So what’s better for storyboarding, the pencil or the computer?
Well, for most of my career I have used good old fashioned pencil and paper. I’m working that way right now. But for one of my jobs I did work by drawing on a Wacom tablet directly into Flash. So I do have some experience with both. I’m just going to discuss this on a basic level for now, giving my personal pros and cons for each.
In the future I’d like to give more in-depth reviews of specific software. But I’m not going to do that until I try them out obviously. And right now I haven’t used any others except for Flash.
If you’re an artist, nothing really beats a good pencil. Especially when you get that one that flows oh-so-sweetly. The feeling of it on paper is hard to duplicate. It just feels like that’s how we artists are supposed to work, doesn’t it?
Yes. Yes it does.
But then these new tools come along (yes, they ‘came along’ for me…I’m old) and they can make your life easier. You can change things at the click of a mouse or swipe of a stylus. You can fix mistakes without eraser shavings all over your desk. It’s sweet.
Those tools can also make you want to toss many hundreds of dollars worth of hardware out of your eighth story window. I have contemplated this myself.
The first thing to make you decide in what medium to work is by what the client or studio wants. If they want paper, you work on paper. If they want computer, they got it. The good news is if they just want a file (JPEG, PDF or whatever), you can do it on paper, scan it into your computer and voila! They have it as a file and you’re both happy.
Or they may want it done with particular software so you should be prepared for that. Now, the studio may even supply you with the software, so don’t run and shell out the money until you need to.
How do the two mediums stack up against each other in regards to storyboarding with them? When I say “with pencil”, I also mean all the other tools needed to create a storyboard traditionally.
Here’s my breakdown:
Pros for storyboarding traditionally with pencil
- you can’t quite beat the feel of pencil on paper.
- the supplies are cheap (sorta).
- scotch taping stuff is fun.
- it’s portable…you can use pencils anywhere.
- you can see all the little lines you draw and can make for great texture and liveliness.
- you can chew on pencils.
- the supplies don’t need constant pricey upgrades.
- you get to play with (x-acto) knives.
- seeing the stack of the finished storyboard getting bigger is satisfying.
- it’s a pencil! We love pencils.
Cons for storyboarding traditionally with pencil
- the constant sharpening of said pencil.
- when you press too hard and the pencil suddenly ‘SNAPS’, sending the lead flying…always scares the crap out of me.
- not very ‘green’…lots of paper.
- those x-acto knives can slice off bits of your finger…blood is hard to get out of paper.
- you can run out of tape at a bad time if you don’t keep on top of your supplies (note: keep up your supply stock).
- callouses on the fingers. If you don’t have any, you’re not drawing enough.
- hand cramps.
- writing out your action notes by hand is always a pain in the ass.
- eraser shavings on the desk need constant sweeping (if you’re anal like me).
- might need to make trips to the photocopy place if you don’t have your own machine.
- when the shot should have been ‘just a bit wider’ so you re-do it (to avoid a trip to the photocopy place).
Now the other side:
Pros for storyboarding digitally
- re-sizing ease…no need for that damn photocopier.
- cutting and pasting backgrounds rocks.
- cutting and pasting characters rocks.
- more environment friendly by lack of paper.
- more studios are probably going this route so it’s a good skill to have.
- typing action notes is much less of a pain in the ass (unless you can’t type).
- no eraser shavings!
- easier on the hands (as in less callouses…better for the ladies).
- you don’t tend to press so hard with the stylus…less hand strain.
- your straight lines are very straight and very neat.
- the program may number your scenes and panels automatically…very sweet.
Cons for storyboarding digitally
- can be quite costly to start up.
- upgrading software can also be costly.
- if you can only afford a tablet (as opposed to a Cintiq), some might find it frustrating drawing in one place while looking at another.
- doesn’t quite feel the same as using a pencil (but it is getting pretty darn close).
- eye strain! After 16 hours you may start to see little floaty things and think you’re insane.
- you’re always stuck at that work station…not very portable (but to be fair, I rarely take my traditional storyboarding ‘on the road’ either). And I’ve never used a tablet laptop, so I have no opinion there.
- easier to get distracted with your email and Internet ‘right there’ beckoning you.
- because you can zoom in so easily, you can get carried away putting every background character on model. If you had worked in pencil, they would have been a little doodle…refrain from this obsession, trust me.
- in my experience, it’s no faster than storyboarding traditionally…really.
- hard drives can crap out.
- Flash files can become corrupt.
- if you don’t save many versions, you can lose days worth of work and end up crying in a fetal position on the floor and have to re-do it all from memory.
- see a pattern in those? Learn from my hell…save obsessively and back-up your files!
For the Flash job, I was given a pre-made template for the show and just drew on a Wacom tablet with the brush tool. The template had separate layers for the background, characters, camera moves and the like. Which is how it should be. Don’t draw everything all on the same layer all the time. It will become very frustrating. Use the digital tools to their advantage.
But I don’t want this to be a tutorial so I’ll stop there.
I know some colleagues are using Sketchbook Pro to draw their storyboards. I’ve heard it to be very artist-user-friendly. If I ever try it out in the future, I’ll give you my review.
And there is also ToonBoom Storyboard. I really want to try this out and give you my opinion on this one too. I just find it a bit pricey for the independent artist that works professionally right now. We’ll see what happens in the future because I think more studios will be using ToonBoom products as time goes on. So it could be a good skill to have. Most software has a 30 day trail, so check them out for yourself and see what you think.
Here’s a weird observation from working in both mediums. I did storyboards in Flash for 13 months and got quite used to it. When I went back to paper for this job, I started pushing a mental ‘undo’ button whenever I drew a line I didn’t like. It took a second to realize I had to erase it. It’s the freakiest thing!
To wrap up, it basically comes down to your choice and what your client wants. But anything that makes you more employable is always a good idea. So learning some of these tools as well as improving your traditional drawing skills is recommended.
Heck, it can’t hurt.
Have you used any of these tools? Have something to add to my lists? Put them in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts (good and bad).