Walt Disney (the man and his original crew of nine) came up with the idea of planning out a movie using a series of sketches that represented the story. They pinned these up on a cork board, which they called the story board. The purpose for storyboarding is to speed up the overall production process, mostly by avoiding and eliminating waste. Storyboarding can avoid wasting time and effort on creating/filming segments that have no real purpose or do not reinforce/move the story line forward. Storyboarding can avoid wasted time spent assembling a movie only to view it in its full context and decide that some scenes are unnecessary or redundant and thus are cut. By ascribing time durations to each part of the story, or shot in the story, the effort/duration of a film can be measured; if it exceeds budget (e.g. 105 minutes for a feature film), you can avoid having to cut certain segments that contain crucial info, and then having to re-insert that crucial info into other scenes by re-recording, dubbing or re-filming.
In addition, we will be using this audio file Media:Tutorials-VSE-Storyboard-Audio.wma
The overall storyboarding process is:
- Obtain Screenplay and identify key shots.
- Draw key slides of those shots by hand, usually from the camera's point of view (POV).
- Digitize (scan) the slides into image files
- Arrange key slides on a board, wall or table, laying out the story in a linear fashion
- Flow the story, using alternate paths, threading in juxtaposition/flashbacks/simultaneously-occuring action sequences, and alternate endings, revising the storyboard as needed
- Match dialog/action with each slide position and duration to estimate time needed to convey the shot
- Annotate slides by filling in camera moves and transitions, possibly with additional slides
Once digitized, Blender can be used to pre-visualize the production, starting with storyboard construction, animatics, and through final compilation.
Using Blender to Host a Storyboard
A storyboard is a series of hand-drawn slides. Each slide represents a key shot in a film or animation. The slides tell the story visually. These slides are laid out on a table or wall in a linear fashion, around the room or in rows, so that the story can be "viewed" by scanning along the images. The slides are often annotated with the dialog or excerpts from the screenplay, as well as the expected duration of the shot. The storyboard is used to plan camera angles, movements, principal and background action, and forms the basis for an animatic and filming. As production progresses, the slides can be replaced with actual stills, providing a visual check list and progress indicator.
There are many tools on the market to assist in Storyboard construction. First, there is the physical paper-taped-to-the-wall, which is great for centrally located teams. However, many productions involve animation teams in Australia and Canada, producers in Hollywood, and filming on location in Hungary. This geographic separation brings communication challenges, and so electronic tools are needed to help convey/revise the storyboard, and show accomplishment. Among them are slide-show tools, such as Open Office Impress, and script/screenplay tools that can capture the storyboard such as Celtx.
Blender was not designed to be a pre-production planning tool, but because it is a general purpose imaging tool, it can be used in a creative manner as a tool in this phase of production. The purpose of this tutorial is to show how Blender can be used as a tool to help in the storyboard process.
Blender can also place the storyboard in 3D space, more visually entertaining than on a white, grid-oriented page arrangement. For presenting progress to clients, Blender offers additional eye candy, enabling a self-directed or presenter-led walk-through of the storyboard in a virtual environment.
The two main tools used in Blender are the modeling/texturing tools, and the Blender Game Engine (BGE). the BGE has a Play mode that allows a user to navigate a 3D space. We are going to construct an office space and put our Storyboard in it. We can then rig a camera to respond to keystrokes so that the camera moves around inside the space. This allows the user to view the storyboard. By escaping Play mode, the user can easily re-arrange or change the storyboard, pack the slide images into the .blend file, and distribute/share the storyboard for anyone else to review, comment, or critique. Since Blender is available under the Creative Commons license and runs on all platforms, there are no licensing issues or restrictions.
I have built on an excellent member-donated .blend file called FPS Template. It is a generic BGE file that provides a warehouse and that basic camera movement discussed earlier. Inside the warehouse, I have placed 6 textured planes, each textured with a slide from a storyboard supplied by another user.
You can download the file here. It is beyond the scope of this tutorial to discuss the BGE and how to build an environment and link keyboard sensors to camera actuators; all of that is already set up in the file.
Blender Storyboard Workflow
There are two workflows. The first is constructing your own virtual office environment.
- Download Blender and this starter file
- Using Blender, modify the model and textures to suit your brand. You can use an office room, or even an outside garden
The second is drawing and integrating your slides.
- Draw and scan your slides in a still images
- Create a Slide object inside Blender that is the same aspect ratio as the scanned image
- Texture the object with the slide image
- Position the Slide object to fit into the story board, re-arranging the existing slides as needed
- Pack the new image into the Blender file and save
- Distribute/share the new storyboard
Viewing the Existing Storyboard
Let's walk through the sample file. First, with your cursor in the upper left window, the one where the rifle is pointing to the white squares on the wall, press P to Play. You have just invoked the Game Engine. To move around in the gallery:
- W - move forward
- S - move backwards
- A - slide left
- D - slide right
- Move the mouse to look/turn
Using the combination of keys and mouse action, you can move around inside this warehouse. On one wall you will find the storyboard, behind the rope chain.
