The art of storyboarding: Rediscovering a lost craft

Storyboarding is a job for those who live to draw and breathe movies.

In this article, we'll explore the diverse roles and purposes of storyboarding in film and television production, from mapping out action and timing in animation to visualizing and developing concepts in live action films.

We'll also touch on the art of storyboarding and the tools used in the trade.

Whether you're considering storyboarding as a career or simply want to learn more about it as a hobby, this article will give you an idea of what to expect.

It's a job I love, and I prefer to do it with a ballpoint pen.

I don't use thumbnails and I draw in a quick and loose way.

My experiences storyboarding

When I have to use a digital tablet, I do everything I can to replicate the feeling of drawing with a pen. No erasing, no going back. Just permanent, spontaneous lines that let me move forward with the story.

As a graduate of CalArts' Character Animation program, I've always worked in the niche of feature film animation and imaginative live action films.

In feature films, you aren't rushed or confined to strict methods like you are in television animation. But this is changing with the rise of episodic productions by streaming giants like Netflix.

Storyboarding is becoming more free again, and less about staying on model and acting out every detail.

Picking your niche in storyboarding

Picking your niche in storyboarding is important if you want to succeed in this field.

I've always worked in the realm of feature film animation and imaginative live action films, but there are plenty of other options out there.

Television animation can be fast-paced and demanding, but it also has its own rewards. And with the rise of streaming giants like Netflix, the boundaries between feature film and television animation are starting to blur.

Regardless of which niche you choose, it's important to remember that storyboarding is about more than just staying on model and acting out every detail. It's about exploring creative possibilities and communicating complex ideas.

It's about shaping the overall arc and pacing of a film or television show. And it's about bringing your own artistic flair to the process.

Whether you're working on a traditional 2D animated feature or a live action film with lots of special effects, the role of the storyboard artist is crucial.

Definition of storyboarding and its purpose in film and television production

Storyboarding is the process of creating a visual representation of a story or concept, typically for film or television.

It involves creating a series of images or frames that depict the events of the story in a specific order, often accompanied by notes and dialogue.

This allows the filmmakers to visualize and plan out the shots and sequences of the story, and helps to communicate the intended visual look and feel of the final product.

In the world of animation, storyboarding plays a particularly important role. It allows the filmmakers to map out the action and timing of each scene, and helps to ensure that the finished product flows smoothly and consistently.

It's also a great way to explore different creative possibilities and communicate complex ideas.

For highly imaginative live action films, storyboarding can be just as valuable. It allows the filmmakers to plan out complex or fantastical sequences that might be difficult to visualize otherwise.

And it helps to ensure that the final product stays true to the original vision of the filmmakers and stays on budget.

The role of storyboarding in animation

One of the primary purposes of storyboarding in animation is to map out the action and timing of each scene.

This involves breaking down the script into individual shots and sequencing them in a way that makes sense visually and narratively. It's a crucial step in the pre-production process, as it helps to ensure that the finished product flows smoothly and consistently.

In addition to its practical purposes, storyboarding in animation can also be used to explore creative possibilities and communicate complex ideas.

Because animation relies on visual storytelling, the storyboard artist has the opportunity to play around with different camera angles, character designs, and environments to see what works best.

This can be especially useful when working on highly imaginative or fantastical stories, as it allows the filmmakers to visualize and plan out sequences that might be difficult to execute otherwise.

The role of storyboarding in highly imaginative live action films

Storyboarding is an important part of the production process for highly imaginative live action films that involve complex or fantastical sequences.

By sketching out the shots and sequences in a series of images or frames, the filmmakers can visualize and plan out these elements in advance, making it easier to execute them during production.

In addition to helping to plan out these complex sequences, storyboarding can also be used to ensure that the final product stays true to the original vision of the filmmakers and stays on budget.

By visualizing and planning out the shots and sequences in advance, the filmmakers can avoid costly mistakes or changes that might arise during production.

Storyboarding as story development

One of the primary purposes of storyboarding in story development is to help the filmmakers explore different creative possibilities and communicate their vision to the rest of the production team.

