How To Create The Perfect Storyboard

Planning might not be the most glamourous of activities but an animation can live or die by the quality and execution of its storyboarding. Last week got pretty technical with our rundown of the best tools for creating your own animation and we’re keeping our boffin hats on now with some quick tips on how you can take those first few steps towards making a short film of your own with a solid storyboard!

“But why do I need to do this? I have ideas! Let me run with them! Where’s my tablet!?” Okay, okay, slow down, storyboarding is something you really need to pay attention to. Think about how much time could be wasted if you decide to cut a shot or two from the final film or if you rethink the way a scene comes together and you’re just animating as you go? This is a vital habit to form if you want to be serious about animation. Some of the most important aspects of a project are decided with this process, it is also the best and most productive way to get feedback on your ideas.

A good storyboard should convey all of the following:

  • Establish the frame, what characters are featured, how and where are they moving? Is there an important prop or landmark which needs emphasis?
  • Dialogue, what are your characters saying, if anything, and to whom?
  • Explain the chronology, what is the timeline of your scene? How much time has passed between the last storyboard panel and this one?
  • The “camera,” what type of shot are we looking to replicate? Close-up, establishing, wide, static, etc. Are we high angle, POV, creating movement?

How to get started

So with all of the above in mind and your plot ready to be visualised, get things started by drawing your panels; this can be done with something as simple as some trusty pen and paper! Just make sure the panels resemble the final shape and dimensions you want your animation to be: widescreen, 16:9, etc. Pictures can only do so much for your storyboards, you will most likely want to include a little description box below or alongside your panel just to add some detail to you you are trying to convey. A short statement of what is happening in your shot, the music and sound that you may want to use, camera directions, effects instructions. Anything that you might find difficult to convey in the panel, stick it in this box!

Does your animation have a script? Great! Run through this first, preferably with different people to voice your characters, if not then you can just unfold the concept and plot instead. If you’re finding it a little difficult to just jump straight in, our top tip is to check out Pinterest for some inspiration. There’s stacks of useful reference material, try following Animation, Character Design, Concept Art and Anatomy before you try sketching out your first panels just to get thinking about alternative ways to get your plot to make sense visually. This often supplies us with that extra jolt of motivation and creativity to get going!


Some extra things to be aware of

So you’re underway, the panels are flying out of your brain and onto paper or screen, go you! Here’s a few extra tips that will kick your storyboarding quality up a notch once you have the main bits down.

  • Label your characters: This can be as simple as A, B, & C, this will make it easy to tell who’s who when you’re planning lots of cuts between dialogue.
  • Think in 3D: Even when you’re animating in 2D you want to create depth – foreground, midground, background and far background are great for this. Using a grid to ground your scenes is a good habit too.
  • Motivate your cuts: Don’t just flick from character to character based on who is talking. Include sound effects in your storyboard; note when a cut is made and why. We find this helps when deciding the best place to pick up on the scene in your next panel.
  • Try storyboarding software: A pencil and paper is great but a bit retro and a bit restrictive… Dan and Dave in the office swear by Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. Crammed full of drawing and animation tools, it even has camera controls! It’s perfect for creating your storyboard, but also allows you to easily turn it into an animatic.

If you’re still thirsty for more advice, check out this amazing post on Ben Caldwell’s blog featuring notes from Dreamworks’ Redwood Studio’s Rob Koo:

Are you a storyboarding guru of your own? Drop us a comment below and let us know your pointers. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next week!