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Digital Storyboarding - Part Three

Prolific storyboard artist Mike Milo teaches us about translating the tricks of the trade from his traditional background into the digital world.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got to write and storyboard on the third season of Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, which was truly a thrill for me. Their process was unlike any I had ever encountered. It was almost like doing your own film in many ways.

We had six weeks to do a storyboard with only a loose outline. The first week there was no drawing at all. We’d sit in our office and write out the story on index cards pinning them and unpinning them to the board, reordering them to tell the story in the most dynamic way possible.

Fig-10: A page from a development project I created at Cartoon Network called “When Nature Calls” You can see the whole board here.

We'd pitch the story on that first Friday to the head writer, the author of the outline, and the creators Dan Povenmire and Swampy Marsh. They’d give us feedback and we’d spend the next week beginning to draw the sequences we knew would not be changed, as well as refining the story.

Next Friday we’d have to pitch it again incorporating the notes and showing the boarded out sequences. We’d spend the third week heads-down at the desk drawing like mad to get as much done as possible.

At the end of week three we would do what was known as a “punch up” session. We’d print out all of the storyboards we had done and pin them up in the conference room to pitch to the creators, writers, and the development executives. They would again give notes and we’d all try to make the film funnier, adding jokes here and there, rewriting sequences, incorporating in all of the notes, and polishing it until it shined.

At the end of the six weeks we would pitch the show on a giant screen TV in the conference room to the entire crew as well as all the executives(and sometimes a tour or contest winner). Most times there was around 40-50 people. It was harrowing but fantastic!

All of this constant tweaking would have been much more difficult without digital storyboarding. Sometimes simple changes done the old way would have been a complete redo. With layers, it was as easy as deleting the old background in each panel, then creating a new layer and doing a finger dance on the keyboard with copy and paste over and over. Digital storyboarding is a huge time saver.

My favorite digital storyboard by far was a short for the Cartoonstitute shorts program at Cartoon Network called “When Nature Calls”. The film centered on two creatures: Woodrow- an over-enthusiastic stump, and his mentor Mr. Flint- a crotchety anal-retentive rock who works for Mother Nature. Sadly, the short was cancelled due to the recession.

There are many types of software to choose from but Autodesk SketchBook is by far the easiest. My favorite things are the Page Next function on the Lagoon and the Save As Next Iteration function. Those tools make it more intuitive to me and are most natural in my workflow. Other programs can take over a minute to open and require huge amounts of ram and storage space just to install. Sketchbook Pro takes up a few hundred megabytes and even the current version 6 runs on my now 7-year-old Motion Computing LE1600.

Motion Computing LE1600 & pen running SketchBook ProAnother factor is the price range- Sketchbook Pro is priced just right when compared to other software. After all, we’re already plunking down a significant investment when it comes to a high end drawing tablet, so any bit of cost saving is a boon to me.

There’s no end to what you can make- armed with a computer, killer drawing software and a drawing tablet. Sure, one could argue that the tactile feel of carving out a drawing with paper and pencil is gone- that it’s not a purist form any longer . . . but I say, art is art: digital or traditional.

Whatever tools you use to communicate visually to your audience are fair game as far as I’m concerned, especially when it concerns making money.  After all, we are professionals and when you get right down to it, time is money. The quicker you can complete a project, the faster you get paid and the sooner you can move on to the next.

That’s one reason storyboard artists (like me!) have embraced the digital age.