Pre-Production Update #7: The Thin Blue Lines

Still in the thick of storyboarding. Below is what the drawings look like when I scan them into the computer. I’m doing the boards on a gridded paper, because I wanted the guides when doing the spaceship drawings. However, the decision didn’t really work in my favor, because I thought I could easily remove the blue grid lines, but I can’t without editing the contrast of the pencil and ink work. After this project, I won’t be doing it this way again, since it adds extra work while reducing quality.

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That’s my favorite page so far.

AJ

Pre-Production Update #5: Storyboarding

Today, we’ll be having a discussion on storyboarding. What is storyboarding? Why do it? Where am I? All good questions, and I’ll be answering at least two of them.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, storyboards are essentially a movie in comic-strip form. All animated films are first storyboarded (usually multiple times) before animation, and many live action films are as well. Most action sequences are storyboarded in great detail as a means for saving money and increasing safety through careful planning. Now, whether a director uses storyboards or not is up to the director. Some use boards (ex. Ridley Scott) and some just use a list of shots needed for each day of shooting. Still a third group (and hopefully the smallest) are those directors that can just show up and figure things out on the day, like Steven Spielberg. However, if you’re not a master filmmaker, it’s your job to be as considerate of the crew’s time and self-prepared as possible, so you should probably storyboard. Alfred Hitchcock storyboarded every shot of his films, and if it’s good enough for the Master of Suspense, it’s good enough for the rest of us. Personally, I board every project that I’m working on. Some directors hire an artist to make their storyboards for them, but if you can draw well, I think it’s fairly lazy to not do it yourself.

Now, there are two main reasons I can see for storyboarding extensively for stop-motion animation projects. First, you want to have every shot planned and timed so that you don’t animate even a second more than is necessary. This is essentially editing your movie before you shoot it. Second, with the shots planned, you know exactly what your camera is going to be seeing, so you’ll want to only build the parts of the sets that will be in view. Both of these reasons save time, and when you’re talking about film of any kind, time is money.

For “Jupiter IX,” I made the first set of storyboards in 2008. These are extremely rough because I just sat on my bed (how professional!) and boarded out the whole movie in about an hour.

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These are just thumbnails, 10 per page, and probably took an average of 15 seconds each to produce. They’re obviously not meant to be pretty, instead, I was rushing to get the film out of my head and into a visual form as quickly as possible. These boards are more like the storyboards that are scribbled on the day of filming. In fact, that’s how Martin Scorsese works; he famously sketches his shots on the backs of script pages. Now, there are shots in the above collection that I plan on changing, or replacing all together, but, as I’ve begun creating the real boards, I’m still referring to them as a rough draft of sorts.

From here on out, I’ll be showing you the first 2 pages of boards for “Jupiter IX” and talking you through what’s going on to let you know how storyboards are constructed. Unlike the above thumbnails, these drawings are all at the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is the Epic Film ratio (think “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Searchers”), also referred to as “Shooting in Scope” and “Anamorphic” (both for the kinds of lenses traditionally used for wide screen).

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1.1: Storyboards are named after their scene and their shot. In this case, this is the first shot of the first scene, so, 1.1. “Clean Entrance” means that the spaceship is not in frame at the beginning of the shot, and “Clean Exit” means that it’s not in frame at the end of the shot. Clean entrances and exits are useful when editing because it allows for easier cutting. If I want to trim the shot, I will have the option to do so with the spaceship in frame. In this instance, 1.1 will cut just fine to 1.2 without a clean exit, but because I am planning to shoot it as such, I can change it later. The arrow in the storyboard shows the direction that the ship will be moving, NOT the camera (I’ll get to that description later). “WS” stands for “Wide Shot,” which means that the ship will be small in the frame. Wide shots are also known as Establishing Shots, because they are used when establishing a location (like outer space).

1.2: “Pass-Through” means that I’ll be going from the outside of the ship to the inside of the ship in what will appear to be one continuous shot. I’ll be using the window as a means of transitioning between two shots (an exterior miniature to an interior set). “LS” is “Long Shot” (the entire subject is in frame) and “ECU” is “Extreme Close Up.” “Truck In” is a camera move in which the camera is dollied closer to the subject during the shot.

