You’ve got a big shoot coming up. You want to visualize the scenes you plan to shoot with a storyboard, but you’re wondering how to make a storyboard that touches on everything a good storyboard should.
Odds are many filmmakers create storyboards “wrong.” Or (*cough*) ignore the crucial step of storyboarding altogether. Drawing and formatting fears, technical limitations, concerns about budget — there are a lot of reasons to avoid storyboarding.
But it doesn’t have to be stressful. You just have to know how to create a storyboard in the most efficient way. These nine easy steps will have you storyboarding like a master filmmaker in no time.
How to Make a Storyboard: Star Wars
PREFACE: HOW TO MAKE A STORYBOARD
Why storyboarding is essential
Here at StudioBinder, we’ve made storyboards for commercials. We’ve made movie storyboards, video storyboards, animation storyboards, and pretty much any storyboard you can imagine. We’ve learned why the storyboard is important on so many levels.
It’s a presentation tool, indispensable for pitches.
It’s a planning tool, critical for pre-visualizing your project.
It’s a collaboration catalyst that puts your team on the same page and gets everyone’s creative wheels turning. We’ve figured out that the only wrong way to storyboard is to skip the step altogether.
Let’s go over how to create a storyboard the right way. It's easier than you may think.
But before we go too much further, let's answer the question: What is a storyboard?
What is a storyboard?
A storyboard is a visual representation of a film sequence and breaks down the action into individual panels. It sketches out how a video sequence will unfold. A storyboard is similar to a trial-run for your finished film, video, or commercial, laid out in a comic book-like form.
How to make a storyboard (guidelines):
- Comprised of a sequence of drawings, sketches, reference images or photographs of stand-ins.
- Provides a visual guidance for look, feel and movement.
- Indicates the staging of actors and camera placement.
- May include dialogue and sound direction.
Ready to learn how to make a storyboard?
Here’s your guide to writing a storyboard like a pro.
How to Create a Storyboard
1. Mark up your screenplay
Before you start gathering images, drawing storyboards, hiring a storyboard artist, or doing any nuts-and-bolts illustration and previsualization work — before you even ask, “What does a storyboard look like?” — you’ll need to know what story you’re telling.
This means considering the details of every scene. The physical space, wardrobe, blocking, staging, action, etc. This phase is considered breaking down the script (aka "marking the script") where you highlight all of the key elements that will affect the storyboards.
And so the very first step is to read your script and visualize it as an audience would.
Good, you’ve read it.
Now break it down and mark it up!
The breakdown shapes the vision of the project.
If we went back two decades, marking the script would commonly be done with highlighters and pens right on a print-out of a script. Every scene's markings would then be summarized on a script breakdown sheet, printed, copied, collated, and distributed between the production staff.
But we live in a digital world and we need to be able to share our breakdowns in the cloud, and make adjustments without the rigmarole of printing. Preferably you'd use script breakdown software, but you can still do this the old fashioned way if you like.
We’ll import our script into StudioBinder, and automatically get all our scenes lined up. Now we can immediately click-and-drag to identify key elements.
What are the locations? Costumes? Props? Sets? Who are the cast members? How important is each element, and how will it look?
All of these elements affect what will eventually needs to be included in the storyboard. It's also the foundation of identifying your project's budget (which we cover in another post).
This is sample of what a scene breakdown looks like. Notice all the tagged (colored) elements that comprise a single scene!
As you go scene to scene, analyze the screenplay. Decide how you want each scene to look, and how you want to shoot it.
Whether it’s a movie storyboard, video storyboard, or commercial visualization, a script breakdown tells you what storyboards you need to create.
Notice we haven’t drawn a single storyboard yet. At this point, it’s all in the breakdown.
If you’re a seasoned director or just learning how to make a storyboard, marking up the screenplay in great detail is the first step.
What you need to mark up varies from script to script and from writer to writer. Some writers are incredibly detailed. They’ll coordinate every punch and kick of a fight sequence.
Others will simply write “They fight.”
