Thursday, October 4, 2012

Zero-Budget Pre-Visualization

I've always heard that you can't have too much pre-production when putting together a feature film project.  Careful and detailed planning can mean the difference between coming in under budget and on schedule, or running out of money and not being able to finish your film.

Besides doing a preliminary schedule and budget, one tool that can help you plan your film shoot is storyboarding.  Trouble is, unless you're a really quick and excellent sketch artist, storyboarding a feature can be a daunting task.   While I knew how to draw, my previous experiments with storyboarding weren't very fruitful.  And hiring a storyboard artist can be cost prohibitive.  While you could find someone to work for free, I find that people working on a volunteer basis will frequently move on to a paying gig.  That's completely understandable.  After all, we all have bills to pay.

That's why my filmmaking style is to try and do as much prep work as possible myself.  So I'm always searching for the best tools that can help me in pre-visualization and pre-production.

There are a couple of software programs out there designed for pre-vis.  Storyboard Quick, and Frame Forge are two of the better known programs.  Each has their strength and weaknesses.  But I've always felt that if you can't find something that works for free, you haven't looked hard enough.

Enter Trimble (formerly Google) Sketch-Up.  Totally free to download, this 3-D drawing program can be your best tool for pre-visualizing your sets and even camera angles.  The learning curve is pretty quick, thanks for a lot of YouTube tutorials that can get you up and running in no time. Check them out at

Here's an example of an overhead view of the Military Sciences Development Corporation from my script "Cyber Fighter".  This set contains all of the offices in the complex and was inspired from my days temping at Raytheon back in the late 1990s.

The furniture items were actually found at the Sketchup Warehouse.  Other sketchup users can choose to share the models that they build so that anyone can use them in their own designs. This time saving feature allowed me to build this entire set in a few hours.

So you have your sets, but you need actors for the shots, right?   Well, there's more good news.  Daz 3D Studio has released their latest version 4 for FREE, but only for a limited time.  Go to -- they're also offering their 3d scenery program Bryce, and Hexagon, a 3d design program where you can design your own props, objects, etc.  There's a steeper learning curve with these products, but definitely worth the investment of your time.

Once you're up and running, you'll be able to generate storyboards like this:

My method is to choose the camera angle in Sketchup, export the shot as a PNG, then pose and render my actors in DAZ.  I then use Photoshop to composite the actors in the shot.  This sets my storyboards apart from just your basic sketch style as I can render in full color.  

Now you might be asking, "Hey!  How can you waste all that time making boards like that if you don't even have the locations set?  There's no way you'll find a location that matches your Sketchup file."  That might be true, but I find that the time spent choosing the camera angles and blocking my actors in the previs stage gives me a roadmap that I can take to the set when we shoot. It also provides a picture of my vision for the film, which can help you raise financing and pitch your project more effectively.

Once you create storyboards for your entire film, you can combine them in an animatic that can give a sense of the film's timing and flow.  This will also expose any script problems such as bridge scenes that might be needed to connect major sequences.  Or, it may confirm that your script is ready to shoot.

When storyboarding a feature, I find it helpful to do it in sequence, but to render the easier scenes first in order to get those completed sooner.  In a way, it's like actually shooting the movie.  Right now I am in the process of boarding the entire script of "Cyber Fighter".  My workflow allows me to render about the same amount of shots in a couple hours that I would be able to actually shoot in a day.

You've got to pace yourself, because all this computer work can get fatiguing.  I feel that if you can complete your storyboards in about the same time as your proposed shooting schedule, then you're on track.

These boards will help you show your vision to potential producers, directors, financiers, and even potential actors.  Storyboards that are more dynamic can help communicate your concept better than just a simple pitch.    

So anyway, check out those free resources, and Happy Filmmaking!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My First Post! or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Media

As a creative multi-hyphenate living and working in Hollywood CA for quite some time now, I've been lucky enough to have witnessed the greatest revolution since the advent of talking pictures--mainly, the Digital Revolution.

As I'm usually wearing my actor "hat", I've seen the whole acting biz change over the past couple of decades, from black & while headshots, Dramalogue submissions, mass mailings, VHS demo reels and voice overs on cassettes, to, LA Casting, Cmail, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.

I've been told that blogging and social media is a great way to connect with your audience, and that the future of entertainment is that those of us in "the biz" will be interacting more and more with our "fans".  I find this to be very cool.

I've been doing this Social Media quickstep for a few years now, and sometimes it can get overwhelming.  So my goal with this blog is going to be primarily talking about my filmmaking.  Right now, I'm developing a feature film, and the process has been quite an adventure.  Perhaps some of these stories from the trenches may give you some ideas on your own endeavors.

The tricky part about blogging is keeping the commitment.  Much like the Morning Pages exercise in "The Artist's Way" (which I highly recommend), you have to work it to make it work.   So I hope to be able to provide some useful info in the coming weeks, months, (and hopefully) years.  We shall see.