In my post ‘What’s Wrong With Your Storyboards‘, the first storyboarding mistake I mentioned was screen direction and crossing the line.
How do you not ‘cross the line’? I’ll tell you how.
But you better know what the heck the line *is* before I start telling you to ditch it.
The line of action, 180 degree line or the axis line (whatever you like to call it) is an imaginary line drawn down the center of the action of a scene. In many live-action film making books it looks something like this.Illustration from ‘Film Directing Shot by Shot’ – Steven D. Katz/FrankBolle.
What’s a circle? 360 degrees. Draw a line through the center of it and you get 180 degrees (isn’t math fun?).Illustration from ‘Film Directing Shot by Shot’ – Steven D. Katz/FrankBolle.
The principle is that once you choose where that line will be, you can put your camera along any part of that 180 half circle and the scene will work direction-wise. Like this.Illustration from ‘Film Directing Shot by Shot’ – Steven D. Katz/FrankBolle.
If you place your camera suddenly on the other side of that line, your direction gets screwed up.
Illustrations from ‘Film Directing Shot by Shot’ – Steven D. Katz/FrankBolle.
Someone or something is now facing the wrong way. This can really disorient the audience.
Rule one of visual storytelling: don’t disorient your audience.
Now these down shots with little cameras is all well and good. But you know what else it is?
Especially when you’re drawing cartoons. In cartoons we work on 2 dimensional paper or a computer screen, not in a real 3 dimensional room (well, yeah we do…but you know what I mean). I suspect it can get confusing for the live-action folks too. Especially when you get beyond just two bozos sitting at a table.
But I will stick with the two bozos at the table for now. Let’s learn the easy part first, shall we?
Now when I say forget about the line, I don’t mean forget about *the rule*.
I just want you to think about it in our wonderful 2 dimensional world. On paper. On a screen. Even you live-action gurus. It just might make your life a little easier.Illustration from ‘Film Directing Shot by Shot’ – Steven D. Katz/FrankBolle.
Instead of the imaginary line and the little cameras and the half circle, just think about the frame (or the storyboard panel…same thing). Draw a line down the middle of the frame and that frame has two sides. (OK, I lied…there is a line).Illustration from ‘Film Directing Shot by Shot’ – Steven D. Katz/FrankBolle.
A left side and a right side. When storyboarding, always think of the left and right of the frame, not the ‘left of this character’ or the ‘right of that character’. Just the left side of the frame and the right side of the frame. That’s it.
Now we have our two folks at the table. The dude is on the left, the chick is on the right.
Where does the dude have to look to see the chick?
Where does the chick have to look to see the dude?
Left side.Illustrations from ‘Film Directing Shot by Shot’ – Steven D. Katz/FrankBolle.
Keep them always facing that other side (and keep them on their own sides) and you will never cross the line.
I know it sounds stupidly simple. But people screw it up all the time. When they start using different shots and angles, it can slip away from them for a shot or two (or seven).
It doesn’t just work with people in a shot. It can be the guy and his TV.
The dog and a tree.
The child and the moon.
Just keep asking yourself the questions.
Which side did you establish the TV, the tree, the moon on? Then which side of the frame must the guy, the dog, the child face to see it?
Now things can get a lot more complicated. Add in a few more people. Have them all sitting at the dinner table. Have them enter and exit.
You can change the line and establish new ones. Then you follow the same rules. But I think this is enough for one post. I hope it made some sense. I just wanted to give you the simplest examples so you grasp the basic concept.
Remember you have to learn the rules before you can break ’em.
But uh…don’t break ’em.
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