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Behind the Scenes of “The Avengers”: The Storyboarding Process

“The Avengers” continues to set box office records. The reason? It’s a fun and well made movie. Behind the film were literally hundreds of artists (both traditional and digital) who brought the director’s vision to life.


A scene from “The Avengers,” in storyboard form.

For any special-effects movie (including “The Avengers”), after the script has been written, one of the first parts of the pre-production process is visualizing what the scenes will look like. For this process, storyboarding is essential; set designers, filmmakers and digital artists will all use the storyboards as a blueprint.

What are Storyboards? 
Storyboards are hand-drawn panels that show filmmakers how each scene will look. Storyboards usually look almost like comic-book panels, except without those little word balloons. Storyboards are primarily used for camera setups and effects shots where the effect will be created later, but they extremely helpful for the entire process.

For Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers,” the filmmakers enlisted artist Federico D’Alessandro.  D’Alessandro is the Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor at Marvel Studios. He’s currently overseeing storyboards for “Iron Man 3,” but is also known for his work on “I Am Legend,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” ”Where the Wild Things Are,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “Thor” and ”Captain America: The First Avenger.”


Federico D’Alessandro, Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor, at his desk in Marvel Studios.

“A storyboard artist can progress to working as a director, which is something I always wanted to be. What I enjoy most is having control over how my vision is conveyed to the viewer,” D’Alessandro said in a interview. ”That means not only representing what the scene looks like in my head, but how it feels. When I create an animatic, I want the viewer to have an emotional experience. That means having control over not only the visual storytelling, but the pacing, the sound design and the musical cues. When all of that comes together and I’m able to show the viewer the same scene I imagined, that’s enormously gratifying.”


The battle sequence between Iron-Man and Thor was planned out using storyboards (click image for a larger view).

The Origins of Storyboarding
The storyboarding process was first developed by Walt Disney in the 1930s at Walt Disney Studios. In the biography “The Story of Walt Disney,” Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller remembered that the first complete storyboards were created for the animated short “Three Little Pigs.” The process evolved from “story sketches” that Walt would have artists create to set up key scenes.

Disney artist and animator Webb Smith was credited with the idea of drawing scenes individually and then pinning them to a bulletin board (hence the term “storyboard”). Within a few years, the idea had been adopted by other studios and by 1938 storyboarding was a standard practice.

“Gone With the Wind” (1939) was one of the first live action films to be completely storyboarded. William Cameron Menzies was hired by producer David O. Selznick to design each shot. The great suspense director Alfred Hitchcock relied heavily upon storyboarding, so much so that a myth emerged that he never bothered to look through the camera’s viewfinder to set up any shots.

In addition to storyboards, animatics are also used to help filmmakers visualize the story. Animatics are animated storyboards. These give filmmakers a way to see the action in real time, so shots can be planned.


For a sequence in “The Avengers” in which Black Widow attempts to take down an airborne alien, several drawings were required to convey the action.

Creating the Action
Learning movie making is not as simple as learning to point a camera. There are several skills that go into making a film, including scriptwriting, editing and, of course, storyboarding. Good directors (and for that matter, good filmmakers) understand that it takes more than one person to make a film and to use the latest technology available, while not forgetting the tried-and-true techniques that have worked for years.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

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