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This Jungle Book Scene is Genius – Shot by Shot Storyboard Breakdown

December 11, 20200 Comments

Hi there! My name is Rembert Montald. I’m here to talk about a profession that does not often get taught or talked about: storyboarding.

If you’ve seen storyboards for films, you might be under the impression that it is essentially the same as sequential art, like a comic-book, adapted from a script as a basic visual representation to give the other departments in the production a starting point to work from. And while that is true to a certain extent, there’s more to it. One of the main differences between sequential art and storyboarding, is that the final product of a storyboard is confined to the dimensions of a single screen, and so it is important to understand how to guide the eye from shot to shot. To better understand that concept, we’ll be analyzing a specific scene.

But before we dive in, let me give you a brief history about the man that put together the scene we are going to analyze, Milt Kahl. 

He worked for some studio in Burbank… maybe you’ve heard of it? He came to be known as one of the Disney nine old men.

Disney 9 Old Men Milt Kahl

Nowadays animators get one entire character for the whole duration of the film, but back in the day, an animator got an entire sequence for themselves.

After analyzing a bunch of Disney movies from the 30s till the late 70s, I was always amazed at certain scenes including the first appearance of Bagheera. Or Donald Duck riding the llama in “Saludos Amigos.” Robin Hood, Briar Rose, the list goes on and on.

Most of the time Milt got stuck on drawing princes and human-like characters because he was such a good draftsman. He always complained that he would rather work on the more eccentric characters.

Studying Storyboarding

Painters do master studies to practice their craft. As a storyboard artist you do the same. We analyze movie scenes, and not just for the information in individual shots. We are responsible for continuity- from scene to scene or shot to shot.

If you ever noticed an object change location between shots, that is a “break in continuity”. But continuity isn’t limited to physical objects- movement and eye-line direction have continuity as well. Things that move in one direction stay moving in that direction. And when characters are speaking to each other they remain in the same position to not confuse the audience.

So how do we guide the audience? There are many ways to guide the eye and I’ll show you one of them.

I drew out some boards based on a sequence by Milt Kahl from the 1967 animated feature The Jungle Book. This is a scene between Shere Khan the tiger and Kaa the snake.

The Tiger is a straight up evil character who wanted to kill this kid. And maybe enjoy him for lunch. He is interrogating the snake about the whereabouts of the kid.

It’s a great case study for characterization as well. Having opposite personalities with the same goal. Here it is having this kid for lunch. Even though usually the character that is higher up in  the shot or composition is more dominating. This is a wonderful example of how that rule can be broken because the Snake starts out highest. But towards the end the tiger literally pushes him to the ground.

Also the way the scene is animated is interesting, not much is moving. It’s deceptively simple. Any other animator would have made it move too much. Because we are always afraid of making it look dead.

scene example 1

But sometimes little movement helps because it gives more importance to the elements that are moving. And your eye is always searching for movement. It created a focal point. It comes from our primal instincts.

At first we see the tiger moving from left to right. This brings us to the first important aspect of Storyboarding. Things that move in one direction should keep moving in that direction. This can be  broken in certain circumstances, like in action sequences.

I have seen many storyboard portfolios where this simple rule gets broken and it confuses the audience, so be careful with this.

scene example 2
Then we see the Tiger turn, we have clearly informed the audience that he is changing direction.
scene example 3

The next shot we see the snake hanging. The tiger comes in on the right which is the direction he turned so the audience understands this. 

As soon as he pulls on the tail of the snake to “ring,” we see that the two characters create an action line going through the image. Not only does this give us a center focal point, but also divides the image in 2 equal negative shapes. The negative shapes are as important as the positive ones. But, more on that later.
scene example 4

So in the center we have our focal point. And pay close attention when we flip to the next shot where the exact same point is now. I know here it is in the middle of the canvas but this is no accident. You will see in later shots that even when they are off center the focal points will remain around the same areas.

scene example 5

So here we see the snake in the exact same position. He Is startled by the tiger and decides to go down to take a peek. Again he goes down and he keeps going down in the next shot. Usually I will have the camera move with the character a little. It helps sell the movement even more. They used to be afraid to do that in animation because pans and moves are so expensive. But nowadays with software it’s much easier to move.

scene example 6

So the snake stays consistent in his movement. He looks left and right, but the tiger catches him off-guard. He is on the other side.

There is something interesting that happens in the animation here to guide your eye. He comes in from behind the tree. 

Which is again in the same focal area as the snake.

scene example 7

When he is about to sit down you can see I drew this action line through his body. The “gesture” line of a character is also very important. The direction of a pose is also a powerful way to guide your eye in the picture. And when that gesture line moves it can direct your eye slowly to where to look next.
scene example 8
In this case the tail  is pointing towards the area where the snake will enter the frame. Snake enters from the right because that is where he came from in the previous shot. These are very obvious things but easily forgotten when I look at portfolios.
scene example 9

The focal point is now between the two characters, and when we move to the next shot, you see that it nicely lands on the tiger in this medium shot.

scene example 10

In another video I will explain all the information about the different types of shots and how they can tell the story and why you need variety. This is an entire subject of its own.