Both are valid. Your job is to fill in any blanks. And rest assured, there will be blanks — this is good!
HOW TO MAKE A STORYBOARD FOR A MOVIE
2. Determine your aspect ratio
Even if you think you know nothing about how to storyboard a video, even if you’ve only just learned what a storyboard is, you probably know that a lot of framed boxes are involved.
But how big should those storyboard frames be?
Creating your storyboard panel is simply a matter of determining your aspect ratio — the size and shape of the frame of your camera.
Not sure how to pick your aspect ratio? Check out the following video and you'll know.
STORYBOARD ASPECT RATIOS
Most Common Aspect Ratios
- 16:9 (TV and online video)
- 1.85:1 (good for film dramas and comedies)
- 2.39:1 (extra widescreen, good for action epics)
- 1:1 (Square videos, good for Instagram or Facebook)
- 3:2 (35mm digital SLR format)
- 4:3 (non-widescreen TV standard)
We’ll click in StudioBinder to preview how the various industry-standard aspect ratios look. This masks each image non-destructively, and you can adjust on-the-fly at any point.
So even if your images don't exactly match the aspect ratio, you're fine. Just upload an image to preview the look of the frame. Pick the aspect ratio that works best for your project, and design storyboard images for that size.
To preview the various aspect ratios, click on the storyboard example below, and select Layout near the top-left. Then click through the various aspect ratios:
We’ll also arrange our panels on the page to get a feel for our project’s visual flow. Storyboard by storyboard, shot by shot.
How many frames do you want per row of your storyboard?
There's no perfect answer. If you're working on a scene that has a lot of action like a car chase, it might be beneficial to have four frames per row so you can fit as much on a single page as possible.
If it's a slower-paced scene and you want to the detail work of every image to come across, two or three panels could do the trick.
To see the effect of various frames, click the storyboard example below. Select Layout in the top-left corner, and adjust the Columns:
Aspect ratios do different things for different projects. Star Wars, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction — their aspect ratios truly define their worlds. They set parameters for the scope of the story.
For example, if you’re shooting in IMAX and designing complex shots like Christopher Nolan, your panel would be considerably bigger.
Whatever aspect ratio you pick, you’ll want to design your storyboard images with that in mind.
Speaking of which...
Onwards to the art!
HOW TO STORYBOARD A FILM
3. Sketch out your subjects
Here’s where we get into the nitty-gritty of storyboarding.
Once you’ve determined your aspect ratio, you’ll need to draw in your subjects. You don’t have to be da Vinci, but the drawing should be clear.
There are essentially two schools of thought on this issue.
The first is to go old school, with nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper. A fantastic option for those of you who can actually draw, but even if you used to be an architect, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
The most important objects in any storyboard are the actors — the people who are going to live and breathe as the characters in the film. As such, you need to make sure that they are front and center.
Other objects only need attention when they matter to the story. Feel free to leave them somewhat “sketchy.” The details of a car only matter when the car is the focus of the shot, for example.
But how can you make a storyboard if you can’t draw? Well, you might consider hiring a professional storyboard artist.
Otherwise, stick figures will get the job done:
WHAT IS SCAMPING?
Scamping is storyboarding in its rawest, most unpolished form. It’s a quick-and-dirty method of storyboarding, often used as a precursor to creating more presentable movie storyboards or video storyboards to share with the team.
Filmmakers often approach a storyboard as a scamp, whip up something basic, and leave it at that. Alternately, scamping can be a “rough draft” for how to storyboard a film with input from collaborators, leading to more detailed next-step storyboards.
Cut-outs can do you one better than stick figures.
By cut-outs, we mean like when you were a kid and would cut out a picture from a magazine.
You can take photos of your own, or use images from TV shows and movies. Use these pictures as your visual references — as your storyboards.
Moving and reusing a cut-out in your storyboard can save you a great deal of money in the storyboarding process. It’s certainly more affordable than hiring a professional storyboard artist.
