Do you have a great idea—like an explainer video, animation, or commercial—but aren’t sure how to visualize the direction you want to take? In that case, you might benefit from a storyboard.
Everyone on the production team can benefit from becoming familiar with the storyboarding process. New to storyboarding entirely? Never fear. This article will explain everything you need to know to create your own storyboard and start seeing your best ideas travel from a piece of paper all the way to full video representation.
In the following sections, we’ll explain what a storyboard is, the reasons people create them, how to make a storyboard, and best practices for ultimate storyboarding success. Click on any of the links below to jump around:
- What is a storyboard?
- Why create a storyboard?
- Storyboard elements
- How to make a storyboard
- Storyboard tips
What is a storyboard?
A storyboard is a sequential series of shots or key moments in a video or other visual presentation. A storyboard panel contains all the relevant details of that particular shot and often looks like the strips of segmented action you might find in a comic book. In filmmaking, storyboard artists might map out camera angles and special effects using stick figures.
A good storyboard should tell a clear story in proper narrative order. It allows for team members in all departments to clearly see what will be expected of their expertise in each type of shot within the presentation. Storyboards can be used for anything from sales pitches to animation and are considered a fundamental part of the pre-production process for feature films.
Why create a storyboard?
Storyboards are one of the best ways to organize and plan your ideas. In videos, storyboards can be produced with full soundtracks and something called “animatics,” where they serve to instruct the director and team in creating the film. Having a rough sketch of the sequential actions your team needs to take ahead of time means storyboarded projects are more efficient.
Let’s say you’ve been tasked with improving the user experience on your company’s website and are considering adding animations but need to pitch it to leadership first. A simple PowerPoint about why animations are interesting to customers and useful to businesses won’t go nearly as far as being able to show a visual representation of those animations in action.
Using a storyboard, your design team can depict each stage of what happens when a customer visits your newly animated website and produce a short film using sound effects and camera movement to actually put leadership in the shoes of the customer to make your point.
While storyboards are highly personalized and creative, there are four elements that should be found in any good storyboard. These include:
A storyboard panel refers to the individual squares of action on the storyboard. Each storyboard panel is likely to contain stick figures, notes on camera moves, and other relevant details pertaining to the shot it’s depicting.
Storyboards might make use of hand-drawn stick figures and other images from programs, such as Photoshop, to showcase action. Designers can determine which aspect ratio works best when using images for a storyboard.
Titles and captions
Each part of a storyboard is like its own movie frame, so it’s helpful to incorporate titles and captions throughout to keep order and mark transitions. Titles and captions can be written, drawn, or done with voiceover tools.
The aim of a storyboard is to demonstrate how a sequence of actions plays out; as such, each panel needs to show primary action. A good storyboard looks like a series of interconnected thumbnails showing the main activities associated with the process being depicted.
How to make a storyboard
There are a number of ways to make your own storyboard. You can use a storyboard template from any of the many free ones available online. You can also purchase storyboarding software like Storyboard That or StudioBinder. Many of these programs come with a tutorial to help you get started.
No matter how you choose to approach your storyboard creation, though, a few basic steps will apply. Read on to learn the five essential steps of any storyboard creation:
- Make a storyboard template: online vs. paper
- Add the script
- Make a list of all shots
- Sketch out your frames
- Add camera movements
1. Make a storyboard template: online vs. paper
The first step to a great storyboard is having a proper storyboard template. There are plenty of places online to find a free storyboard template if you don’t feel comfortable creating one yourself.
Storyboard templates can be made online or even on paper or poster board. All you need to do is create a series of rectangular boxes—just like with a comic strip. It’s important to ensure you leave enough room for any notes underneath each box in the storyboard. Once you have your template set, you can make a copy of it for any other visual presentations.
2. Add the script
Storyboards need excellent dialogue to effectively convey the project’s purpose. You don’t have to have a degree in screenwriting to make this happen, though. To get started, think of your storyboard script in terms of an intro, a middle, and an ending. Fill in the words and phrases that belong in each panel and figure out who should be saying them. The script of your storyboard can also be used in a narrative style with voiceover elements when you get to the video production phase.
3. Make a list of all shots
Knowing what you will shoot before you film can make the entire production process easier. Your storyboard should have a list of every type of shot that will be required, including which camera your team will be using, the lens and equipment needed, and movement, angle, or shot size. For example, list out whether something is a wide shot or a close-up, which shots have special effects, and any notes about camera angles that might be relevant for each frame.
4. Sketch out your frames
Designers can use a tablet or hand-draw the images that will appear in each frame of your storyboard. However, these drawings don’t have to be elaborate, just accurate. Draw out what characters and other elements will be doing and how they’ll look in each frame.
5. Add camera movements
There are four basic camera movements that make a good video presentation. These should be incorporated into your storyboard so team members aren’t trying to figure out which angle is best on the day of the video shoot. Annotate your storyboard with each of the following four camera movements for maximum versatility and engagement in your video presentation:
The zoom angle is used for close-up shots and emphasizes meaning or emotion. Most cameras have zoom settings on the lens and can give this angle without being moved from a set position.
Tilt mimics the way a person raises or lowers their head to look up or down and lends focus to a shot. This camera angle requires the camera to remain in a fixed position but rotate up or down.
A dolly shot allows the camera to move alongside your subject. This kind of shot lends a sense of dynamic motion to a frame and is accomplished by mounting the camera to a rolling platform or rail.
A pan shot comes from the term “panorama,” which indicates a wide and grand view. This kind of shot is achieved by moving the lens in a horizontal motion while the base of the camera remains fixed. Pan shots give a sense of scope to a frame.
Whether you want to use a storyboarding tool or map out storyboard panels on your own, there are a few tips that can help guarantee storyboarding success. They include:
Number every rectangle or shot
Team members may have a hard time referencing the right thumbnail without a number system. For easy reference, it’s a good idea to number each rectangle or shot. That way, you can simply reference the number rather than having to describe the specific panel. It also ensures the storyboard stays organized and that shots are shown in the correct order when telling a story.
Display the sketches in 3D
Through storyboarding software or storyboarding tools, you can showcase your frame sketches in 3D. This allows team members to get a much clearer and more dynamic sense of how the video presentation should look in that specific frame. It also allows you to get a sense of how people and objects in the background should look compared to the subject of the frame.
Keep the sketched rectangles with a 16:9 ratio
The 16:9 aspect ratio is best for storyboards because the wider frame permits greater inclusion of relevant details. That extra space in your storyboard cells means you can show more primary action and feature more characters. Videos are also typically shot in 16:9, so ensuring your frames are the same while storyboarding will prevent having to adjust them later on.
Use your storyboard as your master shot list during production
Your storyboard should function as a reference throughout your video creation. This ensures nothing gets overlooked during the production process, including details about each type of shot (like any special effects or sound effects that will be used). That last thing you want is to be in post-production and realize you’ve missed crucial elements while filming.
Keep your storyboard simple
There is a fine line between the right amount of detail and too much. Keep your storyboards simple by including only the most important narrative and technical elements. Remember, the storyboard is a rough sketch, not a full presentation. This might mean using stick figures rather than drawing more detailed people, for example.
Benefits of hiring a storyboard artist
Does your company or team have a vision for a video that they’re unsure how to conceptualize? This is where hiring an independent storyboard artist through Upwork can help.
Independent storyboard artists can bring their professional storyboarding skills to any project you have, ensuring you get the effect you want and making changes or mapping out the sequence you want. Check out the freelance storyboard artists waiting to assist you on Upwork today and be on your way to framing a memorable video presentation.
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