One of the downfalls of most young storyboard artists is a weak use of staging. Staging refers to the arrangement of characters or objects within your scene and the corresponding character and camera movements. Choreographing your shots and characters in an exciting way creates efficiency with the scene and will bring even the dullest script to life. Interesting staging can cover up bad dialogue and give needed visual interest to unappealing characters. Arguably one of the most important skills for a storyboard artist to master is staging.
First, let’s talk about staging in a single shot. Depending on how close an object is to your camera, or how it is framed by the other objects, will affect the emotional response of your audience. One basic rule of composition is to never have two objects with equal importance in the frame. Two things with equal importance divide the interest of the viewer and make the picture look flat. Give one object more visual weight by making it bigger. Use this compositional staging to support the emotional beat of the scene. (Figures 7.1 and 7.2)
If the idea is to show the audience how a character feels after being rejected, pick the right camera angle and arrangement of objects to emphasize that point. To better show the character’s isolation and sadness, use a high angle and distance her from her friends. Sometimes the best way to sell a character’s expression or attitude is to not show their face at all. Yet people always think of the face when they think “expression.” Expression is conveyed by the staging, the environment, and the character’s whole body language. You can’t say “loneliness” or “isolation” better than putting the character small and alone in the middle of the frame with lots of empty space around them. (Figures 7.3 and 7.4)
Staging as it relates to the scene has the same effect by enhancing the drama and creating visual interest. A default set-up for a dialogue scene would be to simply cut between alternating shots of each character speaking. The resulting effect is essentially shots with “talking heads” in each frame with no corresponding character or camera movement. This is a dull and basic solution to what can otherwise be an exciting visual opportunity. Even in a scene with two characters talking to each other, you can have one character sitting down versus the other standing to create variety in the staging. Something as simple as having one character turn their back to the other as they speak can also create visual variety with the shots. These actions combined with the character movement and the corresponding camera movement across the set will add visual richness to the scene. In addition, moving the characters around the set can create the opportunity for efficient scenes by combining lines of dialogue in the same shot, which would otherwise be filmed as an individual shot. It is this staging movement that can also highlight the important emotional moments in the dialogue. For example, a witness character might get up out of his chair and walk across the room as the interrogator reveals the outcome the crime.
Be creative and original with your staging, and do your research. Watch movies for inspiration, and how filmmakers might handle difficult staged scenes. Know your subject matter. Imagine a scene in an auto body shop. You would need to know about car repair, and how a mechanic would act and talk. You would also arrange the machines and tools in the garage to create visual interest and opportunities for camera movement. During a conversation with a client, a mechanic might slide out from under a car, get up and reach for some tools in the back of the scene. Imagine all of the wonderful foreground elements you can add passing in front of the camera as a mechanic walks through his garage. All of these elements can be used for visual and emotional advantage by the storyboard artist.
Excerpt from Professional Storyboarding by Sergio Paez and Anson Jew © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.
Storyboarding is a very tough business, and a new storyboarder really needs to have their wits about them and have professional savvy to survive in this competitive field. Storyboarding: Rules of Thumb offers highly illustrative examples of basic storyboarding concepts, as well as sound, career-oriented advice for the new artist. This book also features a number of veteran storyboard artists sharing their experiences in the professional world.