Starewicz as a Benchmark for Planning Animation Storyboards

Some time ago I posted my analysis of “The Frogs Who Wanted a King” by Wladyslaw Starewicz on as a benchmark for developing shots and scenes. I am running through the exercise for my next project tonight as I draft storyboard cards so I thought I would re-post the info here at my blog.

While preparing for a previous stop motion project I wanted to gauge the breakdown of shots and scenes for a short film. My intent was to get some benchmarks to work against while planning scenes and shooting specific shots. I decided to watch my Starewicz DVD for reference. I would pause and forward one frame at a time every now and then while watching “The Frogs Who Wanted a King”.

The exercise helped me to get a sense of the pace and frame-rate I should be working with while filming something. It also revealed to me that I could plan on doing at least a shot per day (around 6 seconds or so) and just move along slowly but steadily until I filmed everything. I guess it helped me create a rough production schedule since I was also working with no script and just a set of visual ideas.

Here are the specifics that I found.

-25 scenes
-62 specific animated shots
-19 title cards shots
-81 total shots
-7 seconds: average length of shot
-16 seconds: average length of title card
-15 words: approximate number of words per title card
-4 words per line for title cards
-16 frames: number of frames for a “Starewicz-style” zoom

The exercise is to take index cards (or the back of used old business cards) and quickly sketch or write out descriptions of discreet visual scenes of your film. Once you have at least 20 to 30 cards you have a bulk of visual material at your disposal. You then place them on a bulletin board with pins or magnets and start moving them around to find the flow, arcs, or connections of your movie. Ideally, as you review the stream of visual ideas, new ideas or directions will arise and you then sketch or write those and start sticking them on the board.

Iterate through this exercise at least one more time to add 2 or 3 cards to each existing card when needed for clarity of visual communication. Pretty soon you have the visual concepts for around 4 to 6 minutes of footage. In some ways it’s like painting or sculpting with visual concepts on cards instead of paint and the board is your canvas. You can step back every so often and “read” the stream of cards until you feel confident that you can formalize your shooting plan.

4 responses to “Starewicz as a Benchmark for Planning Animation Storyboards”

  1. Lovely! I’m glad you reposted this here, Grant, as I never get to the boards. I have been running my key moments in my project in my head for a while now. But I think putting them on card would expose even more connections and arcs. Thank you!

  2. Thanks Shelley. The idea of index cards is something I read about a long time ago as a filmmaking exercise. I think it provides some right-brain tactile time to quickly brainstorm the content of a film which is a nice experience.

  3. A variation on cards and magnets: post-it notes. (A trick from Jriggity that I’ve found quite helpful.)

    Another trick: I’m hopefully going to be doing some storyboarding for act 2 of Let Sleeping Gods Lie soon… I’ve cut a bunch of 3×5 cards down to 3×4, so they match the aspect ratio of this project. Nice to not get illusions about what will actually fit in frame.

    I really appreciate the shot-by-shot analysis of Starevich! Getting realistic estimates is SO important! …Just this morning I was breaking down my next stopmo project into tasks, trying to figure out roughly how many hours will be involved — and perhaps more importantly, how many work sessions. There are a lot of tasks that can/must be done in a single sitting — that seems to be a good unit of measurement for me.

  4. Thanks for the additional tips Sven. I’m still operating on the Starevich analysis and aiming for getting an average of 6 seconds of footage done at every session. I can then estimate roughly how long a project should take. That method worked for the Damocles project and fairly well for the photography portion of Vitruvius. We’ll see if continues to be reliable for the next project.

    I would be interested to learn how your methods and estimates work out.