George Lucas was talking about his experiences writing, then directing, the original STAR WARS. He made the point that you may slave over a couple of pages of dialog for a week, trying to get it right but it's the two seconds you spent writing, "They fight." that lands you in the Tunisian desert for six weeks, sweating in 118 degree heat.
Animation writers are supposed to do a lot more "directing on the page" than live action writers. In live action, the director wants to literally call the shots. In TV animation, you can't get away with, "They fight." You may not have to detail out a John Woo action scene but the basics of who's winning, the goal of the action, the obstacles to the protagonist, and maybe the use of props in the action all need to be outlined. The director and storyboard artist may add, delete and change it, but they at least need placeholders to show the length of the script and the story the action needs to tell.
Just how much a storyboard artist gets to add or change can be a matter of budget. Yes, animation has a budget. True, it's no more difficult to draw the Tunisian desert than a living room (less actually because sand dunes are pretty easy to draw) but crowd scenes and new characters are more work for the character designer and color stylists, more locales mean more work for the background layout designers and painters and a larger cast means more actors to hire. In the classic Hanna Barbera shows, a crowd scene would never move, chases were simple right to left affairs and a single talking head shot was a time and money saver. All great in its day and par for the course. But now networks expect more out of shows whether they're comedies, action adventures, or a combination of both.
The point of this post, finally, is to show that a storyboard artist has to look between the lines to tell the story in the most effective and entertaining way possible. I'm not going to list gags that I added... well not at first. I want to point out that an artist shouldn't just read the script for action description; he needs to understand what the script is trying to do. Here's the first line of the section of a script that I was given to storyboard. I've actually changed all the particulars because the show hasn't aired yet:
One of our heroes has gone missing. The rest of the gang is sad. Pretty basic stuff and if I started on the gang poking at their food it would probably be fine. But the main story point is the emotion of the gang. Could I make more of that in the set up shot? Let me break it down. First off, it's the top of Act Three which means we're coming back from a commercial, and the audience will need a second or two to get back in the groove. The Convention Center Cafe has been well established earlier in the episode so I probably don't need a wide shot of the area. Just the fact that they're at tables with food in front of them takes care of that. The geography of the area doesn't play a factor in this sequence. If the tables were under a skylight that the villain was going to drop a piano through, then I'd start with a shot that showcases the relationship of the skylight to their table. Since no such beat is coming, I'm free of the burden of a boring establishing shot. But there IS a relationship that would make the story point stronger. Not a geographical one, but an emotional one. Contrast can strengthen the story point. You want to show a sad person? Give me a bunch of happy folks as a set up. So the first scripted scene in Act Three becomes the second scene in the storyboard, right after the pan that you see at the top of this post.
Any animation professionals reading this are probably already saying, "Duh." But I learned in my Hellboy Animated blog that there are folks who are fascinated with the minutia of the process. So this is for you detail obsessives and process junkies. In the old days we might just pan across still images of con attendees at the tables and frankly it's totally acceptable today. A director can easily make that decision even if I've boarded more by telling his timing director to just hold the action of the scene. But the director I was working for liked the contrast of not only mood but of action. The action of the bit players made the stillness of the lead characters more obvious. Stillness helps sell the sadness. So the storyboard artist not only puts himself in the place of the stars but in this case, the background extras. The reference drawing of the pan shot above is purely to show the camera move. The only two pieces of action stated there are the camera move and the guy walking through the middle of the shot. That tells the timing director that I want the motion of the walking guy to lead us toward our stars. When his body fills the frame and then exits, it'll act as a sort of opening curtain for their reveal. But that same timing director needs more info for his exposure sheets.
Quick explanation: a timing director basically does what an animator does... without the benefit of drawing it. He needs poses on the storyboard to tell the overseas studio that I want the guy to start at pose A and be at pose B by a specific frame of film. Sometimes a timer may add little doodles on the exposure sheet but mostly it's letters, numbers and written notes.
In this case I created a simple scenario for my "extras." It shouldn't be too distracting because the story is happening elsewhere. Guy on left pigs out on his roast turkey leg, his buddy is amused at the blatant display of excess and the girl, who is too good for either of them, rolls her eyes in mock dismay. A small added gag is that when she turns her head we see she's wearing a third eye. As that scenario plays out, a Conan-wanna-be emerges from behind the girl and walks through shot, leading the camera to our stars. I just had him staring at his tray, anticipating good eats. The timing director could add in some lip licking but i think the attitude says enough. The rest of the panels of this scene just show the walking guy nearly filling frame and the reveal of the costumed gang at their table. Not that interesting so I didn't scan it.
Obviously, that was a little extra work for me. About eight panels or so of extra drawing when I could have just started on the gang's table. But it made things better and was appreciated by the director who stressed that he wanted to be more cinematic with this show, more over the shoulder shots, interesting angles, and camera moves and whatnot.
I only drew about a page of script which turned into thirty five pages of storyboard with three panels each. Sadness takes longer. It doesn't take longer to establish, a simple facial expression can do that. But you want the audience to feel for the characters so you give it a little time so that maybe a music cue can add mood too. But most of the panels I added were to add personality entertainment. But the personality bits were all about the fact that they were feeling sad because one of their buddies is missing.
There are lots of books that will give you the basics of storyboarding, the angles, terminology and tips and tricks. It's harder to find anyone talking about entertainment. So, did this make sense?