Storyboarding is a key concept in writing, animation, and film. Still it’s a complicated process that requires consistency, forethought, and creativity. SunSpin Media has developed these tips and tricks for accurate and visually appealing storyboards to make filming easier.

1 Purpose

When you go to storyboard you have to think of each image as both a separate entity and a continuous idea. Each of your drawings should be interesting and dynamic, but above all they need to have a purpose. They should reveal something, establish character or relationship, or build suspense.

If someone is eating a sandwich laced with poison and the point of view is from the killer it would make sense his focus would be on the person eating the sandwich. So if you have a scene of the person taking a bite of the sandwich, a close-up on his mouth, and then your focus is on the sandwich after it’s set down, those scenes have purpose. If we didn’t know the point of view is from the killer and this guy is just eating a sandwich then it would be kind of strange to focus so much on the sandwich (and gross). Some might claim artistic interpretation and it’s inferred the sandwich was poisoned, but it’s very confusing for the audience. Your storyboard is meant to clarify things before you begin filming.

(For the sake of this example I did not include an establishing scene containing the poison. Normally you would include this somehow before this part. It can be subtle in the background or be the killer stashing the poison. Whatever you require in order to set up the scene and mood.)

2 Visually Appealing

Visually dull scenes can be an issue. Your artwork doesn’t have to be top notch (Mine certainly isn’t), but it should display foreground, midground, and background, give general mass and height differences to various characters and entities, and be visually interesting based on angle. In order to make these storyboards better and a little more interesting I probably should have some glasses and utensils on the table with the sandwich. It would give more depth. Similarly my character could have been at a 3/4 angle rather than straight on. It would be more accurate and interesting overall. As it stands this is rather boring, but it’s just to give you an example of flow.

3 Think 3-D

If your artwork is along the lines of stick figures then it’s okay – no one said storyboards had to be beautiful. Sometimes though if you’re not thinking in terms of mass your scene can get a little squashed when the mass is later filled out by an actor. It’s important to think in terms of mass and leave space in your work for this fill. Sometimes recentering a character in a frame works wonders – remember even in film the rule of thirds still applies. Place your characters in ways they won’t be overcome by negative space or where the background becomes a distraction.

4 Grids – Your New BFF

It can be difficult to overcome the idea of two-dimensionality in each of your frames. 3/4 view of a character can add some interesting effects although it is more difficult to draw. Many storyboard artists like to create a base grid for ground or sky (whichever applies). This allows them to visualize the scene better in a three-dimensional environment and place their characters proportionally in the frame. It also gives more freedom to experiment with foreground, midground, and background. If there are multiple characters you can group them together for a conversation and better understand where each of them are in the frame. This shot ought to be very accurate in terms of where characters are in reference to the background and should slide easily into the next scene.

Storyboarding is a rough draft and the artwork doesn’t have to be gorgeous, but it should verify the position of your characters and show the flow of scenes. If it’s done right you ought to be able to make a very clear movie of your storyboard that will be filmed in an almost identical way.

5 Common Mistakes

Speaking of filming – a common error for individuals starting out is moving the camera far too much. If you look at movies you’ll find many shots are from the same camera and generally the same angle once you’ve completed an establishing shot. By keeping the same angle for a time period it makes it easier to film and the viewer won’t get dizzy as the camera moves from a worm’s eye view to a bird’s eye to an aerial shot to an extreme close-up, and finally a medium shot. If you shoot from different angles constantly your audience’s head will be spinning.(The above example maintains the same angle with only two close-ups from the same angle until the final section. Then it focuses on King Midas and his reflection. Yet the audience is not confused because the scenes flow and make sense in reference to the story being told.)

Bonus: SunSpin’s Graphic Designer & Print Coordinator, Katy Siwirski, has some extra advice.

“Storyboarding is a time to explore alternative possibilities. Many companies will go through various drafts and storylines depending upon the themes they wish to explore. It’s a time for accuracy, but also creativity. If you go too far past the realistic world you meant to invent it’s not too late. Simply drop back and try again – above all save your mistakes, it might not be the right touch for this particular film, but it might be the climax of your next idea. Never be afraid to try.”