboard Class Week 1: Cinematic Punctuation

I have the great fortunate to be taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar story artist Kristen Lester. On our first day of class she told us a little about herself. She is quite an accomplished artist. She went to Sheridan, which I almost attended, and she worked on films like Everyone’s Hero and Epic and shows like my personal favorite, Sym-bionic Titan.

After class introductions, we dived right into what makes a good story. In her words:

“What makes a good storyboard? It communicates something.”

Once you the point of the story, you can us certain tools to communicate what you want to say. And those tools are things like composition, camera angles, perspective, and the like.

Shots, according to Kristen, are like cinematic punctuation. Different meanings are created using different punctuation. See how the meanings change in the following sentence – Woman without her man is nothing – with a little creative punctuation:

Woman, without her man, is nothing

Woman: without her, man is nothing

See the difference a little punctuation can make?

In film cinematic punctuation are the types of shots used to tell a story, such as a wide shot, medium shot, close up and extreme close up.

Shot choices are used to communicate something, to show people what and where they should look and what they should pay attention to. It shows what’s happening, where to look and who is important.

How you string the shots together are what is known as cinematic grammar.

As an example, she showed us a clip from Jaws, the classic 1975 Steven Spielberg film. Brody, played by Roy Schneider, waits anxiously on the beach, looking out for the shark, trying to see it among the throngs of unsuspecting beach goers.

Jaws01You’ll notice that everyone in the background is having a wonderful time, while Brody waits, staring out to sea. Waiting. Watching.

Jaws02Even when people get in his face, Brody’s attention is split as he watches the water.

Then, as Jaws attacks and people scream and panic, the camera ZOOMS in on Brody as his worst fears are realized.

As Kristen explained, wide shots are used in the first few shots as the crowd frolics on the beach so that you see and feel Brody’s anxiety. Individual shots are included to track people so that you ask yourself in terror “Who will be eaten?” Brody focuses on them all, and the stress that he experiences becomes our stress.

The key to all of this is that every shot and angle is on purpose.

And that’s the point – be intentional with your shots. Don’t have shots simply to have shots. Ask yourself, what do I want people to feel? And how can I use these shots to convey this feeling and move the story along?

For our homework, we were assigned to board out a scene from an illustration she gave us that could use 6 cuts and up to 30 frames. And for our film analysis, she assigned The Hudsucker Proxy, a great Coen Brothers film that more people need to watch. Great stuff.

More to come about this assignment in Week 2’s post!

Images courtesy of www.cinemasquid.com