In this post, we’re going to discuss storyboards and more specifically, animation storyboards. We will also discuss how you can create storyboards for your animations even if you have virtually no drawing skills at all.
We will introduce a few simple and proven steps to help you get started right away to create compelling storyboards in as quickly as 30 minutes. You can use your storyboards to guide the production of animation or present your idea for one to a team or a sponsor in a clear, vivid way.
By the end of this post, you will know how to create animation storyboards. And if you already know how to make one, you will leave with some excellent tips to improve your work.
In this post, we focus on creating animation storyboards but you can translate the guidelines and steps discussed here so that you can apply them to create storyboards for any medium.
At the end of this article, we will introduce some nifty tools to make storyboard creation a whole lot easier and more fun.
Oh and there is a surprise for those who follow the article to the end, you will see!
What is a Storyboard?
In short, a storyboard is a minimalistic visual representation of a video script in the form of static images. The end result looks like a comic strip; a series of thumbnails that highlights the flow of action in a video and establishes its key moments.
Traditionally, storyboards were made to ease the production of videos in a variety of genres, from animations to commercials to full-length feature movies, but that has changed in recent years.
Nowadays, storyboards are used in a much wider range of professions. Basically, almost any kind of process can be visually mapped with a storyboard, so it’s no wonder that innovative product designers and UX specialists take advantage of the myriad benefits of storyboarding.
You may even replace the text in your company’s “about us” with a storyboard that paints a vivid picture of how your company started and where it is headed. But why should we create storyboards? Why add an “extra” step and complicate the project? Let’s find out!
Why Do We Use Animation Storyboards?
At first, developing a storyboard might seem like adding an additional step toward production and complicating things. However, there are many reasons why creating storyboards before actually committing resources to produce a costly animation is a good idea.
Storyboards do not complicate the production, they actually make it simpler. Storyboards reduce the risk of “step backs” and necessary redesigns We have condensed those reasons into two main categories: Planning, and Communication.
This is the first and foremost reason behind creating storyboards. In our post about Animation Production, we have talked in length about the truly vast amount of work and expenses that go into producing an animation, and making live videos is no less easy than making animations.
In such projects, creating a storyboard helps us to plan ahead and hammer out the details at an early stage. It provides us with the opportunity to detect issues that could be improved, issues that might not come into focus when we rely solely on the video script.
By translating ideas from words to image form, we can make sure that we have included everything we need in the video to create that special impact we’re looking for.
Not only that, storyboards help us to do so in an efficient and economical way. Storyboards help us avoid costly reworking of the produced animation, and enable us to utilize the budget effectively.
As mentioned earlier, storyboards are traditionally used to help with video/animation production. However, content creators, digital marketers, UX designers, and product managers all make use of storyboards in their own field of work these days.
Product design is very different than animation or movie production but storyboards have a similar function there as well. Designers may create fictional personas of the different personality types of their targeted audience.
For example, when a designer has a brilliant idea for an app that solves a major problem, he/she may use storyboards to illustrate how those personas encounter the problem and how they react to it.
Many User Experience (UX) designers take advantage of storyboards to study the flow of the product (such as an application) and how users navigate and react while using the product, developing visual “stories” of the users’ experience with the product.
Whether you’re working solo or as a part of a large company with thousands of employees, you’re going to have to present your work to others for a multitude of reasons.
Convincing the sponsors to trust you with their money, explaining the nature of the product to the marketing department so they can create a better pitch or onboard a new team member.
Storyboards are an effective tool to perform all of the above and more with style and clarity, leaving a much better impact and decreasing the chance of misunderstanding between people involved in the project.
Think of it as a visual complement to video script or project documentation. interdepartmental miscommunications happen every day in the world and are costly because words can only go so far to convey a wholesome idea properly.
A good storyboard can easily communicate a lot of data without anyone reading a single word. In this regard, using storyboards is not only going to save hours of draining meetings and presentations while enabling a clearer, more vivid method of communication.
Moreover, keep in mind that some people involved in a project might not be good with words, to begin with, largely due to the nature of their profession. i.e a music composer is far more likely to create a track that is compatible with the designer/director’s vision if he/she gets a “feel” of the work based on the storyboard.
How to Create Storyboards in 4 Easy Steps
Now that we have talked about the nature of storyboards and their purpose, let’s see how we can create storyboards following an organized and proven formula. Please mind that in this post we’re focusing on creating storyboards for animations and in a large part, videos.
While the governing principles are the same, the execution of those principles differs between different professions. Without further ado, here is how you can create storyboards in a few simple steps.
1. Set Up Your Story’s Timeline
Start by deciding the place and the time your story is taking place. Make a list of the main events, and sort those events chronologically in the order you want them to take place.
Even if your story doesn’t follow a linear pattern (Multiple timelines, parallel universes, flashbacks, different POVs, …) you can still sort them in the order you want them to appear on the screen.
Now that you have your story timeline on paper or on screen, you can take a moment to consider whether your should make changes to the chronological order of main events.
The goal here is to make the best possible arrangements for the best possible impact on viewers. In short, organize the different pieces of your story.
2. Create the Panels
Ideally, you can write down a “shot list” before creating the panels. A shot list is a chronologically ordered list of sequences of events in a scene with details on camera angle and movement.
