The Art of Storyboarding
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
“The storyboard for me is the way to visualise the entire movie in advance”- Martin Scorsese
This quote encapsulates what a storyboard means at its core. A storyboard is a visual translation of the story that the script conveys.
It allows the filmmaker to see a blueprint of the story before it goes into production. A good storyboard is a testament to good communication that even a layman can understand and visualise the course of the story. While storyboarding, the artists should make the storyboard as detailed as possible- it should include camera movements, the lighting of the frame, the character’s feelings and actions, the type of camera shot that will be used for that particular frame and much more. It is a common misconception that one needs to be good at drawing to make a storyboard- let me clear this up right away, you don’t need to be an artist to make good storyboards- you just have to be a good storyteller.
Don’t confuse a storyboard with a mood board, both have different roles to play. A mood board is a collage of visual imagery that conveys the idea a designer wants to incorporate into their design and the feelings the project aims to evoke; generally, graphic designers rely on mood boards. Whereas, a storyboard is a sequential visual representation of the idea. Unlike a mood board, storyboards have a clear purpose and allow the viewer to accurately picture the film, video or whatever you are storyboarding.
Types of Storyboards
Storyboards don’t have confirmed types, but these are some of the ways to storyboard your next project:
1. The Thumbnail Storyboard:
Draw your storyboard all on one or two pieces of paper. For each shot in your proposed film, draw a little sketch, about the size of a postage stamp. It's alright if the sketches are barely legible- the point is to be able to get your cinematography ideas down on paper as quickly as possible.
Benefit: Faster process.
2. The Floating Storyboard:
Generally, when you see storyboards they are drawn within rectangle frames that match with the aspect ratio in which the film is being shot. You don’t necessarily have to follow this and can draw sketches of your scenes in a sketchbook without rectangles around them i.e. just floating on the page. When you're in the early stages of developing your images, this is a nicely free-form way to work.
Benefit: allows drawings to expand unrestrictedly.
3. The Framed Storyboard:
A framed storyboard is one where you draw your images inside of fixed-aspect-ratio rectangles. The point here is to force yourself to think carefully about how you want to compose things within the shape of the screen that your film will be displayed on.
Benefit: Drawings are in a fixed aspect ratio.
4. The Photo Storyboard:
If you have your puppets and sets done, you can make your storyboard images using a digital camera. With the camera, you don't have to worry about the aspect ratio because the device imposes a frame around the image. Working with the camera also helps you generate camera angles that you might not have thought of when relying only on your imagination. If your puppets and sets aren't done, don’t worry, you can still work with this technique if you can make stand-ins and mock-ups of some sort.
Benefits: Fixed aspect ratio. New camera angles to work with.
Uses of Storyboards
Storyboards are not limited to just feature films, it is versatile and can be used across many industries- let’s look at some of the uses of storyboards :
1. Video Production:
The most common use of storyboards. We can further classify the use of storyboards within this category:
A. Filmmaking and Television:
Here storyboards are a means of pre-visualising the film or show before the filming even begins. The level of detail depends on the length of the story and its complexity. The more detailed the storyboard is, the clearer the image would be formed in the viewer’s mind.
Storyboards are also used to produce commercials, product demos, and business presentations. Consider a storyboard as the set of instructions that you will later hand over to a motion designer or a voice actor.
In advertising, creators plan commercials with the help of storyboards to deal with all possible roadblocks before they even happen. When the shooting process is planned from every angle, there’s less chance for issues.
C. Social Media Content:
YouTube videos are usually created with the help of storyboards. For example, travel vloggers can create content in any of the two ways: draw a storyboard before they even have footage (to plan the whole filming process) or make a storyboard from captured footage after the trip.
When it comes to editing captured footage, a storyboard is a saviour. It helps organize throw lines for further voiceover, apply visual and sound effects, and rearrange keyframes much easier.
2. Animation and Cartoon Production:
Storyboard as we widely know it today was developed at the Walt Disney Studio in the early 1930s. The first complete storyboards were made for the Disney short Three Little Pigs. You can see the video below on how Disney storyboards their animation films below:
In the film production of a bigger scale, teams of people work on a comics-based movie, cartoon, or anime, mostly made from graphic novels using storyboards. A screenwriter adapts a novel for the screen and then passes a script to a storyboard artist, who draws keyframes and describes them to bring more details to the picture. Once the storyboard is complete, it falls into an animator’s hands, who puts all the frames together and creates movement that later becomes an animated film. Then goes the post-production, and every frame is carefully reviewed and polished to achieve maximum fidelity. Translations and voiceovers are the final touches.
