Alternative ways to learn storytelling.
Don’t let schooling interfere with your education. – Mark Twain
The knowledge of our craft must be pooled, as it is in the sciences and other professions, each of us absorbing and in turn contributing. – Andrew Loomis
Education, whatever benefits it may confer, is transmission of traditional doctrines and valuations; it is by necessity conservative. It produces imitation and routine, not improvement and progress. Innovators and creative geniuses cannot be reared in schools. They are precisely the men who defy what the school has taught them -Ludwig Von Mises
When it comes to making art, degrees and certificates are nice to have but have little to do with how an artist produces work.
While the purpose of going to school is to learn, refine skills and techniques in a craft, school has a mixed record when it comes to the specific area of visual storytelling.
The fact is, you need to learn multiple disciplines that together become the specialized skill of visual storytelling.
You would need PHd level studies in:
- Creative Writing
- Figure Drawing
- Computer Science
- Film History
- X-factor creative thinking
…and somehow learn how to put that all together.
Today, you will not find what you need in a traditional school to becoming a successful visual storyteller. They simply don’t teach what you need to know in one discipline. Does that mean you can’t learn this anywhere?
Of course not.
The information you need is out there and you don’t need to drop $100k at an art school to get it.
There exists a lot of alternatives to learn how to make art and more interestingly, how to make visual stories. After all, the first filmmakers and visual storytellers had no school for them to learn, they simply used their creativity to invent the devices and infrastructure they needed to make the first visual stories. Even in Hollywood, filmmakers are constantly trying new things and reinventing this process.
With all this in mind, how does a person go about learning what you need to know?
Here we are going to list some resources available to you that will make you a better visual storyteller.
The first thing you need to understand, is while there are widely accepted techniques in storytelling, there is not “one way” to do anything. It’s often a healthy exercise to find out how to do something yourself in your own way. This doesn’t mean that when you figure it out, you end up with a blockbuster story, but it does build your skill set in getting from no story to something.
Storytelling is also known as… Problem solving.
Making a film or visual story is basically a never ending list of problems that needs to be solved. Some are creative story problems, others might be logistical and financial.
You probably already have a list of your favorite movies. Try to figure out why you like them. Find out who produced and directed those films and find other films they made. The list of great films is forever long and no one has seen them all.
One of my favorite places to get film greats is the local library. The librarian in the audio/visual section will have some great suggestions on what to watch based on your preferences. Another great resource for finding great films to learn from is the Criterion Collection hosted by Janus films. https://www.criterion.com/
A good film needs to be studied, not just watched. Pause on shots you like and make sketches of the compositions. Figure out the story beats and write them done while going through the film. These are notes you can refer to later when you try to create similar scenes in your own stories. Youtube and Netflix have revolutionized our access to content. It’s up to you to take advantage of those resources.
Now let’s talk about the technical skills we mentioned above.
Most of the tools you use to make good compositions are transferable to visual stories. Choosing what to include or what to exclude within the frame is a fundamental skill in visual storytelling. Photography is a great place to start the practice of framing a picture or even some bit of action.
You can learn about proportions and perspective from great painters like Edward Hopper or Caravaggio. There are also many great youtube channels devoted to drawing techniques. One of my new favorites is by a Youtuber named George Architect on a way to do perspective drawing. These visual skills will translate easier when you pick up a camera or 3D program and apply lighting, aperture, depth of field and movement.
Watching films and TV shows while paying attention to what the camera does will help you understand professional composition and blocking. One trick my film professor once told me was to watch TV soap operas with the sound off. Soaps have a consistant shooting style that is rooted in shot reverse shot fundamentals. The camera has to constantly adjust to help build tension and move the story along while being stuck in one blocked location using 2-3 actors. Watching the camera, even for just a few min, will reveal a lot in a short period.
Beyond the technical attributes the center point of film is story. Simply telling a good story needs little guidance. The goal is to turn this into telling good visual stories and for that need to study good stories you like and you need to practice making visual projects. More on that in a bit.
Learn about Creative Writing
Since about 99% of all stories begin in written form it wouldn’t hurt for you to become a regular reader. The whole process of story structure was created and refined in the writings of some of our greatest authors like H.G. Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Kurt Vonnegut. If novels are too much for you, try short stories by Mark Twain or poets such as Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg. It can be broken down further with cliff notes and wikipedia.
If you are someone leans to the visual form then you will probably have a natural pull towards comic books.
Comics are a powerful story form because they can convey story in both visual and written form. Try the Spiderman or Batman series, just start with Issue #1 and go from there. If you prefer a complete story in one go, there are a lot of really good graphic novels that has driven the cinematic universes of both comic franchises. Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore are great graphic novel writers.
Find a mentor
When you need guidance or someone to help point you in the right direction, having a mentor can be invaluable. Mentors don’t always have to be like Obi Wan Kenobi. They come in many shapes and sizes and sometime they can even be younger than you. All a mentor is, is someone with knowledge and skills above yours and a willingness to teach you.
The best mentors have either an appreciation of your enthusiasm and/or a passion for said craft and an abundance of free time. To find a mentor you need to congregate in the same places where like minded people gather given the skill or subject. Some examples include conventions, public events, book shops, libraries, and an abundance of online groups and forums.
There is no better teacher than experience. Constant practice creating stories will make you improve.
Write a story, a novel, a script, or make a comic. Let people read it and accept their feedback with open curiosity. The more you do this, the better you will get. Make a 5 min film and screen it for your friends and family. When you are ready, send a film to a local film club or library film group. There are never ending people willing to view your work. It might take a little hustle but it’s not as difficult as creating the work and you likely find some satisfaction from getting through the process.
Your skills are what matter
This is where you can out match any formal school or university. When you present your work to an audience that is all that matters. Having an expensive diploma might help open a door but it won’t matter once the lights go out and the story begins.
There is a mountain of material out there to consume and learn from. Finding out what style or what kind of stories you want to tell should come from the stories that you most gravitate to. When it comes to learning the skills necessary for telling those stories there are also a lot of resources.
Here is a list of some of the best places I know of to learn:
Twitchtv: Johnlestudio www.twitch.tv/johnlestudio
Youtube: KarlGude www.youtube.com/karlgude
Youtube: The Art Of Photography www.youtube.com/artofphotography
Youtube: Matt Granger www.youtube.com/user/thatnikonguy
Turner Classics www.tcm.com
Websites for story:
Filmmaker IQ (overall filmmaking) www.youtube.com/filmmakeriq
Punished Props (tutorials in making props) www.youtube.com/punishedprops
Casey Neistat (lots of great video tips from one of the most successful youtube vloggers) www.youtube.com/caseyneistat
So let’s recap:
- All of the knowledge of storytelling was invented by necessity.
- Watching great film and TV can teach you.
- You can improve your composition on your own.
- Become a reader of good narrative books or comics.
- Make some cool stories and learn by experience!
Hopefully those suggestions will give you a good start to finding education alternatives to a visual storytelling career.
Story never ends!
PS. Our mission here at StoryboardArt is to make the knowledge of visual storytelling accessible to everyone. You can check out our courses and resources here the complete START HERE section is free.