Toon Boom Storyboard

Behind many a great feature film a storyboard exists to help previsualise what you will eventually see on screen. Traditionally this has been a non-digital activity, loosely sketched out on paper panel-by-panel. Toon Boom, already with a solid animation software pedigree, introduces Storyboard, which extends visual storytelling into the paperless world.
However, getting there requires a steep learning curve. A clean and attractive interface, familiar enough to anyone who has ever used a graphics program, hides a multitude of options and settings. If you want to get the best out of storyboarding digitally, you’ll need to spend some time learning the fundamentals. The ability to resize, rotate and move selections, use the cutter tools to create new from old, and add layers, text, sound and camera moves means the creative potential is huge.

Select a project name, location, resolution and broadcast standard from the welcome screen and you’re greeted with a customisable storyboard window. The main tools sit snug around the edge of your workspace leaving the central creative area free of clutter. By default, individual panels are added at the bottom of the screen displayed in sequence as your project progresses. Toon Boom recommends you use a Wacom pen and tablet and it’s hard to see how you’ll cope without one.

Digital assets

Toon Boom Storyboard comes with an array of digital goodies to get your creative juices freely flowing. A set of templates includes characters, backgrounds, props, effects and symbols. Drag them into a scene and you have the bare bones of a storyboard, even if your drawing skills are more suited to the playground than Pixar. They won’t win any awards, with characters resembling those found on children’s DVDs sold in pound shops, but serve a purpose when time is of the essence.

You can add your own imported drawings, sounds and Flash SWF files into the template folders of your library and use assets stored in the template library by simply dragging them into the appropriate component of your storyboard. Combined with a few hand-drawn elements you can quickly visualise before moving on to your next key scene. Similarly you can drag and drop elements of a script into your storyboard using a Text file, but as yet there’s no way of wholesale importing a screenplay direct from the likes of Final Draft.

Remember you won’t need to show every frame in Toon Boom Storyboard just key scenes and events. Those scenes that require it can be annotated with text or audio commentary. Furthermore, you can make use of the built-in animatic feature that brings life to a panel without using external software. You can play back this draft version of your animation or export it to Flash or QuickTime and email or place it on a website for further comment or collaboration. You can also output your digital storyboard to PDF three panels per page, either horizontally or vertically.

With Camera Transform selected from the menu you can add motion such as pan, zoom or tilt to the static image by default camera frame view. You can change the start and end positions of the camera as well as reuse camera positions from adjacent panels throughout your storyboard. Because you are essentially working with layers each time you add an element, you dramatically increase the reusability of your drawing as you move through your storyboard. Each layer or part of a layer can be dragged from panel to panel significantly reducing drawing time. A useful light table option displays a paler version of all layers in a panel except for the one you are working on, giving an idea how all will look when combined together.

For a niche tool Storyboard is not cheap – it’s more than double that of the popular Toon Boom Studio – although institutional, educational and not-for-profit discounts are available.

OUR VERDICT

This is a welcome and worthy addition to the Toon Boom range offering a powerful and varied digital solution for visual storytelling. For now, the price probably limits its appeal to professional studios and serious individuals, which is a pity. Once mastered you can significantly reduce time spent editing your final masterpiece by planning ahead.

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