Kris Pearn Storyboard class lesson 4

Making Of / 04 November 2018

Working with a script. Apparently when you do storyboards for film or tv they send you these pages of text that you’re supposed to read. And if that isn’t weird enough they expect your drawings to have things in common with all those words and stuff! It’s sheer lunacy!

So anyway, this lesson Kris showed how he would break down a script to hit the story beats and how he would deviate from the script to make things work better on screen. To illustrate his point he showed work he did on the show Jacob Two Two and as usual his drawings are super appealing!

Jacob Two Two storyboard page by Kris Pearn.

The assignment

So for this assignment you could pick from three scripts with difficulty ranging from easy to medium to hard. I picked the hard one called “the golden cricket”. It’s a strange tale of two people exchanging a cricket in a diner. And it has Kris’ trademark mentioning of eggs. I picked it because it had some action in it and I was dying to try my hand at boarding that.

So first I had to make some designs. The script features two main characters called “Jon” and “the woman”. There was no mention of what they looked like so I had free reign to decide what they looked like. As “Jon” pretty much gets dominated by “the woman” I decided to emphasize that and make him kind of a weeny and her an impressive tall kick-ass kinda gal.

I really didn’t like Jon’s design eventually though, it undermined the eventual revelation in the script that he’s actually setting some sort of trap (spoilers!). I changed it for the final version of this assignment.

Next I did some location design. All the script mentions is that it takes place in a diner that faces a road. Now in my mind I pictured a remote diner by the side of a country road. It seems an ideal setting for some shady exchange between two characters that don’t really trust each other. But ‘a diner’ could also mean a Seinfeld style diner in the middle of Manhattan. Or any of a number of other varieties and definitions of ‘diner’.

The way it was written in the script it was written in the script it was really open to interpretation but I stand by mine, I think it makes the most sense in the context of the story. I assume that in production you would get a chance to run these things by the director or someone else giving you the assignment so you don’t set in the middle of the desert when the movie actually takes place in Alaska.

Sketchup shenanigans

Big surprise: I overdid a thing. I fired up good ol’ Sketchup and started bashing together a set design. Most of it is just simple geometry but I also added some parts like the counter (which I stretched out) and the seating from the 3d Warehouse. Which is just a single click away inside of Sketchup!

The script also called for ‘the woman’ to drive off in a Mini Cooper. That too I could very easily obtain from the 3d Warehouse.

Now at this point I probably could’ve stopped but I also imported some drawings of trees into the scene. Then I used a plugin to scatter a bunch of copies of said trees to make some surroundings for the diner that wouldn’t look too jarring when I eventually put my drawn characters in front of them.

Then I used Style Builder and made a Sketchup style that looked like the loose linework I would do in Clip Studio. At this point I was truly off on a tangent…

To top off the overdoing I made a sign for the window and a big chalkboard menu for behind the counter.

I called it done at that point, having spent over a day on it which isn’t too bad. Especially not considering how long I spent on this assignment in total…

Storyboards round 1

Now after spending all this time on the designs for some reason I really half-assed the initial thumbnails and just scribbled down something on a notepad. I seem to have since thrown those sketches out but trust me they were very perfunctory.

I guess I was a little too excited about using my fancy set. I used Sketchup’s “Advanced Camera Tools” and 3d cutouts of the two character to block out the shots. I would then hide these cutouts, turn on the lighting and my custom made line style and copy paste the resulting shot into Clip Studio.

On top of each pasted background I would then add a white layer with the opacity turned down, pretty much adding tracing paper, and draw the characters. I was intending to eventually remove that white layer and add tones to the characters but this version never made it that far.

All in all I spent quite some time getting all the shots drawn in line but I was pretty darn pleased with myself. The backgrounds looked cool, I was really getting a handle on the quick sketch technique (all the characters are drawn in one pass) and the final scene with Jon getting hit by the car really worked.

Then I decided that before I laboriously put all the finishing touches on this one I would send the version you see above to my mentor Dirk.


I’m usually pretty thick-skinned when it comes to getting critique but I was so gosh darn pleased with myself this time that when Dirk ripped this sequence to shreds I was a little disheartened.

And rip it he did. And right he was too. The thing that stung the most was that when I played the sequence again I could totally see what was wrong with it: no tension, no acting. I still think the final hit with the car is pretty damn cool but all the other stuff was bland.

And this is also why you don’t half-ass your thumbnails and then jump straight into complicated 3d backgrounds and camera setups: revisions are a nightmare after that.

Nope the only thing to do was to start from scratch.

Thumbnailing all over again

Having thoroughly learned my lesson this time I wasn’t gonna take any chances. I would do proper thumbnail sketches and plan out each shot for maximum impact and clarity. The things that actually matter sunshine (I told myself) not all them fancy schmancy backgrounds and stuff.

I made this thumbnail template sheet that would cover the two most common aspect ratios. The dotted borders are 16:9 (widescreen) and the solid borders are 2.35:1 (cinemascope). If you would like to use this template here is the pdf: Thumbnail Template Sheet v01.

I took my time a sketched out the sequence again using ballpoint pen and a little tone with a stick of graphite. I also added some very simple overhead diagrams on post-its I stuck on the side.

I also did another design of Jon, I thought that a guy who deliberately gets kicked in the head and hit by a car to fool a scary demonic lady probably wouldn’t be a little weeny. So I made him taller and his face more angular.


After that I went on another possible tangent : I decided to do the rest in OpenToonz. OpenToonz is an open source animation program based on the commercial program Toonz that was used by Studio Ghibli.

I had used it before to put some final touches on other animatics I’ve done and I wanted to see how well it would fare at doing the whole thing. Honestly it was quite struggle and I intend to a whole separate write up on my quest to try out different software for storyboarding.


But struggle or not I worked out a new version of the sequence. I also decided to add to some sounds. For that I used Ardour. Now Ardour is a great piece of open source software with a not so great site hosting it. It basically tries to bully you into paying for downloading a working build before you’ve ever tried it out. Trial period guys, there’s a reason for it.

But as I said it’s a great piece of software and I really enjoyed using it. The cool thing is you load up a video clip and have all your sound effects line up perfectly with your footage.

The sounds I used are:

  • My own voice (my rendition of Jon is not great, too much grunting and sighing I’m afraid)
  • Some sounds I made at my desk like using my electric pencil sharpener and stomping about in my loudest shoes. Also hitting things.
  • A bunch of sounds I downloaded from I included a full list in the video description.
  • Some completely unskilled mashing of keys in the super terrific Ipad app Synth One! I love that app, I really do.

And so here is the final version, deeply flawed of course but I think after all these detours I did manage one thing: I took those words in the sample script and I put them up on the screen as best I could. And yeah it’s pretty weird but so was the script. I can’t wait to see how I fare with another one!

PS: Dirk gave another great crit session for this final version and I think I did a lot better this time because he agreed with most of my choices but had lots of notes on my execution. The main things were:

  1. my drawing of emotions and eye directions still needs work.
  2. I need to take another pass to “glue” a bunch of shots together/ this sequence could be done in less shots.
  3. Its better to just draw camera moves instead of all this smooth zooming and panning.