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Book Reviews: 'Storyboards, Motion in Art' & 'Prepare to Board!'

Learn how to set figure properties, height and style in the latest excerpt of Poser 7 Revealed by Kelly L. Murdock.

Storyboards, Motion in Art, 3rd Edition by Mark Simon.

The new edition of Mark Simon's Storyboards, Motion in Art is a pretty comprehensive book. Not just about animation storyboarding, it also covers live action, gaming, theme-park boards, laser show boards and advertising storyboards. He has written 64 chapters, appendices, a preface, an intro and actually starts the book with two pages of acknowledgements that include not only names and addresses, but websites and emails too. This author does his research! The entire book is just as comprehensive and reads somewhat like a textbook with a sense of humor. Exercises are grouped at the end of the book rather than with each chapter. Everything is illustrated very well, in both B&W and color. At the end are some wonderful interviews.

Simon's qualifications are listed in the blurb on the back cover, saying he is a storyboard artist, director, producer and animator. He has his own company, Animatic & Storyboards Inc., which did storyboards for Lonely Hearts, The Waterboy and SeaQuest DSV. He has worked on projects for Disney, Fox, Universal, Nickelodeon, Coke, M&M, AT&T and many others. A quote from Stephen Sawra of Cartoon Network says, "Definitely a person who understands all aspects of the business" The book is the product of someone who really does just that.

A Valuable Tool

Simon starts out with a short history of storyboards and why they are such valuable tools. The first few chapters deal with what it takes and what you need to be a storyboard artist, with drawbacks and pluses. Under education, he lists classes in life drawing, sequential illustration, film directing and editing. He also says, "The more you understand about marketing, licensing and rights, accounting, contracts, writing, math, etc. the better your business will run" He gives you a complete list of the materials you will need to storyboard.

A Subject per Chapter

Each chapter is devoted to one subject. There is a chapter on drawing quick thumbnails where he gives you advice on why they are necessary and how to make them readable. Simon says a great many people need to be able to do thumbnails, and you don't have to draw well to do them. Besides storyboard artists, directors, special effects people, cameramen, producers, writers and CG people need this skill. One chapter talks about perspective as it relates to camera angles. Simon stresses that every artist works differently, from drawing with different pencils to storyboarding on the computer. He says, "The best way to get better and faster at storyboards is to simply draw fast, constantly."

The chapter on coloring a storyboard talks about both markers and computer color and goes into some detail. Then you have a chapter on presentation boards vs. production boards. There are quite a few differences, depending on who the client is. He talks about comps, which are used primarily in print medium. Simon then gets into Animatics, calling them video storyboards and then the computer equivalent, the 'previz.' He talks briefly about the different styles of artists, and then gets into directing on the storyboards and dives into the storyboarder's relationship with the director. He gives you a lot of tips on how to understand where the directors are coming from. He says, " It is important that the storyboard artist understand industry lingo and how shots work"

Staging and Camera Moves

The chapters on staging deal with line-of-action, camera positions, horizon lines, visual balance and depth. He includes a chapter on gathering reference material and using it. Then he gets into showing camera moves on a board, and then explains why everything has to be numbered. Next he talks about contrast and mood, and then special effects. Everything is very well illustrated. Speaking of which, Simon's next chapter is on conceptual illustration, which he says storyboard artists are often called upon to do.

"Computers and Software" is the name of the next chapter, and Simon gets quite detailed in his explanations and illustrations. He mentions PowerPoint, FrameForge 3D Studio, StoryViz, SketchUp and Mirage Boardomatic. He also talks about good old PhotoShop (the backbone of the industry), CoralDRAW, Wacom Tablets and says don't forget a good 300 dpi printer. He recommends getting a few USB jump drives and always carry one with you when on a job.

The Business of Storyboarding

In "Tricks of the Trade," Simon gives you dozens of practical tips; from what pencils and erasers to use, to what not to do with a copier, to how to use computer layering, to using a camera. He talks about what to do with revisions and approvals and how to organize your business and invoicing. This chapter is packed with useful information from someone who has been doing art for a long time. He then talks about presenting your boards to the client and what information to put on each page.