Storyboards are a great way to organise any type of information that requires a systematic approach, hence you cannot limit storyboards to just the above-mentioned categories. Novels, Theatres, Comic Books (yes, you can storyboard comics), Scientific Research, Experiments, Instructions etc.
Importance of Storyboarding
I have already mentioned that a storyboard is the blueprint of a film- so, let us jot down points that prove that storyboards are an indispensable aspect of filmmaking:
A project without a storyboard is like you walking in to give an important presentation without a power-point presentation- storyboards are a presentation tool that is vital for pitches.
It’s a planning tool that is critical for pre-visualizing your project.
It becomes means for the entire team to collaborate and be on the same page- this results in getting everyone’s creative juices flowing and a much satisfying output.
Storyboarding stops you from wasting time on filming shots that you don't need, or spending money on video production or special effects.
Communication is easy and simple- During filming, the supervisor will be able to do special effects planning faster. Also, if there is a producer of your video ad, all the production costs will be calculated faster.
It speeds up production- During the storyboard stage, you can discuss and change some moves and scenes, which can benefit the final result. And the changes made on the go will be displayed immediately and available to every member of the team. This discussion is helpful because you make changes and adjust at early stages.
How to Make a Storyboard?
Let’s get down to business, shall we? It’s time we delved into how to make a storyboard for your next project!
Step 1. Mark-up your script
The first step before you even start sketching your storyboard is to read the script! Carefully visualise the story how the final audience would. Start breaking down and marking details of the script- this will shape the vision of the project.
You can carry out this procedure the traditional way i.e. physically highlighting the scripts and printing out the mark-ups. Or, you can skip the rigamarole and do it digitally.
To identify these key elements you can keep in mind questions like, what are the locations? Costumes? Props? Sets? Who are the cast members? How important is each element, and how will it look? Etc. The elements you mark will be the ones that get included in the storyboard, and mind you this will form the foundation of setting your project’s budget- so, carry out this step critically.
Step 2. Determine your aspect ratio
We all know by now that storyboards are sketched in box frames. What you may not know is, these box frames are made according to the size and shape of the frame of your camera and aren’t just randomly made.
To understand more about what aspect ratios are you can watch the video below.
The most common aspect ratios are:
16:9 (TV and online video)
1.85:1 (good for film dramas and comedies)
2.39:1 (extra widescreen, good for action epics)
1:1 (Square videos, good for Instagram or Facebook)
3:2 (35mm digital SLR format)
4:3 (non-widescreen TV standard)
You can watch the video below on how to decide the aspect ratio
Aspect ratios truly define the world of your film. They set parameters for the scope of the story. Just remember, whatever aspect ratio you pick, you’ll want to design your storyboard images with that in mind.
Step 3: Sketch your subjects
Let’s get our hands dirty now- it’s time to draw! Now some of you can actually get your hands dirty if you’re using paper and pencil (shout-out to all the artists) but some of you can sketch digitally. Either way, you don’t have to fear this process if you are not an artist, you can simply draw stick figures. As long as your drawings are legible, you’re doing a good job.
The most important object in the storyboard is the actors. Other objects need attention only when they matter to the story. Feel free to leave them somewhat “sketchy”. For example, the details of a cabinet matter only when the cabinet is the focus of the shot.
Initially, you can simply scamp. What is scamping? Scamping is storyboarding in its rawest, most unpolished form. It’s a quick-and-dirty method of storyboarding, often used as a precursor to creating more presentable movie storyboards or video storyboards to share with the team. You can redraw the storyboards in a polished form with more detailed next-step drawings.
If you’re still apprehensive about drawing the storyboard, you can always consider hiring a storyboard artist. If not that, just use cut-outs. Yes, just cut out pictures of yourself or use images from TV shows and/or movies; these cut-outs will form your storyboard, simple!
Step 4: Draw backgrounds
Along with a subject, the background is important too. Your background can be drawn as simple lines and figures or very elaborate consisting of layered and complex scenery. The point is to make sure that the viewers have a sense of space i.e. they should be able to comprehend where the objects are in relation to the space they’re placed in.
If you are not confident to draw out your background, you can take pictures of relevant locations in the way you plan to move the camera on set. The pictures will form your storyboard.