Press ESCAPE to stop the simulation/gameplay.
Hint: You can also expand that window to fit the entire Blender workspace by pressing Ctrl-Up arrow. Pressing that again restores the desktop.
Some visual cues you will find is
- The title of the Storyboard
- A yellow corkboard on which the slides are mounted
- The slides arranged left to right.
- Slide Sizing: important slides are big, transitional ones are small.
- The roped off area
- A path that links the storyboard slides.
Note that the BGE can only view meshes, so objects like curves and text have to be converted to meshes, or they will not be seen when the Play mode is started.
Setting the Storyboard title
On the wall you will see the title of the Storyboard - "Mr. Smith Invests - Web version". Let's add a different title.
Right-click on it and snap your cursor to its center (Shift S - cursor to selected). Press X to delete it. Press Space->Add->Text. The word "Text" will be added, and depending on your defaults, you will be in edit mode. If you are not in Edit mode, press Tab. Press backspace to delete the four letters, and enter a title for your storyboard. Press tab to leave Edit mode. In the Editing Buttons, Font panel, Load a font that you like. Click Center to center the text on the wall around the object center. In object mode, convert the text to a mesh by pressing Alt-C or through the menu "Object->Convert Object Type". In the Materials panel, assign it a Rope material which is a bright red. Of course, you can always create your own.
In the camera view window, press P and wander over to the wall, and be sure you like the title.
A slide is a mesh plane object that has a UV Texture. The UV Texture is shown in the Blender BGE when the window is in Textured viewport mode and Play mode is invoked. The UV Texture maps an image onto the plane. The image is mapped while the object is in Edit mode, and the image is Loaded into the UV/Image Editor.
Right-click on the left slide on the wall, the very first that is tilted slightly. You will notice that all slides share the same material named "Slide" which is just a default. This color is used to give the black-and-white pencil drawn slides some color in Play mode. If you don't like it, just set the Material color to white. If they did not have a UV texture, they would display this color. You can use different color themes for different parts of the movie, or different camera angles, or to visually indicate any connotation about the slide that you wish.
In the Editing buttons, observe the Mesh panel. It has a UV Texture there called UVTex. Go ahead and delete it, and we will go through how to assign it again.
Tab into Edit mode. To create the UVTexture, we need to unwrap the plane. Press U to unwrap, and select Unwrap from the popup menu. Your UV/Image Editor window changes to a black square with four dots in each of a corner, connected by dashed lines. These are your UV coordinates. They correspond to the four corners of the plane. You can pick an image from one already loaded in memory, or Image->Load a new one. Do that now.
Just for fun, select All the UVs by pressing A in the UV/Image editor window. Press S to scale them, and move the mouse. When you click, observe what happens in your Textured 3D view. If you moved the mouse toward the center of the image, you scaled those UVs inward, which effectively zoomed in on a piece of the image. you can manipulate the UVs this way to map a portion of an image to the slide.
If you scan in a slide that is a thumbnail, or has many mini-slides on the page, you can use that one image to texture many slides objects in your virtual gallery. Simply adjust the UVs of each slide objects, by scaling and grabbing the UVs and moving them to overlay the portion of the image you want to show in the gallery.
To add a new slide:
- Create the new slide object by Add->Mesh->Plane
- Size the plane to fit the aspect ratio of the scanned slide image or portion you want to use (to avoid distortion)
- Assign a default material
- Tab into edit mode, unwrap the slide object by pressing U->Unwrap
- In the UV/Image Editor, Image->Load the image and adjust the UVs as desired.
- Leave edit mode.
- Move the slide object into position by grabbing it and moving it in 3D space
As you move the slides around, you will see that the path that threads them together no longer fits the flow. The path is a bezier curve that was added, bevelled by the CurveCircle object, and converted to a mesh so that it could be seen. You can delete it and recreate a new path, bevel it, and Convert->Curve Object->Mesh. Then assign a material ("Rope") and you can see it when you Play. Alternatively, you can make a simple rope out of a tube. Parent the vertices of one end cap to a slide, and the other end cap of the rope to the other slide. Then, when you move one slide, the rope mesh will stretch with it. See the wiki user manual on Parenting for more info.
Adding MotionAnother interesting thing to do to your storyboard is add motion. The sample file contains two motions, the fifth slide is doing a left-right motion like a choo-choo train, and the sixth is doing a twisting motion. Adding and creating these motions is easy. The following steps will get you to a screen that looks like this:
- RMB click to select the slide (in this example choose the fifth slide called Plane.004)
- Create the Motion
- In Object mode, move the slide to it's starting position/orientation.