Wherever we get our storyboards — hand-drawn, app-drawn, scamp, photo, cut-out, or other visual reference — we’ll upload them into StudioBinder so we can arrange them and collaborate with team members.
Because getting the actual storyboard is only one step in how to make a storyboard work for you.
Organizing, rearranging, sharing, adjusting, getting input and tweaking — what you do with your storyboards and how you use them is every bit as critical as the storyboards themselves.
Spreadsheets, photocopies, multiple files and PDFs are one way to do it.
But keeping track of these can be time-consuming (and stress-inducing).
Sharing your storyboards, getting input, tracking and making changes — it’s a lot more efficient if you manage your storyboards online (and your entire production workflow) in one place.
MOVIE STORYBOARD EXAMPLES
4. Draw a background
Along with a subject or character, you need a background in your image to orient viewers. Your background can be as simple as a line or as elaborate as the layered, complex scenery in the storyboards for Birdman.What does a storyboard look like? Like this! These samples show how an Oscar-winning film, Birdman, originates in storyboards.
That being said, not every panel requires an elaborate background. For those that focus on characters or character movement, you can get away with a simple horizon line and stick figures. This will prepare you for your shoot just fine.
The important thing is to give anyone who looks at the storyboard a sense of space — where are the objects in relation to the space they’re standing in.
Here’s how to create a storyboard the Robert Rodriguez way.
As the director relates in his “10 Minute Film School” featurette on the Desperado DVD, Rodriguez’ favorite storyboarding tool is his camera:
While location scouting, Rodriguez take pictures with his camera to use as reference images in a storyboard. He moves the camera as he plans to move it on set. You can also achieve a similar effect with a smartphone.
It’s a creative, on-the-fly method for how to create a storyboard.
Take reference images. Upload them to an online storyboard solution. Adjust the aspect ratios, columns, and shot specs. Share the link with team members.
Boom. So even if you can't draw, you can make a storyboard.
MOVIE STORYBOARD MOVEMENT
5. Add arrows for motion
Arrows indicate motion on the screen. Try to add them to the images in your video storyboard, movie storyboard, or commercial pre-viz.
Learning how to make a storyboard could be rephrased as: “Do you like drawing arrows everywhere?"
Arrows show us where characters are going within the frame. Are they moving towards the camera? Away from the camera? Walking down the street? Somersaulting a few yards to the left?
Arrows condense what could take a million frames to show: movement.
And movement is the essence of film.
If you want to know how to write a storyboard as a motion sequence, you can string together your individual images as a video. Then play them back.
Create an animatic.
What is an animatic?
An animatic is a string of storyboard images edited together with sound to illustrate how a sequence will flow in motion. It’s a next-level technique after storyboarding. An animatic is not always necessary, but it does provide a fuller sense of the finished project. It’s a more involved preliminary step.
How to make an animatic:
- Edit storyboard images in an editing solution like Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro.
- Consider adding music tracks, sound effects and dialogue.
- Your storyboards play like a slideshow. Timing and pacing is conveyed in a storyboard sequence.
Using StudioBinder, we’ll play our storyboards as a slideshow. This way we don’t need to worry about video editing or making a flipbook.
The animatic or slideshow is basically a rough-sketch mini-movie. We’ll flip through at our own pace. We’ll make comments in the app and share links with collaborators.
Check out an example of a slideshow below. Flip between the storyboard images to get a sense of the scene:
Now let’s continue with the next step: camera techniques. Your knowledge of how to create a storyboard is hitting a higher gear now.
HOW TO STORYBOARD A VIDEO WITH MOVEMENT
6. Add camera movement
Adding camera movement to storyboards pre-visualizes how, when, and where the camera will move — as well as what we’ll focus on.
Camera movement sets up how we see the action.
Specific camera movements matter too. Is it a close up, or a wide shot?
Is the shot static? Are we tracking with someone on foot, or in a race car?
What about low angle, or eye-level?
Any key details such as these should be noted below every storyboard frame.
We’ll determine these specs in our storyboards in StudioBinder with a menu of checkboxes. That way you don't need to memorize all these acronyms.
