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3D DIRECT • January 30, 2001

The Reel Deal

Storyboarding for New Media

By Pat Johnson

As a 3D animation professional, your career may lead you in many directions. Though entertainment and games animation is frequently the first choice for new animators, it is wise to consider some of the other, fast growing areas where your talents can be applied. New media (multi-media presentations, training, and the web) is constantly expanding the use of animation. There are different standards, protocols, and practices for preparing animation for these environments. In this third article on story boarding for animation, we will explore methods that are most effective in preparing animation for this dynamic field. Even if your goal is to market your skills through a Web portfolio, you will also need to know these skills to successfully plan and execute animation for the new media environment.

As in entertainment, one of the most powerful planning tools is the story board. However, storyboarding for new media involves many nuances that you will not encounter when telling a story for entertainment. Animation for new media does not necessarily follow a single story track. New media formats offer navigational choices and provides inter-connected modules of information. For this reason, storyboarding for new media must explore all navigational tracks to insure that the project has a coherent look and feel and choices offered are logical, navigate smoothly.

Traditional Flow Charts will simply outline the myriad connections between pages, as you start to organize the framework for your project.

New media guru, Doug Filter, (VP, Creative Services, Legal Arts Multimedia, LLC, San Francisco, CA) offers these words of advice to anyone planning 3D in this field:

"We are visually oriented craftspeople. We think with the right side, plan with the right side, draw from the right side. The use of a storyboard is essential when planning any interactive work. It is a left-side planning and control tool that satisfies the right-side's artistic bent. And, use of this valuable technique is essential for Web, DVD, and multimedia implementation. The freedom of expression when sketching keeps up with the idea flow when initially building a concept, following an insight, capturing a subtle design. And the links, clearly defined in a storyboard, capture the essence of interactive media.

"Storyboarding appeals to our fundamental left-side as a prototyping tool. A vision statement that must be followed by your team members. It is the blueprint, the first iteration of the design in your mind's eye to see the light. The plan will eventually blossom into an integrated production, obviously thought through, designed, and coordinated. In a typical linear project, your ideas and concepts sequentially follow directly from one to the next. In new media, the concepts branch, loop and link in complex ways. But the piece must always keep a consistent look, a coordinated feel. The only way to manage a project of such intricacy is through the extensive use of carefully thought-out storyboards."

Filter goes on to list the following rules and recommendations for storyboarding new media.

Time, budget, and consistency:

1. If you don't plan the work on paper you will run the risk of investing wasted hours of time in the complex digital media. The pencil is the cheapest input device to run in the beginning.

2. By planning your work and by getting buy-in from your client before diving into the digital work, you will not only save time and money. You will also be empowered to move through the project in a smooth and competent manner that will leave a positive impression. Everyone loves a maestro. And those who control the storyboards control the budget, the dissemination, the concept, and the glory.

4. New media is usually a team effort. Content can include sound, animation, graphics, photos, or other images as well as text, with the added bonus of a user interface and all the navigational elements. Storyboarding in detail insures that all players will have a visual guide to help them each produce a consistent look and feel from their portion of the project. Storyboards are 100 percent more effective than words for insuring that everyone works successfully toward a common goal, and there are no surprises or compromises hours before deadline.

5. If you are the only team member, planning your project on paper will keep you focused. It is easy to get distracted by a particular part of a project and to get off track, developing inconsistent look and feel.

6. A well-developed storyboard will also enable you to plan your time wisely. Storyboards will clearly offer visual proof, identifying which elements, which branching trunks of a project will take a greater portion of the production time.

Detailling an area of your project will begin to allow you to explore design concepts, find where illustrations will fit, describe navigation, and explore relationships between elements. And keep you from getting lost.


The visual examples provided by Filter illustrate the methods he has developed for developing and utilizing storyboards in new media production. The following is a list of steps that will insure you have fully utilized these indispensable tools:

1. Begin the process by planning the navigation of the project using a traditional flow chart. When storyboarding for new media, work first through each linear segment of the project.

2. At the point where a choice will be made, branch off from the single linear horizontal storyboard cells and fully explore each possible choice in another set of linear cells.

3. Clearly illustrate any animated sequences and make notations as to what functionality will be activated through animated portions of the project. Examples are: Will the viewer have the option of clicking on a virtual reality scene to move left or right, zoom forward or back? Does the viewer control the animation through active icons on a side bar or other portion of the screen?

4. If you are working with a team, give every team member a set of boards and thoroughly review the portions of the project that specifically apply to their work. This will insure that everyone is working toward the same goals. If anything gets off track, the visual storyboard tool can be used to determine percentages of completion, and determine and illustrate alternate course directions.

5. Digitize the storyboards and put them into an editing program. As you complete portions of the project, replace the hand drawn cells with finished work. This will insure that you can identify missing links, see obvious flaws, and can make quick changes to the look and feel, navigation, and other elements before rendering the final project.

6. Use your storyboards as the focal point for all production meetings to be sure that the visual representations are a consistent guide and that the project goals are always in sight.

As your project evolves, you might enlist sticky tabs to track locations, while posting images of finished pages to get an idea of completion and polish.

At first pass, these suggestions may seem completely logical guidelines. However, you would be surprised at how many artists and designers overlook this valuable technique, and subsequently learn the hard way when developing for new media, simply because they did not make a visual plan. The sample storyboards will offer further information regarding the level of detail of drawing and notations recommended for your implementation.

The upcoming articles in the career column will focus on developing your own visual portfolio through both traditional means and for new media and the Web. Before you launch on any of these paths toward self-promotion, be sure you take the advice of the experts outlined in the past three articles and use storyboards as well as layouts as you begin these visual journeys.

Pat Johnson, formerly of Pratt Institute, is a CG consultant and educational advisor.