If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Chapter 12

Working from a Script

"A lot of the guys at Cartoon Network, they understand the importance of cartoonist driven writing…"

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The number one rule of visual storytelling is to never knock your reader out of the story.

Alan Hassinger, Graphic Design instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh teaches his students about the art of the collaborative design process. "The first day I walk into my lecture and tell the students' today, I'm the art director.' They are working for me as designers and I also tell them that the project could change, but they don't hear that. As a student, I didn't hear that either."

Design is a communicating process that goes on right from the moment of conceptualization— an idea, character or setting. The fundamental side of design includes shapes, sizes and even fonts and color, but not so much as what's aesthetically pleasing to the artist, but how to use shapes, fonts and color for a design purpose, whether for attraction, or retention. What cultural, psychological attributes do the choice in style, fonts and colors have has a direct influence on the success of the design. The element of design can be used as a tool to elicit a specific response from an audience, by how objects or colors are put together.

For example, most advertisements for grocery stores lack any real stylistic design — the objects, coupons colors and even fonts are all over the place. The reason for this conscious effort at "anti-design" is that studies show that elegant design is associated with "more money." The reason Saks Fifth Avenue advertisements don't look anything like an advertisement for Wal-Mart. This fundamental knowledge of the audience holds true for any industry—especially in visual storytelling entertainment. A black-and-white, science-fiction horror movie by Woody Allen, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger would surely confuse a large segment of the population.

All the elements of design, from the style of photography, to colors (or lack there of) cinematic approach and placement of characters in the frame all contribute to the design. It all plays into a communicating style, how to communicate effectively.

As pointed out in the Rules of Visual Storytelling, the number one rule is clarity. This is the goal when formulating composition, layout, and design of a scene. All composition and design should be in the service of telling the story and not losing the audience; focus on retention. Additionally, design should emphasize clarity of eye path, clarity of the action portrayed, and make clear what is being emphasized in the story. A good well designed visual story will demonstrate to the audience all the information it is possible to show visually. This way the copy can be kept to a minimum and can concentrate on subtler dialogue instead of blocks of descriptive copy to explain what the art fails to show.

Attention to composition and cameras that remain still or long-held shots are a rarity in film these days. These terms could be applied to two different aspects of the narrative flow in comics, as described Mark Smylie, with mise-en-scene essentially being what's in the panel, and montage being how the panels are arranged and cut across the page. Most comic artists seem to prefer one over the other, and the tendency is for most American artists to emphasize montage techniques — playing with panel layouts, breaking the panels altogether, unusual page designs, with Frank Miller, Neal Adams and Will Eisner coming to mind as one of the best at this — and for European artists to emphasize mise-en-scene techniques — simpler page layouts, with most of the emphasis being on what's inside the panels, with artists like Moebius, Enki Bilal, and Milo Manara as examples of artists who truly compose the contents of their panels. Mark Smylie's Artesia lends itself to a mise-en-scene emphasis as Smylie describes his comic as an attempt at epic military fantasy, and so the visual images have to be panoramic. "The story calls for sweeping vistas showing armies and landscapes, which are best showcased using traditional and relatively simple panel-to-panel page designs. Chopped-up panels and funky page layouts wouldn't work with the story style."

Again, the first thing to do is determine what the most important object on the page. This can be a character, event, scene or the most dramatic shot; what should the reader or viewer or player see first? This should be the largest panel on the page. Whatever or however the page and scenes are designed, anyone should always be able to be clearly read what's going on, without any dialogue. If the reader can't read the page and get the general idea of what's happening, then this takes the words of the story away from what they could/should be doing in order to make up for what is lacking in the visuals. This will result in visual storytelling where the reader/audience has no idea what is going on, or is now packed with more dialogue than imagery to take up the slack.

A good starting point, although not everyone uses them, when the artist first sits down to design a page, it's a good idea to work out any ideas, on a small scale, not worrying about details, just working on the design and storytelling details. The first step to laying out pages is deciding on the panel design, such as which panel has the most dramatic impact and assume that will be the largest panel. Then design the rest of the page around that.

Remember that when designing the page, focus on creating the motion of the printed movie. Everything added or neglected within the art will affect the way someone somewhere will experience the story.

Mark Smylie's Artesia lends itself to a mise-en-scene emphasis as Smylie describes his comic as an attempt at epic military fantasy, and so the visual images have to be panoramic. "The story calls for sweeping vistas showing armies and landscapes, which are best showcased using traditional and relatively simple panel-to-panel page designs. Chopped-up panels and funky page layouts wouldn't work with the story style."

