It’s always good to go into a creative endeavor with a plan. Whether it’s for a music video, ad campaign, or short film, a storyboard can be extremely useful. Storyboards help creatives see what their project will look like before they create it. In this post, we’ll look at how to make a storyboard, and why you should.

How to Make a Storyboard in StudioBinder

How to Make a Storyboard

What is a storyboard?

The process of taking the vision in your head and turning it into images on screen usually begins with a storyboard. And this serves two functions— to refine your ideas on paper and to share these ideas with your film crew. Therefore, the more you understand how to make a storyboard, the more efficient they can be.

So: what is a storyboard?

STORYBOARD DEFINITION

What is a storyboard?

A storyboard is a visual representation of a film sequence which breaks down the action into individual panels. It sketches out how a video sequence will unfold and functions as a trial-run for your finished film, video, or commercial, laid out in a comic book-like form.

Storyboard qualities:

  • Contains of drawings, reference images or photographs that represent each shot in a scene.
  • Provides a visual guide for look, feel and movement.
  • Indicates the staging of actors and camera placement.
  • May include dialogue and sound direction.

Famed filmmakers throughout cinema history have made storyboards to plan out their shoots. Here’s a storyboard example for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho:

Psycho storyboard example  •  Made in StudioBinder

As you might be able to tell, a storyboard requires a fair amount of effort. So why use one?

The Reasoning Behind Paneling

Why is a storyboard important?

Laboring over a storyboard may feel like a waste of time if you’re excited to just get started on your project. But any time you spend on a board is time well spent, and here’s a few reasons why.

Efficiency

When you create a storyboard, you lay out a very specific approximation of what you want your project to look like. Having a well-defined vision for your shoot will make your shoot run much more efficiently.

Storyboards eliminate any time wasted on set wondering what shot you need, and what coverage is missing.

It can be hard to explain to your crew what you are looking for using words. Having panels that you can show a gaffer, cinematographer, camera operator, and other relevant crew members will save you the effort.

They can get a bird’s eye view of what the mission is, how the final shot should look, and how it fits in with the preceding and subsequent shots.

Exhibiting your vision

This is an especially important point if you are storyboarding for a music video or ad spot. Creating a storyboard allows you to confirm you and the client are aligned on what the project should look like. This can save you from headaches later down the line, where you’re trying to reconcile notes in the edit.

You can check out a storyboard template for advertising here:

Similarly, a board can be used to sell your idea to clients or investors. Showing them a script or mood board is one thing, but giving them a frame by frame run down will give them a great sense of your pitch, and it will make you seem dedicated and organized.

So there are a variety of purposes for a storyboard. If you’ve been convinced a board is right for you, it’s time to think of what needs to be included in it.

Storyboard terminology

What are the elements of a storyboard?

There are various different pieces that need to be considered when creating a storyboard. The goal is to give you as much information as possible as economically as possible, so that there’s no head-scratching on set. Let’s look at some of the elements of a board.

Panels

Panels from Austin Powers 3  •  Made in StudioBinder

The most obvious piece to the puzzle is the panel. This is where you draw or insert the image that represents the shot you’re describing.

Description

This is typically just under the panel, where you insert the relevant information for the shot, such as shot size, depth of field, rigging, etc.. This can be as detailed as you see fit– but remember you don’t have to totally box yourself in if you want to make some decisions on set.

Shot number

For organization, it’s great to label each shot with a number (or letter), along with a scene number. Usually, you’ll want to jot this down above the panel.

How to Make a Storyboard - Add Numbers - StudioBinder

Shot numbers  •  How to make a storyboard

Arrows

A camera isn’t always going to be locked off, and an actor isn’t always going to remain still. As such, storyboard arrows are crucial. They delineate movement. We explain their importance and uses in our video:

Storyboard arrows explained  •  How to prepare a storyboard

Now that you’ve got a handle on the elements of a board, it’s time to look at the many different forms it can come in.

Storyboard Variations

Types of storyboards

There are a few different types of storyboards. But it’s important to keep in mind that, for the most part, they all serve the same purpose: to allow you to plan out your project.

Hand-drawn
How to make a storyboard Hand Drawn Animation StudioBinder

You don’t have to be a great drawer  •  How to make a storyboard

Also referred to as the traditional storyboard, this type utilizes drawings created by a director, DP, or storyboard artist.

For the hand-drawn method, you can download our free storyboard template pack and then use our guide on how to use a storyboard template

Digital storyboard

A digital storyboard board made in StudioBinder

This is probably the most popular form of storyboarding today, since digital storyboards can more easily be shared and edited. Digital storyboards can also utilize personalized drawings— or they can be computer renderings, photographs, or borrowed still.

Thumbnail storyboard
How to make a storyboard Thumbnail Storyboard StudioBinder

Quick and easy  •  How to make a storyboard with thumbnails

A thumbnail board is great for anyone who wants to quickly jot out how they see a sequence working, rather than focusing on individual smaller details for each shot. Thumbnail storyboards typically use smaller panels with rougher drawings and fewer text.

Animatic

An animatic is essentially an animated storyboard. In other words, it is a crudely animated version of your movie. This can give you a greater sense of how shots will be timed and cut together. There is a drawback, however: they take a lot more time to create, and can be too detailed, removing spontaneity from the later creative process.

