Storyboarding and previs are like brother and sister. Each are tools at the disposal of the director, to help illustrate his or her vision, to clarify camera work, work out the beats of a story, figure out action or comedic moments and how best to cover them. The greatness of storyboarding is its speed and simplicity, it freedom from batteries, hard drives, operating systems. A skilled board artist can depict anything that can be filmed with only a piece of paper and a little time. Previs, on the other hand, is a powerful computerized tool that can accurately show a director how a scene will play in 3d space and over time, like watching a movie. Each has its strong points, and together magic can happen.

That being said, I just got finished reading a rather silly article entitled Why Storyboarding Doesn’t Work. I say silly because the author attempts, rather crudely, to explain why storyboarding is “an outmoded shot-planning tool”. Never mind that his only apparent qualification to make that assessment is the fact that he’s selling some expensive DVDs on how to plan shots without storyboarding. His example storyboard panel, attempting to illustrate how inadequate storyboards are, looks like no professional storyboard I’ve ever seen. He takes great pains on that page to indicate that “all images copyright Per Holmes” – right under the image, so I can only guess he drew it himself. All this would be funny, except for the fact that this article might be read by a visual effects supervisor or film director new to the job, or hungry for cost-cutting, who erroneously decides to forego hiring a storyboard artist. The artist would be out of a potential job, and the production would potentially be out real money paying for expensive previs when simple, relatively inexpensive storyboards would start the ball rolling. Here’s a good example of some of the goofiness in this article:

The next problem with storyboarding, especially in live action, is that it literally causes the shot-count to explode. In order to shoot a storyboard, it has to be converted into actual camera-locations, meaning that if we’re shooting 20 storyboard frames, we’’ll have 20 actual camera locations.

What? You’ve got to be joking. Each storyboard panel is a “story beat” in a sequence. In other words it could take one, twenty or one hundred panels to describe a single shot. It completely depends on the action described in the shot. Here’s an example from my samples page. The first panel is the master shot, the next is a close-up. After that the next nine panels describe a single shot – tracking (in 3d space, mind you) towards a kid as he loads a giant snowball into a giant slingshot, then the shot travels “into” his reflective glasses, then, continuing forward through the reflection over the snowball as it hurtles towards its intended target. The last two panels – together – describe the snow explosion shot. Wow, I just used thirteen drawings to describe four shots – not thirteen shots. How does this square with the article? It doesn’t. Why? Because my example is from the reality of motion picture film production, his example is from… well, your guess is as good as mine.

The truth is storyboarding not only works, it has worked to feed, clothe and house me and my family for all of my childrens’ lives and nearly half of mine. Previs, as far as I’m concerned, is just another tool on the storyboard artist’s workbench. We have pencils, markers, Photoshop and now 3d previs to help us pre-visualize the movie for the director. The drawing aspect of storyboarding is, for me, ironically, only a convenient means to an end. Some of us draw better than others, but the most important skill of all is clarity; and if 3d previs helps clarify the director’s vision before the day of the shoot, then it will be enlisted in the regiment of tools at our disposal.

The tragedy is that this author could have written this article for storyboard artists not against them. What do I mean? His DVDs could have been a wonderful resource to help board artists make the transition to 3d, but instead he decided upon a less positive approach, in effect attacking storyboarding as a previsualization technique. Too bad. The attempt to pit one tool or technique against another is, in my opinion, foolishness and sadly shortsighted. And that’s an opinion from somebody who gets paid to do both storyboarding and previs.