Tip #633: Storyboarding Visual Effects

… for Visual Effects

Tip #633: Storyboarding Visual Effects

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Storyboards and production design are integral to all visual effects.

Doubling – a split-screen effect. (Image courtesy of StoryboardThat.com)

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This tip, written by visual effects artist, Miguel Cima, first appeared in StoryboardThat.com. This is a summary.

From the very beginning of the creative process, imagination is in play. Before a thing exists, it must be visualized in the mind. This happens in filmmaking all along the way. First the screenplay must be written, a necessary text exercise which does not allow for initial images. Then comes the storyboard. At this point, the first spark of what lies inside the artist’s mind comes to life.

Deep into film’s history, various techniques have been employed to insert imagery which was not filmed on set with things which were. Regardless of how special visual effects are accomplished, one central challenge has always been consistently presented to filmmakers: how can a scene be filmed when much of it cannot be seen at all? Here are some of the more common visual effects used in live action feature films, and how the filmmaker can approach mastering the art of “see you later.”

  • Animation. The good news for the filmmakers is that a well-crafted storyboard will serve as a guide in pre-production to get cast and crew familiar with the idea of what the final frames and sequences will look like. When combined with character illustrations and production design renderings, a full picture can be grasped to help translate not only the action, but the mood of what will be added in later.
  • Miniatures. One of the oldest tricks in the special visual effects book is the use of miniatures. Traditionally, this meant building scale models of environments to represent very large sets like entire cities, massive vehicles, huge structures, and so forth.
  • Matte Paintings. Another time-honored method to add large-scale environments is the Matte Painting. There’s a few different ways to do it, but essentially, an artist paints a highly detailed photo-realistic set piece, often on a massive scale, to depict what a set could not.
  • Stop Motion. There’s a certain charm to stop motion animation, even if the final product cannot mask what it is. From old classics like King Kong to 2015’s Oscar-Nominated Anomalisa, there’s a texture to exposing fully posable models one frame at a time that CGI can never recreate.
  • Doubling. Everybody seems to love twins. And clones. Whatever the case, every time you see a double of a character on screen, it is almost invariably the technique of doubling which you are watching (as opposed to using real-life twins, triplets, etc.). But as always, doing early tests with the tech on hand can do an even better job on performance prep.


The article itself, as well as the illustrations, are a fun, easy read.

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