Hello again! Here is quick tutorial on using Blender for Storyboards, or "storyboarding" as the process is called. I also then launch right into how to use Blender to take that storyboard and begin making the Animatic. The animatic puts the storyboard into video form. In this tutorial, we will use the following images that start off a little show called "Mr. Smith Invests" (thanks shout out to SqueakyDave for these):
In addition, we will be using this audio file Media:Tutorials-VSE-Storyboard-Audio.wma
An animatic starts with the storyboard slides, and the very first step is to just turn them into a video, where the rough storyboard slides sit in for the actual shots, and the duration of each slide corresponds to how long the director thinks should be allocated to each shot. This first step takes the linear visuals of the slides, and adds the timing element into the thought process.
When all the shots are added up, the director can then gauge the expected run-length of the movie/video. As modeling and animation progresses, the slides are replaced by very rough renderings (usually using an openGL flash-render) of the same number of frames allocated to that slide. Traditionally, an animatic is CG-produced, with blocks or stick figures moving about as the actors will. At this stage, the director can start visualizing camera angles and camera motion.
The animatic can be progressively refined, with real live-action (edited) footage swapped in for the rough animatic video, to guide the final editing process in choosing which shots to include, and in what sequence to present them. Therefore, an animatic starts as soon as soon as storyboards have been drafted, and ends its utility when the final edits are being made to the film. An animatic is a very important pre-visualization tool that help the director envision timing and camera angles, and story flow.
Let's start by downloading the images above onto your hard drive into a project folder, sub-folder "Boards". For this project, I used C:\Blender\work\wiki\VSE" as my project folder. If you did the Storyboard exercise, you can simply File->External data->Unpack into Files.
Switch to the Sequencing screen view/layout. This layout has an IPO window and VSE Render Preview window at the top. The middle has a VSE Sequence window and timeline right below it. Below that is the Buttons window.
In the VSE Sequencer window, switch to seconds as the unit of measure by positioning your mouse cursor over the VSE header, and pressing T. In the Time Value popup, select Seconds. You can scroll the VSE Sequencer window via MMB and dragging until the starting green bar (frame 1) is on the left.
In the Buttons window, switch to the Scene context (the Render subcontext will normally be visible). Select the Sequencer context. Your layout and setting should look like this:
Save your blend file in the project directory. We do this so that we can use Relative Paths to point to the individual slide images quickly and simply. The slide images should be in the "//.\Boards" directory. the "//." means "the folder location where the blend file is". The "\Boards" is thus the subdirectory underneath the subdirectory. If you move or zip the blend file and the storyboard images, you can unzip them anywhere else and no links will be broken.
Loading the First Frame
In the VSE window, which is set to Sequence view, click the Add->Images menu selection. The window will switch to a file browser window. navigate to the \Boards directory, enable Relative Paths, and LMB click on the first image, in this case I saved the image as "BF_000001.png". Yours may be called "VSE-Storyboards-01.png". When you click on the filename, the filename is copied into the filename field. LMB click Select Images and the window switches back to the VSE Sequence display. A 50-frame strip is hooked to your mouse cursor; move the mouse and click it to drop the strip into position, starting at frame 1, in channel 1. The channels are numbered vertically going up, and you can drop strips into any channel starting with 1. To review recent changes to the VSE, see this website page.
You should now see a preview of the image, a strip of 50 images, and in the Buttons window, four empty panels that contain VSE information:
The four panels replace the old "N-key" limited information with "everything you always wanted to know about a strip but were afraid to ask". Note the Input panel has that relative path spec, and the name of the file. If you replace the image on your hard drive, click Reload to bring in the new version. You have auto-cropping and translating tools available automatically for that strip. If this strip were a sequence of images or video, you can offset the start/end points as well.
In the Edit panel, you can name the strip, and that name will show up instead of the file name. There are auto-blending modes, which is currently set to Replace. You can hide (mute), lock and IPO (animated effects via IPO curves in that top left sub-window). You can manually set the start and channel of the strip, and the length of the strip. I've positioned the strip to start at frame 1 and run for 49 more frames. You can change the length of the strip very easily by entering a new number in the End-Still.
