Apple Applies For Storyboard Software Patent

Approval for its "Script-Integrated Storyboards" submission could mean better integration with its media applications like Final Cut Pro, Pages, iMovie, and Keynote.

Apple's patent for storyboarding

Apple's patent for storyboarding
(click for larger image)

Apple promotes third-party storyboard software like StoryBoard Artist, but the company may soon be competing with the makers of motion-picture visualization applications.

Thursday saw the publication of an Apple patent application, "Script-Integrated Storyboards."

Storyboards, a sequence of illustrated scenes, are used in film and video production to visualize the placement of equipment and talent. This helps control costs and allows the director to communicate his or her interpretation of the script. For many large-budget film productions, storyboards are as indispensable as blueprints are for complex construction projects.

While Apple has promoted storyboarding with its own applications -- Final Cut Pro, Pages, iMovie, and Keynote -- and those offered by third parties -- Illustrator, Toom Boom, and StoryBoard Artist -- it now appears that the company wants to deliver something more comprehensive, or perhaps better integrated with its products.

The "Script-Integrated Storyboards" patent application lists Gregory Lindley as one of the inventors. Lindley is, according to his 2006 resumé, a product designer at Apple who is working on "Ideation, Design, Prototyping, and Development of future version of Final Cut Express."

Final Cut Express 4, released in November 2007, doesn't have storyboarding capabilities similar to those described in the patent application. But it may be that Lindley and his co-inventors are working on improved storyboarding to add to the next version of Final Cut/Final Cut Express.

Apple also could be planning a dedicated storyboarding tool. An Apple spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The Apple storyboarding application described provides a way for film and video directors or producers to designate the placement of cameras and actors that integrates with the script. Thus, rather than being a purely visual aid for those behind the lens, the storyboards Apple has in mind could serve both crew and actors. The patent explains that storyboards "may be distributed to actors and crew in advance of production to aid in preparation."

The obtuse language of the patent makes it difficult to determine what Apple has actually invented, but one passage appears to suggest a storyboarding application that includes some form of automatic scene generation.

"In one implementation, the actor placement tool includes a drop down control enabling the user to generate a projection of the actor engaged in one of several actions," the patent application states. "For example, a user may specify a sport in a first drop down control and an activity within the sport in a second drop down control. Projections of the scene then may project the actor engaged in the specified activity."

This seems to indicate some form of "tweening" -- a process used in animation to generate the frames in between a start frame and an end frame.

However, patent applications do not necessarily translate into products. And Apple as a rule does not comment on future product plans.

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