Step 5: Add arrows for motion
This step doesn’t require any artistic talents, all you have to do is start drawing arrows. These arrows indicate the motion on the screen. Arrows show us where characters are going within the frame. Are they moving towards the camera? Away from the camera? Walking down the street? Or going to the left?
Movement is the essence of the film. Should you choose to storyboard as a motion sequence, you can create an animatic. An animatic is a string of storyboard images edited together with sound to illustrate how a sequence will flow in motion. An animatic is not always necessary, but it does provide a fuller sense of the finished project.
Step 6: Add camera movement
Camera movement sets up how we see the action. Adding camera movement to storyboards pre-visualizes how, when, and where the camera will move- as well as what we’ll focus on. Any key details like specific camera movements (close-up, wide shot, low angle or eye-level camera placement etc.) should be noted below every storyboard frame.
To show camera movements just draw arrows. You can see below how it’s generally done.
Step 7: Add shot numbers
You have everything ready, it won’t make sense unless it is properly numbered in chronological order. Without labels, no one will understand what any of this means. Plus it won't be easy to reference specific shots if they don't have a number. If you use more than one storyboard for the same shot, label them with letters as well. So if the first shot has three storyboards, you would label them “1A,” “1B,” and “1C."
With this, you have become a storyboard artist! Or at least have successfully made a storyboard. You can now create a storyboard for every scene or just the key story moments. With your complete storyboards, you are ready to share the organised version with clients or your team (anyone who needs to know you’re looking to capture like cinematographer, set designer etc).
A storyboard artist is like the director of an animated film or TV show. The artist creates visuals for each major scene in the story including character poses, facial expressions, and backgrounds.
A storyboard artist can get hired to draw for others’ scripts and has to draw the story as-scripted. But, many times especially in tv animation, storyboard artists are also the writers of that episode. The artist can include visual gags and dialogue to add their vision to the story.
This makes storyboarding a lucrative career for anyone interested in art, directing, and storytelling.
But storyboard artists can be used in any digital product including video games. Many games have cutscenes or repeat character movements that need to be visualized through boards.
As demanding as the job is, it has its perks— it is a very creative medium and it’s one of the few art jobs in animation that can influence the final product.
If you want to become a storyboard artist you’ll need to be a real good draftsman. I’m talking fast and comfortable whipping up drawings in a few minutes. Animations move fast, so every good storyboard artists need to be quick. This means an expert level of draftsmanship for staging and posing characters in a scene.
You’ll need an exceptional grasp of perspective and figure drawing for posing characters accurately. And you’ll need to be comfortable switching between different styles of art as you move between shows.
Storyboard artists need skills in storytelling and possibly a good background in acting. A skilled board artist needs to understand a character’s personality and how they feel in any scene to create realistic poses.
You’ll also need some patience and a willingness to grind. It takes hard work to get anywhere in the entertainment industry.
Finally, let’s look at some software that you can consider using to create easy digital storyboards.
1. Storyboard Composer
Storyboard Composer relies entirely on the use of existing photos or video so there’s no need for drawing or sketching skills. It’s easy to add arrows and boxes to identify the movement of shots, and even animate them.
2. Make Storyboard
Make Storyboard is an assembly software that allows you to organize your images and sketches. They can be shared and commented on and can be used on many devices including smartphones and tablets.
Available on iOS, ShotPro is a solution to easily create storyboards or pre-visualization. Add a structure sensor and you can scan real-world objects, locations, and people to import as 3D objects into your storyboard.
4. Adobe Premiere
Make an animatic with Adobe Premiere. You can edit storyboard images, add music tracks, sound effects and dialogue. Your storyboards play like a slideshow. Timing and pacing are conveyed in a storyboard sequence.
5. Artemis Pro
Artemis Pro allows you to not only organize storyboards but change aspect ratios. There is a set of preloaded “looks” that allow you to colour grade your storyboard for different scenes and shots.
“My film is ready, it‘s only left to shoot it.”- Rene Clair
No matter the importance of storyboard in filmmaking, design, or any other niche, it’s the best tool to visualize the material in traditional, digital or other ways.
Storyboards give a direction to the story visually and are something every filmmaker should practice no matter how much experience they have.
For some more insights on storyboarding you can watch the video below
Here is a storyboard that we made for a Mountain Dew Ice Unboxing Video that we made for Mountain Dew.
After the storyboard, we finally get the video!
What do you think about making storyboards for every scene? Are you a storyboard artist or are you going to become one? Comment below and let us know!