There are many different formats and styles of storyboarding used based on the needs of each unique project. Hand-drawn storyboards provide a tactile, classic approach. Digital storyboards enable more detailed computer-aided designs. While 2D storyboards utilize flat drawings, 3D storyboards open up dynamic camera angles and movements.
Other types, like animatics and pre-visualization storyboards, incorporate motion and basic animation for enhanced visual planning. The storyboarding format chosen impacts the level of detail, time, and cost required.
Different Types of Storyboards
Storyboards are a vital part of bringing any visual narrative to life. They allow filmmakers, animators, and other artists to plan out their visual story before production begins. There are many options when it comes to creating storyboards, each with their own advantages. Here we will explore some of the most common types of storyboards used today:
1. Traditional Storyboard
Traditional hand-drawn storyboards are created with pen or pencil and paper. They feature a series of hand-sketched panels or frames that outline important shots and sequences in a visual narrative. Hand-drawn boards are an inexpensive and easy way for creatives to translate ideas from scripts and get an overall sense of scene flow, camera angles, character positions, and other visual elements.
While hand-drawn storyboards don’t need to be works of art, they should clearly depict the intended shots. Simple stick figures and sketches are often sufficient. Hand-drawn boards are a quick way to block out scenes during the early stages of production. They can be created by the director, storyboard artists, or a collaborative team.
2. Digital Storyboards
As their name implies, digital storyboards are created using computer software rather than pen and paper. Popular programs used for digital boarding include Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects. Some storyboarding apps also exist specifically for this purpose, like ShotPro or FrameForge.
Digital boards allow artists to create cleaner and more intricate visuals than what’s typically possible by hand. Drawings can be moved, resized, and edited with ease. Digital boards also enable the incorporation of 3D models, granular camera controls, and pre-visualization effects. This makes them especially useful for projects heavy on VFX in 3D animation.
3. Animated Storyboards
Animated storyboards take the pre-visualization process one step further. Rather than a series of static drawings, animated boards bring story panels to life through motion and timing. Typical techniques include adding camera sweeps, motion lines, character animation, and other kinetic elements.
Animation storyboard allows filmmakers to gain an even clearer sense of scene pacing and continuity. It also aids pre-visualization for complex VFX and camera shots involving extensive movement. Animated storyboards require more specialized software and 3D assets to achieve realistic motion and animation.
4. Thumbnail Storyboards
Thumbnail storyboards utilize dozens of small panels on each page to give a high-level overview of the full narrative sequence. Thumbnails are quick to sketch and enable “blue sky” experimentation in the initial stages of storyboarding. The tradeoff is less detail in each individual panel. Thumbnails help identify scene flow and structure before refining artwork.
5. Written Storyboards
Written, text-based storyboard services rely solely on written scene descriptions without visual panels. They are quick to generate and focus attention on narrative details like character actions and dialogue. However, written boards lack the vivid visualization that images provide. They work best when used in conjunction with a shot list.
6. Sketched Storyboards
Sketched storyboards use rough, simple illustrations and stick figures to convey the basic sequence of shots. Sketched boards are fast to create and perfect for brainstorming sessions or early ideation. They allow directors and teams to block out the story flow before developing detailed artwork. The simplicity leaves much open for interpretation.
7. Explainer Video Storyboards
Explainer video storyboards cater specifically to planning short animated or motion graphics videos. They focus on sequencing concise messages rather than lengthy narratives. Explainer boards utilize a mix of illustrations and text blocks for key messaging in each scene. This format suits commercial animation studios.
8. The Framed Storyboard
The framed storyboard layout presents each shot scene within a film frame border. This mimics the look of actual film or camera framing and allows focus on cinematic perspective. Framed boards help visualize each shot as it will appear on screen through the lens. Leave space for technical shot descriptions below each framed panel.
9. Shot Descriptions
In addition to visual panels, most storyboards also contain text descriptions for each scene shot. These shot descriptions provide vital context for the storyboard images, explaining important actions, dialog, and scene details that may not be fully depicted visually.
Descriptions specify the intended on-screen action, camera perspectives, character blocking, mood, and any other pertinent shot information. They help ensure everyone interpreting the boards has a complete understanding of what is needed for each scene before production starts. More detailed descriptions may also include technical notes for the camera crew.
10. 2D vs. 3D Storyboards
Both hand-drawn and digital storyboards can be either 2D or 3D. 2D boards utilize classic flat drawings from a single perspective. 3D boards, on the other hand, are created from within a virtual 3D space. This allows for dynamic camera angles and movements not possible with 2D sketches.
3D storyboarding capabilities are especially beneficial for complex live-action shots, intricate camera moves, and VFX sequences. However, simpler scenes may only require basic 2D boarding. The choice between 2D and 3D depends on the specific needs of each project and scene.
Read More: How to Make a Storyboard?
Great Examples of Effective Storyboarding
The Iron Giant
Brad Bird’s hand-drawn storyboards for this animated film are simple but communicate the shot sequences beautifully. They use color and motion lines to show movement and camera angles.
The Pixar storyboards for Wall-E exemplify how even a stick figure sketch storyboard can effectively establish character blocking, framing, and scene pacing.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Detailed grayscale digital storyboards were created for the intense action shots in this film, allowing complex visual effects sequences to be planned out extensively.
Animated storyboards created in Toon Boom were used to pre-visualize scenes and dynamic camera movements for Moana with a hand-drawn aesthetic.
Storyboard Layout Variations
Storyboards arrange panels and descriptions in different layouts based on the intended use. Here are some common storyboard layout types:
- Single Panels – Each shot takes up a full page or screen. Allows maximum space for detailed illustrations.
- Multiple Panels – Several small panels fit on each page, condensing the sequence. Good for condensed overviews.
- Thumbnail Panels – Dozens of tiny panels on each page give a high-level overview.
- Manga Panels – Panels are arranged vertically to be read top to bottom, typical in comics.
- 16:9 Panels – Widescreen rectangular panels at a 16:9 aspect ratio match the modern film.
- 2.35:1 Panels – Ultra wide panels at cinema scope aspect ratios.
The layout used depends on the detail required, the number of shots, and how much of the sequence needs to be seen at once. Thumbnails work for initial brainstorming, while larger individual panels are better for refined artwork.
Storyboards are a multifaceted tool for visually communicating narrative visions. As we have seen, there are many techniques storytellers utilize to transform ideas into cohesive scenes, from hand sketching to digital animation. Simple thumbnails work for initial brainstorming, while detailed pre-visualization excels at planning complex sequences. The right storyboarding approach depends entirely on the unique needs and budget of each creative project.
In summary, this recap emphasizes the diversity of storyboarding techniques that all serve the common goal of bringing visual narratives to life. It concludes that choosing the right storyboard type is a strategic decision based on project needs.