How to Draw a Storyboard
What is a Storyboard?
Well, for those of you out there who don't know what a storyboard is, let me enlighten you.
Basically, a storyboard is a series of drawings that tell a story. Storyboards are used extensively in the movie and film industry, in the advertising and television industry and in other fields as well.
A storyboard artist must be able to tell a story in a sequential, visual way. To accomplish this, the artist is usually provided with a script or some other description of action or camera shots needed in a movie, television commercial or other visual presentation. The best storyboard artists are able to take a written or oral description and translate that into a set of sequential drawings.
This set of completed sequential drawings tell the story of a movie, film or television commercial. Most storyboards are used to depict the sequence of story in a movie or commercial. Another specific type of storyboard is called a "shooting board" or "director board." This special type of storyboard is drawn to focus more on camera moves like pans, zooms, close-ups. etc.
Sometimes a storyboard artist will work alongside a director on the set or film production studio. Other times they may work in their own studio or in the offices of an ad agency.
I know an artist who has been drawing storyboards since he began his career as a illustrator over 40 years ago. He says that creating storyboards has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his long career.
To Draw a Storyboard, Start With a Storyboard Template
One of the first things a storyboard artist will use is a storyboard template. In the days before HD and wide-screen television formats, the aspect ratio of a typical storyboard frame was 4:3. This was the standard size of most pre-widescreen televisions.
Most storyboard templates today are set up for widescreen production. The image at the right depicts a typical 4:3 regular aspect ratio frame. The actual size of the frame will determine how many storyboard frames appear on the template. In this example, there are 6 frames shown on this particular template.
Sometimes the storyboard artist will work with larger frames and sometimes with smaller frames on a storyboard template page. If an artist wishes to work with smaller frames. then more frames can be added to a storyboard template page. Typically, storyboard frames requiring less detail are sketched out on smaller frame templates. Storyboard frames that require a lot of detail will be created on larger frame templates.
Basic Storyboard Skills
Reading and Translating a Script
The first thing a storyboard artist must learn to do is take a close look at the script used for a movie or commercial. From this carefully crafted script, the artist must create images that will tell the story visually.
The greatest talent of any storyboard artist is the ability to listen and translate sometimes vague concepts into easily recognizable images. The artist interviewed for this piece said this translation of the initial communication was the most critical part of the whole storyboarding process.
Storyboard Terms and Abbreviations
WSWide shot, full frame
MS - Medium shot
TS - Tight shot, similar to a CU
CU - Close-up
XCU - Extreme Close-up
3/4 - Three Quarter Shot
H&S - Head & Shoulder shot
Pan - Turn Camera left or right
Tilt - Turn Camera up or down
Zoom - Pull from telephoto to wide angle (or vice versa)
Cut to - Switch to next shot or frame
OTS - Over the shoulder
POV - Point of View
Knowledge of Camera Techniques
It just makes sense that if you're going to translate a written script into a visual form, you need to have a knowledge of the process by which this is accomplished.
Basic camera techniques used in the production of a storyboard include pans, zooms, tilts, etc. For example, H&S indicates a shot (frame) that shows a person's head and shoulders only.
A zoom means the camera moves toward the action or away from it. A two-shot indicates there are 2 people in the shot (frame).
There is a list of some terms and abbreviations used in storyboard descriptions to the right.
These terms are typically used in the script to indicate which type of shot a storyboard artist must create.
In the partial storyboard example shown to the right, there are a number of shot descriptions. From top left, reading down the page, the shots are as follows: 1) Close Up; 2) Two Shot; 3) Wide Shot; 4) Head & Shoulder Shot; 5) Wide Shot or Three Shot; and 6) Two Shot.
The sequence tells the story of a couple who have entered a furniture store and shared their Chinese food dinner on a dining room table. The sales woman enters (frame 4) and tells the potential customers all about the dining room furniture.
Ability to Draw or Sketch
While it is not essential, the best storyboard artists have developed the skill to draw or sketch just about anything or any person from any angle. When you're creating a visual image from a written script, well-rendered drawings simply communicate better. Though they are rarely used, I have seen storyboards drawn using stick figures.
Start by setting up or getting a hold of a storyboard frame template. There are a few websites online that provide a free download for storyboard templates.
If you don't know how to draw, just do the best you can. Remember that the main purpose of a storyboard is not great drawing - the main purpose is to communicate an idea or story.
This can be dome using simple stick figures. The storyboard examples to the right are well drawn and communicate the sequence of the story.
The example to the immediate right is a storyboard done for a creative director working for an advertising agency that had McDonald's® Restaurants as a client.
The first step in the storyboard process was a script written by a copywriter at the ad agency. The script was written to communicate a single concept of idea in the television commercial.
In this case, the concept revolved around loud hip-hop music, cars and the drive-thru at McDonald's.
The artist, working with the director, used a combination of wide shots, close-ups and product shots to clearly tell the story.
In recent years, the development of digital graphic tablets and storyboard software has revolutionized the storyboard industry. Even though there are still a number of artists who use the old ways of hand drawing storyboards, those methods are fast fading away.
Regardless of what methods are used to create a storyboard, directors, film companies and advertising agencies will continue to use the simple storyboard to communicate their sometimes vague and complex concepts.