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SketchUp for storyboards? Pro's and con's...



Is using Google's 3D drawing program SketchUp a good way to do storyboards?    



First the short answer:

SketchUp is a tool.

More often than not I don't use it, but I do like it for planning certain things, although I usually pencil over it for the finished frames
Unless I draw my frames digitally (more often for comps than storyboard frames), in which case the SketchUp lines might stay intact.



Mostly it's a question of time available and intended end-use of the boards.

So that was the short answer. Here's a bit more explanation.

Using it is kind of a higher tech version of my wooden manikins and foam core method.

Sometimes manikins are more efficient to manhandle quickly in a time crunch, sometimes SketchUp is the way to go. Or neither of course, and I'll just pull it all from my noggin how I've always done it.

Big complicated wide scenes with lots of stuff in them are perfect SketchUp candidates.
Especially if they involve a whole sequence of shots, and even better if you can find all your elements in Google's 3d warehouse (where I swiped the saloon building from).




I built my virtual treadmill desk in SketchUp before I constructed it for real. My room and furniture I built in SketchUp, the odds and ends on the desk etc I swiped from the 3D Warehouse.

Here's 3 examples of how I might use SketchUp, from the perspective of a director, an art director, and both a producer and director..

Example 1:
Let's say you're a director and your set is designed (or locations already established) and you want your very specific shots planned out in boards.

You want to see what the shots will look like using the set you've had designed with your removable walls (allowing for long lens shots from far back).

And you also want to see what you can achieve in your real-life locations shooting only through doorways and windows (if you need anything shot on a long lens from farther back than the room allows).

Or you want to see how it looks with the camera backed up to the wall but on a wider lens, since you can't remove the wall.

Check out some frames I blocked out using SketchUp (using a low res 3d person, and adding a few arrows, eyelines, etc).

SketchUp is perfect for this sort of thing. In fact some productions pre-visualize everything using 3d software to save them hiring equipment they don't need on the day, or preventing their storyboard artists from drawing shots their equipment can't deliver.

I could use your existing SketchUp set model and place people and cameras and plan your shots that way.
Or build one myself if you have some (preferably sketched out) ideas for overhead plans with dimensions.

Having said that, I've drawn hundreds of boards simply working from location photos and a script (or possibly even thumbnails).

Example 2:
Let's say you're a creative director and you need a storyboard in a bit of a hurry and the story takes place in many different environments.

You are in the 'presenting the concept to the client' stage, so there's no actual sets or locations locked in; the board just needs to communicate the story with a feel for the kind of locations you might end up in.
In this instance it would be quicker for you and easier for me if I use a pencil to bash out some roughs, perhaps pulling scrap from google searches, perhaps sketching over them or just glancing at them, and sometimes using SketchUp if it seems like a good idea.

For instance, in one board I had to plan several shots around a suburban cul-de-sac, so I grabbed a house from Google's 3d warehouse, arranged a bunch of copies to form a cul-de-sac and printed some screen grabs to scribble my people on to.



That saved me some time sketching in the backgrounds for the roughs, since each one would have had a lot going on.
It was a great time-saving use of SketchUp since I had to navigate around the same complicated environment to do several shots.
All the finished frames were then re-drawn in pencil.

Had it just been one shot in a cul-de-sac, it probably would have been quicker to just grab an image from an image search and sketch people onto that.

I sometimes build from scratch my own 3D sets for agency boards, pulling in elements from the 3d warehouse like furniture and doors, then plan my shots and take screen grabs.
I'll scribble people and props over these to do the roughs.

The level of detail in the SketchUp model can be fairly crude if I'm going to use it just as a guide for the finished pencils, but with the right camera placement and angle of view to simulate specific lens choices you do get a nice authentic, cinematic feel.



Example 3:
Let's say you're a producer or director and you want to see the story very loosely and quickly roughed out to get a sense of shot flow so you can decide on a series of shots. Time is not on your side and you want to see as many options as possible, preferably yesterday.
I'd skip SketchUp and just bash through the script drawing as fast as the scene unfolds in my head and getting a nice feel for the story.

Then I'll usually crash in a bunch of alternative angles, inserts and cutaways for good measure.

Then, later, when decisions have been approved and shots picked, any amount of refinements can be made, re-working the entire board to location or set specific parameters if needed.

If you want a working board to shoot from, and it doesn't need a consistent finish all through, then SketchUp screen grabs scribbled over, combined with some photo's scribbled on, and other frames of just pure drawing will work fine.

It's not pretty, so I wouldn't recommend that for a presentation of course!
So unless it really doesn't matter I still prefer to create boards (for presenting ideas to clients especially) with a uniformly consistent look throughout, rather than a mishmash of styles.

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