Storyboarding as an Art Form

Storyboarding as an Art Form

In the film ‘Argo,’ which depicts the thrilling rescue of American diplomatic workers trapped in Iran during the Hostage Crisis, a fake movie titled Argo is created to give a plausible excuse for the Americans to pretend to be Canadian film-makers. When making their last-minute escape at the airport, the Iranian guards, convinced of the film’s legitimacy, admire the beautiful storyboards the CIA had commissioned for the fake film, and the hero, played by Ben Affleck, gives the storyboards to them as a gift as the Americans rush  to the plane.

The humble storyboard is often treated as a blueprint – something workmanlike and rough – and indeed some film-makers create storyboards that are nothing more than rough sketches that almost no one else can even interpret. But storyboards are also frequently art unto themselves – beautifully composed and inked paintings that could easily be framed and hung in a gallery.

Storyboards = Visual Storytelling

Storyboards tell a story using visuals. There are often stage directions or other text included, but the main purpose and power of the Storyboard is to take the story being visualized and turn it into a powerful visual story. One of the most amazing aspects of the Storyboard is that it is so frequently an ‘alternate take’ on the resulting film: When the storyboard artist is separate from the film-maker, they often have a distinct visual style that may differ from the final cut of the film, and often scenes and sequences that don’t make the final cut of the film (or may not have even been shot) are beautifully depicted in the storyboards – and nowhere else. That’s one reason why storyboard scenes are frequently included as DVD extras for films.

Storyboards = Fine Art

The qualities of some storyboards go far beyond simple blueprints or sketches. They are often composed with incredible skill. Some of the most famous storyboards that stand out as distinct pieces of art are:

  • Gone with the Wind, by William Cameron Menzies. Done in an abstract pastel style, these storyboards reflect the artistic sensibilities of the late 1930s and make the scenes look almost nightmarish.
  • Psycho, by Saul Bass. Drawn in a stark black-and-white style that resembles a modern-day graphic novel, Bass captures the creepy horror of the film’s story.
  • The Sound of Music by Maurice Zuberano. In a joyous watercolor style, these storyboards eschew the artificial formality of the film’s music sequences for an unrestrained, almost chaotic style.
  • Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese. With the Director himself drawing the storyboards, his use of only one color – red – is striking and brings home his intention for the film to be more horrifying than anything else.
  • Star Wars by Joe Johnston. What’s fascinating about these storyboards is that they are so different from the final version in the movie, demonstrating how an artist’s interpretation can differ in the storyboards.

These examples show the possibilities – and the fact that they have been preserved for history shows their value as distinct pieces of art. When approaching your next video project, don’t consider the storyboarding to be an afterthought. Treat the work with the attention true art deserves.

– Video Caddy