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Review: Storyboarder, Free Storyboarding Software by Wonder Unit

Good Storyboarding software is hard to come by at the low end of the market. So when I heard about Wonder Unit's Free Storyboarder application I was immediately interested.

Springboard has been my work horse storyboarding application for years. It's the cheapest, fully featured storyboarding software I know about, but it's getting old, and hasn't been updated since before I started using it.

Storyboarder is an all new application put out into the world for free by Wonder Unit who say the market for their software is too niche to make money from selling it (I beg to differ but only very quietly because I like free stuff for creatives). Plus they make money from making movies so... there! (Sorry, there's an attitude of quirky jabs within this software and its documentation that's infectious).



First Impressions


Pretty darn nice. After getting through the welcome screen the actual user interface is clean and clear. Right away I can see drawing tools, a timeline, a way to add frames and other details plus there is a play bar. Pausing the mouse pointer over any icon causes a fly-out bubble to appear explaining what that icon does. Great, no need to read instructions I can work right away.

Storyboarder User Interface.

In More Detail


Storyboarder is compatible with Fountain. I'll confess I've never heard of Fountain Script Writing Markup Language until now, but if you use it or, have script writing software that can export in that format, then Storyboarder can import your script and build a storyboard starting point from it.

For everyone else, you'll be starting with a new, blank storyboard.

Do You Like Drawing on Paper?


Importing a hand drawn, paper storyboard.
Despite being drawing tablet compatible, if you still like drawing thumbnails on actual paper, Storyboarder has templates you can print out, draw your scenes on, photograph with your phone, and import right back into Storyboarder, all separated into their individual scenes, ready for you to add text descriptions etc. Drawings are added to the 'Light Pencil' layer of each scene.

I tried this and it works rather well. The templates are customizable, so you can have as many scenes per page as you like, and the import process is easy and straight forward.

That said, it's not a feature I need but a really nice option if you don't have access to a graphics tablet of any kind.

There's also the option to import a whole folder of images into your storyboard if you have already drawn them in some other application (though I couldn't find any way to import individual images into a scene).

Can't Draw Or Just Want Some Help?


Shot Generator
Storyboarder's built in Shot Generator is an amazing feature for a free application. Type in a description of the shot you need and Storyboarder will generate a scene using its own generic human character models. Refine your scene further using the menus until you get something close to what you need. Finally double click the image and that scene is added to the Light Pencil layer of the current scene.

The intention of this feature is to give you some really flash looking guidelines to draw over, customize etc.

Again this is not a feature I'd use a lot but, if I was having a difficult time drawing a specific shot, I'd certainly give this feature a try to generate a base shot that I could draw over.

My only gripe here is that the shot description menu text is tiny, and the light grey on mid gray is difficult to read. Perhaps in a future version there could be an option to either make all the text larger and/or change the UI color scheme for better contrast.

The Drawing Experience


Drawing directly into the scenes with my Parblo Coast 22 Pen Display monitor was fine. Storyboarder kept up with my quick drawing pace pretty well. I like that each of the drawing tools draw on their own layer and, by holding down the button on my pen I could switch to the erase tool and only erase lines drawn on the layer of the specific tool I was using. Selecting the eraser tool will let you erase from every layer at once.

There is supposed to be support for pen pressure but I didn't see any evidence of it. Perhaps it works better with a Wacom tablet however, for me, all the tools maintained the same width as the selected nib/brush size at all times. To be honest, it's not an issue for me. When I'm storyboarding it's all about drawing shapes fast and nothing about how good the lines look.

You could create really nice looking storyboards with the few tools available but everything is geared towards quick storyboarding rather than pretty. However, if you do want pretty, Storyboarder makes it easy to edit your scenes in Photoshop (or whatever default app you use to edit .psd files) and have them update within Storyboarder when you're done.

Beyond the drawing tools you can move or scale a scene within its own frame, and there are drawing guides to help you compose your shot, as well as an onion skin option so you can see the previous and next frames. You can also merge layers up or down should you wish to transfer your rough sketches from the light layer to the pencil layer for example.

