What is a storyboard, anyway?

Good question — we’ll answer it for you! But before we do, let’s take stock of where you currently are in your animation (or video making) journey.

Assuming you now understand the process for bringing your video to life (discussed in article # 1 of this series) and you’ve written a script for your video (discussed in article # 2 of this series), you are now ready to take the next step…and it’s a doozy!

It’s storyboarding time!

We recommend reading this article all the way through, but if it helps, feel free to use the table of contents below to toggle around.

Happy learning!

Table of Contents:

Developed by Disney in the 1940s, Walt and co. understood that while short animations can be created without careful planning, animated stories requires careful, scene-by-scene planning — not to mention a whole lot of communication and teamwork.

For Disney, that meant one thing: storyboard development.

Attempting to create an animation without a storyboard is like heading out an epic road trip without a map. You might have fun at first — but chances are you’ll get lost along the way. Storyboards aren’t just essential organizing your video; they are also critical for conceptualizing how the piece will unfold, look, and feel.

So…what is a storyboard?

 

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia:

“A storyboard is a graphic organizer that consists of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualising a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves! In addition to a “sequence of images for pre-visualizing a motion picture” it is also the hidden link between a video’s script and its final visuals. Your audience will never even know it existed, but that doesn’t mean it it’s not crucial part of the video making process.

So let’s dive in! Here’s how to create a storyboard.

How to create a storyboard

The best way to learn how to create a storyboard is by studying real examples. Below, let’s look at some segments from animations in Motifmotion’s portfolio. By comparing the sketched scenes to the corresponding animation segment, you’ll learn how storyboards become the backbone of the animated graphics.

As you read, notice that there are several different types of storyboards. In super high budget animations (think movies) each “type” discussed below is often it’s own phase within a multi-tiered storyboarding process. However, since most projects don’t have endless budgets, usually just one or two types are used.

So let’s take a look at each type of storyboard, and explore how each builds upon the one before it.

Types of storyboards

Text-based

A text based storyboard is just what it sounds like. Your job is to describe in written words what will ultimately play out on screen. Text storyboards are meant to give the illustrator a loose (but clear) guide to work from.

When Motifmotion creates this type, we also include some screenshots from around the web. These help bolster the descriptions, offering the illustrator even better direction. Importantly, these visuals are never meant to be precisely mimicked — they are only meant as inspiration.

The best way to create a text storyboard is by aligning it with the already written script. Positioning the script parallel to the scenes makes it much easier to create.

You’ll notice that in the example below, we also provided some simple screenshots.

 

What do you think? Could you create something like this? Bet you could!

Text storyboards like these are excellent options for non-artists. If you are a handling project management on an animation — handing off a text based storyboard to an illustrator or professional storyboarder can be tremendously helpful.

Consider creating a vertical table like the one above in a Word Doc. Remember — label your scenes, describe the action, and when helpful, attach a few pictures from the web!

Simple illustrated

Detailed storyboards are very time consuming to visualize and create.

Sometimes, simpler sketches are more appropriate. This is especially true if your team isn’t ready to commit the time (or money) required to create more detailed illustrations. Maybe it’s too early in the process. Or perhaps you are worried folks will have a lot of new suggestions, making sprinting too fast a bad idea.

If the sketched storyboards are simple enough, you might be able to create them yourself even if you aren’t a skilled artist. Of course, it isn’t just about being able to “doodle” effectively. It’s also about understanding how to create an unfolding visual story. Depending on how abstract your piece is, you might want to bring in a professional artist to help.

Here’s an example of some simple storyboards. Click the arrows to flip through the scenes.

Just like text storyboards, it’s important to actually describe what’s happening on screen! Simple storyboards like these aren’t always great at conveying emotion, but they are excellent at getting the basic plot and scene arrangements down.

What is a Storyboard — Protip # 1

Expectation Setting 101

One of the most difficult aspects of storyboarding has to do with assembling actionable feedback. In other words, communicating to your team or your client what they should (and should not) be looking for when viewing the storyboard for the first time.

For this reason, when you send your work around for feedback, do some expectation setting. Explain to your viewers that this is not a finished product, and that they should be looking for X, rather than Y. For example, when you send along simple sketches, you might get feedback like “I don’t like how the characters are dressed – can we change that?!” Meanwhile, your intention was only to give your viewers a sense of the general scene layout, not the fashion details within them!

Helpful feedback – 0. Headaches – 1. This underscores the importance of clear communication.

Complex illustrated

Creating super complex, detailed storyboards is fantastic, but only under the right conditions. These are great when:

  1. You have enough creative control to know that a decision maker won’t simply poo poo your work after you’ve taken hours to create it, or;
  2. You’ve already developed a text or simple sketched storyboard, and you’re confident that detailed storyboards will keep you moving forward — rather than backwards!

Suffice it to say, a detailed storyboard is the best possible way to help you and your team members fully visualize and understand the piece, outside of actual illustrations. They are especially useful for videos where getting the details right a top priority.

Let’s see what the exact same scene looks like above, only in much greater detail. Then, let’s watch the scene itself!

Frame by frame

The scenes in frame by frame storyboards may not always be extremely detailed, but wow —they are sure are time consuming to create! Frame by frame boards are sometimes desirable for highly motion-based videos. They are often built to give the illustrator (and later, the animator) an extremely detailed understanding of how movement should play out on screen.

Consider the example below. It took about 32 slides to convey just 14 seconds of the animation to the right. The entire animation was about 2.5 minutes, so you can imagine how many slides it took the storyboard artist!

Frame by frame storyboards aren’t for the faint of heart. They also aren’t a good fit for beginners. If you’re looking to go this route, it’s best to find a skilled freelancer to help.

Animatic

An animatic, not to be confused with the animation itself, is a storyboard set to music. The scenes move forward, usually, with a voiceover track in the background. Animatics are primarily made for two reasons:

  1. To help the animator understand (and prepare for) the animation’s timing, pace, and flow.
  2. To give a client an understanding of how the piece will play out.

Ideally, when it’s time for the animatic, the storyboard has already been fully fleshed out. Sometimes, the animatic is even created after illustrations are completed, before animation. In this case, it’s purely for the animator’s use.

Here’s a side by side example of a Disney animatic, next to the real thing! Notice, it’s all about getting the timing right!

 

Conclusion: What is a Storyboard? [And How to Create One]

No doubt about it — storyboards are an essential part of the animation and video making process. But they aren’t one size fits all. Before you begin planning out your scenes, think carefully about your budget, who you will show your storyboard to, and what level of detail your illustrator will need to create the scenes.

This article is part 3 of our 4 part series called, “Creating an Animation on a Budget.” Part 1 was an overview of the animation process. View it here. Part 2 was a scriptwriting tutorial. View it here.

Stay tuned for part 4, which will teach you how to project manage your animation to life!

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