Part three is titled, "The Business of Storyboarding." Here Simon covers resumes, listing common mistakes and enhancements you can make. He talks about portfolios, saying draw one of your own if you've never done one for a client. Then Simon gets into education and follows that with an essay on how he got his start. The next part is six pages of the type of places you can go to get hired, very helpful. The next chapters are on how to find a job, prepping for that job and how a production team works. Then he gives you hints on what producers look for, pricing, estimating, billing, licensing and trade practices. He has a chapter on the various screen formats. In the last section of lessons Simon tells you a bit about agents and artist reps, unions and some hints on how to sell yourself and be professional.

Eight Great Interviews

Now comes a really interesting part of this book. There are eight interviews with storyboard professionals giving you insight to how they think and work. Among their other talents, Alex Saviuk does comicbooks, Mark Moore is a vp at ILM, Sean Cushing is a previz specialist, Josh Hayes does live action, Tim Burgard does a lot of commercials, Woody Woodman is in animated features, Lyle Grant does commercials and Jeff Dates is the creative director of Janimation. Wow! What a lot of talent crammed into these pages!

Five Versions of a Storyboard

So coming to the end of this 434-page book, you have the exercises to do for the lessons. Then Simon gives you a storyboard you can do, with versions by five different artists to show you some variations. The appendices include various storyboard blanks and an invoice, a list of books with a short one-sentence description and some resource guides. At the end are storyboard samples, a glossary and an index.

Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animated Features and Shorts by Nancy Beiman.

Nancy Beiman has written an excellent book on animation with the clever title of Prepare to Board!, which even has a pirate cat on the cover. The book is lavishly illustrated with actual storyboard pages, character designs and charts. There are cartoons throughout, by people like Floyd Norman and John Van Vliet. Chapters are headed with quotes by well-known industry people, which are also interspersed throughout the book. Three marvelous interviews with A. Kendall O'Conner, T.Hee and Ken Anderson are included. The book is divided into three general parts and subdivided into many more, giving you a clear idea of what to look for if you just want to go through one particular section. Each chapter has exercises and the book is sprinkled liberally with puns.

Beiman is a natural for writing about storyboarding. She has been a supervising animator and development artist at both Walt Disney Feature and Television. She has been a director and producer at Warner Bros., and she received an Annie nomination in 2000 for individual achievement in storyboarding. She teaches animation, storyboarding and character design at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Catching Your Rabbit

The first part is "Getting Started" and the first chapter is titled "First Catch Your Rabbit" and deals with story development. As Beiman says, "Animation pre-development is called development for a reason." She talks about linear and non-linear storytelling, selecting locations, conflicts and many other story elements. She feels that the most important research tool is your sketchbook, and gets from that into a discussion of thumbnails and research on the Internet. This book has a lot of information, presented very accessibly.

Chapter two starts with the statement "Live-action and animation storyboards differ dramatically from one another." The difference being that you are also creating the characters along with the story. She charts the differences. She also points out the differences with comicbook storyboards, television boards and feature boards. Enough of the illustrations in the book are from a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that it makes you want to see the short!

The Tex Avery Twist

The next chapter starts with telling you to draw on your own life to create your characters and situations and at the start of an exercise Beiman says, "Do not start drawing right away. Think about the assignment carefully." The next two chapters lay out the differences between situation and character driven stories, and talks about conflict, long lines, parody and pastiche. You learn about working against type, the "Tex Avery Twist," which includes an interview with Avery and establishing rules for your story.

Chapter six gets into character design and hits on silhouette value, body shape, bone structure and foundation shapes, which Beiman defines as shapes that form the basis for complex designs. She shows how four different faces can be formed from an oval and how the same face can be changed dramatically by shifting the placement of the features. These are her own drawings and she can draw. Chapter seven talks about scale, character silhouettes and how those elements direct the eye. Chapter eight gets into design elements, such as creating fast and slow areas with your line (nicely illustrated), cute and non-cute, contrasting appearances and personalities and being true to the period. As in all of the chapters, Beiman stresses researching and experimenting in your drawing.

