Last week, I walked you through the planning and audio recording process for making machinima. The next step in production for your machinima is storyboarding. Like last week, I will be using my own machinima series, Playtime, as an example for this guide.
By the end of last week's article, I had finished recording and editing a complete audio cut of all the dialog in Playtime Season 2. Every character and every scene have been pieced together into a single audio file. It's like watching Playtime Season 2 with your eyes closed! The audio does not yet have any special effects, such as panning, reverb, or echos, nor is there any music yet. All of that will come in the final editing phase.
For now, I take my audio cut of all the dialog and break it down into scenes. I then choose a scene and begin the storyboarding process. Basically, a storyboard is a series of rough sketches. What I am doing is planning out exactly how each scene will progress visually. What camera angle will be used at any given moment? When will the camera cut to another perspective? Etc. When done by hand on paper, a storyboard can end up looking a bit like a comic book, where each picture represents a different moment in time. But.... I'm not doing my storyboards by hand.
For my storyboards, I'm using my paint program. Paint.net, to be precise, although any basic paint or photo program will do. Using a brush tool, I draw an extremely rough version of each camera angle for the scene. Keep in mind that the purpose of a storyboard is not to look good, but to organize your shots from moment to moment. Having said that, my sketches do look pretty funny!
Once I've got all the shots for a scene sketched out, I boot up my video editing program. In my case, I used an old version of Windows Movie Maker. Now, remember that audio file I covered last week? I take the audio, and I load it into Movie Maker. Then I take all the sketches I just made and load them into Movie Maker as well. From there, I combine the recorded dialog with the sketches to make a video storyboard! This type of storyboard is often called an animatic. Picture an extremely low-budget motion comic, and you'll have the right idea.
I cut the various sketches together, over top of the dialog, to create a rough video version of the scene. I use this process to work out which camera angles to use over the various lines of dialog, how long each shot should last, etc. Creating an animatic like this is extremely helpful. While writing the script, I always picture a specific series of camera angles in my mind. But when I actually see and hear it in motion, I sometimes find problems. Things I don't like, or things I want more of. The animatic allows me to make all sorts of changes to the pacing of a scene before I've even begun filming. All of this goes towards making the filming process run more smoothly. Of course, when I actually do film the scenes, I will again find little things that need changing or moving around, but they will generally be minor enough that I won't need to go back and refilm a scene from scratch.
Let's take a look at the storyboard animatic for the very first scene of Playtime Season 2. You'll notice that each character has a letter written on their body somewhere. Because my sketches are so rough, I label each character just to be completely clear of who the camera is looking at in each shot.