Mind Your Business: Time to Change Pre-Production Rules

Mark discusses how execs need to get used to story artists editing their own animatics.

I really hate when old production standards and union and guild rules get in the way of a better process.

I don’t care about old rules when something new makes production better.

My latest beef deals with animatics. New software, like Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro, has forever changed the process of previs, storyboarding and producing animatics and now unions and productions need to change with the times.

It used to be that the story artist would draw boards on paper. Someone would scan the art, someone else would separate the art into layers and add camera moves and layer moves in After Effects and then an editor would edit the elements together in an edit suite.

That’s not the way we do it now with new software and it’s well-past time for the rule makers to accept that no matter what they say, story artists are now editing the first pass of their own animatics.

With Storyboard Pro, the artist draws directly on a timeline and draws directly on separate layers. We build an animatic in real time as we draw.

As a board artist this is awesome! It makes me a better board artist. I can test my boards as I work and see if the scenes cut together well, if I’m missing shots and I can play with the order of shots instantly to see what plays better on the screen. As a director it’s incredible. I can see the flow of the final piece while it’s still in the storyboard stage and I can make better decisions and know instantly what works best.

Last year I ran into a production exec who tried to stop board artists from editing their own animatics. Tough chance. That boat has sailed. Every artist who uses Storyboard Pro is editing their own animatics no matter what anyone says.

I was down at the Digital Domain studios (remember them?) in Port St. Lucie training the board artists on using the Storyboard Pro software. Once they saw the power of the software they all took off running and loving how it worked.

One of the execs heard me talking to the artists about editing animatics. That exec pulled me into her office and told me the story artists were not allowed to edit animatics. They had an editor to do all the editing.

I told her that it was easier and faster for the board artists to edit the first pass of an animatic as it happens while they draw. Plus, only the board artist knows the timing of a gag as they are drawing it.

She told me it wasn’t allowed for them to edit. I told her it didn’t matter what she said, what I said or what the rules were, the board artists will take advantage of new storytelling tools, like drawing on a timeline. I told her they were already editing while we were arguing because they can. It makes them better and they want to do it. Get used to it, we are doing it.

Sure, some board artists haven’t developed the perfect timing skills yet, but they will. This is a new process. And having this technology allows them to test their boards on the timeline regardless of what anyone says. Why would you try to stop that?

Are editors still needed? Absolutely. But the flow of previs is changing and producers and editors need to change with it.

The best way for an editor to work within this new paradigm is to learn to edit inside Storyboard Pro. It will take just a few minutes as the basics are the same as any non-linear edit suite. They can refine the timings already roughed in by the board artist. The entire process is faster.

The benefits of keeping the final timings within the storyboard software are great. There are two main reasons for this.

One, there are always changes. Everything moves faster since the board artist can add new shots or change drawings in the master file with the revised timings and the entire project is instantly updated. No need to go back to an earlier version, export elements, re-import and edit, yada, yada, yada. Keep it together...no muss, no fuss!

Two, Storyboard Pro files import directly into Toon Boom’s Harmony animation software, sets up all the scenes, all the timings and lays the storyboard into the background as the layouts for the animators. Again, an incredible time saver and less chance for mistakes.

The producers at Bento Box Entertainment not only have all their board artists working in Storyboard Pro, they also got all of their oversees animation partners to use the same suite of software from Toon Boom. This makes the entire process faster, better and with less change orders.

But what about live-action projects? Changes still happen, so it’s best to keep all the art and timings in one master file. But if you really feel the need to edit in another software program, you can export the video in a number of ways including one large video file or EDL/AAF/XML files where every scene is exported as its own video file.

The power, speed, flexibility and the ability to make better storyboards exist in one program, which is quickly becoming the industry standard. Why would you stand in the way of progress that is truly better, faster and cheaper?

Get out of the way of progress. It’s happening whether you like it or not. We are story artists and now our story comes to life even faster!

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Mark Simon is a director, producer, board artist and artist advocate. He’s worked on over 3,000 productions and has been both a strip and editorial cartoonist. His work with Toon Boom on the Storyboard Pro software helped them win a 2012 Prime Time Engineering Emmy for the software. He’s written 10 books for artists and works with TV show creators on packaging and pitching their concepts. Go to www.Storyboards-East.com and www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com.

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