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What is a storyboard and how to make one

What is a storyboard

Made early on in the pre-production phase of filmmaking, a storyboard determines so much of what audiences end up watching on-screen. Storyboards are an important part of any film’s development, and can also be used to enhance your portfolio website design or your graphic design portfolio by including your work process alongside the final piece, regardless of the type of website.

This article will answer all of your questions on the topic, from what is a storyboard to what it should include and how to make your own whether making a website or for another purpose:

What is a storyboard?

A storyboard is a visual representation of a film, composed of a sequence of illustrations or images. It serves as a graphic organizer or an aid in the planning of a motion picture, establishing what exactly will be shown on screen, from which angle, in what order, and so on. This common technique is used in different types of filmmaking, ranging from video, to animation, motion graphics, and more.

The process of storyboarding can help you make many of the critical decisions regarding the film prior to the actual shooting or animating. This will enable the production to run more seamlessly and intentionally, resulting in less trial and error during the work process.

Storyboards can be created either by hand or digitally, using illustrations, sketches or photographs. They usually contain accompanying written notes to further explain the visuals.

The practice of storyboarding as we know it was developed by Walt Disney Studios during the 1930s. There are many beautiful storyboard examples from that time that you can find online, as well as ones by other famous directors, like Hayao Miyazaki and Alfred Hitchcock. These can serve as excellent inspiration for your own storyboards.

The main advantages of using a storyboard in filmmaking are:

  • Planning and refining a film’s narrative or storytelling.

  • Improving communication across team members through visualization.

  • Defining key technical parameters such as camera angles and lighting.

Hand-drawn storyboard for a promotional video
Storyboard made at the Wix Studio for a promotional video.

Storyboard and final frame comparison
Storyboard frame (left) and final frame (right).

What is included in a storyboard?

As a pre-production resource, a good storyboard should refrain from being overly detailed. Instead, it should include just enough information to move the narrative forward, explain all of the major occurrences in the film, and help envision how the final piece will come to life.

Here are the most important elements to include in a storyboard:

  • Action: Each main activity in the film should be depicted in at least one thumbnail or frame. To indicate motion within the shot, use arrows and action lines (usually marked in red).

  • Shot numbers: Number the shots in accordance with their appearance on the video’s shot list.

  • Type of shot: Establish the type of shot (close-up or bird’s-eye view, for example), plus the camera angle and camera movement for each shot. Camera movements are usually expressed using arrows placed at the edge of each individual panel. For example, use a sidewards-pointing arrow to signify a panning shot, or an upwards-pointing arrow for a tilt.

  • Dialogue or narration: Write down any text spoken or heard in the shot.

  • Special effects: Mention any relevant special effects that will be added to the shot, such as sound effects or design elements like typography.

Camera movements in storyboarding
The main types of camera movements as depicted in storyboarding.

How to make a storyboard

  1. Break down your script

  2. Create blank panels

  3. Add textual descriptions

  4. Sketch your narrative

  5. Ask for feedback

  6. Make an animatic

01. Break down your script

Before getting to work on your actual storyboard, go over your script (or concept) and break it down into actions. This can be done in the form of a list, or a chart with each action listed in a separate cell. Number each of your actions. These same numbers should later align with the numbering of the panels on your storyboard.

Your list of actions can be done more generally, mentioning the overall action that viewers see in each frame. For the example below, created by animator and Wix user Yukai Du and published on her animation portfolio website, the action list would probably look something like this:

1. It opens with some flowing liquid.

2. Zoom out, we see the liquid is in a hand.

3. Zoom out, the hand turns and…

4. Morphs into the top part of the pot product.

And so forth.

If your video or animation includes narration or spoken lines of text, mention them in your action list, so that you’re clear on which part of the script goes in which storyboard panel.

If your film is more elaborate, you might prefer to create a detailed shot list, mentioning each action’s location, type of shot, camera angle and camera movement.

02. Create blank panels

Create a grid to act as the wireframe of your storyboard. There are plenty of storyboard templates online, which you can use as a reference when making your own. Alternatively, find a downloadable template that suits your project’s needs.

Whether you’re working with ready-made panels or are creating them yourself, make sure that the frames you use are in the right aspect ratio. This is important as it ensures that your drawings will end up in the correct proportions, matching those of your film.

An aspect ratio is a design and photography term referring to the relationship between an image’s width and length, represented as width: height. For example, the standard widescreen video aspect ratio is 16:9, whereas for Instagram Stories it’s best to work in a 9:16 ratio.

Your storyboard page or template should include a dedicated space for notes and numbers alongside each of the different scenes and shots.

03. Add textual descriptions

By each panel, write text to describe the action that will be shown in each frame. Do this in accordance with the script break-down from the first step. Be sure to include any spoken dialogue or narration.

In addition, number your panels and scenes. If your storyboard is longer than a single page, you should number the pages themselves as well.

Storyboard vs. the final animated-loop by animator and Wix user, Inbal Ochyon.

04. Sketch your narrative

Drawing out the panels is the most important part of storyboarding, as it’s where you envision and visualize the film. But you don’t have to be an expert illustrator in order to get it right. While good drawing skills can definitely come in handy, as any professional storyboard artist would tell you, what matters most in a storyboard is not the art itself, but rather the information it conveys.

The drawings you create can therefore be as simple as line art or rough sketches. They should explain what action is taking place in the scene, showing where the characters are and what they're doing. In addition, the drawings should indicate details like framing, camera angles and camera movements.

When drawing your storyboard, keep in mind key cinematographic elements such as composition, focus, lighting, transitions, and continuity. You can also take motion graphics and video trends into account, keeping your work up to date.

If the color palette plays a big role in your film, you could incorporate color in your storyboard. However, it’s not a must and many storyboards stick to just black and white.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth test for the use of color in your film, consider working on a color script. A color script demonstrates how the palette evolves in parallel with the unfolding of the film’s storyline. It is similar to a storyboard, only that it places an emphasis on color psychology and symbolism, alongside lighting.

05. Ask for feedback

Much like a mood board, a storyboard is created during the early stages of a project and can have a huge impact on the end result.

Your storyboard should therefore be communicative and easily understood by everyone involved in the project - be it the client, camera operator, animators or concept artists. But even when working independently, it’s imperative that the storyboard reflects your movie clearly.

Perfecting your storyline and cinematography at this stage in your production will pay off down the line, resulting in a much more effective and informed filmmaking process.

To ensure that the film is clearly understood, show your complete storyboard to a team member or a trusted friend and ask for their input. See what stands out to them as confusing, and invest the time to revise the storyboard accordingly. Address the problems that arise during this early stage, and the final film will be all the better because of it.

06. Make an animatic

Once your storyboard is finalized, you can take it to the next level by creating an animatic, or in other words, an animated version of your storyboard.

By taking the frames or panels from your storyboard and placing them on a timeline, combined with an initial soundtrack and rough camera movements, you can start to get a real feel for your end result. You can also add in subtitles to signify any speech.

To create an early version of your soundtrack, check out these sites for free music for your videos. This list of free editing software can also help in putting the animatic together.

Creating an animatic allows you to not only visualize every scene in your film, as does a storyboard, but also to decide on the timing and pacing of each part of your movie. It makes it easier to know how long you should linger on some sections, versus how abrupt certain transitions should be. This helps to plan the animation process better, as well as to time the soundtrack and dubbing more accurately.

Animatic (top) versus the final version (bottom) of a promotional video by Wix.

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