When we add camera movement to our storyboards, we’ll select shot size, shot type, and lens details as well. Check it out below:
One example of what we’ll consider in this storyboard example is the rack focus. That is, shifting focus within a fixed frame.
This video breaks down the rack focus technique — a useful tool in cinematic storytelling, and one that can be addressed when organizing and planning our storyboards.
Which brings us back to arrows.
Yes, just like you drew arrows to show the action, you’ll need arrows to describe how the camera moves.
Exactly how to storyboard a video and camera movements, you ask?
When in doubt, the answer is arrows.
We told you “how to make a storyboard” was all about arrows.
Have a look.
If you’re worried about whether or not your storyboards and arrows are getting the point across, share the work. Get input. Clarify with your collaborators and make sure everyone is on the same page. You can always sub out the image for a clearer one.
Sharing storyboards in “the cloud” is addressed in greater detail in Step 9, so read on!
HOW TO WRITE A STORYBOARD SEQUENCE
7. Add shot numbers
You’re done, right? You’ve done everything up to this step, you’ve added more arrows than you ever thought possible, and now it’s go-time.
Not so fast. First, you have to label all the shots with numbers, starting at 1.
Without labels, your crew and creative collaborators won’t understand what any of this means. Plus it won't be easy to reference specific shots if they don't have a number.
If you're using storyboard software, your frames will be auto-numbered for you so you don't need to worry about this step.
If you're creating a storyboard manually, make sure to number every shot. Double check for human error. Make sure it’s all in the correct order.
If you use more than one storyboard for the same shot, label them with letters as well. So if the first shot has three storyboards, you would label them “1A,” “1B,” and “1C."
Ultimately, the most crucial information for every label is the type of shot, the camera movement, and a general description of what’s happening in the scene.
Everything else is just there if required. You don’t want to overwhelm your crew and confuse the process with unnecessary information.
The goal is to be as detailed and as clear as possible, but keep it utilitarian. The answer to how to make a storyboard for a movie, or for any project, is to provide a basic visual guide for production.
As mentioned, StudioBinder automatically adjusts and updates shot numbers, scene numbers, and camera specs. Drag-and-drop your storyboard to a new spot in the sequence to make your storyboard labeling and organizing efficient.
With storyboards, convey the intention. Label clearly. Get in and out.
It’s pre-visualization, not production.
Production comes soon.
MOVIE STORYBOARD AND VIDEO STORYBOARD
8. Rinse and repeat
Not rinse and repeat literally — for the record, we’re not liable if you drop your computer into the sink!
But, yes, now that you know how to make a storyboard, you move on and produce storyboards for every scene in your magnum opus.
Especially if you’re working on a feature film, this might seem like a daunting task. For a short form commercial or video, storyboarding makes more sense.
And you may not need to storyboard every scene. Just the key story moments. Some conversational scenes require little more than basic coverage.
But for other scenes, potentially project-defining scenes like the following scene from Get Out, storyboarding could make or break it.
A storyboard is most powerful when it helps you plan out anything where basic coverage simply won’t cut it.
Even seemingly simple conversations can become more complicated when you add something like an insert of a cell phone.
Now that you know you can organize all your scenes, shot lists, and storyboards, feel free to create as many as you need for your project.
Be thorough. Add, move, or remove storyboards to pre-visualize your project in as much detail as you need.
Much like a script, a storyboard doesn’t exist just for itself.
What is a storyboard? A storyboard is a communications tool. It exists to help turn your vision into a finished work. It’s there for you to share with others.
Storyboarding can seem like one of the most daunting challenges in filmmaking. This is especially true if drawing more than a stick figure is difficult for you.
But rather than look at it as a frightening task, remember that it’s actually a tool to help make your film even better.
Top Storyboard Software
Now that you know how to make a storyboard, learn how raise the visual bar as high as it will go.
Roll up your sleeves to dive into the latest storyboard software, storyboard apps, and iPad styli. Check out our list of the best storyboard tools of the year.