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Drawing Prince Caspian

Published July 16, 2007 in Movie News
By Ryan Parsons | Image property of Disney.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

A new production update has been posted for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on the film's official blog.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Production Update: Drawing Caspian

A storyboard is more than just a little drawing with a bunch of arrows stuck to it. It's a tool that can transform words on paper into images for everyone to see. While a script can be interpreted a million different ways, a storyboard can literally put everyone 'on the same page.'

When I got on the film, I was coming off the heels of another fantasy movie and was excited to jump back into a world of magical creatures and adventure. It's the kind of stuff I drew as a kid, late at night while watching movies (so I guess not much has changed). Like the last Narnia film, we'd be making an 'animatic' - essentially an animated storyboard with sound effects, dialogue and music that can be cut together as if it was the actual movie itself. The idea is to 'watch' the movie before anything has been shot and therefore be able to make decisions that normally come AFTER the real cameras have begun rolling. It's a powerful way to pre-visualize a movie and for the artists who make it, it's just plain fun. That's not to say that it's not a challenging endeavor, because it definitely can be.

The biggest challenge in making an animatic comes from what it does best: it simulates the feeling of watching the movie, so it's taken more literally than your normal storyboard. If the screen direction is slightly off, or if there's an awkward cut, or if the blocking of the characters isn't consistent - an animatic will isolate those mistakes. To make an animatic that flows well, you've really got to be on your game. You've got to think like a director (what's this scene about), a cinematographer (how am I going to shoot it), an editor (how's it going to cut), an actor (what's my motivation), a production designer (what's it all going to look like), the caterer (what do I want for lunch). When you make an animatic, you're 'filming' the movie on paper, so you've got to be a one-man production team.

Going into the project, I decided that the best approach to the animatic was to not make it like a slideshow (many animatics I've seen are guilty of this), but to fully animate almost every frame. This adds to the 'cinematic' effect that an animatic can provide. To do this more effectively, I went to an all-digital approach, doing everything from the drawing to the animating within Photoshop. This allowed me to reuse backgrounds and characters, keeping everything on separate layers so they'd be easier to move around and animate. Because animatic boards involve a lot more drawing, I had to keep the process efficient as humanly possible (yes, we storyboard artists ARE human).

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

For any given shot, all kinds of animation could be happening, from facial expression changes to character and camera movement - sometimes all at the same time! For instance, let's say the script calls for Susan to pull out an arrow and fire it into a bad guy. Rather than simply covering the action, I want to make a meal out of it and try to bring that moment to life by putting on my animator's cap. In a wide shot, I animate Susan whipping around, seeing her expression change from scared to determined. I animate her arm reaching back, pulling an arrow from her quiver and stringing it to the bow as she steps forward, while simultaneously the camera pushes in for dramatic emphasis. Cut to an angle over Susan's shoulder and I animate the Bad Guy charging forward. Susan fires and we see the arrow zip through the air, sending the bad guy sprawling to the ground just in front of her as she dives out of the way. The whole scene will be drawn like this, and after the editors get their hands on it and work their magic, hopefully it'll look and feel like watching a movie. The idea is to give Andrew something that simulates the experience of watching the movie so he can see how the story is flowing, and make changes to the script accordingly. As this process continues, the story is improved, the scenes take shape, and the storyboard artists all get gold stars and weekly celebrations in their honor (well, not really, but we wouldn't turn it down).

Now that we're into production, I've shifted from drawing animatic boards to shooting boards. Basically I'm adapting what we've already drawn to match the actual locations and sets, re-blocking scenes and changing camera angles. My other duties involve physically being there during rehearsals to draw any changes that come up, think of cool shots that they could use, and in between drawings, try to beat my Tetris high-score.

So, that basically sums up what I've been doing since the summer of '06. Three continents and thousands of drawings later, it's still a fun ride. Narnia is a great place to call your office.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian opens to theatres May 16th, 2008.

For updates and more info on the film, go to The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Ryan Parsons
Sources: Image property of Disney.

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