Copyright: Artesia is TM & © 2001 Mark Smylie. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

All forms of page layout can be broken down into three basic approaches:

The Grid

All panels are the same size and there is no most important panel - everything is of the same importance and intensity in terms of layout or visual emphasis. The reader's eye is lead by the layout and design of what is in the panel, as opposed to the shape and layout of the panels on the page.

A simple grid panel is used here to represent the secretary's emotionless monotone voice.

Copyright: © 2001 Abstract Studios All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Free Formed

Also called the organic approach and is presently the most often used. Any arrangement of panels, panel shapes, and panel layout can be used. The artist can use the shape of the panel and layout of the panels on the page to help lead the reader's eye. Important panels are emphasized by making them larger and bolder.

Metallic panel layouts, dream sequences, flashbacks, and all panels running together; no true borders.

A more organic approach to design the page – without borders.

© 1994 Mark Beachum. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Most Important Panels

Establishing shots/scene, backgrounds, people; these shots present the audience with exactly where they are, with whom and why. There needs to be at least one establishing shot per scene, but it doesn't necessarily needs to be the first panel, just as it doesn't need to be the first scene in a movie.

As pointed out by John Byrne, establish the characters and make sure to identify all of the major players in a scene as they appear. Do not have characters popping out of nowhere as it may confuse a reader, unless of course; it is part of the story.

In 1986, Jeff Smith co-founded the Character Builders animation studio, then in 1991, armed with the knowledge attained from years in animation; he launched the comic book BONE. BONE was critically acclaimed from the beginning and has been translated into over twenty languages. In 1998, Jeff was given the Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist - Humor, as well as the 1998 Harvey Award for Best Cartoonist. In Europe, he received Italy's Yellow Kid Award for Best Author, Spain's Premios Expocomic for Best Foreign Comics, Finland's Lempi International for Best International Cartoonist, and in 1996 he was presented the coveted Alph Art Award in Angouleme, France.

Jeff accredits part of his success from his years in animation and a step in that process called extremes. "Extremes exist even within a single motion." Jeff explained. "There are key moments or poses that you draw, and then an assistant will fill in two to four drawings between those extremes to complete the action."

In animation Jeff learned to think about the key moments, and what should really be hit on, and that for comics timing, it's the same thing; "You want to pace your panels to capture the moments that say the most."

Again, this is where the strong similarities lie, between all visual storytelling media. For film, the "extremes" are the scenes laid out as storyboards, for the final media form to "fill in the gaps," through photographic filming or rendered animated images. Within the comic book, these "extremes" become the final deliverable images on the static page for the reader to fill in using their imaginations.

In terms of storytelling, Jeff breaks things down into units, and then sub-units. The comic book itself is a twenty-two page unit. Scenes are sub-units. The smallest unit is any two panels together. "A storytelling unit is composed of a beginning and an end; you start someplace or doing something, and you want to make sure you get somewhere else, without losing your audience."

Specific to comics, there's a page of panels as a unit and that unit needs some kind of event that moves the story forward. "The smallest of units is two panels, and the subjects in the two panels have to do something; have something happen, a surprise, a revelation. Even if the subject just sits there for two panels without moving, it can tell us about how the character reacts in a given situation.

In order for those panels to move a story forward, there should be something happening. What will best progress the story?"

"When you witness a master visual storyteller at work, you can forget that you're looking at a two dimensional line drawing." stated Smith. "You can fall inside the panel, and start to get immersed, because the pacing is everything. Pacing is how the cartoonist draws in the reader and makes them begin to play the game with the cartoonist."

Everything from the placement of the characters and the word balloons within the panel all contribute to the timing and pace of the visual story.

Copyright: BONE is a registered trademark and © 2001 Jeff Smith & Cartoon Books. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Cartoonists have their readers participating in the storytelling experience, but not interacting with it as with an interactive game; it's different. "There's something about storytelling that requires a storyteller," said Jeff. "They may be related in some ways, but there's something about experiencing a pure story that's unique. In both video games and comic books, you become completely immersed in a zenful, playful way; it's a good thing. That's what we want from our entertainment, that's what I'm looking for when I go to a movie. It's what I'm looking for when I read a book, and the same thing in video games. A perquisite of visual storytelling includes the creation of an immersive world for the reader/viewer/player to find entertainment and escape. But a video game is a self guided tour. Any personal growth comes from repetition and experimentation. Video games are not stories, they are adventures.