Loading the Second and Third Frame
Let's bring in the second image, 02.png. Click Add->Image, and you will notice that the directory is remembered, so you can click once on the file name and a second click on "Select Images" or just press Enter. Drop this second image on Channel 2, just above the first, at frame 25. If we click on frame 40, about 1.5 seconds into the storyboard, we see the second image. Even though the green line crosses both the first and second image, we see the image from the top, or higher-numbered strip, because the blend mode for the first strip is "Replace". This is different from previous versions of Blender, because we have this auto-blending now, so be aware.
You will notice that this slide is a transitional slide, showing how we want the title image/graphic to wipe down to reveal the next shot.
Repeat this for the third slide, dropping it at frame 50.
Everybody Come In
You can load many images at the same time as one strip by right-click-dragging over their names, and bring them in as a single strip. Then, with the strip selected, press Y to split each frame into its own strip.
Rough Timing the First Three Frames
We now have three slides, so let's adjust the timing. The audio for the first shot, the title, is a happy jingle that lasts 3 seconds and fades out for 2 seconds. The announcer voices over "Here we have Mister Smith, enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon in his apartment, reading the daily paper." when we see Mr. Smith (slide 00003.jpg). That line, read at normal speed, takes ten seconds.
Right-click on the first strip, slide 02.png, in channel 1. This title slide lasts for a total of five seconds (the jingle). Our frame rate is 25 frames per second, so 5 * 25 = 125. In the Edit panel, change End-Still to 125. Alternatively, you can RMB click to select the strip, and then RMB click and drag the right handle of the strip to stretch it out.
The second strip, slide 02.png, is in channel 2. It is a transition strip, and we want it to start taking effect (start wiping down) at second 3 in the timeline. In the edit panel, change its Start to 75. Since it's length was already 50 frames, or 2 seconds, it ends when the slide 01 ends, which makes sense.
For the third strip, it basically takes full effect when the announcer starts speaking (when the slide is fully revealed), at second 5 in the animation, and it stays in effect for the duration while he is speaking. This is a total then of 10 seconds, or 250 frames. Right-click on slide 03 in channel 3, and enter a Start of 125 and an End-Still of 300. End-Still is the length or duration of the strip, in frames.
Let's look at the image below, which is of the VSE Sequence window. Do you see anything wrong?
Correct! That third strip has an absolute file path, not a relative one. We remembered to click Relative Path on the first and second images, but neglected on the third. This is easy enough to rectify, without re-importing. Simply right-click on the strip so it is active and outlined (as shown). In the Input panel, click and drag to highlight and replace that "C:\blah\blah" stuff with a "//". Your panel should now look like that to the right.
Remember this as a way to point to different files or different directories; there is no need to re-import strips; just change their name/location in the Input panel.
|The VCR controls in the Timeline window play back your animation. Enable 'Sync Playback to FPS' (frames per second) for real-time playback at the frame rate you have set in your render panel.|
Animating the Storyboard
Blender can actually do the wipes and cross fades that are indicated in the storyboard itself. For example, the second slide indicates a wipe down of the title graphic to reveal slide 03, which is Mr. Smith sitting. In addition to simple blending modes that the strips can do themselves, Blender has this specific kind of transition effect as a built-in effect, called Wipe. We want to have a two-second wipe, starting at second 3, and ending with Mr. Smith. To do this, we need Mr. Smith as a background to be revealed at second 3. So, right-click the third strip and set the start time to 75, extend it's length to 300 frames (12 seconds; the 10 plus the two we just added on the front). The two strips, channel 1 and 3 should now overlap.
