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The New Hollywood Workshop: Storyboards

By Eliot Hochberg (eliot@high-mountain.com), May 7, 2003

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When working on a creative short or feature DVD, there are a lot of possibilities with regards to what sorts of extras can be included. We’ve already covered subtitles and commentary tracks, two staples of the Extra Features DVD. A third common feature is the storyboard.

For those not aware, a storyboard is a comparatively simple drawing in a somewhat comic-book style of how the director, writer, the director of photography or sometimes the producer envisions a scene. The actors are shown in place using anything from stick figures to photo cutouts to indicate to the other members of the production team what the camera angle should be, what the character blocking should be, and where other important elements, such as scenery and set dressing, must be in order to tell the story. Each scene, and often each beat or cut (a subunit of a scene) has a separate panel. Often, these storyboards are exactly what is shown on screen. What can be more interesting is when they differ.

For “The Bad Father,” there was time to do a relatively simple storyboard extra. First, the writer/director Robert Benson provided me with his original storyboards. These were on blue-line graph paper, which isn’t in and of itself significant, but relates to how I handled the final imagery.

I scanned the images in and changed the levels so that only the drawings were visible on a plain white background. I then arranged the selected panels on the menu screen to my satisfaction. Next I reintroduced the grid from the graph paper. I did the menu in this way because I wanted the flexibility to arrange the images without being limited to what the grid allowed. The images were from separate pages, and had I stayed with the grid, the images wouldn’t have lined up properly. But the grid was a nice indicator of the fact that these were rough sketches drawn out by hand.

Once I had the menu ready, I then needed to work with the footage. My original concept was to use chapter markers to play the beginning and ending of the footage in question using a story. However, there were some glitches with the story function in DVDSP, and because of the subtitles, the chapter markers couldn’t be exactly where I wanted them. Since I had room on the disc, I chose to create a special version of the footage just for the storyboards. Once I made this decision, it was a short leap to overlay the storyboard panels over their appropriate cuts in the scene. Taking into account the anamorphic nature of the footage, I stretched out the panels by about 20 percent. This made it so that they would have the proper aspect ratio when displayed in 16:9 letterbox. Then I simply had the footage fade out and go back to the storyboard menu.

If you have a feature, though, it may not be possible or advisable to add extra footage. In that case, you can use the story function to create a jump to the portion that the storyboard covers. I believe that if you select only one chapter, the DVD player will play until the next chapter, then return to whichever menu you select. So if you need more than one chapter to cover your storyboard, you’ll need to include it. But I noticed some problems with the stories function, so be sure to test your footage on a DVD-R before committing to using stories.

The New Hollywood Workshop is dedicated to using Macintosh computers and software to do what the big boys do. Want an example? Check out Duality, a short made completely with Macintosh products.

Eliot Hochberg is a Web developer with over seven years’ experience. Apple’s new professional tools are just the ticket for a sole proprietor like Eliot to go to the next level. Right now, he’s seeking DVD duplication services that support DVD Studio Pro. If your company does, let us know. We’ll list you in future articles.

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