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2.1: “MCU” is “Medium Close Up” (from the chest up).

2.2: An Insert is a close up of an inanimate object. In live action, inserts are often shot without the actors, giving work to any number of talented hand doubles out there.

Well, that about does it on the subject of storyboards. Turns out that I still remember at least some of what I learned in film school. Next week, I’ll have the completed first sequence of the film to show you.

AJ

Pre-Production Update #4: Searcher 5

Welcome to the second phase of pre-production! Or, more accurately, phase 1.5. I had planned to start storyboarding last week, until I remembered that I hadn’t locked down the design for Searcher 5, the Seeker’s space shuttle.

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That’s the ship design from 2008. And yes, it is pretty awful, isn’t it? Turns out that sci-fi vehicle design isn’t really my forte, so I’ve got a massive amount of respect for designers that specialize in that area.

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Here’s the final look. I approached the ship from the stand point that it should feel like a mix between a pickup truck and an RV, something that’s only really meant to transport 1 to 2 people. Also, just now I’m realizing that it’s a little reminiscent of “Wall-E,” which is fine, because that’s a spectacular film.

Now that Searcher 5 is on paper, I can start storyboarding tomorrow 🙂

Android-Final

AJ

Pre-Production Update #3: Character Design 3

In this update, we’re getting down to the meat of the film- our hero. Referred to in the script simply as “The Seeker,” JIX’s star fits firmly in tradition as a man with no name, quietly seeing to his business as he pilots the spaceship Searcher 5 on a mission of vengeance.

It’s been several years since I jotted down the first sketches of The Seeker, so I can’t be 100%, but I’m pretty sure it came to me pretty quickly.

The Seeker001

In contrast to Serento’s suit, The Seeker’s is less flashy. It’s worn, and closer to a look that we’re familiar with, which is an indication that it’s old and out of date.

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In this sketch, I just did a little refinement to the space suit from the first thumbnails. I was happy with the overall execution, but something still didn’t quite gel for me: the face. Sure, he’s got the steely determination and world-weariness I needed, but something was definitely missing. So, over the last week, I thought about and worked on the problem…

The Seeker005

… and this is what I ended up with. The key breakthrough for me was changing my figure of inspiration from an admittedly generic Clint Eastwood type to the actor John Hawkes. This design shift gave me two things: one, I’m drawn more so to animated characters with exaggerated profiles (and the vulture-like nose and hollowed cheeks definitely give me that), and two, Hawkes is an actor that bleeds vulnerability even when he’s at his most menacing. As a final touch, I added the large scars across the face, tipping my hat to a past confrontation that The Seeker may have had with the monstrous Serento.

Now that the characters are all designed, I’ll be moving into two new phases in the coming weeks: story boarding the film and creating color profiles for each character. Of course, you’ll be front and center for each new development.

AJ

Pre-Production Update #1: Character Design

Wow, it’s been a long time since our last update.

So you’re probably wondering what’s going on with us at 17 Presidents Productions. Well, since our last post, my awesome wife had a baby boy (hurray for Teddy!), we changed website providers, and we moved our family and production offices from Miami, FL to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

It’s been crazy. But, the good news is that now I can focus on getting “Jupiter IX” off the ground. So, in this first Pre-Production blog, I wanted to begin to highlight the first step in artistic development, Character Design. At this stage, I’m in the middle of locking sketches for the secondary characters of the story. I chose to start with these guys for two reasons: one, nailing these characters will help me define the tone and style of the world they inhabit, and, two, it insures that I give every character as much thought and care as I will eventually give the stars.

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Our cast includes an android-concierge with a gambling addiction…

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… a space station mechanic with an ex-military past…

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… and a mysterious bartender.

Expect a new update from me between Monday and Wednesday every week. The project is just starting to warm up, and there is going to be some really cool artwork heading your way.

AJ

PS- We got a new light kit delivered today from B&H (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/)! We’ll cover that in-depth in its own update once shooting has commenced.