A miscellany of weekly ramblings on comics, art and film by Ted Mathot, storyboard artist and writer/artist/self-publisher of graphic novels and comics

Friday, March 17, 2006

Storyboard Study: Shot progression

Sorry it's taken me so long to post! This one is based on something that filmmakers and board artists use all the time; shot progression. Mark Andrews brings this up frequently in our talks about story, and is one of the many concepts that we must juggle around in our heads while we're boarding.

He demonstrated the following and I thought I'd post my take on it here. Take a look at progression number one, six shots of a couple talking in a restaurant. It's a basic progression that starts far away and neutral and ends up in an extreme close up featuring one character. The script may start out with some chit chat between the characters, and intensify to where in panel six the woman makes an important statement (ie: " I'm pregnant, or "I'm leaving you", or even "oh crap-- I left the oven on" etc etc). For all intents and purposes, this is correct. The shots slowly intensify to a visual climax.

Now look at progression 2; same six shots, but I've jumbled them around. For the script we're using in progression one, this would be considered wrong. The shots are all over the place. Sure the woman could say "I'm leaving you " in the close up in panel six, but what impact will it have after the extreme close up in panel one? How is it building intensity if we're going to a wide neutral shot, then close up , then out to medium shots?

Now the tricky part. With a different script, the second progression could work. I added the panels at random, so I'll try to work backwards from this and come up with a scenario that works. Say the woman gets a phone call from the man and he says " Sally, the money's gone; meet me at the cafe".

With that intro, the script for progression two may go like this:

panel one: (woman) "what do you mean the money's gone?"
panel two: (man)(looking around nervously and whispering) " I don't know, the suitcase was empty"
panel three: (man) "we've got to find that money"
panel four: (woman) "all right but being here is making me nervous, they could be following us"
panel five: (man) " what do you think we should do?"
panel six: (woman) "we need to get out of town"

The most important bit is the woman's reaction to the money being gone and the XCU opens the scene with a punch. The second biggest bit is "we need to get out of town", so that gets a close up in panel six although not as big as panel one. The lines of them talking about being scared of being followed are in wider shots to emphasize the people around them and that they're in a public space.

Now while this isn't perfectly ideal, I just wanted to illustrate that a progression like number one, although visually solid, isn't always the right one. Your shot progression will depend on what is happening in your scene. Make sure your shots best emphasize what's happening in the story.


scarlet ideals said...

that was one of the most educational and thought provoking random blog posts i have ever read. bless the "next blog" button for bringing me here.

being a designer for dance and colorguard programs, progression of forms is much like what you describe here for comics. fascinating how basic rules can be applied anywhere.

i now have the urge to delve into your comics... and am exicted to see what i will find.

Thomas Huxley said...

I must agree with Scarlet. It was very educational. As they say...you learn something new everyday.

Thanks Ted. That was a very helpful piece of information. :)

OV! said...

awesome study man. well put.


Dik Pose said...

Excellent information... I appreciate you posting your thoughts and views on story.. always a good read!

Emma said...

Very cool. It's always great to hear someone talk about the WHYs and not just put the stuff up. You give great behind-the-scenes info.

Dan said...

I've learned this concept a few times, and I've done the same exercise you did in this post just as many. But everytime I learn and re-learn this I feel like I've discovered a golden piece of information. It proves how simple and yet powerful it is. :)

Great post

tbrunojr said...

Another great one. I feel like I should paying you for this :) Keep em coming T.

Btw, just fyi, your last sentence, second paragraph: "For all intensive purposes"

The saying is actually " for all intents and purposes".

I was recently informed of this and it suprised the hell out of me. Not as much though as when I learned that ASIA's chorus for 'Heat of the Moment' wasn't "Leader of the Mormons" Anyway...

Ted M said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

t bruno jr - thanks for pointing out that correction - I always thought it was said that way!

amelia said...

Wow...that is so cool! I never thought of that. Thanks for the short lesson.


J said...

Awesome post Ted. Thanks for putting it up.

nick sung said...

This is great Ted!--important to keep in mind for the stuff I'm working on. Thanks for breaking it down.

Anonymous said...

I would  argue your point with script number two and panel sequence number two. I understand that you backward engineered the script to go with the shots, however if you would have gotten the script first you might have arranged your shots differently.

Progression always helps establish emphisis. while you begin with a punch the XCU which is cool The last shot should be either the wide shot or back to the XCU. so through the scene the camera backs up and pulls out as the intensity falls off from the opening shot. "we gotta get out of town" is not nessecerily "intense" its a conclusion of the info.

I love the lesson

Ted M said...

anonymous - totally. I was trying to reverse enginerr it with the exact same setups. But yea, I would go wide for that last shot.

Thanks for stopping by.

R.Dress said...

Note to self: Check out Pulp Fiction's opening scene with notes from blog in hand ;)

ivanfilm said...

well, humm...i dunno. with the script that you have, can you also apply that in progression #1 still? progression #1 is the classic establishment to slow reveal of what's the scene is all about.

i replayed the script and imagined it with progression #1; it still works. progression #2 does not necessarily adds any further value.

maybe i'm missing something here, what do you think?

Ted M said...

ivanfilm - of course there is no one way to board a scene. The first progression is a standard one, where the script the follows is reverse enginerred to go with a random selection of shots.

Yes, the reverse engineered script could work with progression #1. But is that the best solution?

ivanfilm said...

Good point. It's the mood or effective presentation that you're shooting for.

My teacher who is teaching storyboard class for animation hates jump cuts, and though I don't share the same value I think Scorsese's pictures are just fabulous, which is a lot of times are jump cuts fiesta. This makes me wonder: in the animated pictures I don't see many jump cuts, any thought?

Btw I saw The Incredibles the other day and spots few jump cuts or quick flash rather (Dash and Violet fighting over dinner table). I wonder with G rating attached whether they're not worry too much that the younger audience may not be able to take it? I dunno I just thought it's interesting how they're able to make such decision, considering many hours and render time that needed to output for the delivery.

Ted M said...

ivan - Unfortunately animation storyboarding generally does not make use of the wide array of filmmaking tools the way live action does. This is mainly because of storyboard's early beginnings at Disney.

Boards for animation have been done the same way for years and years and rules of that procedure are burned hard and fast into the minds of many involved in creating animation (Never go over the line", specifically).

I love jump cuts, breakling the 180 and other tools used commonly by live action directors (only when they suit the story of course), and I wish they were used more in animation. Animation (especially now with 3D) has the ability to do everything live action can do and more. I question why we are not taking advantage of that?

Brad Bird is always open to storytelling tools such as breaking 180 or jump cuts as long as they suit the story; he approaches the boarding of his films from a live action perspective.

Many live action directors don't like to jump the line becasue it requires a whole new lighting setup (unless the scene is lit in such a way that the camera can be placed anywhere - difficult) but in animation we don't have to worry about that.


Thanks TSM -- I can't tell you how many times I've argued that breaking the 180 line is OK. I'll be working on a scene and the director says "NO! we can't break the director's line." Then I go watch Psycho and see Hitchcock do it and it works! wtf