KNOW THE CHARACTERS
This is very important. Know their personalities and how to draw them.
The stories and gags you come up with should take advantage of their specific personalities and quirks. Not every gag works for every character.
COME UP WITH A FUNNY SITUATION
This is the starting point for a story; just come up with an idea. If it sparks many more gags it's worth developing further.
WRITE A PREMISE
This is just to keep track of the idea. If we were doing the show for TV, we would usually send the premise to the network execs so they could gleefully reject it or "give notes". Do they go to college to get a degree in "giving notes"? I've always wondered where this talent comes from.
HAVE A GAG SESSION
Get a couple more funny artists together and toss ideas around based on the situation you've come up with. Everyone will draw quick sketches to show the visual potential of the gags.
It helps to eat bacon or Montreal smoked meat.
Someone should keep track of all the gags and furiously write them down so you don't forget the good stuff.
WRITE AN OUTLINE WITH DRAWINGS INCLUDED
Then one story person should collect all the gags from the session and type them up in a list -with no particular order.
I use Microsoft Word because they have an "Outline Mode" which makes it easy to rearrange the ideas in a better order.
You want the gags to build in a logical progressive story order so after you have made the list of all the gags, now rearrange them according to the best order to tell a story.
I usually group them into 3 sections:
1) Setup -
this should be short but should clearly establish what the story is about and titillate the audience's curiosity. It should be entertaining and make the audience really want to see what happens next.
This is the longest part of the story
You develop the situation further and build the gags in a progressive order. Each gag should develop the original premise and situation. Avid going off on a tangent with another storyline that has nothing to do with the original idea. When this starts to happen, just save the gags for another story and get back to developing THIS ONE.
Build the gags and situation to a climax - don't start the middle with your best craziest gag and wind down.
This is usually short and sweet too.
Think of the ending to Stimpy's Invention. I had so many gags and so much intense emotional conflict going on in the middle that I was running out of time to have an easy wind-down. Because the cartoon had to fit into the 11 minute TV slot, I would have had to cut gags out of the exciting part (the middle) to make room for a comfortable easy wind-down. So instead I just ended immediately after the climax and rolled over and had a cigarette.
Here's another sample outline - with pictures:
DRAW THE STORYBOARD
and fill out the details.
The outline is basically your map so that you can keep track of the structure and flow of the story.
It lists all the major plot points, situations and gags and presents them in a logical order.
With this guide you can now concentrate on drawing the details. Since it often takes more than one storyboard artist to draw out the story, then the guide becomes even more important.
I don't know exactly how to teach storyboarding except to say:
Draw in character.
Act everything out.
People make fun of me when I draw because I hunch over into weird positions and make odd faces. I don't do it on purpose. I am getting into the story and characters. I don't want to draw by formula or by storyboard theories - I just want to get in and draw a story as close to real time as I can hastily draw.
When I draw rough and fast I tend to get a lot more life into the drawings.
My poses and expressions are more custom (less reliant on model sheets) and a lot of lucky accidents occur.
In fact, I would not have any model sheets around while storyboarding. If you have to keep stopping the flow of drawing a story by turning and analyzing model sheets, then you are going to have a jerky unnatural cold story.
The process at this point should be mostly feeling and emotions. Get all sensitive like a 70s pop singer. Get into the harts and souls of the characters. You are performing with a pencil.
The hardest thing for me to convey to artists who have spent too much time in studios that have a zillion rules and are model sheet crazy is how to connect your pencil to your feelings
instead of having your pencil just obey a bunch or predesigned expressions and poses.
I see a ton of modern cartoons where all the characters make the same expressions, hold the same poses and move the same way as each other. I've seen really funny cartoonists who in real life have their own unique expressions, gestures and quirky movements - who when having to draw a story, immediately resort to standard stock "animation expressions" and "animation gestures".
They aren't letting their pencils reflect their own personalities and world views.
The best storyboard artists have pencils that are connected directly to the artists' unique personalities and outlooks - without being filtered by trends and stock style formula.
In fact I would say the same thing about layout artists, animators and every other creative person.
more to come...