- Be sure you are positioned at frame 1 and press I in the the 3D view to add a Loc (Location) or Rot (Rotation) or both (LocRot) key. For slide 5 I chose Location, for Slide 6 I chose Rotation. You have other choices as well.
- Press the up arrow 3 times to advance to frame 31. You can also use the left arrow to advance a number of frames. Remember that 25 or 30 frames equals 1 second.
- Move or rotate the slide to the end position.
- Press I again in the 3D view to lock in the end position.
- Name the Motion
- Change a window to the IPO Curve Editor. You should see some squiggly lines that represent the motion you just keyed.
- In the header, next to the pushpin, you will see a name like "ObIpo.001" which is an automatically generated name. LMB click into that field and rename it to something human, like "Train"
- You use this window to make any adjustments to the motion. Notice that the Train motion is 151 frames long.
- Actuate the Motion
- With the object still selected, switch a wide window to the Logic buttons as shown above
- In the Logic context, click on the Add buttons for the Sensors, Controllers, and Actuators.
- The default Sensor is an Always True sensor, which basically says "Hey, I am always on". Link it by clicking and dragging its little output socket to the input socket of the Controller
- The default Controller is an AND controller. It is the junction box for Sensors to Actuators. Link it to the Actuator by dragging its little output socket to the input socket of the Actuator
- The default Actuator is a Motion actuator, which moves something. We want to use Play our IPO motion, though. Click the actuator type selector (the up/down arrow to the right of the word Motion), and choose Ipo. The actuator changes dramatically and shows you Play, Sta, End fields
- Change the name of the IPO from act to "Train". You have just told Blender that you want this object, Plane.004 to play this motion, "Train"
- Tell Blender how many frames of that Train animation to play by changing Sta to 1 and End to 151
- If your motion ends the object back where it started, keep the IPO execution as Play. Otherwise, choose PingPong and the motion will run forwards to the endpoint, then backwards to the starting point, back and forth.
- With your cursor in the textured 3D Camera view, press P and look at the slide. Neat eye candy, eh?
Swapping Video/Still for Slide
It is possible to texture these slides with a video instead of a still image. A developer posted a thread here released a video texture player for Windows machines that plays a video as a texture while the game engine is being played. It has not been updated as of this writing to the latest version, but probably will be. As the portions of the video or movie are filmed/produced, you can replace the slide images with actual stills, or with the actual video. Your file size will get huge, however, if you try to pack the video into the .blend file.
In the tutorial file, you can create another Scene, called Title. Using Blender, you can generate an short animation to show a concept for the title shot; the title flies in and bounces the camera around. If you render the video, and have a Windows machine, you can download the referenced plug-in and texture the title slide with the video.
To swap out a different image for a slide,
- Select the slide
- Tab into Edit mode
- In the UV/Image Editor window, Image>Replace. The window changes to a File Browser
- Navigate and locate the new image, remembering to click Relative Paths if you want
- Click Replace Image and the window switches back to UV/Image Editor and shows you the new image
- In the 3D View, tab out of edit mode back to object mode, and the new image will be shown
In this tutorial we have seen how we can modify the FPS Texmplate, available on the BlenderArtists Game Engine forum, and add slides, texture them with images, and arrange them into a storyboard.
Using Blender, you can construct a virtual gallery for viewing the storyboard. This file can be e-mailed and used to coordinate changes with geographically distributed teams and customers. You can use Blender to present the storyboard to clients on your laptop, in a very slick virtual 3D environment. You can arrange your slides anywhere in your 3D space - appearing on walls, floating in the middle of the room, and so forth. The slides themselves can be colored to denote different aspects. Motion of the slides can be introduced to call attention to certain aspects as well, and to reinforce the story line.
Additional programming, using the sensors and actuators, can be used to, for example, jump the camera from place to place in the storyboard, essentially creating 3D markers. Backstory storyboards can be put into different rooms, physically segmenting them from the main storyboard. The storyboard itself is freed from the physical and 2D limitations of presentation, and alternate arrangements and environments can be established and used. The logical storyline path can be visually shown as a thread linking the slides. Text objects can be placed anywhere to annotate anything, such as action, progression, dialog, or special considerations to be taken into account when filming begins.
The click or any keyboard action can be sensed, to trigger any action. For example, clicking on a slide could enlarge it, or possibly play the audio segment or dialog associated with the shot that that storyboard sheet represents.
This single .blend file can be placed on an intranet or emailed/distributed and used to coordinate teams working around the world. it can be used to interactively present a storyboard to a client in a very high-tech, high-touch format.