By sketching out the shots and sequences in a visual format, the filmmakers can get a sense of the overall flow and pacing of the story and make any necessary adjustments.

In addition to exploring creative possibilities, storyboarding can also play a crucial role in shaping the overall arc and pacing of a film or television show.

By breaking the story down into individual shots and sequences, the filmmakers can get a sense of the overall structure of the story and make any necessary changes to the narrative before costly production begins.

Overall, the role of storyboarding in story development is multifaceted.

It serves both creative and practical purposes, and helps to ensure that the final product is visually engaging, cohesive, and true to the original vision of the filmmakers.

Storyboarding as concept art

Maybe before a script has even been started for a project, there are scenes you see in your head.

Just storyboard these without the script.

These storyboards can be used to illustrate key moments of the story and used to inspire the writers.

As a storyboard artist, I've had the opportunity to use my skills in the role of concept art on numerous occasions.

Concept art is the process of visualizing and developing visual concepts for a film or television show, and it often involves creating detailed drawings, paintings, or digital art to depict the look and feel of the final product.

In my experience, concept art plays a crucial role in the pre-production process.

It helps the filmmakers to explore different creative possibilities and communicate their vision to the rest of the production team. It also helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

I find that storyboarding is a natural fit for concept art because it allows me to explore different ideas and compositions quickly and easily. I can try out different camera angles, character designs, and environments to see what works best.

And because I'm working in a series of images or frames, I can get a sense of the overall flow and pacing of the story.

The art of storyboarding

Storyboarding is more than just a practical tool for film and television production. It's also an art form in its own right, and some storyboard artists have a distinct visual style that sets them apart.

As someone who has been involved in the industry for a while, I've had the chance to work with a number of talented storyboard artists who each bring their own unique perspective to the table.

Some are more traditional, with a clean and precise style that's easy to follow. Others are more experimental, with a loose and expressive style that captures the energy and emotion of the story.

Regardless of the style, all good storyboard artists have one thing in common: they understand how to use the medium to tell a story. They know how to use composition, lighting, and pacing to create a sense of drama, tension, or comedy. And they know how to use visual storytelling to convey complex ideas or emotions.

In short, storyboarding is a medium for artistic expression and creativity. It allows the artist to bring their own vision to life and communicate it to others in a way that words alone can't. And that's what makes it such a rewarding art form to work in.

The differences of storyboarding for shows and feature films in animation

One of the main differences between storyboarding for shows and feature films in animation is the level of time pressure and the level of detail expected in the final product.

In feature film animation, the storyboard artist typically has more time to workshop and refine their drawings, often doing dozens and dozens of iterations. This allows them to be more creative and exploratory in their approach, and to produce drawings that are more loose and expressive.

In contrast, television animation and other episodic animation projects tend to have faster-paced deadlines and a higher level of detail expected in the final product. The storyboard artist may need to work more efficiently and produce drawings that are more tight and precise, leaving less room for interpretation. In some cases, the storyboards may be used as exact blueprints for overseas animation studios, so it's important to be as clear and specific as possible in the drawings.

While the basic principles of storyboarding are the same for both shows and feature films in animation, the storyboard artist needs to consider these differences when approaching their work and choose the approach that best fits the needs of the project.

Tools of storyboarding

Here are some of the tools and approaches that I've used in my own work:

Ballpoint pen and paper: I love using a ballpoint pen and paper for storyboarding because it allows me to work quickly and spontaneously. I don't have to worry about erasing or going back, and I find that the permanent and slightly messy nature of the pen forces me to focus on the essentials and move forward with the story.

Procreate or Adobe Photoshop: When I need to work digitally, I often use Procreate or Adobe Photoshop in a way that replicates the experience of drawing with a ballpoint pen. I try to avoid using erasers or going back to make changes, and I focus on creating loose and expressive drawings that capture the energy and emotion of the story.

I believe that the most important thing in storyboarding is to find the approach that works best for you and the needs of the project. Whether you prefer traditional pencils and paper, digital tablets, or software, the key is to use the tools that help you to communicate your vision clearly and effectively.