Visual Storytelling 101

Would-be Blender filmmakers face many pitfalls, obstacles, limits and misconceptions. AndyD’s well-known article addresses many of these from a realistic point of view: when you finish reading it, you know what to expect. I found myself particularly agreeing with his description of a primary problem: “[…] huge, complex, poly-heavy sets can be assembled before there’s any visual indication of what sets are actually required to tell the story - if there ever is a finished story”.

There’s a void in storytelling know-how – a bad thing since every film begins with a story.

In a community united by the principle of free information, these problems should disappear eventually as better collaboration tools are developed and information is shared. Well, I thought I’d do my part and contribute some of the storytelling info I’ve picked up along the years (and invite other storytellers to do so as well). Here’s the first part of a series on storytelling.

Part 1: Story in Mind – [U]
[/U]Covering: basic storytelling psychology, finding your ‘voice’, story as a message.

The plan is to cover, quickly but substantially, interrelated topics in each issue – mostly centered around the creation of stories for visual media. Those with experience/training who might want to contribute course material, you’re more than welcome to PM me for discussion of terms; there’s plenty of ground to cover.

Good idea, I look forward to reading it! :slight_smile:

Some universal storytelling principals to consider.
Karen Golden, a Los Angeles storyteller and trainer of storytellers, sums up the basic storytelling outline as follows:


Trouble is coming – Trouble is here – Trouble is past.

Obviously, there is a bit more to it than just this, but in the three act screenplay, the gist is: the first act foreshadows the trouble to come, in the second act the trouble arrives and builds to a crescendo, in the third act the climactic moment happens: the trouble is overcome, or the trouble consumes the hero, and it is past, the story winds down and life goes on.

That was an interesting read, thank you for sharing. I think I might shoot you a PM. I think I might also write some things down before that, tho. Something like this might actually deserve it’s own website or dedicated blog or something.

I found David Grifiths’ “A Crash Course in Screenwriting” to be very informative for these issues. I found it via the celtx wiki resources page, where there are other good links to help with storytelling and writing:

Celtx is also looks pretty neat (it’s free screenwriting software, with lots of useful features and a great interface) and via their project central, you can look at other people’s writing, mostly shorts.

@Orinoco: I intend to cover the story=conflict side of things and the three-act structure in the screenplay structure chapter, which is a couple of issues away. I’m layering my ingredients :slight_smile: Your input is, as usual, most welcome.

@shalpin: he’s one of my sources, yeah, though I rely more heavily on Field and Trottier. And Celtx is indeed a fab tool, offering collaboration (one of the gag-bridging ingredients I referred to earlier).

Most of the scripts your find on the net come with form anachronisms, camera directions, transitions and writer intervention. God willing, we’ll cover these (and why they’re big no-noes in spec scripts) soon.

[edit] Almost forgot. This thread is also for Q&As.

I agree, the story sells, not the random visuals. Same holds true for games. Right now, gameplay as a genre is at a crisis. FPS games are becoming all the same, or are repetitions of the same theme. It’s the same problem faced by TV serials, where the same characters can easily end up facing the same problem time after time,and if they solve the crisis the same way each time, the redundancy gets boring. In FPS, killing seems to be the only solution, and it gets boring. Capture the flag is a great example where gameplay could be vastly improved if the strategy and options were allowed to be different.

is there any initiatives where ye are from for development funding? There is one here that is really good but i suppose its down to choice and taste of the commissioners

I suppose most people like organising but when it comes to the nitty gritty, majority fall shy.

I’m not aware of any in the United States. LA used to have some developmental funding for playwrites (not to pay the authors, but to provide workshops, theater space, play readings and sometimes actual productions) but that’s been gone for over a decade.

@CubofJudahsLion keep them coming sir. I download the first one a very good read. I want to get into making shorts once I clear some projects I have lined up. i have no clue on how to write a script so this goes a long way in helping me out thanks.

Story tip I’ve heard:
A flawed but sympathetic protagonist summons moral courage to face and then overcome increasingly difficult, seemingly insurmountable, moral tests to achieve a compelling desire.

It’s in this guy’s book.

Great work, CubOfJudahsLion.

Thanks gents. Knowing this is useful to someone is the best feedback ;), as is the amount of info others are sharing as well. 's all good!

@Dundaglan: In my area there are a few, but they’re only interested in funding regional stories with social content. In other words, they tell you what kind of story to tell if you want their money. Since I prefer universal stories though, I need to rely on commercial initiative. Which isn’t a bad thing at all.

@RR: Thanks. That’s a good way to summarize a protagonist. I’ll add, just for the sake of honoring your info, that the moral part is relative; your protagonist only needs to be morally superior to his antagonists. He can be an assassin (like Eastwood in Unforgivable) if you present the opposing law enforcer (Hackman) as corrupt.

We’ll start with characterization in the next issue.

I’ve found a lot of good storytelling advice from the columns on this site: -They’re written by the writers of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.
There’s a lot of info there that’s definitely useful for new storytellers.

Furthermore, I’ve found it personally helpful to watch movies with audio commentary by writers and/or directors. Not all films have good commentary tracks and some focus more on technical issues in the production but there a definitely a lot of films that have good commentaries that focus on the story elements. George Lucas’ commentary on the original Star Wars comes to mind as one that was really interesting to me.

If i may suggest, I’d like to see an article that maybe dissects a simple plot or a few scenes and goes over how to reinforce ideas subtly. Too many writers (even those doing big budget films) hit you over the head with everything, or forget that contrast can be used to make a scene or moment have more impact, etc. I think this sort of thing is fundamental to film writing - especially in a short where you need to get as much information across as possible in a little amount of time, and where many make the mistake of being too blatant when they tell the viewer that information. A simple gesture or hesitation can say volumes about a character without needed a single word of dialogue.

CoJL: I’m really glad you started a thread like this. You can probably tell from my previous posts… (and that one rant which I should probably delete in retrospect…) That, although I enjoy both, story is, to me, much more important than test renders.

One point to bring up: you said “story = conflict”. in the pdf they said “story = emotion”. Two very different words, very different connotations, but in a way they’re stabbing at the same thing. In a way, emotion and conflict are one and the same. Without conflict, we wouldn’t feel very strong emotions. Without emotions, conflict just wouldn’t happen in the first place.

And, it all gets back to the big question, why is story/conflict/emotion important in the first place? So important that we have to spend all this time and energy just to get it out on screen and show it to other people?

think about that…

Thank you, dma88. We’re assembling pieces of a layered puzzle – much like plot construction. I suspect you’re asking because you know both principles are true in and hope the clarification to be made and the ground between the two to be covered for those who might benefit from the material. I gladly accept the pointer.

yes, it is a layered puzzle. monkeys have layers. or, to quote shrek, orges have layers. all the same.

so your’re talking about the clarification of emotion vs conflict? or the clarification of story vs test renders? both good subjects…

both are reasons why I got into CG in the first place…