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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

A Tribute: Mary Blair, Artist

She was one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists. Mary Blair was a conceptual designer, artist and painter for The Walt Disney Company. It was under her artistic direction that the look of animated classics like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the theme park legend it’s a small world were created.


While other Disney artists (like the group known as the Nine Old Men) worked on the same films, it was Mary who held a special place in Walt’s heart.

Mary Blair is best known for the conceptual designs for Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and the classic Peter Pan (1953). And she also designed the look and theme for a little boat ride in Anaheim, California, called “It’s a Small World.” An impressive visual stylist, Mary Blair stands among Disney legends like Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas in the company archives. Furthermore, she held her own in a male-dominated profession.

The Google Doodle
Google even paid tribute to celebrate what would have been Mary Blair’s 100th birthday. ”She influenced the tone of the picture with her use of color and design,” said Michael Giaimo, who served as the art director for Disney’s 1995 Pocahontas. “Where Mary Blair was unique was that the work that she did here at the studio was not only beautiful work. What she did went beyond the project into a pure art form. It became art. It became a statement unto itself.”


 Mary Blair was honored with a Google Doodle. 

Blair was the featured subject at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 17th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation lecture at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Pete Docter, who directed the 2009 Oscar winner Up as well as Monsters, Inc., was one of the many animation giants who came out to honor Blair with “Mary Blair’s World of Color — A Centennial Tribute.”

Walt and El Groupo
Mary started her career at the Walt Disney Studios in 1940, initially working on Dumbo in 1941. Blair and her husband were asked by Walt Disney to join him and other animators (as well as Walt’s wife, Lillian) on a good-neighbor trip to South America.


Mary Blair conceptual art for The Three Caballeros.

Walt Disney had been asked to take the trip on behalf of the U.S. government to help secure southern neighbors during wartime. Walt decided to chronicle the event in his own unique way, making movies out of them. The trip was recently chronicled in the documentary Walt and El Groupo, now available on DVD. Mary Blair was also responsible for helping establish the look of the Technicolor-animated wonders Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). Mary received credit as art supervisor for the films.

Artistic Inspiration
Mary Blair worked on Disney Studio’s animated features for more than 20 years — and was the only woman to hold such a significant position at the company. Mary died in 1978 at the age 66 and left behind an amazing body of work, which still influences artists today (click the image for a larger view):

Mary’s combination of commercial and personal artistic sense can still be seen today – and at several places, including Disneyland. In fact, Mary made several large murals. Her design for a 90-foot-high mural is the focal point of Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World and can be seen inside of the hotel.


The massive Mary Blair mural inside the Contemporary is one of the lesser known gems of the Walt Disney World resort. 

Another animator commented on Blair’s ability for “putting together simplified shapes and colors to make them really pop forward. She had a great ability with lighting. A lot of times in art direction, it seems very flat. But with just a little bit of lighting, you can change the atmosphere of the whole scene.” Mary Blair and her creations still find a way to inspire budding young artists.

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posted by DMA Jordan in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments