Creating Emotional Narratives: A Concept Art Journey at BigRock School

Creating Emotional Narratives: A Concept Art Journey at BigRock School

Benedetta Anzuini, a 2023 graduate of BigRock School's Concept Art Masters program, envisions a career as a freelance concept artist. Explore her article for insights into a student project centered on narrative design.

Benedetta Anzuini, a recent graduate of BigRock School's Concept Art Masters program (2023), aspires to carve a path as a freelance concept artist, creating captivating imaginary worlds. In this article she shares insights into a student project with a focus on narrative design.

“Who cares about me” is one of the projects I did during my Concept Art study period at BigRock School. In fact, during the training weeks we also explored the theme of Narrative Design. For the final assignment we were asked to create an original storyboard made up of nine shots, choose the keyframe and then render it.‌‌

Considering the creative limits‌‌

So in this case the task imposed creative limitations that I had to consider both in choosing the subject of the story and how to tell it with images. My idea was to stage a small self-contained story with a beginning, a development of the story and an ending despite the few shots available.

Of course this is not the only possible approach. For example, many of my classmates preferred to tell single episodes of a hypothetical larger narrative, starting in the middle of the action and leaving the ending open to interpretation in order to arouse curiosity and foster a certain sense of mystery.‌‌

The story of an ordinary hero‌‌

The story I wanted to tell is about a young superhero who lives in a big city, a simple and classic archetype. Our protagonist spends all his free time solving people's problems and is always ready to help those who need it, from an employee stuck on the roof of a burning skyscraper to a kitten who can’t get down from a tree.

Because of this, our hero is usually treated as a sort of superstar and is often rewarded and acclaimed in public. At the end of the day, however, after endless handshakes, selfies and fake smiles for the cameras, everyone goes back to their lives and business. And what about our hero? Spending all his time just doing his best for others, he has actually never had the time or opportunity to make sincere friends...

Actually, there is someone who really cares about him and patiently waits for him at home every night.‌‌

Reference and style‌‌

As you can see the story is extremely simple, it works in itself and does not need any other elements before or after. Obviously the references are extremely classic: first of all the American superhero scene but also the OnePunch Man manga and the classic Disney Mickey Mouse comics (which I used to read a lot when I was younger!) for the simple and colourful style. The choice to use a more cartoony style was not accidental: this is also a factor to consider when creating a storyboard. In fact, I needed to present the final result in a sufficiently complete way for the assignment so I opted for a simple line and for a style that needed less details to still seem aesthetically pleasing (not to mention that I really like this aesthetics!)

When I create a storyboard I ask myself these key questions: how many shots do I have available? What kind of story should I tell? Who is my work intended for? What emotions do I want to communicate? Then I adapt my artistic choices based on the answers.‌‌

It's all about emotions

Yes, because another key point to reflect on is the emotional development of the story: imagine it placed in a line graph whose progression reflects the level of pathos that changes with the succession of scenes.

In my case it starts from a positive introduction (the hero is strong and capable of solving every problem) and then goes up more and more  reaching the peak (the hero is rewarded and praised by everyone). At this point it turns down towards sadness (everyone leaves abandoning him alone on the stage) and then goes even further down (the hero returns home sadly at night). Finally we go back up (the dog was waiting for him) but without returning to the initial levels of positivity. This allows it to conclude with a bitter and melancholy note. If you notice, almost all movies and series can be read this way! So give space to emotions perhaps (if you have the chance to do so) to those that speak about you and it will certainly be a success. I did this too, in fact the cute frenchie that appears in the ending is really my own dog!‌‌

Creating the shots‌‌

Of course there are many ways to better communicate what happens with the shots, you can use methods taken from cinema but also from photography. For example, I relied on the rule of thirds which consists in dividing the image both vertically and horizontally into three sections using lines and placing the focus on one of the intersections that are created.

Here is a representation of the rule of thirds

This is one of the most basic methods so be curious and experiment with others, perhaps taking inspiration from famous photographers or filmmakers.

The great artists of the past can also be considered here, being an art history graduate I have to say that they too have a lot to tell about this theme so give them a chance

Many for example use the golden section or the golden triangle, all depends on what you want to communicate. The format you choose also helps communication, I worked in 16:9 4k (3840x2160px) to give a somewhat cinematic look. Clearly do various tests, don't stop at the first try!‌‌

The colourscript‌‌

I used mostly orange and purple, the contrast between warm and cool tones emphasises the various mood changes

Colours are also very useful in communication so why not add a nice colourscript? This way, at a glance your storyboard will be able to immediately communicate the mood of the story. Particularly, for me it was convenient to use gradient maps as a base that allow you to create much more consistent colorscripts.

Spend some time in creating at least a couple of custom ones to combine and the result will be very good.‌‌

The Keyframe

Once the storyboard was done, I then identified the keyframe which, as the name suggests, is the key scene, the one that alone can be representative of the whole story. Again, before I proceeded with the render, I thought about further variations in order to find the one that works best to communicate the sense of relief and warm happiness of the meeting between the hero and his friend.

Here, for example, I had fun experimenting with different perspectives

My story is silent so I tried to convey as much details as possible through the surrounding environment: the many prizes used somewhat randomly make it clear how much the hero actually doesn't care about appearance while instead he is very attached to the little dog of which he has pictures and objects. The open door, on the other hand, emphasises the contrast between the cold night outside and the warmth and sweetness of the house. Once again, I made extensive use of gradient maps which helped me a lot! So here is the final result of my work, I am satisfied with it and I hope you like it too.

Check out more of Benedetta's work and reach out to her via her Rookies profile.