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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

A Roundup of Reviews for “The Avengers”

“The Avengers” is officially the biggest comic book movie of all time. Name a box office record and the film has either broken it or is preparing to break it.


“The Avengers” is packed with action…and star power. The cast includes (from left): Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk).

But what are critics saying about the movie? We gathered comments from some of the nation’s top writers about film and here’s what they had to say about this summer’s mega-movie event…

Peter Travers, movie critic of “Rolling Stone,” had nothing but raves in his review:
“‘The Avengers’ has it all. And then some. Six superheroes for the price of one ticket: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk. It’s also the blockbuster I saw in my head when I imagined a movie that brought together the idols of the Marvel world in one shiny, stupendously exciting package.”

Owen Gleiberman of “Entertainment Weekly” awarded the flick a B+ rating in his critique:
“In terms of storytelling, ‘The Avengers’ is for the most part a highly functional, banged-together vehicle that runs on synthetic franchise fuel. Yet the grand finale of CGI action, set in the streets of New York, is—in every sense—smashing. True, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Michael Bay movie, but no Transformer was ever as transfixing as this leaping, flying, pummeling superteam. It makes you eager to see what they’ll do next, now that they’ve defeated a threat even bigger than their egos.”

In her Avengers review, Associated Press critic Christy Lemire praised the movie, especially the script:
“Whedon has come up with a script that’s cheeky and breezy, full of witty banter and sly pop-culture shout-outs as well as self-referential humor, one that moves with an infectious energy that (almost) makes you lose track of its 2-1/2 hour running time.”

Richard Corliss, of “Time Magazine,” gave the film a generally positive review, due to its sheer entertainment power:
“Reworking Zak Penn’s original ‘Avengers’ script, Whedon sat on his usual impulse to go meta; instead he served as expert mixologist for this all-star cocktail party. The movie guarantees fast-paced fun without forcing anyone to think about what it all means…”


“Hulk smash box-office records!” Ruffalo digitally bulks up for his role as the Hulk.

In his movie review, Michael Phillips of the “Chicago Tribune” gave it 3 out of 4 stars and called it “143 minutes of stylish mayhem”:
“So is this Marvel Comics franchise alumni reunion a full-on Hulk smash? Financially, yes, most likely (‘The Avengers’ is already killing ‘em overseas.) If the film is more solid and satisfying than terrific, so be it. Cleverly, writer-director Joss Whedon combines and recombines its various intramural rivalries. If you were a fan of two or three or more of the movies directly feeding into this one, you’re already planning on seeing ‘The Avengers’.”

Even Roger Ebert, the dean of American film critics, found much to admire in the movie, rating it 3 out of 4 stars in his write-up about the super-hero movie:
“‘The Avengers’ is done well by Joss Whedon, with style and energy. It provides its fans with exactly what they desire.”

Build Your Own Blockbuster!
It looks like “The Avengers” is well on its way to winning a huge chunk of this summer’s box office. But what about next summer? Young people can start learning the movie industry this summer, thanks to digital filmmaking camps offered by Digital Media Academy, which are taught by seasoned Hollywood professionals using the latest, cutting-edge software. We’ll see you at the theaters this summer for “The Avengers.” And next year, who knows? Maybe we’ll be lining up to see your hit movie.

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posted by Phill Powell 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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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Official Avengers Movie Trailer Released

Showcasing possibly the most anticipated movie of 2012, The Avengers official movie trailer was just released and fans are already buzzing with excitement.


The Avengers cast at Comic-Con in San Diego this past July (from left to right): Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk (Bruce Banner). The film is directed by Josh Whedon. 

While we’ve already met some of these characters individually (such as Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America), the trailer introduces us to the group of superheroes collectively known as The Avengers.


The very first Avengers comic-book. 

The two-minute Marvel Studios preview gives fans a sneak peek at the explosions, epic battles and (of course) wise-cracking Tony Stark. Not since The X-Men has a group of actors in comic-book costumes so energized the movie screen.


In this screen capture from The Avengers trailer, Captain America leaps into action. 

Avengers Assemble
Directed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and set for a May 4, 2012, release, The Avengers finally brings together the Marvel superheroes that we’ve been following individually – and which have been dominating the box office since Iron Man flew into action back in 2008.

The heroes are assembled by Nick Fury (agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) to take on a super-villian (Tom Hiddleson plays Loki, Thor’s brother) that wants to – you guessed it – rule the earth. Nine Inch Nails’ “We’re In This Together,” provides the soundtrack for the trailer, while Whedon’s directing skills provide the action. Check it out:

Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) stars alongside Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) in the soon to be blockbuster, The Avengers.

From Comic Books to the Big Screen
“Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” were Marvel Comics’ answer to DC Comics’ Justice League. The comic book was the creation of writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Jack KirbyThe Avengers #1 first appeared on newsstands in September 1963. The original Avengers didn’t include Captain America, though. It wasn’t until issue #4 – when the team discovered the Captain, trapped in ice – that he joined the team.


Mark Ruffalo replaced actor Edward Norton as The Hulk. Ruffalo’s likeness is very noticeable in the new Hulk. Ruffalo also did his own motion capture for the CG shots of The Hulk.   

As for the first cinematic treatment of the comic book, fans should expect both the Avengers’ trademark battles and team squabbles. Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, told The LA Times Hero Complex, “I’m looking forward to being in a room with not just those actors but those characters, these larger-than-life characters, and seeing how that turns out. I want to see how Captain America and Thor and Iron Man react to one another.” If the trailer is any indication, the chemistry will be electric.

Making Heroes Super
There’s a lot of movie production that went into The Avengers. If you want to make special effects for the movies or direct your own film, why keep putting off your dream? You CAN have a career in the movie business – and maybe someday direct a team of all-star actors like those featured in The Avengers.

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