Being an Art Director

Beiman, at the start of chapter nine, says "The art director sets the film's period, location, prop and character design and color style." She goes on to give you tips on creating atmosphere, using how one of her student's establishing background was created. She talks about what the background tells you about the inhabitants, the time, the mood and the emotions all in visual shorthand. Beiman says "The general rule in animation is: Show, don't tell." and "Be creative with your art direction." She has a very useful list of questions to ask yourself when considering the setting for your film.

The Second Part

Beiman starts chapter ten assuming you know what you want to draw and she proceeds with telling you how to do that. She talks about simplification and emphasis, the optical center, tonal contrast (with illustrations that clearly show how this affects your drawing) and how to do a floorplan. She talks about viewpoint, varying your shots and low or high camera angles. She emphasizes careful design of your frames, saying, "Do not animate the camera."

Chapter eleven tells you how to stage your characters, talking about eye levels, horizon lines and crossing "the line." She shows how arrows are used to indicate the direction of an action and discusses the use of close ups, profile vs. 3/4 shots, overlapping shapes and the importance of details or lack of them. Chapter twelve is about story beats and gives some hints on your first pitch. Chapter thirteen takes you to the next step, that of creating sequences, which are related scenes illustrating a story beat, and she talks a bit about the materials you use in storyboarding and some of the differences between TV and feature boards. Beiman talks about prioritizing the action with A-B-C sequences, the character arc and breaking down your board.

Storyboard Timing

Chapter fourteen is about timing. Where live-action boards simply set up the shot; an animation board has to block out every thing the character does. Beiman says, "Timing and pacing are created on the storyboards by varying camera angles an cuts. Scenes may 'play' short or long depending on the story point that is being made and staging that is used to convey it." She talks about thumbnails and sticky notes, attitudes and talking heads, the symbols used to indicate camera moves and pacing. A lot of information packed into one chapter.

Chapter fifteen says a bit about the differences between TV and feature storyboards, telling how a professional team works. Then it goes into how music works with animation. Beiman than gives you help in visualizing the script pages you have been handed. She goes on in the next chapter to discuss model sheets and finalizing the design, the importance of action poses and turn-arounds and dialogue sheets. She talks about 'cheats' and their usefulness, size comparisons and recommends working on your models until you are sure they will work for you. Chapter seventeen is on color, where she recommends you buy a color wheel and build up a morgue of reference material. She talks about observing color in nature, saturation points, tonal values, how color can make an object advance or receded and how the art director determines the "color script."

Part Three: Presentation

So now you have to pitch your board. Beiman says, "Your objective is to convey the story points clearly to the audience, in realtime." She goes on the give substantive hints on how to do a good pitch, beginning with -- know your board. She then talks about the turnover session, where other people revise your board. Plan on at least two pitches, if you're lucky, according to Beiman. So now you've done a successful pitch and you move on to the animatic or story reel. Since this is done by the cameraman, Beiman simply tells you what the elements should be.

Chapter twenty goes back to the model sheets and discusses clean up. She discusses the differences between drawn and computer clean up and how the one transfers to the other. Chapter twenty-one discusses maquettes and how to build them. The next chapter discusses how to create character with color, and is one of the most complete discussions of color you will find in an animation book. Beiman talks about color vocabulary, how different cultures view color and how to test your color models. One illustration shows how simply changing the color in an eye changes the character type.

The Film is Finished

"Preparing for Production" is the title of the final instruction chapter. As Beiman says, "You have now officially ended pre-production. The film is finished; the animation is about to begin." The next chapter includes a listing of artist's websites, DVDs and books Beiman recommends. Then we have the three interviews with A. Kendall O'Conner, T.Hee and Ken Anderson, which give you a lot of insights as to how these artists think and how they work. The book ends with a glossary and an index.

Storyboards, Motion in Art, 3rd Edition by Mark Simon. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2007. 434 pages with illustrations. ISBN-13: 978-0-240-80805-5, ISBN-10: 0-240-80805-3 ($39.95).

Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animated Features and Shorts by Nancy Beiman. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2007. 336 pages with illustrations. ISBN-13: 978-0240808208, ISBN-10: 0240808207 ($39.95).

Libby Reed started out at Walt Disney Studios in the '50s on Sleeping Beauty as a painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a color designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children, (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren.