The greatest filmmakers in the world spend a lot of time in the previsualization stage of pre-production. Here’s why it’s so important to your next project.
Top Image: Original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Concept Art via Ralph McQuarrie
No matter if your next project is a big-budget spectacle, a streamlined industrial spot, or a small commercial, you’ll want to plan and develop your idea well ahead of shooting. Look at the process like this: the script is your foundation, while the art for pre-production is the frame that rests upon that foundation. From there you build out the rest of your project during production and post-production.
Original concept art for 2001: A Space Odyssey via Robert McCall
What is Previsualization?
Previsualization, or Previs, is a process of visualizing the scenes of a film before production even begins. There are several different components to the previsualization process, but the three we’ll touch on are concept art, storyboarding, and test footage.
Developing the look and feel of a film early in the process allows you the ability to see the production play out before you actually begin filming. In turn, this should help you when you do begin production, as you’ll know exactly what you want. Let’s look at the three core processes of previsualization and learn why they are so crucial to your next project.
1. Concept Art
Original Blade Runner concept art via Syd Mead
Before he was an award-winning director, Ridley Scott was a concept and storyboard artist. In fact, Scott would collaborate with other legendary artists like H.R. Giger and Syd Mead and then utilize those concept-art sessions to set the tone and the look of each character and location of his film. He learned that by creating the concept for his project, he was essentially creating a roadmap for his production.
Of course, concept art isn’t just for the director and the production team. It’s also used early in pre-production as an asset for the pitch, which is the process of selling your idea to a production company. In the video below, we can watch as longtime Star Wars and Transformers concept artist Feng Zhu gives us a full rundown on the process of generating a concept production pitch. While the video focuses on the pitch process for a video game, the same techniques apply for film conceptual art.
Video via FZDSCHOOL
Original Alien storyboard art by Ridley Scott via 20th Century Fox
Remember Ridley Scott? In addition to concept art, he also developed storyboards for film. For Scott and many filmmakers and videographers, the process of creating storyboards is essential to the pre-production process. As Scott mentions in the video below, creating storyboards for his films allows him to essentially have a rehearsal before actually calling action.
Video via Eyes On Cinema
The great thing about storyboards is that you don’t have to be a master artist to create them. In fact, all you really need is enough visual information that makes sense to you as a director. There is a great interview from AFI with Steven Spielberg where he talks about the importance of storyboarding. He also discusses how he begins the process by using stick figures and cues and then gives this rough draft to his sketch artist, George Jensen, who fleshes out the final storyboards. This same method can be seen in the video below as Ryan Connolly goes through his storyboarding process.
Video via Film Riot
3. Test Footage
Panel from 300 comic via DC Comics
When developing concept art and storyboards, you aren’t just developing them for the director and production crew. You’re also developing them for the VFX team that will work to make things happen in post. In order to make sure you film everything correctly during production, sometimes you have to take those concepts or storyboards and run tests to see if it will all work.
This very process is on display in the video below. The clip is an early concept filmed by director Zack Snyder prior to principal photography of 300. Snyder and his team took panels from the comic, drafted additional concepts and storyboards, and then put them into action to see if they would work.
Video via Stelios Christakis
The test footage was sent to the studio in hopes of securing additional funding for the project — and the rest is history. Here’s the fully fleshed-out sequence from the film.
Video via DeLaVida
What are your thoughts on the process of previsualization? Do you work through this process in pre-production? How do you go about it? Let us know your thoughts and techniques in the comments below.