Animatics are popular in animation. You can take a look at our template for animated storyboards:

A digital storyboard board made in StudioBinder

Time to look at how to put all this information together and make a storyboard.

The Storyboard ABC’s

7 Steps to Make a Storyboard

Building a storyboard should feel exciting– this is the sandbox where you can imagine how your movie is going to look. Here’s a step-by-step guide. 

1. Understand the assignment

Before you even begin building out your board, you need to understand the in’s and out’s of your project. What is its goal? What are the inspirations you want to draw from?

Answering these questions will make the rest of the process much easier. Choosing shots will be informed by a larger overall vision that you want to achieve. If you’re collaborating with a DP or storyboard artist, make sure you communicate your objective with them as well.

2. Choose your storyboard type

How to make a storyboard with StudioBinder

Before you start gathering images, drawing panels, hiring a storyboard artist, or doing any nuts-and-bolts illustration and pre-visualization work, you need to decide which medium to choose.

Basically, there are two options: the old-school method of drawing on paper and the more modern incarnation of using storyboarding software like StudioBinder's Storyboard Creator.

But how can you make a storyboard if you can't draw? Here are some alternative storyboarding methods for non-artists.

There's actually a way to combine the old and new methods by importing your hand-drawn boards into StudioBinder. Here's our step-by-step guide on How to Use Storyboard Creator.

3. Create your images

Once you’ve determined the aspect ratio and other settings for your project, you’ll need to start creating or gathering images. 

There are essentially two schools of thought. As mentioned earlier, you either go “old school” with pencil and paper or you go with digital boards.

You can take photos of your own, or use images from TV shows and movies as your visual references. As long as they clearly communicate your vision, there's no reason not to. Check out our video on populated storyboards below:

Storyboard tutorial  •  How to make storyboards

No matter the medium you choose, the content of your boards should be approached with the same level of purpose and detail. This is where storyboard composition comes into play. 

For example, the most important objects are the actors. As such, you need to make sure that they are front and center.

How to make a Storyboard - Movie storyboard - actors as your story Driver - StudioBinder

Start with the subject  •  How to create storyboards

This is where all the creative and practical decisions can be made (and remade) without consequence. For example, choosing your shot sizes, your camera angles, or your camera movement can be worked out in advance, saving you time and creative energy when you're actually on set.

You'll find our complete playlist of videos on these various elements in our Shot List series on YouTube. Additionally, you can also read more about the do's and don'ts of storyboarding.

4. Add arrows

 Storyboard arrows Explained

Arrows can show us where characters are going within the frame. For example, are they moving towards or away from the camera? Walking down the street? 

Camera movement sets up how we see the action. Is it a close-up or a wide shot? Is it a static shot? Or a tracking shot following the main character? Here are some quick examples of how arrows are used to indicate a moving camera. 

How to Make Storyboard Storyboard Arrows

Storyboard arrows  •  How to draw a storyboard

If you're using software like StudioBinder, you can select the various camera movements in the shot specs. When we add camera movement, we can also select shot size, shot type, and lens details as well.

For more, check out our other post on How to Storyboard Camera Movement.

5. Add text

With your images ready, it’s time to add some written details. Without shot numbers, for example, your crew and creative collaborators won’t understand references to specific shots. When you're creating a board manually, make sure to number every shot in the correct order.

For example, if you use more than one panel for the same shot, label them with letters as well. So if the first shot has three panels, you would label them “1A,” “1B,” and “1C."

How to make a storyboard Add Letters to Shot Numbers StudioBinders

Shot numbers  •  How to write a storyboard

The other element to add is storyboard notes. This is any text added to the image to help clarify the action or fill in the gaps between panels. With this process, convey the intention. Label clearly. Get in and out.

6. Revise, revise, revise

With all your boards in place and arrows and text added, you may think the process is complete. But it’s extremely unlikely that in your first pass you perfectly nailed the coverage you want to get for your project.

Look through each frame with a critical eye. Ask yourself how these shots will cut together. Go over the motivation behind the decisions you’ve made in regard to shot size, angle, movement, and more.

The revision process is a huge reason why storyboarding is so helpful: it allows you to spot any problems that may arise on set or in post before they happen.

7. Share your work

It’s time to take your finished panels and distribute them to your team.

If you’re pitching a video concept, now’s the time to pull back the curtain on your boards and share them with clients. Or if you took the “old school” route, there are a couple options for sharing and presenting your work. The first is to create a binder (probably multiples) that contains the full storyboard. 

The second is to create a literal "story board" where many paper panels are displayed for presentation to a large group.

That being said, if you’re using cloud-based software, sharing is easy with just a few clicks. Directors and 1st ADs may want edit access to elaborate on shot specs or logistics. Others, like clients or executives, may want comment access to provide feedback.

You can also simply export your storyboard as a PDF, as we illustrate here.

Storyboard PDFs  •  How to do a storyboard

For more presentation tips, read our post on How to Display Storyboards.

Storyboards can be the backbone of a production. When you’re feeling overwhelmed on set, it’s great to know that you can turn to your trusty storyboard.

Up next

Create a storyboard of your own

Now that you know how to make a boards, it's time to put all this practice into action. You've got a project burning a hole in your creative pocket. And you can even see how the scene plays out, shot by shot. Get started creating a visual representation of that vision and you'll be closer to seeing it come to life.

Up Next: StudioBinder storyboard creator →
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Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows.

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