A pure story has a storyteller; a master guide who will make sure you see all that there is to see. A storyteller has something to tell us, and we listen or read or watch to learn what it is."

Through his years in animated film, Jeff learned something that isn't largely used in comics, but is a strict guideline for film called the 180 degree rule. As explored in Chapter 9, the 180 degree rule means that if you're filming a conversation between two people, and the boy is on the left, and the girl is on the right, you keep them there. "You put your camera anywhere you want within 180 degree arc. However, as soon as you cross the 180 degree point, then suddenly the girl is on the left and the boy will be on the right, and that will be confusing to the viewer when you cut into your shots. So, I brought that concept of consistent positioning within the 180 degree arc to my comics page, and I keep to it pretty religiously. The 180 degree rule keeps the visual storytelling very clear, so that in any given panel or frame, whatever is established to be to the left, even if it is miles away on the horizon, keep it to the left throughout the scene. I find that helps the audience stay very clear on where they are at all times within the scene and the story."

Jeff insists that clear visual storytelling takes absolute precedence over design. He admits to using the simplest of all comics' grids: the six panel page and keeping it clean. "Again, this is clarity of storytelling. I never want to confuse the reader. I want the reader to always know where they are, who's in the scene, and where they're going. Always."

Jeff also uses another element held over from his animation days. He calls the concept — anticipation. "Say Bugs Bunny is about to hit a bull on the head with a big wooden mallet. He takes out the hammer and holds it in the air for just a second, and then hits the bull in the head. That mallet poised above him for the merest of moments, is just as important as the actual hit, because that's what alerts the audience to anticipate the hit. They know it's going to happen."

Timing becomes crucial in telling a story. A fast mallet blow to the head, delivered before it was even seen would certainly be missed by the audience. Thus, by letting the audiences anticipate, you're drawing them into participating. "Same thing happens in any visual storytelling, the set up is just as important as the event. So, whether telling a joke or setting up an action, or anything; make sure the audience is with you and anticipating what's going to happen. You don't always have to deliver the mallet hit you promise (in fact, sometimes it's funnier if you don't), but by letting them anticipate the outcome, you're somewhat controlling the pace to amplify an end result. That's really, really important."

It's best to keep the audience with you at all times. By adding an "anticipation" frame, they'll be on the same wavelength as you, as the storyteller.

Copyright: BONE is a registered trademark and © 2001 Jeff Smith & Cartoon Books. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Jeff insists that, when following a comic book story, no one should spend a single ounce of energy trying to read a road map and figure out where their eyes are supposed to go. They should know exactly where one panel ends and the next one begins. With film you have the advantage of dynamic images being replaced at twenty frames a second in a predescribed space, but even there, you can easily lose your audience through a lack of continuity (see Rule #4). A good change of directions needs to be for a really good reason, and you have to be sure that they're intuitively understood. So, just decorative, flashy images and/or layouts splashed about to pretty up the composition of a page without a clear storytelling path is counterintuitive. "It has to be intuitive. You go left to right, everybody knows how to read. If it's not left to right - - and the artist decides he wants you to go down, then over and down and back around, nobody knows where to go next, it's just something crazy. Other than trying to purposely confuse the reader, what point would that serve?"

The passage of time between two panels builds narrative. Some event takes place; that's visual storytelling. "Page design exists for forward movement of the story between any two given panels, not to make the overall grid of panels relate together in a composition. Page design for decoration is in danger of subverting the inner story."

Jeff compares this to film and television, when suddenly the frame becomes a split screen; unless it serves a purpose to the story unfolding, it's very disruptive.
"Imagine if somebody built a special ‘L' shaped movie screen, where suddenly you can have other images off to the side there doing other things; it distracts."

Jeff admits that he's seen Neal Adams and Chris Ware design some beautiful page layouts that are exciting and non- conventional." There is crazy design stuff that can add to the experience," he said, "but it's rarely in the service of the story. It creates a new reading adventure not unlike a game or a puzzle. But, of course, if you know what you're doing, if you've mastered the craft; it's great, break the rules, but if you don't what you're doing, then you're just wasting the reader's time. The number one rule of visual storytelling is to never knock your reader out of the story. "

You can learn more about Jeff Smith, Bone and Cartoon Books at http://www.boneville.com.

The single most important panel in comics, the only panel that can be singled out as being significant and necessary in every scene an artist draws, films or renders, is the establishing shot. There must have an establishing shot for every scene - the reader must be shown where the story takes place as well as where its going, so, if the scene changes, so must the establishing shot; re-emphasize/re-establish the scene to keep the reader informed and immersed. It is also good to remember to show as much of the background as is plausible in any given shot. If the reader can't figure out where the story is taking place, or where a character is at any given point, then the artist has failed as a storyteller.

Likewise, every single page of a comic book, scene of a film or animation and without the world of an interactive game (which tends to sometimes provide a perpetual establishing shot), should have at least one background shot to remind the audience where the characters are in relation to the rest of the world. This does not mean an establishing shot, or even a panoramic shot, during every scene or on every page, but it does mean that there should be at least one panel that has a recognizable background for reader recall at least once on every page. And, despite the currant trend to the contrary, panel backgrounds should be a rule and not a rarity. Solid backgrounds are one of the artist's strongest tools in the establishment of "reality" and the suspension of the reader's disbelief.

When switching scenes, make sure to establish the new area. Always let the reader know where he is and going. It is also generally a good idea to make the backgrounds of a scene particular to that scene - whether it's a store sign, or some graffiti on the outside of a building, it can be anything as long as a reader will associate that characteristic with the scene and keep from getting confused from scene to scene; this enables the reader to accept the reality being set. As each character's face should be unique to that character, so too should a scene have it's own background.

The negative space on a page or in a scene refers to the (usually) "empty" space around the main objects in a given composition. Negative space around an object or figure can help make the object/figure outside contour as clear as a silhouette. This technique, as defined by Wally Wood, in his section, can aid in setting a tone or mood. The artist can easily see the negative space design of the work by doing an overlay on a frame and blacken in all negative space areas. This will let the artist see whether or not the frame balance out (and how the panels work as a whole on the page), without being distracted by the details in each frame. Again, this goes back to simplifying the shapes and forms of design to provide clarity in the visual storytelling process. The more complex the design becomes is when the chances of confusing the audience increases.

When attempting to balance work, there are three basic types of balanced compositions. It's easier to see how forms in a composition balance out if we visualize simplifying the forms and putting them on a see-saw (represented by the bottom of the panel). The three types of composition are:


When all elements in a composition are balanced on the two sides of the panel, page or screen.


Elements are not evenly balanced on both sides of the panel, page or screen.

Balanced Asymmetrical

Even though the visual elements are not balanced by size (or "weight") on both sides of the frame, they would, conceivably, balance on a see-saw. This is because elements move farther from the center of the frame and exert more pressure down on the see-saw than elements near the see-saw's pivot point. So, conceivably, a large object near the center (pivot point) of a composition could be balanced by a smaller object on the other side of the panel that is far away from the pivot point (near panel border).

It's good to use all three types of design balances when figuring out compositions. As with any "gimmick", sticking with one type of design balance for too long gets monotonous and boring.

Always vary figure size and shot - try not to have two figures of the same basic size on a page unless it is for a specific effect, because it tends to get boring if every figure/shot on a page or filmed scene is always the same. It's also wise to not overuse an effect or it will lose its impact and become ordinary.

Silhouettes can have a limited impact when used correctly. Although drawing silhouettes is less time consuming than drawing out everything in detail, it's not a shortcut. Like everything else, there has to be a reason for it. Thought needs to be given to them to ensure that they work. They must make sense in the story and be clear and readable.

Working from a Script

The first and most important question to ask when attempting to illuminate a script: is what information is the story trying to get across and what is the most important piece of information. That most important piece of information will generally become the focal point of the scene.

Emphasize the focal point of each scene in the script through balanced composition and design, then your scenes will pack more punch. Straightforward shots, rather than using diagonal frame designs and perspective convey a sense of unbalance or wrongness – unless, that's the objective.

Regardless if you're designing a set, scene or panel you must organize it. Various shapes can be used to organize the internal image - triangle, circle, arc - any shape that organizes can be used, thick or thin, whatever provides a framework of clarity to build upon..

A film director determines how the characters of a film will look and act. The same holds true for a comic or interactive game, but these characters are rendered; they are completely created out of nothing from within artist's imagination. How a scene is made to play depends on a number of factors: story pacing (manipulating the reading time of your pages or shot-to-shot), layout (which includes blocking out the action, setting the scene), mood (the use of light and shadow), the acting of characters, selection of camera angles, and juxtaposition of words/dialogue and imagery. Each of these plays an important part in the manipulation of the audience's responses (both emotional and intellectual), and that's what it's all about.

