Pixar Storyboard Class Week 1: Cinematic Punctuation

I have the great fortunate to be taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar story artist Kristen Lester. On our first day of class she told us a little about herself. She is quite an accomplished artist. She went to Sheridan, which I almost attended, and she worked on films like Everyone’s Hero and Epic and shows like my personal favorite, Sym-bionic Titan.

After class introductions, we dived right into what makes a good story. In her words:

“What makes a good storyboard? It communicates something.”

Once you the point of the story, you can us certain tools to communicate what you want to say. And those tools are things like composition, camera angles, perspective, and the like.

Shots, according to Kristen, are like cinematic punctuation. Different meanings are created using different punctuation. See how the meanings change in the following sentence – Woman without her man is nothing – with a little creative punctuation:

Woman, without her man, is nothing

Woman: without her, man is nothing

See the difference a little punctuation can make?

In film cinematic punctuation are the types of shots used to tell a story, such as a wide shot, medium shot, close up and extreme close up.

Shot choices are used to communicate something, to show people what and where they should look and what they should pay attention to. It shows what’s happening, where to look and who is important.

How you string the shots together are what is known as cinematic grammar.

As an example, she showed us a clip from Jaws, the classic 1975 Steven Spielberg film. Brody, played by Roy Schneider, waits anxiously on the beach, looking out for the shark, trying to see it among the throngs of unsuspecting beach goers.

Jaws01You’ll notice that everyone in the background is having a wonderful time, while Brody waits, staring out to sea. Waiting. Watching.

Jaws02Even when people get in his face, Brody’s attention is split as he watches the water.

Then, as Jaws attacks and people scream and panic, the camera ZOOMS in on Brody as his worst fears are realized.

As Kristen explained, wide shots are used in the first few shots as the crowd frolics on the beach so that you see and feel Brody’s anxiety. Individual shots are included to track people so that you ask yourself in terror “Who will be eaten?” Brody focuses on them all, and the stress that he experiences becomes our stress.

The key to all of this is that every shot and angle is on purpose.

And that’s the point – be intentional with your shots. Don’t have shots simply to have shots. Ask yourself, what do I want people to feel? And how can I use these shots to convey this feeling and move the story along?

For our homework, we were assigned to board out a scene from an illustration she gave us that could use 6 cuts and up to 30 frames. And for our film analysis, she assigned The Hudsucker Proxy, a great Coen Brothers film that more people need to watch. Great stuff.

More to come about this assignment in Week 2’s post!

Images courtesy of www.cinemasquid.com

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