One of the most valuable, but often overlooked, parts of developing a film is showing other people ('fresh eyes') your progress. This is a crucial part of the storyboarding/animatic phase, because knowing how a viewer is reacting to your work BEFORE you start production lets you flag problems that will later on kill your film. As painful as it is to hear negative feedback, or even worse a blank expression, think about how that will feel when you've finished the project, instead of just throwing out a few sketches and reworking your ideas. Clarity is king before you hit production.
Film is visual storytelling. Once you have a full animatic edited together (storyboards with rough sound effects and a temp music track), show it to a fresh pair of eyes - someone who hasn't seen it before - and test if the story is in fact being told visually. A fresh pair of eyes can be absolutely anyone, and I typically like to screen for people who aren’t film savvy, because that’s your typical audience. Don't preface the screening with details either - just let someone watch through your animatic and ask them, 'What just happened?'
It's amazing what that one little question will tell you about your story. You're not looking for what they thought the film meant, but quite literally, what exactly took place. You want the security of knowing that your storyboards, which are the intended shooting script, are clearly getting across every single action and story point. If someone who has just watched your animatic is confused or can't tell you what was happening in a specific section, then a red flag should go up about your staging, shot choices, editing, etc. Maybe even your story in general.
Avoid the 'It's not finished yet!' mentality. If you're lacking story clarity in your animatic, then it's unlikely any amount of animation or performance will clear that up in production. It’s possible, but why take the risk? Opt for the comfort of knowing that your film is working BEFORE you start production.
I’ve embedded a video of mine that side-by-side compares the animatic to the final version of my animated short The Arctic Circle. They are almost identical. And I’ll admit a painful secret – this animatic was about the tenth version. The first nine were much, much different in terms of story and pacing. What I was realizing when I was showing these first versions to viewers was that they were absolutely confusing. It wasn’t until I rewrote and reworked the animatic to unmistakable clarity that I knew I could begin production and create a film that I not only wanted to make, but that would result in successful and clear storytelling.
Show your work!
- Kevin Parry