When visiting a movie theater to watch any movie, what leave an impression thereafter are its essence; the scenes, the imagery, effects, sound, music and dialogue. What people remember and talk about is the experience. The same holds true for any other visual storytelling media. Television has provided a magical home delivery mechanism for dynamic visual storytelling in film, the Internet offers the same vehicle for interactive games and static visual storytelling, today, with hopes of more in the future. The masters of visual storytelling media control the powerful hypnotic ingredients of the explosive "feel good" images that create that memorable experience. That's why it's difficult to simply walk by a television screen, either at home or in a store, sports bar or storefront window, without glancing at its vivacity. A commercial flashes with a favorite song, a striking woman pops onto the screen in underwear, and a newscast shows a daring rescue. Many of those "feel good" images are used in both interactive gaming and comics.

When the comics' reader forgets that they're reading static images and the story becomes something "real," then they've been entertained. They've experienced the two-dimensional world as something more than just pictures on a printed page, or characters on a screen. The same holds true for interactive games, but using additional elements. In an interactive game, timing is controlled by the player. They may choose to stay in one location for hours, and that's when the depth of the environment contributes to the success of the experience.

To make a scene play, the actions of the characters must be appropriate to the message being delivered. Their body positions, facial expressions and gestures must transmit the intellectual and emotional content of the scene. Effectively, the artist must get to know the characters so well that the artist essentially becomes the actors. Unless thrown into the story to identify with the characters, the people drawn will never be anything more than mere puppets dangling under the word balloons and captions.

A scene works when the actors' performances are convincing and directions is clear. If working from a full script, which includes dialogue, the writer's dialogue can be used as a springboard for the actors. What they say can help determine how they say it and how they should be drawn.

Scenes loaded with dialogue should not be static, as there's nothing more boring than a series of symmetrical talking heads. The characters or at least, the camera should move. In a full script, the writer supplies not only the dialogue, but also the bare-bones description of the action. From this, the comics' artist must direct the actors in much the same way a film director interprets a screenplay. If the framework for the story is laid out as a story plot (which has minimal dialogue, or none at all), the artist is free to improvise, and actually contribute to the dialogue written after the story is illustrated.

Episode #1
By Paul E. Nunn




NARRATOR: "Welcome loyal viewers to Van guard City: The City of Legends. She is protected from evil by a new breed of hero known as the Guardian Strangers. It is here on June 8, 1936 that their greatest take begins…"

Shot of bird peacefully feeding baby bird when suddenly Tamarack –(TM) crashes into the nest…

Cut to shot of TM whipping vine like appendages to slow his fall.


That one's for free, Banana Breath. Now hand over the hooligan!

Cut to shot of TanZar (TZ) holding small time crook over his head, TM leaps into the shot.


Ah…gee, Mr. TanZar, perhaps you should listen to… WHOA!

TZ throws the crook over shoulder.


I catch crook. Tanzar big hero now!

TZ turns and runs ape style.

Cut to shot of TM.


So, you want to play tag, Darwin…

Above is an example creating the characters within the script. Bringing them to life, as a fully developed character through imagery is an important step for any visual media. Although storyboards are simply a foundation for creating a film or animation, they should still clearly tell the story unfolding, otherwise those shortcomings may wind up on film as well.

In comics or animation, it's sometimes best to think of the art director or the editors as a director in a movie. That director sits down with the writer, the producers and they have a good idea. Most of the time, it's then written in some form or another – full script, plot or even a something scribbled on a napkin. The director may say this script's for Robert DeNiro, or this is a script for Tom Hanks, or Jack Nicholson. All those actors have a different aesthetic, a unique style. That actor becomes emblematic of acting and working a certain way and promoting a certain aesthetic and on the same level that's what a comic's artist or cartoonist is recognized as being able to deliver. Whatever the approach, or aesthetic, having a mindset that has a simpatico with the goal; presenting a story visually – while following the basic rules — Clarity, Reality, Dynamic, Continuity and Intuitive vs. Intellectual. For the most part, when initially working from the script, the last rule, Intuitive vs. Intellectual becomes the cornerstone from which to work. As John Byrne also emphasized, it's best to reach deep down inside the artistic psyche and project that creative ingenuity for a fresh representation. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez insists that the audience will recognize a work of artistic merit over typical craftsmanship. "Most of the time, I'm not given a script or anything and that's the way I like it," said Bob Staake. "A lot of the guys at Cartoon Network, they understand the importance of cartoonist driven writing, of cartoonist driven storytelling, of cartoonist driven story boarding, and cartoonist driven design. That makes all the sense in the world – we're creating a cartoon, shouldn't it be done by a cartoonist?"

