Knowing how to make a storyboard (also known as “storyboarding”) is one of the most important steps of pre-production. It takes the vision in your head and turns them into pictures that you can share with your collaborators.
Despite that, some filmmakers approach the process with fear. Whether because they believe they can’t draw or because they think they need to hire a professional storyboard artist.
Worry not, we have a nine-step process that will have you storyboarding in no time.
Watch: How to Make a Storyboard
For a more visual example of how a storyboard should look, watch our video on the subject featuring The Force Awakens.
What is a storyboard?
Storyboard are visual representations of a film sequence that breaks down the action into individual panels. It sketches out how a video sequence will unfold.
The process comes out of animation, and the modern storyboard template was developed by none other than Walt Disney during the earliest days of Disney Studios.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for animated features to only have a storyboard instead of a script — the design of the visuals are so important that the dialogue is simply written into the storyboard.
1. Mark up your screenplay
The first step is to mark up your screenplay so you know how you want to shoot each scene. That way you’ll know what storyboards you need to draw.
Here's a short video to help you create a script breakdown.
But before you start breaking down your script, you need to understand the story of your screenplay.
Understanding the story is crucial for learning how to make a storyboard.
Whether it’s a commercial, feature film, or music video storyboard, all videos are telling stories. You should understand that story and how all the elements that you’re marking up support that story.
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, but your job is to fill in any blanks. And rest assured, there will be blanks — this is good!
The blanks are where you get to play.
What will that fight look like? How will you shoot each scene? What camera angles and movements will help tell the story of the film as a whole?
Whether you’re a seasoned director or just learning how to make a storyboard, marking up the screenplay with ideas is the first step.
Acquire the best storyboard tools
Before getting deep into how to storyboard a video, it’s important to have tools alongside the talent.
When given the option, always try to be like the Ghostbusters. Even when storyboarding.
There’s 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.
There are multiple storyboard templates out there you can download and print out as a starting point.
The second school of thought is storyboard software. A good choice for people who aren’t skilled artists or don’t have the resources to hire a professional storyboard artist.
Good software will solve the problem of how to make a storyboard for you in a snap.
Our list of the best storyboard software, storyboard apps, and a free storyboard template will save you valuable time.
2. Determine your aspect ratio
Even if you think you know nothing about how to storyboard a video, even if you’ve only learned what a storyboard is, you probably know that a lot of tiny boxes are involved.
But how big should those boxes be? Who decides that? Is it arbitrary? Enforced by a shadowy conspiracy?
Relax. Creating your storyboard box is simply a matter of determining your aspect ratio — the size and shape of the frame of your camera.
For example, if you’re shooting in IMAX like Christopher Nolan, your box would be considerably bigger.
Example of what a 2:39:1 aspect ratio on a storyboard looks like.
Consult with your cinematographer to see what cameras you’ll be shooting on before creating a storyboard. Download an appropriate storyboard template, and you’ll be ready to rock.
If you’re working in storyboard software like StudioBinder, the boxes will automatically adjust after you input an aspect ratio. They’ll also arrange on the page after you set how many boxes you’ll want to see.
3. Sketch out your subject
Once you’ve determined your aspect ratio, you’ll need to draw in your subjects. You don’t have to be DaVinci, but it should be clear what objects are. Even stick figures will do the job.
The most important objects in any storyboard are the actors — the people who are going to stand in for the characters in the film. As such, you need to make sure that they are front and center.
Example of what a drawing a lead character within a frame looks like.
Other objects only need attention when they matter to the story. Otherwise, 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.
How to Make a Storyboard When You Can’t Draw
Stick figures will get the job, but there is another option if you prefer. Use cut-outs.
By cut-outs, we mean like when you were a kid and would cut out a picture from a magazine. If you’re using a printed storyboard template, you can do this quite literally.
Cut out pictures of actors, copy them, and tape them onto your paper storyboard. If you’ve already cast your actors, you can use those, but if you’re still casting, stand-ins work perfectly fine.
If you’re using storyboard software, you can cut out the image digitally and upload it into your storyboard.
Moving and reusing a cut out around 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.
Good software will solve the problem of how to make a storyboard for you in a snap.
4. Draw a background
Along with a subject, you need a background to orient us where said object is. Your background can be as simple as a line, or as elaborate as the ones for Birdman were.
That being said, don't feel like this is the template for how involved to get.
Not every storyboard panel requires an elaborate background — particularly those that focus on characters or character movement can get away with a simple horizon line.
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?
How to Make a Storyboard When You Can’t Draw, Pt.2
Of course, if drawing stick figures for your storyboard is giving you grief, it’s likely that backgrounds will be hard for you as well.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to that problem as well. Here’s how to create a storyboard the Robert Rodriguez way.
While location scouting he’ll take pictures with his film camera to use as a storyboard. He actually will move the camera as he plans to move it on-set, but you can achieve the same effect with a still camera.
Once you have those pictures, dump them into the storyboard software of your choice — instant backgrounds to make storyboarding a little bit easier.
5. Add arrows for motion
Arrows indicate motion on the screen.
Learning how to make a storyboard could be rephrased as “Do you like drawing arrows everywhere?"
Arrows show us where characters are moving within the frame. Are they moving towards the camera? Away from the camera? Just down the street a few yards away?
Arrows condense what would be a million frames to show motion.
If you actually had that many frames, you won’t need to learn how to make a storyboard for animation. You would literally have animation. Or really, an animatic.
What's an animatic?
An animatic is simply a bunch of storyboards edited together with sound to illustrate what a sequence will look like. It’s a next level technique in storyboarding that you may not necessarily need at this moment.In StudioBinder you can easily save your storyboards as a slideshow which you flip through at your own pace. Particularly useful for video pitches, it’s always good to have after you’ve submitted a creative brief.
6. Add camera movement
In addition to how your subjects move through landscapes, you’ll need to address how we’ll see all that action. How will the camera move?
Exactly how to storyboard camera movements, you ask?
Yes, just like you drew arrows to show the action, you’ll need arrows to describe how the camera moves
We told you “how to make a storyboard” was all about arrows.
7. Label your shots
You’re done, right? You’ve printed out a storyboard template, drawn some stick figures and added more arrows than you never thought possible.
You’ve completed this storyboard tutorial and now you know how to storyboard a video!
Not so fast. First, you have to label all of those shots. Without labels, your crew and creative collaborators won’t understand what any of this means. You start by numbering each shot.
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.”
You storyboard template may have different labeling sections — StudioBinder, for example, allows you thirteen different labeling sections.
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 it’s necessary. You don’t want to overwhelm your crew with unnecessary information!
8. Rinse and repeat
Not literally — we’re not liable if you drop your storyboard or computer into your sink!
But, yes, now you move on and produce storyboards for every scene and sequence in your magnum opus.
Especially if you’re working on a feature film, this probably seems like a daunting task.
It’s worth considering whether every scene needs a full storyboard -- some conversational scenes require little more than basic coverage.
A storyboard is most powerful as a tool 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.
9. Share with your team
Much like a script, a storyboard doesn’t exist just for itself.
What is a storyboard? A storyboard is a tool. It exists to help turn your vision into a movie.
If you’re using storyboard software like StudioBinder, your storyboards can live in the cloud, accessible by anyone with an account and an internet connection.
On the other hand, if you prefer the more old school pencil and paper method, you’d still be wise to make many copies. Or, even better, scan them and back them up in several places.
Believe us, if the worst happens and your copy of the storyboard is destroyed in a fire, you are not going to be happy.
The final details
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.
Eager to storyboard your own masterpiece? Sign up for StudioBinder and try our storyboarding software today!
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