So now there is a dialogue scene between the Snake and the tiger and we cut between them. I love that it’s not just cutting between over-the shoulder shots and reversing that constantly. Something they use a lot in soaps and normal television. Here they keep it simple and very elegant by cropping in on them.

So here is a good example to prove my point. The snake leans in a bit forward as he is talking to the tiger. When he leans forward notice that the focal point moves as well. And it exactly landed on the tiger’s face. 

scene example 11

As he opens up his claws, notice that they both are looking at them. Another very simple and powerful way to grab the attention from the audience is simply have the characters look at something.

Try this experiment. When you’re in the middle of a crowded street. Look up into the sky. You will see that other people around you will start looking up as well. Probably wondering what you are looking at. People are curious and we can use that to our advantage in art.

The claw became the focal point. As he starts talking it switches back to the tiger. But notice for a second how simple this sequence is and it’s hard to keep it this simple. All the characters have their gesture lines in the image point and guide your eye towards the center.

scene example 12

Again as we cut from that wide back to a medium close-up. The focal point from the tiger lands on the snake.

scene example 13

As we switch back to the tiger he is scratching his nose. The paw goes from left to right, and we cut in the action. And the paw keeps moving from left to right. Movement is always an excellent motivation for a cut. They usually always feel the smoothest as well.  

Movement moves the focal point and your eye. In this case back to the snake.

Watch again how in every wide shot all the gesture lines force you to look towards the focal point. I keep pointing this out because I’m just amazed how well this is executed here.

As we cut back we see that the head of the snake is right in that green area again.

scene example 14

Going back to the tiger and then the wide shot again. You can see it land nicely in the space between them. Again action lines are very important!

The tiger moves in with his head. And notice the space of the head again as it overlaps the position of the snake’s head perfectly again in the next shot. 

Look how simple the line is again here. If you take away all the characters and naturalism the gesture line alone should be as powerful as a minimalist artist’s abstract brushstroke compositions.

scene example 15

The snake goes up to hypnotize the tiger. He moves from down to up. So we cut to the wide shot again, and he keeps moving in the same direction which makes for a smooth cut.

Notice all the lines again and the tension it builds. The Tiger slams the snake down and all the gesture lines have changed again. The tension gets released in a fun curling animation of the tail.

scene example 16

This analysis is not only about moving your eye from shot to shot. But also demonstrates the importance of the gesture and guiding the eye within shots.

Towards the end of the shot the tiger speaks, making him the focal point. But before we cut, the snake starts speaking, switching the attention again between them.

Nothing in animation is a coincidence, why do you think most superheroes stand with their legs open? Because it forms a triangle. It represents power and balance. Rubens used a lot of egg shapes in his art. The egg shape represented life and birth. Here we have a corner. It’s the right shape choice because it displays how cornered he is in this situation. There is nowhere to go.
cap and rubens

Every time you do not design something in art. You have missed an opportunity. So use everything to help tell your story or to enhance a feeling. Even when you’re painting backgrounds or small details: When you see the room of a character, that room should tell you everything about the personality of that character. For example if there is a guitar with some dust on it. You can tell that the character is artistic but also kind of lazy, and unclean because he probably did not touch that guitar in a while.

Use every tool you have to reinforce the story. Err to the more dynamic. Better to over emphasize. Better to make it too dark or too light, too funny or too scary. Screw up in the right way.

So as we cut again in the movement from the close to the wide. The Paw pulls out of the shot and continues to pull-out in the wide. The focal point is at the tiger again since he is the one that is speaking.

Look at the nice “cornered feeling” represented in the overall gesture.

scene example 17
Again a nice touch in this animation. As he steps away from the snake, leaving him on the ground. A stark contrast with how it started. He is on the ground and the tiger is now superior. 

The paw as he moves away points you back towards the snake.

scene example 18

As we cut to the next shot the focal point switches nicely again between them. 

Another way to make a switch in dialogue work or to let 2 characters occupy the space on the canvas between shots is letting every character have it’s space.

Here in the example the negative shape of the snake is the positive shape of the tiger. Look how we say it in the word “negative shape,” which is quite literal. The tiger is the negative space for the snake and visa versa.

Notice in between the cutting of the next couple of shots, their spaces respect this rule.

scene example 19

Cutting with shapes and spaces is perfectly possible as a more abstract way of transitioning. The most common one is cutting from an eye to the sun or moon.

More less known ones are cutting with the same shape composition in its entirety

Closely observe when your eye switches between these shots the similarities.

Even though the color and subject are entirely different. The general gesture and movement, placement of shapes remains the same. It can be really fun to experiment with this and can help you solve difficult transitions.

Another excellent way to cut between shots is using sound as a motivator. In this example from Once upon a time in the west, the character traps the fly in his gun and listened to it, overlapping the flute of the train fading in and we cut to the train. This is an excellent example of using sound to help transition from a shot.

There are many other ways to guide your audience through a film. But those are for another time. For now I hope you found this little analysis informative and I hope to see you next time. If you want to see more from me you can follow me on my Artstation, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn…Cheers!

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