"A lot of the guys at Cartoon Network, they understand the importance of cartoonist driven writing, of cartoonist driven storytelling, of cartoonist driven story boarding, and cartoonist driven design. That makes all the sense in the world – we're creating a cartoon, shouldn't it be done by a cartoonist?"

© 2001 Cartoon Network All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Staake has enough experience and a long successful track record to be recognized as someone who doesn't require a script at all. "There's no script," he insisted. "It's a synopsis of the story and my role as a cartoonist is okay, how do I take this general plot line and tell and tell a dynamic visual story. What visual gags do I use, what are the scene set ups, how do I as a cartoonist, interprets the scene."

The artist will usually interpret the story differently than a writer, only because as an artist, there is a different approach to "writing" the story. If much of the story calls for pantomime scenes, then it requires more visual storytelling skills, which the writer may lack. "I believe every cartoonist feels that they're as comfortable writing visual storytelling as they are illustrating it—to us, it's the same thing." Staake has seen that there are not very many writers that are comfortable drawing. "I do a lot of children's books and there are a number of children's books that I'm working on right now, where I contributed to the manuscript and they said there's something wrong here —you're not supposed to be able to be a really good illustrator, a really good designer and be a really good writer. You're not supposed to be able to do all that. I think that's precisely what you're supposed to do. You need to call on your talents in a myriad of different areas to be a successful cartoonist, and writing is crucial – it's the basic fundamental in storytelling. How can you work with a writer, if you don't understand what he's trying to do?"

Understanding the "story," however its' presented is crucial. The artist must communicate with the writer to understand the concept they're trying to express, before they can even begin to add visual imagery. "The imagery can be construed a simply hieroglyphics, set down to communicate some bigger idea, but it's all about the idea – it's all about the story."

When working from a plot, the artist has the freedom to decide the pacing of the story, what gets emphasized visually, and what actions are combined in the scenes. In comics, this is known as "Marvel Style," referring to Marvel Comics' method of production. Even here, before beginning to draw the story, the artist should read the plot several times and then use a highlighting pen to mark all visuals the plot describes. Communicating with the writer is also essential in understanding his motivations and angle, and also makes it possible to brainstorm ideas. This makes it easier to pick the visual instructions from the background info when laying out the story.

Next, once again, go over the plot and write story page numbers next to each highlighted section - estimating how many pages each scene will need. If, when to the end of the plot is reached, and the layouts represent less that the maximum pages allowed (most comic stories are 22 pages), then retrace and re-pace. If after another review, there's an advantage by adding more space for cramped scenes and for larger action visuals, then it's best to expand those sequences, but not because there's extra space available, only of it betters the action flow of the story. If running out of the page allotment before reaching the end of the plot, go back and re-pace by condensing less critical areas of the plot. If a plot is just too dense to fit the allotted pages, alert the writer, editor, producer or director immediately and be prepared to explain the details. He/she can either offer suggestions how to fix the material or will decide how to cut it. The artist should never take it upon themselves to add or subtract scenes from a plot without consulting the appropriate person first.

The next step, usually includes a thumbnail or layout rough of the visual story panel by panel, frame to frame or scene to scene. Some artists do this on the original art boards while others first work out the story with "thumbnail" drawings (small layouts). Either way, the panel arrangements and sizes are figured out and stick or balloon figures are used to rough in the storytelling.

Make notes on the original art, on the action in the border to help the writer zero in on what needs to be expressed in relation to the original plot. Some writers don't mind some dialogue suggestions. Make sure the notes are clear and in dark pencil so they Xerox well but are erasable later.

In comics, as in movies, an actor's performance is not acting, it's reacting. It's easy to animate figures, but not so easy to get them to appear involved. Dialogue scenes work when the characters play off of each other's lines - when they listen and react appropriately. Gestures and facial expressions function as "cues" for the reader and help make the scene work. The trick here is to get the pictures to carry the dialogue, and not vice versa.

