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Storyboarding 101

Story & Heart
January 6, 2016 by Story & Heart PRO

Storyboards are a sequence of drawings used to visualize the look and feel of your film. Think of them as tiny comic strips to help you share your vision with the 3 Cs: clients, crews, and cast members. In other words, they’re great for getting everyone on board with your creative ideas before the cameras start rolling.

If you were prepared to throw up your hands in defeat because you aren’t a total da Vinci, fret not: making storyboards doesn’t require you to be a wizard with the no. 2 pencil. In fact, drawing skills are only a small portion of what make a storyboard come together. From stick figures to arrows to aspect ratios, we have six tips for crafting effective storyboards.

Storyboard_StickFigure.jpg

Let your aspect ratio be your guide

Each panel in your storyboard represents each individual shot you’re aiming to capture during production. This means you could end up with quite a few panels.

To maximize clarity while minimizing space, start with drawing 4-6 panels per sheet of paper. This will ensure you’ll have enough room to communicate your idea, but not be so big that you’ll have a stack of boards to be responsible for.

As you draw each panel, match your film’s aspect ratio for that particular shot. So if you’re filming in 16:9, create panels that are as close to 16:9 as possible. We’re fans of gridded field notes for this purpose.

Cozy up to simplicity

Don’t despair if you’re not super confident in your pictorial skills. In fact, keeping your drawings nice and simple while you’re starting out will be much clearer than trying to doodle in every little detail. Outlines and stick figures work wonderfully for conveying ideas and action. And, though we may not have met IRL, dear reader, we know you can draw stick figures.

Just like filmmaking (and most things in life!), the more you draw, the better you’ll be at it. Your stick figures will become more lifelike, and you can then begin to practice adding in the finer details of important elements.

Enumerate your panels

Whether you’re creating storyboards from a shot list or script, number and label each individual panel to ensure nothing is missed. If you’re using multiple panels to convey a single shot, create a system that will allow you (and your crew) to identify this. It could be 2a, 2b, 2c or 2i, 2ii, 2iii, etc.

Numbered panels will also help you stay organized on set. As you complete each panel, be sure to denote via checkmark, highlighter, or otherwise that it’s been completed, so that you don’t miss any required shots.

Think talent, situation, and environment (in that order)

These are three things that need to be conveyed in each panel to make your storyboard a helpful pre-visualization tool. In other words, who is in the scene, what are they doing, and where are they?

We recommend you start with your on-screen talent — a.k.a. stick figures — and situation. Your talent is likely the most important element in each panel, so drawing them first allows you to think through their placement and action before you communicate their physical location.

StoryboardTalentSituationEnvironment.jpg

Remember to keep your drawings simple and focus only on the major details that are needed for each panel when you’re just getting started with storyboards. If there are tiny details that need to be communicated, jot them down as notes under the specific panel.

Distinguish your directions 

When your shot calls for motion, either from your on-screen talent or your camera, use arrows to signify the direction and type of movement.

Storyboard_Arrow.png

Create an arrow style for each type of movement, so that you don’t accidently have someone walking into the shot when you intended to just have the camera moving. It could be different colors for each type, or even just the subtle difference between a filled in arrow and a dotted outline.

Turn, again, to simplicity

This tip bears repeating. Storyboard the shots that require visualization, and then use your shot list for those that don’t. Generally this will translate into 1-2 pages of panels each for the beginning, middle, and end of a film.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you might need a storyboard panel for a shot, consider the amount of time it takes for you to describe or explain the shot or scene, and if you need a visual aid to get your idea across. It it’s too complex, take the time to draw it out. Even if it’s just for your own use, going through the process of drawing it out will be immensely helpful in ensuring you’ve thought through the talent, situation, and environment fully.

There you have it — simple storyboarding tips that hopefully dispel the intimidation factor, as the value of these production tools far outweighs any wobbly stick figures. When it next comes time to roll camera, your client, crew, and cast members will all be on the same page — literally and figuratively, of course.

To delve into more filmmaking how-tos, visit Story & Heart’s Academy of Storytellers or click over to our archive of lessons

14 Comments

Matei-Alexandru Mocanu Plus

very good introductory note, but we have celtx and storyboard apps on our cells nowadays
besides, i would never start drawing stick figures on a blank page...i need an already formatted page (be it either 1, or 3, or 6 frames per page)

better yet, i recommend moodboards or storyboards with reference photos, they'll be more useful and will make more sense on the set than some stick figures and arrows
my 2p

Story & Heart PRO

Thanks for sharing in, Matei-Alexandru! You're absolutely right, this is definitely geared towards filmmakers just getting started with storyboards. :)

Speaking of apps, which storyboard one(s) are you a fan of? Haven't quite found one that works well for us, outside of using Fiftythree Paper and bringing them into illustrator to tweak further.

Thanks again!

Matei-Alexandru Mocanu Plus

but hey, i went to film school
maybe this post is aimed at ppl who didnt
either way, keep up the good work

Ben Abel-Bey Plus

Call me old fashioned, but something about pen or pencil (my preference) on paper keeps me focused on the story I'm trying to visualize. I like to look at them. I've gone as far as to try and make the sketch look like the actors in the scene. But I didn't "technically" go to film school, and I just like to draw anyway. My DP, who did go to film school, loves 'em. I think you gotta do what works for you, and keeps you organized and motivated. Great article!

Story & Heart PRO

Thanks for sharing, Ben! Big fan of a regular old pencil and paper here too. :)

Aero Pics

I started using Shot Designer (along with Shot Lister and Celtx) a couple of years ago and find that when needed (I agree with the post's point about not boarding everything), it can be a real help - both for me and for my crew. Sometime's even for the client!

Story & Heart PRO

Very coo additions! Sometimes all it takes is a couple of boards to really think through potential shots (and problems) to keep productions running smoooothly.

Connie's House

Storyboarding is brand new territory for me, and I am fascinated!!! I am a big fan of pencil, paper, AND technology, so thanks to all of you for sharing your expertise. I can hardly wait to learn more!!

Roger Hartje

Thanks. I help my wife with a baking blog and she wants to start creating video baking how-tos. I have been sketching freehand and in onenote on a tablet with some success. For me this, and other tutorials, help bring clarity to the generic 'storyboard' term often thrown around. Until just now I never had thought of drawing in camera or direction of the act.

Peter J Russo Plus

I haven't done story boarding in years, but I think it can play a valuable roll when introducing a video novice/client, to using video, and to get everyone's input, before you begin shooting.

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