Where Do You Begin? We need images that can clearly tell a story. Most beginners do not think in story terms when they draw. Common drawing problems do arise. For example, drawing a high-angle look into box viewpoints doesn’t invite your viewer to identify with the characters, but many beginning artists will choose this viewpoint. When I started drawing I did this too. Why do people draw this view looking down into the room? Do they wish they were a bird?
Don’t we normally see things like this second view? Why don’t most people draw like this?
It is easy to learn how to fix these types of problems. However, telling the story using pictures is the harder part of the job.
How do we learn to tell stories? We tell stories from life experiences. I went here and we did this, then we did that. We’ve been doing it all of our lives since we learned to speak. We tell many stories every day throughout our lives. Over time we’ve fine-tuned our storytelling so that we can make ourselves understood by others. The story form is how we organize our experiences.
Most of us, however, have not had the same amount of experience or need to tell visual stories in everyday life. Verbal communication is much more efficient and quicker. Although we don’t remember it, we did have to learn how to tell verbal stories. The skills involved in how to present a story visually also have to be learned. Daily life doesn’t teach this skill. Drawing itself is usually seen as a skill you’re either born with or not.
Movies are consciously designed to appear seamless. This makes it harder to analyze how they’re put together. We have also learned that you have to watch a movie at least twice before you can really analyze it, because on first viewing, people are “ lost ” in the story. It’s often easier to learn what not to do by watching bad movies because the flaws are visible. Where can you learn how to put together visual stories?
Why do we draw from this point of view?
Image 2: This is the way we normally view people (Credit: Art by Jessica Dru)
The Catch-22 of the Character-Driven Intuitive Approach
When I was learning about storyboarding I always heard the phrase that the story has to be “ character driven. ” I still hear it all the time. What is a character- driven story? A character-driven story is one in which the desires of the characters drive them to take actions and these actions are what drives the story. Is there any other kind of story you may ask? The opposite of a character-driven story is one that is plot driven. This is where the sequence of actions is decided independent of characters. In actuality, most stories are a mixture of the two.
What do your characters want? This question is what drives the characterdriven story. When we “ identify ” with a character, we’re really identifying with the process of him or her wanting something. In this way we can identify with characters who are in many ways unlike us physically or emotionally. They may be a lion, an alien, or a mermaid but we all have the same desires.
Characters have to take action to get what they desire. It’s these actions that lead characters into trouble based on their personalities. Most characters are presented as not knowing how to deal with their desires. That’s why we can relate to them. They have to use their own skills and learn new ones to solve their problems. This is very powerful. Plot and characters are interconnected but the characters have to be active. In a sense, they are the ones driving the story.
According to Harold Innis, author of The Bias of Communication ,1 each medium has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. It has aspects it can represent well and other aspects that get lost in translation. Novels excel at depicting what people think. Plays are really good at portraying dialogue. Movies don’t deal with people’s internal dialogue the way a novel can. They also don’t represent people speaking with the depth that they do in plays. What can movies do well? Movies, like the name implies, move! Lights, camera, action! Movies show people in action. We watch movies to see what people do. Specifically, we watch to see what they do under pressure—extreme pressure—and why they do it.
So character-driven stories are about characters taking action to get what they want. So what’s the problem? The problem is that while the drives of characters are crucial, it doesn’t help you structure the visual telling of your story. There are literally thousands of ways to show an action. How do you know which to choose? Besides, often it will be the job of the writers to make sure the story is character driven. They will write what each character does. The director’s job is to figure out how to visually structure the story.
The problem with learning about a character-driven approach to storytelling is the same problem with intuition. How can you use your intuition if you don’t have any experience to base it on? You have to learn how to visualize a story into a series of pictures.
Excerpt from Directing the Story by Francis Glebas © 2008 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.
About the Book
Francis Glebas, a top Disney storyboard artist, teaches artists a structural approach to clearly and dramatically presenting visual stories. They will learn classic visual storytelling techniques such as conveying meaning with images and directing the viewer’s eye. Glebas also teaches how to spot potential problems before they cost time and money, and he offers creative solutions on how to solve them.