When to CUT? Storyboard Commentary Video

Today's storyboarding commentary video talks about one of the most common questions about storyboarding: when to cut.

As you'll be able to see in the video, it's important to cut closer on a character or an action when they're doing something specific that really needs to be seen.

The video window above looks small, but if you click on the full-screen button (at the bottom right of the video), it'll look nice and BIG!

The general principle that I use is that I try to get as close as possible to show whatever is most important at that moment, while still leaving enough room for any actions that might occur in that scene.

Storyboard drawing: Car makes a U-Turn on the turnpike
That may mean that the shot is very wide -- for example: if I need to show somebody driving a car around the corner, the shot needs to be wide enough to see all of that action. If I'm trying to show a guy sitting in a restaurant drinking a cup of coffee, I would want the framing to include just the guy, the table, and the cup of coffee.

Storyboard art - Gerald talking on the radio
Cut from Gerald talking on a radio microphone to the broadcast tower, spreading his message across town.
It's all about how important the specific action is to a scene. If the man at the coffee shop is putting a couple of creams in his coffee, there is no need to make a special emphasis on that action; so I would not cut in closer on him pouring in the cream. But... if somebody was putting poison into his coffee cup, that's a perfect time to cut in on that action for emphasis.

Storyboard drawing - Old man in car listens to the radio
Cut from Grandpa sitting in car to a closeup of him turning on the radio
As you can imagine, this is a pretty huge topic! Since this series of posts is really a quick overview survey of my own personal process, there's not much time to go in to every detail... but if there's enough interest, I can always go back and make a specific post about any particular topic.

I sure appreciate all comments and questions about these videos... it lets me know what you're interested in talking about!

NEXT: Staging and Composition for Storyboards

Other posts in this Storyboarding Commentary series:


Anonymous said...

Hey Sherm,

It's criminal that you're giving this info away gratis - but I'm happy to take it. This is great companion stuff to your DVD. I was wondering if this Mighty B sequence is the final board? I like the loose but controlled feel but it doesn't seedmed overly cleaned up. ALong the way you might want to point out what a revisionist actually does and how they fit into the system, since that is usually where many folks get their start.

Sherm said...

Hi Bob: Thank you VERY much for those kind words!

-yes, this is the from the final storyboard, and it represents what I consider the best of both worlds in terms of clean-up: Loose enough to be lively, yet tight enough to clearly communicate everything to the people who will be using the board further down the production process.

Sometimes storyboards that I've worked on will be "cleaned up" further by revisionists, but I usually don't know about it, and if I see it I usually get bummed out. All to often, a cleanup artist will tighten up the deatils and make the drawing too stiff. Oh, well...them's the breaks when somebody else is signing your check.

I like your suggestion about explaining the work of a revisionist. I'm not sure when I can get to that, but I have already added that idea to my long list of good ideas for future posts. Thanks!

:: smo :: said...

these are great!!! makes me want to finish up my crummy freelance i'm on right now and storyboard something new for me!

one quick [kind of basic] question about scene numbering; so for each new camera angle/definite cut you would have a new "scene number" but for each panel within that you would have a letter designation? like scene 23 panel A?

if you are reusing an existing shot setup do you make any reference to that in the boards? or would that be more of a layout concern?

hope that makes sense! thanks!!!

Mike said...

The part about 'motivating the cut' was really helpful for me. Thanks Sherm! I was curious about one of your comments: You said something about sending the storyboard overseas to be animated. Is all of the animation for shows like Sponge Bob and Mighty B done overseas? Would you consider that an industry wide trend, that concepting, model sheets, character design and storyboards are done here and animation is done elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for taking all of the time and effort to share your wealth of knowledge. I'm looking forward to to sitting down and REALLY sinking my teeth into all of this.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that overposing the drawings is a job for the layout man, so it saves a ton of work for the storyboard artist.

Oh yeah, I keep seeing your name on some of the later Ren and Stimpy episodes on the credits. Did you ever have a chance to storyboard any of the episodes, or at least practice making up stories and boarding them? How were the layouts done? Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

Love em. Keep them coming.

Sherm said...

Hi smo ... the scene numbers and the panel members/letters are the primary building blocks of the storyboard. There's a new scene number for every cut of the film, and a separate designation for each panel within the scene. Some studios use numbers for the panels, while other studios use letters. I am more accustomed to using letters because that was the way it was done at Nickelodeon. Disney likes numbers.

When reusing an existing shot set up, it can be helpful to make a note of it somewhere on the storyboard, but nobody really expects you to do this. Sometimes, in the little box at the upper right where it says "BG" I would write something like, "same as scene 48." That can be very helpful to the production staff, but I wouldn't say that it's necessary in most studios.

My bottom line is this: if I can make the process easier for the next person just by writing down a little bit more information, I'll do it. Your colleagues will thank you for it. Most of the time, that sort of thing isn't necessary... but as long as you do it clearly it certainly can't hurt.

Sherm said...

Mike -- for TV animation, the actual animation work is almost always done outside of the country. Mostly in Korea or China, but also in Canada. Some flash-based productions will do the animation here in the US. For all of the animated productions I've worked for, the local studio creates everything from the original story through designs, storyboard, voice acting and timing. The animation is then sent out of the country to be produced, and then all of the editing and postproduction are once again done here in the US. I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but this pattern has been my experience at Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and a Disney TV.

Sherm said...

hi Clarke -- thanks a lot! I really appreciate the nice comments :-)


Roberto -- it's a bit difficult to talk about posing and over-posing because there's such a fine line and so many different opinions on the topic. The unfortunate reality is that (for the most part) there are no more layout apartments in TV animation anymore. What used to be the layout department's job -- all of the posing and acting embellishments -- is now the responsibility of the storyboard artist.

Because of that, storyboards have gotten huge: sometimes 300 to 400 pages for an 11 minute show! That's why the storyboard artist has to find just the right amount opposes to draw. It would be nice to spend all day posing a scene, but if you go that route you would find yourself behind the deadline eight ball pretty quickly. That's why I recommend that you think of posing in terms of the importance to the story. I like to give the example of a character tying a necktie; if that action was just a small part of the scene, you could easily indicate that with just two drawings and a small description. Or, if you were storyboarding an educational video on how to tie a tie, you might break that down into 100 different poses -- "how many poses" always depends on the context of the story and the scene.

Sherm said...

Thank you, Frank -- I'll keep 'em coming as long as you guys are interested in leaving great comments :-) I really appreciate all your input!

Sherm said...

Thank you, Frank -- I'll keep 'em coming as long as you guys are interested in leaving great comments :-) I really appreciate all your input!