Kris Pearn Storyboard class lesson 5

Characters! The people that inhabit our stories. The people that take us on a journey, show us their feelings and generally do stuff to keep to the story moving.

This lesson Kris discussed how best to write and board characters that an audience cares about. He goes through some basic character attributes and how they fit in a typical story structure. Though he mostly discussed ‘The Hero’s Journey’ as outlined by Joseph Campbell in ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.

That book is a Hollywood staple but personally I find this structure a little too limiting and predictable. If you want more alternatives I suggest checking out John Truby’s ‘The Anatomy of Story‘ – it contains great analyses of lots of famous movies and gives you the tools to create a structure that suits the story you want to tell.

Anyhoo, Kris goes on to show the several ways we can position the camera on our character to emphasize their mood.

one of Kris’ examples on how to shoot your characters. in the first the character is looming and feels powerful and in the second the character is dwarfed and feels vulnerable

The Assignment

So for this lesson the assignment was to write and board a short sequence to introduce a character. It didn’t need to be a full story, just a sequence that let the audience know who this character is and what their motivations are.

I have to admit I really struggled with this at first. What kind of character should I introduce?

I was watching a lot of Clint Eastwood movies at the time so at first i wanted to write a hard boiled character about to kick some butt. But everything I came up with was something I had actually seen before.

For a while I toyed with the idea of creating an unflappable British officer type that would calmly walk around a battlefield giving orders while the bullets whiz about him and everybody else is ducking for cover.

“steady on old chap”

But I couldn’t quite flesh it out beyond a single scene and I wanted include some ‘inciting incident’ that would show how the character would respond when challenged. Since my imagined officer wouldn’t alter his behavior in any way (at least not on the battlefield) that meant he was out.

I then thought of a plucky dwarf that would spring into action if his village was in danger.

Better. I could imagine him friendly in his day to day life but standing firm when his friends and family were in danger.

But then I thought: what if the village defender was a mother? To me that makes it more powerful. The two sides of her character as loving mother mother and fierce protector would both contrast and enhance each other!

After that I quickly sketched out the cottage where she lives and even went so far as to sculpt a bust of her head in Sculptris.

Using that bust as reference really helped me draw this character from multiple angles. But I’ve since tried it with other characters and it didn’t work so well. I think it has something to do with how solid the initial design is but I will have to investigate further.

After I finished the first draft of the sequence I had a feedback session with my mentor Dirk van Dulmen.

He had a lot say! I got tons of feedback on screen direction and character focus. His notes were of great help, sometimes he would annotate existing boards:

And sometimes he would suggest entirely new shots that would work better with the story:

That was just before Christmas last year and right after that I had an offer to work on a student film so I put the revisions for this sequence aside. I can’t show you that other sequence right now but I’m glad to report it went a lot better than this one! The director was very pleased and even Dirk had very little points of improvements. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have my first client gig go so well!

But after I was done with that I returned to this sequence to implement Dirk notes and make it work better. It was slightly odd returning to this sequence after having learned so much on the student film. I fixed most of the really bad mistakes but a lot of it couldn’t get to my current standard without a complete redo. But at least I still like the basic premise and it comes across ok. But I look forward to the next one, it’ll be an action sequence and I have lots of new skills I can’t wait to unleash on that one!

In the meantime here’s assignment 5:

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