Communicating the director's vision is the most obvious reason for using previsualization. Yet, there are two other equally important motives for previsualizing.
The late film director, Alfred Hitchcock, once said that his primary reason for storyboarding was to have control his pictures.
In this day and age, that rationale could not be more applicable. Too often, a producer or a department head seizes the reigns from the director, because he or she either lacks or is incapable of expressing his or her vision. If an actor senses a director's vacillation, a production can quickly spin out of control. The actors are the film's most valuable assets and for a director to weaken his or her hold on the flighty actors is to unleash charge of the film. Mr. Hitchcock would have agreed that previsualization is one of the best ways to maintain mastery of your picture.
Cost is the other reason for considering previs. A movie budgeted at a million dollars in 1985 will cost nearly ten million dollars today. The increased expense of making movies has inflated the associated risks. Therefore, the amount of funds bankrolled in comparison to the return on investment grows narrower each year. Fewer and fewer funding entities are willing to tolerate the risk. Frankly, most films do not make money. On average, only one in a thirty six hundred films entered into the Sundance Film Festival this year will be picked up by a distributor. Hence, one of the best ways to prevent risk is to plan ahead and previsualization can help the director creatively and efficiently plan for everything that he or she envisions and for every unforeseen act of Murphy's Law.
Previs from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds
TYPES OF USES
As a planning tool, previsualization can be used in four different ways. Foremost, it can show the investors, actors and the crew what the movie will look like when completed.
When previs is used by the various department heads, it can express to the director how the sets, costumes and vehicles will appear. Such visual communication through conceptual art ensures that the crew is in harmony with the director's vision.
Above left, previs for a television show set, and right, the actual set. Photos courtesy of Sony.
Naturally, it can also convey to the director the look of the visual effects and indicate how the effects will be assembled.
Finally, previs, in the form of 3D storyboards, can disclose how the picture may be made. For instance, sunlight patterns indicated on a previsualized exterior set or location can suggest to the cinematographer the best time of day in which to shoot. Visualized blocking patterns can help the assistant director to determine camera placement and number of set-ups.
BUT WHY 3D STORYBOARDS?
Storyboarding a picture in three dimensions has certain advantages over traditional boards, but more importantly over 3D animation.
Foremost, the optically accurate nature of the application creates a precise look for the picture. Unlike traditionally hand drawn storyboards, 3D storyboards are not bounded by the artificial contrivance of vanishing points and horizon lines. Because the director is working in a 3D virtual space, the rules of perspective are not applied. Therefore, images are rendered, as they would actually appear on screen.
Working within a 3D virtual space makes it easy for the director to build orthographic projections of sets and locations, and then virtually block the actor's movements within those sets. Additionally, the director can manipulate the sets on the fly; making changes instantly and without cost.
One advantage 3D storyboards has over 3D animation is in the areas of coverage and editing. It is easier for the director to assemble or pre-edit his or her movie in storyboard form, because they are still pictures. The director can quickly manipulate the frames and insert new shots in order to determine the amount and type of coverage needed. Unfortunately, 3D animation can cause the director to be distracted by the moving images. Often, he or she can not see how the story is unfolding and consequently, overlook cinematic errors, such as crossing the line, or cutting on axis. Yet, all of these problems are readily addressed with 3D storyboards.
Finally, the assistant director, with the assistance of a good previs artist, can easily see the number of set-ups and therefore calculate the shooting time. The previs artist can further assist the production by compiling a visual list of the props, set dressings and set-ups for determining the cost of shooting a particularly scene.
In our next chapter, we focus on how the process of previsualization works. We begin by finding the look for the picture, and then proceed through blocking, coverage and finally end with determining the time and cost expenditure.
To Be Continued...
Mr. Cline specializes in optically accurate, pre-visualization storyboards for business plans and motion picture productions. His clients include JuiceBox Skateboards, Arenas, Sony Pictures and The China Film Studio.
Recently, he has been designing a course in stereography for the PRC film community. His work in film spans nearly 20 years, including seven years as a lighting designer where he worked on over ninety videos, commercials and features, including Amityville Horror and King of the Hill. More recently, he had been a foreign correspondent for the Belgium magazine, Cine-Tele-Revue, covering industry news and gossip. He has also worked for the stage, including Assistant Director for the Armory for the Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Lighting Assistant on the U.S. premiere of Sam Shepard's Fool For Love at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. Mr. Cline holds teaching credentials in art, English and history. He briefly taught English and cinematic studies to autistic children.
Mr. Cline received a BA in English from San Francisco State University and a MA in cinematography from the American Film Institute.