Filmmaking can be an incredibly daunting task. But it can be even more daunting with a lack of preparation. With all the moving parts that go into making a film from cinematography to production design to blocking, preparation is essential. One of the most common ways to prepare for a film is previsualization. What is previs or previsualization? How is it achieved? And why should you use it in your projects? Let’s find out. 

What is Previs in Film?

First, let’s define previsualization

Previsualization might sound like an unorthodox filmmaking technique, but it is actually quite common. Before we take a look at the most common types of previs filmmakers use, let’s get a general understanding of what previs is. 

PREVISUALIZATION DEFINITION

What is previsualization in film?

Previsualization, often called “previs” is a technique of creating material that reflects and portrays a director’s cinematic vision for a film. Previs can be achieved in various ways either through illustrations, photos, or words that capture how a film is visually presented. 

Types of previsualization in film

  • Storyboards
  • Shotlists
  • Animatics
  • Photographs

What is Previs Used For?

Benefits of Previs

What is previs used for in film? There are numerous benefits to previs for film production and different production roles. Depending on what your role is, previs will serve you in a different way. Let’s take a look at the core benefits of previsualization. 

Refine the story

As a director, producer, or even cinematographer, previs will force you to refine your story. As you lay out the visual sequences of a film, story problems will become more apparent. 

For example, an entire dialogue scene may occur at a dining table. On paper, this may not seem like a problem. However, when you storyboard the scene, you may notice the scene falls flat. So you decide to have the dialogue occur throughout different rooms and develop the blocking of characters as you develop the previs. 

Create the blueprint

In a film production, everyone needs to be on the same page both creatively and logistically. What is the visual direction of a scene? How will it be shot? What’s in the frame? Production designers, assistant directors, gaffers, and script supervisors will all have these same questions. 

Previs gives them all consistent reference points and a blueprint. Check out our video analyzing how previs, specifically shot lists, can tell better stories. 

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Save time and money

Another benefit of previs is its ability to save both time and money. In many ways, previs is a way of preparing for what you will be executing on set during production. 

Previs is a game plan that will save you time in figuring out what to shoot next and how. By saving time, you’ll also save money on locations, crew, and talent. 

Hopefully, these advantages of previs have made you want to implement previs into your own projects. Here are a few different types of previs techniques you can use for better storytelling. 

Pre-visualization Tools 

Storyboards

One of the most popular types of previs techniques is the storyboard. Storyboards are a visual representation of a film sequence that breaks down a script visually into individual panels. Storyboards are typically drawn by hand to portray the framing of every shot. 

What is Previs Jurassic Park Storyboards Pre visualization example

Jurassic Park Storyboards  •  Pre-visualization example

Learning how to storyboard is a great skill to have to be better prepared for a film production. It also gets your head in a more visual mindset that is required for filmmaking. Learn more about making a storyboard in our video breakdown below. 

How to Make a Storyboard (ft. Star Wars)  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Storyboarding can be made easy by using tools like StudioBinder’s storyboarding app. In the app, you can upload images or drawings and label them appropriately to create a clear storyboard. 

Previs for Film Production

Shotlists

While some cinematographers choose not to utilize the storyboard, most previsualize by using a shot list. Rather than visuals, shot lists use words to clarify the specs and details of a shot. 

With shot listing tools like StudioBinder’s free shot listing app, you can design shots according to types of camera movement, types of camera gear, different shot sizes, and more. 

What is Previs  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Shot lists are also a better tool on set as they are a quick blueprint to refer to when setting up a new shot. If storyboarding isn’t your thing, shotlisting may be what you are looking for. 

Previs for Photography Production

Previsualization photography

If you are a visual thinker, but cannot draw you might be deterred from both storyboards and shot lists for previsualization. In this case, you may want to experiment with using previsualization photography 

This can be especially effective if you have access to your locations and actors prior to shooting. Take photos of specific compositions that will be the foundation of your shots. You can upload these photos to the StudioBinder storyboarding app to use the images in a digital storyboard rather than drawings. 

What is Previs in film?

Animatics

If you’re looking for previs that is truer to the motion of cinema, consider creating an animatic. Animatics are a string of storyboard images edited together with sound to illustrate how a sequence will flow in motion. 

Think of an animatic as a more advanced storyboard. While they can be used in live-action narrative films, they are primarily used in animation. In the video below, you’ll see how animatics were used to create one of the best animated films Frozen.

Pre-visualization  •  Into the Unknown

Animatics are incredibly detailed and contain a lot of information. While this is great at portraying a story, they are a lot more work. Since animation is based on drawings already, animatics are an effective previs tool. 

In live-action films, the amount of work to create an animatic is probably better spent on rehearsing with actors and creating simple storyboards. 

We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Filmmaking is one of the most fun, difficult, and daunting crafts to venture into. But like any other craft, preparation can be what separates those who are good and those who are great. Part of mastering the craft is using tools like previsualization to the best of your ability. 

Up Next

How to Make a Shot List

Shot lists are arguably the most common form of previs. Not only do they help refine your visual game plan, they are a great blueprint on set when shooting. Learn how to make a shot list for your next project in our next article. 

Up Next: Make a Shot List →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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