CreativeCOW presents PREVISUALIZATION Part ONE: What is Previs? -- Cinematography Editorial

The computer is possibly the single most significant technological influence in our lives today. There is not a single aspect of our existence that is not enhanced or hampered by the influence of computers – everything from finance and writing to making appointments and storing data.

However, computers have blossomed, beyond compare, with the creation of images. The burgeoning imaging technology has allowed doctors to peer inside the human body, scientists to see the extreme limits of the galaxy and data analyst to visualize complex notions and transform them into simple and easy to understand ideas. Yet, computer images have gone beyond being able to see what is invisible or what has happened, to now being able to show us what may happen. Hence, previsualization – a new form of computer imaging that allows us to visually understand the future.

Previs. You may or may not have heard of it. If you have, you may have heard conflicting or more often muddled definitions. Many assumptions have developed around this often-misunderstood word. Unfortunately, much of this syntactical confusion is not helped by special interest groups surreptitiously commandeering the term and construing its meaning to something quite foreign from its original definition.

The three most common assumptions associated with previsualization are: it is used exclusively in the motion picture industry; it is used exclusively for designing visual effects (VFX); it is primarily three-dimensional animation. Of course, all of these definitions are incorrect.

So, if these presumptions about previsualization are not true, then what is?

The Oxford English Dictionary may be the best vocabulary arbitrator for a definition of a word in dispute. The OED, published by the Oxford University Press, is the considered by the academic community to be the premier dictionary of the English language. With descriptions for approximately 600,000 words, it is considered the largest official dictionary in the world. Additionally, the University Press staff spends countless hours documenting and cataloging the use of every printed English word. Here is what they have to say about previsualization:
Pre-visualization n. 1956
The visualization (now especially through the use of computers) of how something will look when created or finished.

It also comes as a verb.

Pre-visualize trans. 1969
To visualize (how) a thing will look when created or finished; to imagine or predict (the result of a process or act).

Though much confabulation has been made over the correct spelling of the abbreviated form, previs with an s ending is the most commonly used short form.


The OED definition suggests there are several of types of previsualization: all of which are planning tools for various kinds of industries. Now, there are six different fields, in which some sort of previsualization is used to visualize how a procedure or product will look. The motion picture industry is only one of these fields. They are as follows:
Photography is one of the older disciplines to use previs. Ansell Adams was known to previsualize many of his more renowned photographs as far back as the 1930s.

Photography is one of the older disciplines to use previs. Ansel Adams was known to previsualize many of his more renown photographs as far back as the 1930s. Pictured here are the Moroccan Spires by Younes Bounhar shot with the Nikon D700 Digital SLR Camera. These are gorgeous in larger detail. Click images to view larger. ©Younes Bounhar

The field of architecture pioneered the original computer based forms of previs with an application known as AutoCad. ©Bernd Weiss. Click image for larger view.

Though urban planning has been slow to adopt the latest in previs, urban developers have been quick to push the envelope by introducing such marketing concepts as "walk-throughs."

Product development, which includes products for the medical sciences, is relatively new to the utilization of previs, however some of the more far reaching developments have occurred in this field, such as simulated virtual operations.

The motion picture industry is the oldest business to use previs with advent of illustrated storyboards at the turn of the last century. At the moment, movie production has concentrated on using 3D animation as the primary form of previs. Shown here is Wayne Brimigion's previs for Launch's Heineken ad, Give Yourself A Good Name (Boss's Daughter). ©Wayne Brimigion

For the purposes of this essay, we will focus on the various forms or types of previsualization used in the motion picture industry.

Within the sphere of cinema, previs takes on four different forms. These break into either 2D illustrations or the newer classification of 3D renderings. 3D animation is only one form of previs.

Traditional hand-drawn storyboards date back to the beginning of movies. French magician and director, George Méliès, was known to have cartoon sketched his stories before putting them in front of the camera.

Traditional hand-drawn storyboards date back to the beginning of movies. French magician and director, George Méliès, was known to have cartoon sketched his stories before putting them in front of the camera.

By the 1920s, art directors and costume designers were pre-visualizing sets and costumes in the form of 2D conceptual illustrations. Production Designer, Dan Sayre Groesbeck, is credited with being the father of the storyboards when he began expanding on his conceptual illustrations for Cecil B. DeMille.

Previs artist, Collin Green, is the self-accredited inventor of 3D animated pre-visualization. This popular form of previs has been the mainstay of VFX visualizations since the 1980s. Twenty One Inc. previs. ©Twenty One Inc.

The latest ingress into the world of previs has been the 3D storyboard. Though the studios have been reluctant to adopt this type of previs, independent directors have embraced it because of its affordability and flexibility.

In the next chapter, we are going to focus on the rising cost and risks of moviemaking and why a director or a producer may want to consider previsualizing his or her next picture; particularly with 3D storyboards.

To Be Continued...

Gare Cline, Creative COW Magazine

Gare Cline

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.