Storyboarding

When we began this project, the first thing I had to do was turn the short story “The Storyteller” into a script, as though it were a play, complete with stage directions. Going from the script to the storyboard was a process of trial and error, still under way.

First, I tried going through a printout of the script, simply drawing lines to break it up into pages. Camara & Duran recommend having each page end on an exciting, “must turn the page” panel. This can be a bit of a challenge. In “The Storyteller”, there are battles, but a lot of the tension in the story is psychological. Visually, that’s going to be carried more in facial expression than in action; in the narrative, once it’s a script, it has to be carried in thought. There were moments when I wondered whether I shouldn’t have plunged straight into writing an action- and humour-filled brand new Torrie story instead of trying to adapt this. But it all started to come together. I think manga-style art does allow much more scope for faces to convey emotion than American comic style. It has its iconography, its established conventions, its shorthand, for more complexity of thought. This will let characters’ reactions show, without them having to address the audience to explain themselves all the time.

I only carried on with dividing up my script into pages part way, because when I started drawing storyboards, I found that the act of sketching these changed the pacing of the action and made it much more obvious where the natural page breaks should fall. I had put too much into most pages. As I draw, I’m ending up spreading it out more, realizing that a bit of dialogue or an exchange of glances needs more space than I had thought at first.

I do my first storyboard sketch, the one Connie will never see, in a notebook, with a fairly soft pencil. (It claims to be HB but it’s more like a 2B, I think, nice and smudgy.) I do very rudimentary figures, circles for heads, dots for eyes, sometimes even just stick figures for bodies. I scratch down a couple of key words of the dialogue, draw lines to separate the panels. In the battles, I often end up leaving blank pages. “Exciting battle continues here” I write on it. My stick figure battles are not exciting.

After I’ve done a section of notebook storyboards, I go to my computer. We’ve decided to work at the print size, as we’re working primarily digitally anyway. The print resolution will be 600 dpi so that’s what we’re working at when creating the art. We both use Photoshop, though Connie has an array of other art programmes as well. At first I used to draw the page and then enter the text, but I found that it actually helped me to see how the page should go if I entered all the text for it first. Because there are only the two of us, no troop of eager inkers and letterers waiting to leap to work, text is being typeset. Each bubble’s content is entered as a new text layer; this means it can go on being edited right up to the end, and the size and shape of the bubble can be changed depending on the demands of the final art. Thoughts are Italic, speech is Roman, everything is in all caps except for some of the frame narrative.

Once I’ve done the text, I start drawing. I use a small Wacom Bamboo tablet which I quite like, though when I grow up I’d like a bigger one. (And one of those huge monitors, too, while I’m wishing on stars!) Going from the pencil sketches to the computer is a stage of revision. What I end up with in digital storyboard page is not merely a more legible version of the first sketch. I change, rearrange, revise, and often split one page into two again. Once in a while I stick in a reference photo, to give the artist some idea of the kind of thing I mean — a particular type of well or forest. When I have a good chunk done, I send them off to the artist on a flashdrive. She’s free to rearrange the panels, break them up and spread them out over more, or even split one page into two again. Because she has been working on character design, researching weapons and settings and so on, while I’ve been doing this, she hasn’t had time to do many pages yet, but the trial run has taken my very stodgy panel layout and transformed it into a very dynamic page, full of motion, which is one of the essentials of manga. She will drag my text layers into her page files, so there’s no retyping or redrawing; she can just adjust the margins if she needs a taller, narrower balloon or a wider one. The balloons themselves will probably be drawn in a separate layer with a white underlay, capable of being moved around if necessary.

That’s as far as we’ve gotten in working out our process as of now. We’ve been doing a lot of research on screentones, but that’s an entry for another time.

Here are a couple of my storyboard files for your amusement. Don’t laugh. Remember I’m not the artist! Wait till you see what Connie’s going to do with them. Be glad I didn’t scan one of my notebook pages — they’re even worse.

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About KV Johansen

The author of Blackdog, The Leopard, The Lady, and the forthcoming Gods of Nabban, epic fantasies from Pyr, I also write for teens and children, including the "Torrie", "Warlocks of Talverdin", and "Cassandra Virus" series, and the "Pippin and Mabel" picture books, as well as a couple of short story collections and two works of adult literary criticism on the history of children's fantasy literature. I have a Master's degree in Mediaeval Studies, and read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and history. Blog at thewildforest.wordpress.com
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