Rough Thumbnail Storyboards Studies: “Once Upon A Time In The West”

Recently I tried something a little different in my sketchbook. I chose a clip from a classic movie (in this case the opening sequence of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West) and broke it down into little rough thumbnail studies. It’s a terrific piece of filmmaking and I wanted to carefully analyze it shot by shot to figure out what makes it work so well.

These sketches were very “quick and dirty”. I worked small and focused on the broader shapes. To keep myself from getting bogged down in the details I used real paper with real makers, which meant I couldn’t fix my mistakes or fuss around. Then I limited myself even further by using only one black marker and one grey marker.  I worked small and fast, studying the composition and lighting to figure out why each shot worked on it’s own as well as why they all worked together as a whole.

Below is the full title sequence followed by three pages of my sketches. Each page reads top-to-bottom instead of left-to right. The clip itself is actually quite long. To sketch the whole thing would have required hundreds of boards. I’m happy that I had enough free time to get the first scene down. Maybe in the future I’ll find time to do the rest.