Now let's add the wipe effect that wipes from the strip in channel 1 to the strip in channel 3. RMB click the strip in channel 1, which is slide 01.png. Then ⇧ ShiftRMB the strip in channel 3, the slide 03. In the menu, Add->Effect->Wipe. A Wipe effect strip is now hooked to your cursor. Move your mouse up or down to drop it in channel 4. Notice that this strip depends on the overlap of the two channels, so you cannot change it's time-position. You would change the position or length of this effects strip by changing the location or size/duration of the overlap of the two input strips.
You can now delete slide 02, the wipe slide, from the storyboard, since Blender now shows you that effect. Your work area should now look like the following:
When you scrub this storyboard by clicking the Play button in the timeline window, you will see the wipe in the Preview window. The above image shows the wipe half-way through.
Upon reviewing this, the director says that she wants a more old-style slide show feel, where the slides were physically dragged off the overhead projector; she want the Title slide to physically move down and off screen. No problem, you say. Delete the Wipe effect strip (X
First we want to use a Transform effect to physically move the title slide. RMB the first strip, then Add->Effect->Transform. This effect is a general purpose image mover. We want to move the image down vertically 100 percent in the Y direction; enter -100 in the y End field. Now when you scrub, you see that it moves smoothly down. However, it moves right at the beginning, and we want it to stay in place for three seconds. This is where the animation comes in. The IPO window is set up to animate the factor, or degree of effect, that a strip influences over the course of its length. The X axis goes from 0 to 100, representing the percentage duration of the strip. The Y axis represents the factor, or degree, of its effect.
With the Transform effect strip selected, in the IPO window, CtrlLMB three times. First, at 0,0. Second, click at 100,1.0. You now see a bezier curve. If you scrub now, you see that the first slide starts out in place, and then slides smoothly down and off screen. CtrlLMB a third time, at 60,0. This keeps the transform effect at a 0 factor for 60% of the strip length, and then it slides it down.
As the first slide slides down, there is nothing underneath it. Let's put our Mr. Smith slide under it. To do so, we want to use the Alpha Under effect. RMB click the slide we want under, which is channel 3. ⇧ ShiftRMB the Transform strip, in channel 4. Add->Effect->Alpha Under and drop the strip in channel 5. You now have exactly what the director wants.
Rendering the Animatic
Just to make sure that this transition is exactly what the director was thinking, we want to show it to them. Unfortunately, he has flown off to location scout in the Hamptons, so we have to email him a video.
Switch to the Render sub-context buttons. There are five panels you need to adjust in order to render out a pre-visualization as shown below:
- Output panel: Set the directory to save the movie to. I like to use a RENDER folder under the project folder.
- Render panel: No need for any options that slow down rendering. Since this is an High-Def project but this is just a quick pre-vis, set the size to 25%.
- Anim panel: Set Do Sequence and extend the duration of the pre-vis to 20 seconds (500 frames).
- Stamp panel: Enable Stamp and Draw Stamp to overstamp the render output iwth Time, Date, frame, strip info in a lime green color. Note that this is a Revised Transition review.
- Format panel: I like AVI JPEG because it is universal, simple, and small. Click on the HD presets.
Click ANIM and the file 0001-0500.AVI will be generated in the //RENDER\ folder. Email it as an attachment and hope for the best.
The announcer continues "All of a sudden, a advertisement in the Living section caught his eye. A beautiful home was for sale. That got Mr. Smith thinking about his future." Using that Cross effect for each strip, let's go ahead and roughly add on the remaining slides:
- Slide 4 should start around frame 400 and last for 4 seconds (100 frames).
- Slide 5 should start around frame 450 and last for 3 seconds (Ending at frame 625)
- Slide 6 should start around frame 525 and last for 4 seconds.
Drag RMB left/right in the window to pan the time-scale. Drag CtrlRMB left/right to zoom in/out the time-scale of the window. Since the announcer says "all of a sudden" we want a quick cut to the paper shot. Since the announcer uses soft words "got Mr. Smith thinking" you want a soft, slower dissolve to that bubble slide. This makes a dissolve or cross effect from strip 4 to 5, and a hard cut from slide 5 to 6. We could use the transform effect again on Slide 4 to expand it, to further simulate the zoom effect intended by the storyboard.
