Men O’ War began with a script. It was a very simple three page screenplay, written in a very short time. It was re-written four or five times, and most of the re-writes involved cutting things out. The original story ideas was much more complicated, but we had some serious time constraints to work around, so the island expedition got cut, and so did several characters. However, we knew that a simple story not much longer than three minutes was possible if our pre-production planning was good enough to take all the aspects of production into account.
So next, I drew up the storyboards. Every dramatic film should rely on storyboards, and even though it’s somewhat more important for animated projects than live action, I’m a firm believe in planning shots out on paper ahead of time. This enables the director to more precisely plan his cutting, and provides a much clearer description to the crew than verbal instruction. Not only does this provide a better editing process, but faster and more efficient shooting.
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Storyboards can be simple. These are not much more than stick figure scribbles, and the entire film fits on four pieces of 8.5″x11″ paper. The director should do his own storyboards. If he hires an illustrator to make them for him, without instruction, that illustrator is choosing the camera angles as cuts and basically directing the movie, and has now become the director of the film. Do your own storyboards. If the director can’t direct on paper, he can’t direct on set.
As soon as the boards were done, I could see the flow of the story better. The script was finalized, and we recorded the actors speaking their lines. Usually for animated films a scratch track is recorded first for timing purposes, but we were trying to move as quickly as possible, and since all the actors were present anyway, we soundproofed a closet and knocked all the lines out in a couple of hours. I then loaded all the panels and audio files into Adobe Premiere Pro.
What I made is what is generally called an animatic. With the audio (and for most purposes a scratch track is sufficient) and panels, I edited my film. Even though I was only dealing with still pictures, I could still drag them out and time my shots to them and really make sure that my shots flowed, the cutting was clean, and that the pacing of the story worked. If you’ve already seen the final film, have a look at the animatic below.
The great thing about an animatic is that you can create your first edit without having shot or animated a single frame. All you need is decent storyboard and a scratch track. If you compare that video with the storyboard you’ll see that I adjusted several things in the edit… but from the animatic to the final, I didn’t change anything except two shot lengths. By doing my editing before the animation, I was able to make sure that everything worked, and wherever possible, I do the same thing with live-action.