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After I finished my NJC Penguin custom, I did what I've always done. I drew a quick sketch of the shots I wanted to take of the figure. I did it using a paint app on my phone.

If you squint you can kind of...nah that's bad

I wouldn't have given it another thought except my wife, aka Shoe Addict, was taking pictures with my phone and saw the Penguin sketch. Her: "What's this?" Me:"Penguin storyboard for the figure's photoshoot?" Her: sigh, eyeroll "Customizers are weird."


In Hollywood, storyboards are used to visualize the moving story. Mine aren't nearly as elaborate, but they serve the same purpose, to tell the story of the custom. They show just enough for me to know what I'm looking for in each shot, and nothing more. Almost like bullet points for a speech.


I've been doing storyboards for my customs since I've been taking pictures of my customs. I've talked about creating Scooter for a Toyfare contest before, but never that I had to borrow my roommate's mom's camera for the macro zoom. Because she used it for work, not to mention the loaning of an expensive piece of equipment to a teenager, I only had access to it for a single Saturday. That included having the film roll developed (remember those?). Display screens weren't a common feature back then so I also had to allow for a possible re-shoot in case the pictures came out blurry or the one hour developing machines messed up the pictures (happened more often than you'd think).

Knowing all of this, I mapped out what pictures I wanted to include. The contest allowed for 3, if I remember correctly. So I sketched out 5 different set-ups to use. My thinking at the time was for the re-shoot. I wanted to know exactly how I posed the figures and framed the pictures in case I had to do it all over again. Lucky thing I did that too. My friend didn't know exactly how to use the camera and told me the wrong settings. All the pictures were blurry. While he called his mom, I went back to the sketches. Everything was still set up from the last picture, but between my storyboard and having just gone through the process, I knew exactly what I wanted. I finished in ten minutes and rushed off to have the second roll of film developed.

I was young and needed the money

Present day

As I've gotten older and the schedule has gotten tighter, the storyboarding has become more about the things I want to include. For example, what is the setting going to be and what do I need to make that feel more real? Who else is going to be in the shot? What aspect of the custom do I want to make sure people see an up-close detail shot of? What other accessories or diorama props are needed to help define the character?

One day I will make a custom arrow
Do I want to build a snowman?

Custom for your custom

Sometimes, just thinking through this part of the process, especially that last one, has made me realize I need a custom for my custom. "I wish I had a tree perch and a tiger pit." Bam! Made a tree perch and a tiger pit.

Tree perch in the sketch

Reigning it in

The opposite side of the spectrum is that it has forced me to realize when I don't need something or that something else will work just as well. I remember a specific instance for the Lunar Base Echo project where I'd put in some kind of moon bike. While still cobbling together parts for that build I found a lunar transport vehicle at a flea market. The bike would have been a fun side project, but it was no longer necessary.

Ixnay on the trike-ay

Streamlining the process

The process has also helped with streamlineing what I take pictures of. I've combined detail and sideview shots quite a bit. It has helped me eliminate overlapping shots or remove something that didn't quite fit altogether. It has also helped me figure out the order of the shots I need to take. "If I put his helmet on, it could scuff the hair so I better take it without first."

Ad libbing ad naseum

As I said, the storyboards are like bullet points in speech. They give an idea of what I want. But sometimes, when I'm sitting there playing with the toys, things take on a life of their own. That is okay. If you have the time and you're having fun, go for it. I always end up taking way more pictures then I would ever use. It is always good to have options.

For the SPIRITS vs CORPSE Group Project I realized the group shot of Spirit with other "experiemental" characters didn't quite fit the mood. But you know what did? Fire! It wasn't something I planned. It just came to me while I was playing with the toys in the dirt as something that felt true to the shaman aspect of the character.

Pretty sure that is the back of an electric bill
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