Storyboarding with Blender's Grease Pencil
I recently put up my first edited-together animatic called Guns for Hire: Camp Scene! Storyboarding is something I've really gained an interest in within the last couple of months, and while I’ve made a lot of rough boards I wanted to put together something more complete and presentable. For me, storyboarding is a really enjoyable mix of my writing and drawing skills, and a good way to utilise both to tell a story.
It was also a great excuse to properly learn Blender and its Grease Pencil tool, since I only have experience in other 3D programs like Maya and ZBrush (I actually ended up moving into 2D drawings using Photoshop in this project, but I’ll get to why further below). For those unfamiliar, Grease Pencil is an inbuilt tool suite within Blender that allows 2D lines to be drawn in a 3D environment and animated. I wanted to see if it was a viable tool for creating storyboards.
You can watch the finished version of animatic in the video below:
In order to keep a small scope I chose to make a scene out of a hypothetical animated show rather than a fully enclosed story. There are two characters - Edgar and Pyke - who share a conversation over a campfire and run into an unexpected intruder. It’s not exactly the most dramatic or action packed, but it allowed me to dip my toes into boarding for both dialogue and action.
This scene started off with the idea of the bird gag: an otherwise serious cat-man getting distracted by a bird like a normal cat and gets a boot-tap to the face for it. From that I built a scene around it, with the aim of adding a little bit of character and suspense. I wrote a small outline and turned that into this script:
Then came the very first rough version of the actual boards, which I did on sticky notes:
You can see that the last two shots are actually missing, since originally the scene was slightly shorter. Midway through working in Blender, I found that the scene ended strangely. I added in a little extra about Pyke burning the food, so that it connected with the start of the scene with her complaining about it. It was a nice little way to tie the scene together and really show her nonchalance. I also realised as I began boarding that I would need a good character reference to draw from instead of just eyeballing it, so I drew that up too:
With the sticky note version, completed script and concepts, I had enough to start blocking out the shots in Blender. The best part for me was the ability to move the camera in 3D space to find the shots I wanted. It meant the characters felt properly grounded in the environment (which I could roughly model in 3D) and I didn’t have to sink time into setting up the perspective. Here’s the full blockout version rendered out:
This was likely just a case of me needing more experience in the program and setting up some custom brushes, but it was getting to a point where working in Blender was just becoming a time sink. Clean lines were difficult to make, and it was taking far too long to draw the final poses in a way that was readable. I decided in order to get it done, I'd take screenshots of all the main poses and redraw them in Photoshop as 2D images. It was definitely the right choice to make in the end, and it gave everything a lot of the visual clarity it needed as well as saving time. I had still spent enough time in Blender to learn the program and the capabilities of Grease Pencil, so I still see my time in the program as a success. Also, since this theoretical finished product would have been a 2D animation anyways, the 2D art works fine.
When I use Grease Pencil again, I want to try a project that exists better in 3D space: either a scene made for 3D animation or film. The suite has some really powerful tools, and I want to try better utilising them. Moving onto new storyboards I’m also going to focus on making them looser but with more interesting shots. While the shots in Camp Scene are pretty serviceable, I’d like trying more dynamic shots. I’ve also been looking into the film making capabilities that the Unreal Engine has, so I can see myself experimenting there in the future!