Each scene will have its own unique set of requirements. It's the artist's job to work out the logistics, to decide who does what, what goes where, etc. The writer may provide a scene in which a killer suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots someone - but the artist needs to makes sure the audience knows the killer concealed his weapon in a shoulder holster hidden under his suit (see set-up and pay-off in Chapter 9) It also needs to be plausible too. It's not realistic for a guy to pull a grenade launcher out of his back pocket, unless, of course, it's Lara Croft (so there are exceptions).

The props are important objects that the actors need to play a scene. A prop can be a gun, a telephone, a pad and a pencil - anything that is handled. Props should never appear out of nowhere, unless the story calls for it. They help the actor do his bit and must be established for the sake of plausibility.

In movies, sometimes the director will give the actors a prop to liven up the action - a character having a drink, or opening a window during a scene. It can provide an interesting counterpoint to the main action and should be used to help dress the sets and scenes. Characters can handle, react to, or even ignore the props.

In a perfect world, the ideal situation would be to work with writers, producers and creators who will allow the artist creative freedom to contribute their own creative input to the visual storytelling. The value of the contributed aesthetic is recognized and revered and not thrown into a blender with other works to come out looking like some factory automation. However, depending on which visual storytelling medium, there are layers of the collaborative process that has a ripple effect on everyone's work.

In addition to the visual storytelling elements that the artist contributes there are other aesthetics that are almost an afterthought. While drawing these scenes and characters, the artist also provides design of much of the "sets" and "object" within each scene.

The artist may receive a script, and if working in animation or comics, there may also be the specific model sheets of the characters that need to be followed, prop list, environment list or nothing but a plot outline. This requires various degrees of creative input.

"Okay, here's the script and this guy's an ice cream vendor," said Staake. "I mean at that point, I do what I see as an ice cream vendor. That'll include my understanding or interpretation of how he or she needs to be drawn, with the understanding of what the parameters, the political implications, the style and personality, through the visual image. Cartoonists are not taught to understand that this choice as opposed to that choice is making a statement. That design, in a sense becomes writing."

Brian BMAN Babendererde, when designing the award winning Beavis and Butthead game for Viacom, presented the senior executive with the concept treatment for the game. After explaining the Beavis and Butthead in Virtual Stupidity game, unfortunately, the executive didn't know what an adventure game was, nor did he understand it, so there was a learning curve involved prior to moving forward with the development of the product.

"We told him the first step was to do the design and write a script, at which point he freaked," said BMAN. "He told us we're not writing the script, and that's when to two designers in the room looked at each other and was trying to figure out how that was going to happen. We have to write the script to design the game."

"He told us — Oh, no, no, there are only three people in the world who can write Beavis and Butthead, and none of them live in Illinois. So I looked back at him and said, you know, if you have a Hollywood writer write the script for this game, you'll have a movie not a game."

The compromise was that the design team wrote the initial script; a wholly functioning, interactive script with dialogue an then they handed it over to Viacom and the show's writers. "They added a joke here and there. The rest of it was all us, but they didn't understand that. They're Hollywood people. They think you write a script and a script is what you see for a movie script. We even had to extract all 35,000 words of dialogue from the interactive script and format it into a typical screenplay for the 154 speaking parts. The actors were completely confused with the interactive script structure—they weren't used to it."

Although there many be huge similarities between the scripts you see herein, the media themselves are very different—only in the sense that the experience created for the audience is different.

Being diversified is very important when it comes to artistic expression. Do not specialize in only drawing for comics, storyboards or whatever. Draw from life everyday, be it from a model in a life drawing class or from just sketching around the house or neighborhood. Do not spend most of the time trying to draw comics, or working in solely 3D modeling. The artist can expand core competencies by reaching into other media and cross-pollinating those aesthetics for better work.

Suggested Visual Storytelling Exercises:

  1. Establish scene.
  2. Action flow direction (wagon going west until hits pass blocked by landscape. It turns south then back west through another pass).
  3. Dynamics/Exaggerating action.
  4. Pacing Panel Shapes: (Empty vs. Contents)
  5. Panel Design Weights:
  6. Design Positive/Negative space (high contrast versions of art (silhouette) - are forms and action clear?)

Bob Staake

Cartoonist, Animator

"A lot of the guys at Cartoon Network, they understand the importance of cartoonist driven writing, of cartoonist driven storytelling, of cartoonist driven story boarding, and cartoonist driven design. That makes all the sense in the world – we're creating a cartoon, shouldn't it be done by a cartoonist?"