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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 DMA Jordan in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

More Marvel-ous Movies: Avengers, Captain America 2, Thor 2

“The Avengers” has wowed audiences and broken box offices records. And in the not-too-distant future, “The Avengers” will be joined by even more movies from the Marvel Universe.


“The Avengers” assemble at Comic-Con in San Diego. From left: Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo.

How about an”Incredible Hulk” franchise helmed by Mark Ruffalo? For now, all eyes are turned toward “The Avengers,” which is expected to be the blockbuster of Summer 2012.

Assembling a Cast of Heroes
“The Avengers” trailer features Robert Downey Jr. (as Iron Man/Tony Stark), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Mark Ruffalo (The Incredible Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton), Stellan Skarsgard (Dr. Erik Selvig), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).

The story, written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon tells how the Avengers came together to fight Loki and an alien army he brings to Earth to destroy mankind. Whedon wrote the screenplay and directs the film.


On the set of  “The Avengers,” director Josh Whedon looks on while the actors relax between takes. 

The film, which was first announced in 2005 has taken a long road to completion. Originally delayed by the release of “Iron Man” in 2008, “The Avengers” was pushed back to July 2011. Then actress Scarlett Johansson signed on and the film was delayed again to accommodate her schedule.

Fine-tuning the script (which director Whedon rewrote after joining the project in 2010) additionally delayed production. And finally, there was the much-publicized substitution of Mark Ruffalo to portray the Incredible Hulk – after actor Edward Norton left the cast. (Longtime Hulk fans may be pleased to learn that the Hulk’s voice will come from none other than Lou Ferrigno, who played the not-so-jolly green giant on TV back in the 1970s.)

So much for the art of digital filmmaking, still both the studio, cast and director understand the urgency to get it right, because multiple sequels are riding the film’s success, like…

Thor 2
In November 2013, moviegoers can look forward to the arrival of “Thor 2,” which will again star Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-swinging Norse god from Asgard. His last screen outing, 2011’s “Thor,” earned nearly a half-billion dollars ($449 million internationally). Suffice it to say, Marvel already has high hopes for the follow-up film.


Immediately on the heels of “The Avengers,” release, Hemsworth will start shooting “Thor 2.” 

Filming on “Thor 2″ is set to begin late this summer in London and while several big-name directors have been attached to the project, it appears Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones”) will get the assignment. The screenplay is being written by Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”). Along with Hemsworth, Natalie Portman is scheduled to return for the sequel, along with Tom Hiddleston, who will again portray Thor’s evil brother, Loki.

Captain America 2
Last summer’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” also scored big at the box office, raking in more than $368 million worldwide. The film was a solid hit with critics, too. Critic Roger Ebert wrote, “I admired the way that director Joe Johnston propelled the narrative. I got a sense of a broad story, rather than the impression of a series of sensational set pieces. If Marvel is wise, it will take this and ‘Iron Man’ as its templates.”


The good Captain will return to movie screens in April 2014.

Marvel has been listening. The publisher/studio (now owned by The Walt Disney Company) has been planning a Captain America sequel since before the first film was released, they’ve even camped out a release date: April 4, 2014.

Captain America 2 is rumored to take place mainly in the present day, with the Cap’n adjusting to his new surroundings, although the screenwriters have said they’re experimenting with flashbacks to the World War II period.

Get Your Hero On!
Whether it comes to saving the universe or dominating movie screens, superheroes rule. And today’s superhero movies finally deliver the explosive, larger-than-life hollywood visual effects that comic books can only depict through illustrations. Creating comic book characters isn’t the easy and bringing them to life on screen is even more difficult. We’ll be headed to a theater to see if earth’s mightiest heroes “The Avengers,” really do save the day.

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