Now that you know the main events of the story and the order they take place, you need to create a number of cells that match the number of main events. Remember to keep the ratio of each cell according to the target medium. For most cases, this would be a 16:9 ratio which is compatible with the current popular widescreen format.
You don’t have to draw anything just yet, but write a description of what will be shown in each cell just below it. This description can be a single line or a full paragraph depending on how detailed you want your storyboard to be. However, be sure to include the camera’s position and angle, when and how the shot starts, and how it will be cut.
3. Draw it Out
By now you have turned a raw idea for a scene into an actionable and clear list of exactly what to draw in each panel. You may use either paper or a screen as your canvas. If your not a professional artist, it is fine to use stick figures and simple geometrical shapes.
Or, you can use one of the storyboard tools recommended at the end of this post to create more visually appealing animation storyboards with a little effort.
Remember the goal here is to enable any viewer to imagine the flow of action and easily picture an animated series of events based on static images. That’s why you should be as visually clear as possible.
However, avoid adding too much detail, as you’re trying to describe, not distract. Each element on your animation storyboards should serve a clear purpose. In other words, details must make it easier for the viewer to visualize the main action, not harder.
It would help a lot to adhere to the visual hierarchy here. We have briefly discussed visual hierarchy in our post about Principals of Game Art Design.
4. Add Details
Think of this step as the post production stage for your storyboard. Now, you review your storyboard and take it in as a whole. Is it in accordance with your initial vision of the scene? What could make the flow of action clearer for the animators?
You can add arrows to better show the flow of movement, or include the length of time each shot (cell) will take. Make sure to include the important props clearly in your cells.
You may add words to help your team better understand what is happening on the screen (or paper) or what special effect is needed for each cell, but try to keep the word count as low as possible.
In the end, it is up to you to decide how much time and effort you spend on a storyboard. But have no doubt that a quality storyboard will make the whole project go a whole lot smoother.
8 Golden Tips for Creating Superb Storyboards
We talked about the methodical process of creating an “acceptable” storyboard, but what makes for a “great” storyboard? What are some of the most common pitfalls? How can we improve the efficiency of our storyboards? Follow these simple tips make your storyboards look professional from the very beginning.
- Get all your ideas on the paper, even those you’re unlikely to use.
- Don’t waste much time on the opening sequence. A common mistake is to drag on the initial action across too many panels.
- Consider the level of detail you add. Too much is a distraction, too few can be misleading.
- Restrict the number of cells from the beginning and stick to that number. Make it a challenge for yourself too communicate more with less space, one cell must equal one vital, unmissable event.
- You need to draw “clearly” for animation storyboards. But it doesn’t matter much if you draw “beautifully”.
- Pay special attention to character poses, much of the story is told through character poses and facial expressions.
- Try to come up with short punchlines and one-liners for your characters and add them to your work.
- Always look for feedbacks. It will give you new perspectives to consider your work with.
As with any other creative endeavor, there is no one “correct” way to go about creating animation storyboards. Use these methods and tips to build a strong foundation for your talent.
And don’t be afraid to try new stuff. The most important thing is to keep in mind why are you creating a storyboard and try to fulfill that goal in the best way you can.
Read More: The 12 principles of animation
Best Tools for Creating Storyboards
All you need to create storyboards is a pen, paper, and a good idea. We actually recommend that you start by pen and paper and leave the tools for when you’re comfortable with the basics.
However, with everything else in life, modern tech can ease things up and make them shinier! Here are some of the best tools around to help you create stunning storyboards.
Create colored storybooks using a huge library of premade objects, characters, backgrounds, and more. Storyboard That is one of the oldest, most trusted storyboard tools around. Its user-friendly interface is ideal for first-timers. Especially useful for animation storyboards since its library is styled that way.
Boords offer a deeply satisfying online storyboard creation platform tailored for those working in a team. Its collaborative nature facilitates smooth communication and task management between multiple members of a team.
Storyboarder is the continuation of a much older, open-source tool called “Storyboard Fountain”. It was already a great tool before getting bought by a tech company. It’s now better than ever, and to be honest, it is our favorite storyboarding tool at Pixune. You only need to try it for 5 minutes to find out why!
If you’re looking for a professional tool used by Hollywood people and veterans, look no further. In addition to storyboards, you can create and mix all kinds of screenplays, visual novels, and even video game scripts.
CeltX is not as easy to use as the Storyboard That or Boords, but with a little bit of time and effort, it will become a great addition to your resume.
Storyboards are a great tool to plan your project and communicate ideas. While dedicating time and resources to animation storyboards (or any other kind of storyboard) might at first seem like an extra step, when correctly employed, storyboards actually allow you to avoid wasting resources and spend them smartly.
Regardless of their skillset and experience, anyone can create a storyboard to showcase their ideas, whether if it’s for a professional animation project or just as a hobby to document your ideas in an illustrative way.
Oh, and here is the Surprise
Last but not least, we talked about a surprise at the beginning, and here it is:
Pixune is offering to create a free, professional storyboard for the first 10 companies or teams that reach out to us starting from the time this article was published!
If you’re looking to produce an animation for any purpose (Music videos, commercials, explanation videos, etc), don’t hesitate to contact us through comments or other means.
Pixune will turn your raw idea into an actionable storyboard for free! Then you can choose to continue the development with us, or take your storyboard anywhere you like!