4.2 Storyboarding

The purpose of the exercise was to gain insight into how to construct a narrative using a sequence of images.

Key words from the brief:

  • 15 minutes of recorded film or TV drama footage
  • Pause the film at points where there is a new ‘cut’ or change in shot and ‘thumbnail’ these key scenes
  • Aim for at least 20 frames in a sequence, covering the variety of shots and cuts from your chosen footage

My approach

Storyboarding is a technique that I’ve used before, and I’m fairly comfortable with creating  a coherent sequence of images. What I’d never done before is use it to capture and analyse an existing film sequence.

Rather than take a 15-minute film clip I chose to storyboard a much shorter sequence from a key part of a classic feature film.

I’ve always liked Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now’ and it’s surreal and edgy portrayal of the Vietnam War.

The story is based on Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness’, and tracks the journey of an American special ops agent on a mission to assassinate General Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando), who, along with his army of followers is carrying out unauthorised attacks and atrocities against the Vietcong deep in the jungle.

The film charts the journey of Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen), from the point he accepts his orders through to the assassination of Kurtz.

The sequence I wanted to analyse was a key moment in the film.

Captain Willard has been transported up river in an American Navy motor boat. His orders are to make contact with the Ninth Cavalry Division who will escort the boat to the mouth of the Nung River, deep in enemy territory.

The film sequence takes place at the point in the film where everything takes a dark and slightly surreal turn; from a boat trip up a wide river into a dark conflict zone with larger than life characters, upside down rules and the brutality of war.

The sequence starts when the crew become aware of an attack taking place on a village on the river’s edge. The First of the Ninth Cavalry Division are just ‘mopping-up’ after the attack as Captain Willard the the crew of the motor boat reach the shore…

Storyboard page 01Storyboard page 02Storyboard page 03

Questions

How did the task benefit your drawing development?

I wanted to continue to experiment using a combination of liquid watercolour, ink pen and colour overlays in Photoshop. This is a technique I first tried when I created a short comic strip ‘Unknown intimacy’. What I hadn’t had previously was a collection of grey liquid watercolour brush pens. A coloured overlay in Photoshop overlays a colour on top of the tone of a piece of artwork. The darker the grey tone in the artwork, the more colour is picked up in the overlay. It’s also possible to use colour gradients to great effect.

It seemed like a good way to introduce the red colour into the ‘battle’ scenes in the storyboard. I found I was able to use it with a fairly good level of control/predictability.

What about your observational skills and understanding of the cinematography?

Through looking and closely analysing the film sequence I became aware of a number of things:

  • How subtly and quickly the viewer is led from the normal to the surreal
  • How the colour red is introduced into the conflict scenes
  • How the dialogue, narration and sound effects add to the visual drama of the piece
  • How the camera angles and framing move the action along and strengthen the dialogue
  • The way that Lieutenant Colonel Killgore, (I hadn’t seen the significance of the name until now), is rapidly introduced into the film as a larger than life caricature

How did shifts in angle and viewpoint add to the narrative?

The whole sequence is about tracking the movement of the main character forward on his mission.

The wide establishing shot followed by a series of mid-shots and close-ups and the way these are edited together add pace and dynamism to the sequence, whilst all the time in the background the carnage of the conflict continues in an almost a matter of fact kind of a way.

For example, the very start of the sequence starts with a mid shot of the sailor on the boat looking up at something. The shot tracks along the deck of the boat to the second character also looking up at the sky.

This is followed by a really long and rapid tracking shot that starts with a wide shot of the boat and moves very quickly around the bow of the boat at the same time as the characters get up to look at the helicopters and the attack on the village. This is a very dynamic and purposeful movement.

A close up of Captain Willard with binoculars cuts to wide shot of the coastline in the distance where it’s just possible to make out helicopters flying above the jungle.

The final shot in this sequence is another tracking shot from the stern of the boat, again very dynamic, emphasising the change of course as the boat heads towards the village. This is the point when the narrator (Captain Willard) describes the First of the Ninth providing context to the viewer of what they are about to see.

It’s interesting looking back at the frames that I selected to draw. Sometimes they work as action/reaction against one another, at other times the image is framed in such a way as to add drama, narrative and visual interest to the unfolding story.