I would love to see the addition of a lasso selection tool so you can copy and paste parts of your drawing between scenes, or even just scale and move the selection within the same scene instead of only being able to do this on the whole scene.

Beyond that the drawing interface is very nice. You get a nice size drawing area and it's really easy to switch between frames. There's even a timer, called Sketch Sprint, you can set that will time lapse your storyboarding session into a gif file so you can watch back your progress or share it with others.

5 minute Sketch Sprint Time Lapse GIF output.

What about Dialogue, Descriptions, Shot timing etc.?


For each scene there is a space to record the duration of the scene (for the animatic), dialogue (which can appear as a caption overlay on your scene if you wish), action, and a place to write any mark up notes or other information. Scenes can be marked as a 'new shot' so that scenes that are all part of the same shot will be counted as a series e.g. 1A, 1B, 1C, 2A, 2B etc.

At any time you can play through your storyboard using the time line play bar to see how it's progressing. Unfortunately there's no option for audio so you won't be able to add any kind of rough cut sound mix to your animatic.

Exporting Your Storyboard. Fail!


Exporting is where all the awesomeness of this application falls apart. If you never need to export then the software is great. If you do... good luck because the available options are dismal.

You can only export your animatic as an animated GIF with dialogue captions written over the top of the scenes (would have been much better as MP4 with a single audio track for your rough sound mix).

There's an option to export your storyboard to Final Cut Pro X and Premiere but seriously, if you have that kind of software why don't you have ToonBoom's Storyboard Pro? (sorry Wonder Unit that software is not 'shitty' it's just expensive. I'd buy it in a heart beat over Storyboarder if it wasn't subscription based or stupidly over priced for a perpetual license). I assume the idea is to use Final Cut or Premiere to create your animatic but there's no reason this shouldn't be possible within Storyboarder its self.

Export your scenes as images - seriously? Why did I enter all that dialogue and description if I'm just exporting everything as images? May as well have used any other graphics software.

Export as a PDF - this is actually the most important option. Storyboarder nearly gets it right but still fails massively. There's no options to customize the layout, and if you have lengthy dialogue in a scene and/or a lengthy action statements, there's no room to display it, it's simply gets cut off. Useless.

Of all the exporting options, PDF is the most important to get right, followed closely by the animatic. These are the two things any Storyboarding application needs to do well. The animatic gives you a sense of what the final production will look like, whilst the PDF is something you can distribute to anyone who needs to have input on the storyboard. You can't expect everyone to download Storyboarder and learn how to use it. At the very least distribution as a PDF is essential.

The final Export method is to export your project as a ZIP file. This collects up the project file and other related files from the project folder into a zip file. Presumably this is so you can easily send the storyboard to another computer with Storyboarder installed without fear of losing important files.

Final Thoughts


Storyboarder is very well made and has an awesomely designed User Interface. It could do with a little less of the quirky attitude (just hold the mouse button over the undo icon and ask yourself is that colorfully strong description really necessary?). It's also a little buggy and doesn't seem to like multi screen environments (it insists on always opening on my main display every time. I have to move it to my pen display and resize the window each time I start the program).

I'd love to switch over to using Storyboarder but not being able to produce an animatic with audio, and especially failing dismally on the PDF export option is a massive deal breaker for me.

Springboard's UI is dated but the software does far more
and only costs US$40.00.
Springboard Storyboarding software may not be as pretty but for US$40.00 it's more capable, does almost everything Storyboarder can, recognizes pressure sensitivity in my tablet, can produce an animatic with audio and camera movements, and, once you team it with 'Print to PDF' software, gives plenty of options for formatting the final storyboard output... all this from software that, as near as I can tell hasn't had an update since 2013.

If Wonder Unit implements the features I found lacking on a future release, I'd sing their praises and switch to Storyboarder. The application has everything going for it to be as great as Wonder Unit thinks it is, but it's not there yet.

Fantastic start though. Well worth checking out and supporting if you just want a way to storyboard your own projects and don't need to share your storyboard with clients, or anyone who doesn't have the software. It's free too... so there's that.


Comments

  1. Also a major issue is that you can't reorder the scenes, only the shots within the scene.

    ReplyDelete

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