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Tone Boards

A great video is all about attention to detail.  Watts believes firmly that the pre-production process is the critical juncture where business challenges meet head-on with creative solutions.  Sure, it’s not the sexiest part of the process, but the candid information gleaned in early conversations help us arrive at a tone of voice; while establishing a manageable set of communication pillars.  By “manageable” we mean not forcing the viewer to ingest too much information in one sitting.  More on that in a future post. 

Once a thorough understanding of the brand and goals for the video have been established, the visual ideation begins.  One of the ways Watts communicates visual intent, is to present our clients with the assembly of a Tone Board.  Seems pretty straightforward right? Well yes - but only if a client knows what they’re looking at and why?  

The purpose of a Tone Board is as it sounds.  To show a very abstract collage of imagery made up of archived or ‘found’ still grabs from other videos we find inspiring.  But, this exercise really only benefits live-action productions; where you don’t quite yet know what you’ll be filming and where. 

The 3 things we aim to visualize are: an abstract color palette, subject framing and lensing and mood of the lighting.  

We like to think of it as “if you blur your eyes” tell me what feeling the blob evokes?  Does it feel light and expansive or moody and intimate?   

One of the things we hear most is, “so is this literally what the video is going to look like?”  The answer is generally “well-kinda.”  There is nothing literal about a Tone Board.  It’s really just the emoted visual feeling the video gives off in its most abstract form.  That means that we don’t generally show type treatments because it would take the spirit of the Board from abstract to literal. This is often a process we’ll provide gratis - even before the statement of work is signed.

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Once the project is under way, one thing we like to do for added clarity is to create a Tone Edit.  So, if a client is still guessing how the video will feel, this clears it up fairly quickly.  One good example of this was when presented a creative approach for Microsoft’s Surface Dial.  We had initially presented multiple concepts and the client liked bits and pieces from each.  Once we were able to ‘fuse’ the concepts, there was still some ambiguity as to how the production would manifest itself into what we were pitching.  We created a Tone Edit for our client and the style quickly became clear.

As you can see the final product came out strikingly similar – although we had a fairly dramatic shift in musical tone. 

*Shoutout to @SonoSactus for composing an amazing piece of original music.

The next step in a live-action production is the creation of storyboards.  These are a few examples of our work in progress storyboard for the Dial production.


For animated and motion-graphics work, Style Frames are unlike a Tone Board in that they are used to show a more literal representation of a finished project.  In animated work, we generally have complete control of the aesthetic from the outset (as we are not dealing with vagaries like talent, location and weather). More on that in a future post. 

In summery – these Production 101 posts are not intended for the seasoned marketing executives out there but rather for professionals that are new to the intricacies of creative video production.  To those folks, if these are helpful, let us know! We’re happy to answer any and all questions you may have on our processes, methodologies and even non-creative adventures like billing.  Yeah, we know it will probably be about billing …

Until next time, 

The Watts Team