Added image strips have transition effects. We can simplify the VSE Sequence window shown above by
- moving the Transform effect to Channel 2, and
- changing the mix mode of the Channel 3 strip to Alpha Under. We can then
- delete the separate Alpha Under effects strip,
since the higher-channeled Strip 3 will alpha-under anything else in effect at that frame (the Transform strip).
Doing so will simplify the VSE window, but make that Alpha Under a little less obvious. Both setups are equivalent and the choice is up to you.
Adding Audio Track
We now need to adjust and refine the timing of the storyboard and the transition effects to match what the announcer ssys; this is called congruity. For example, if they say "BAM!" we do not want the explosion to take place before or after the word; we want the shot to start then, exactly. We should now have a strip layout like below:
Notice we butted slides 3 and 4 together, splicing them end-to-end. This makes a hard cut. It then dissolves to slide 5, and does a slow fade over to slide 6.
You can add the audio track, when available, by Add->Audio (HD). Just remember to save your AVI as an FFMPEG container and encode the Audio. Scurbbing is very much enhanced and timing can get very precise. I have recorded me talking and used that as a rough guide, or simply a stopwatch as I speak the words, noting time durations. Blender can handle Windows Media as well as Wave files.
Add the audio track as channel 6. In the Sound Block subcontext, enable Sync and Scrub.
After adding your audio strip, scrub through it. There is some rollup there, as I state the name of the clip and the take. CLICK THE SPEAKER ON THE TIMELINE HEADER. Around frame 280 is when I start saying "Here we have.." so we want to make that frame 110. That is a difference of 170 frames, so move the audio strip to start at frame -170. This is a very handy way of eliminating rollup, instead of cutting the strip.
We now see that our supposed timing was way off. This is yet another reason to storyboard with an audio track, however rough. Many times how long you think something will take is way off, and a little dose of reality goes a long way. You can now see that I say "all of a sudden" at frame 270. Right click on Slide 3 and drag the right end arrow so that it ends at frame 270. Now select frame 4 (the abutter), G grab it and move it over as well to start at 271.
As I say "caught his eye", that would be a good time to zoom or focus in on the advertisement in the paper, slide 5. Really, slide 5 is just a zoom in on a section of slide 4. Let's go ahead and use the transform effect to better visualize how that will actually look. Move slide 4 directly down to channel 2 using either the Edit Panel "Chan" or the mouse. Position slide 5 to start at frame 365 in channel 3. With it selected, add the Transform effect, and set it to go from .8 to 2.0 in both the X and the Y direction. Create an IPO curve that smoothly makes the transition. To blend this zoom in with slide 4, right-click slide 4, then ⇧ ShiftRMB click the Transform strip, and Add->Effect->Cross. In this case we have to add our own Cross effect since the Transform can only Replace, not Cross. Finally, position slide 6 to start at 450 and end at 600, again with a cross effect. You should have the Blender layout below. In that image, the Transform effect is active, so you can see the panel settings and IPO curve.
Reviewing What We've Learned
The Blender Game Engine and Sequence screen layout are handy, versatile, and ready-made facilities to aid in movie production during the concept development and pre-production phases. The Sequence window workspace/desktop layout for storyboarding. Each slide of the storyboard, is imported as an image, and roughly arranged according to predicted timings. The duration of each slide is easily changed in the Edit panel or by clicking and dragging. Strips can overlap each other, and the highest strip is shown in the preview. You have learned about three different effect strips and how to use them. You have seen that strips can act on other strips, and the factor, or degree to which an effect takes place can be animated. The animated storyboard, with audio, can be rendered out for review.
Matching the transitions of the slides to what is being said, when it is being said, provides precise information to the principal photographer (film) and/or animator on exactly how long the shot needs to be, and how it fits into the previous and successive shots. Using a storyboard in this manner brings a storyboard to life.
As scenes and movies are generated that are the actual end product, they can be brought into the VSE and substituted for the slide, thus aiding the rapid assembly of the final product.