What a storyboard is and how to create one

What a storyboard is and how to create one

Editorial team Published on 12/18/2023

A storyboard is a set of illustrations or images arranged sequentially for the purpose of previsualising a film, animated story, music video, video game or any other type of presentation.

Think of a storyboard as a comic-strip version of a film or TV series. It guides directors, cinematographers, animators and others through each stage of a story, helping them to visualise the progression of the narrative.

If you want to know more about how the concept of the storyboard was born and how an idea is translated into a visual story, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll be exploring the origins of the storyboard, its many uses and how to create one, step by step.

The origins of the storyboard

It could be argued that the very first precursors to the storyboard were the earliest forms of visual storytelling known, such as Egyptian low reliefs or cave paintings, which told sequential stories through images. However, modern use of storyboards began in Hollywood in the early 1930s. The Walt Disney Company is often credited with having popularised the storyboard, using it for the first time in 1933 during the production of an animated short. Walt Disney and his team realised that, by creating visual sequences of illustrations, they could test and tweak the story before production actually started.

When to use a storyboard

The storyboard is predominantly used in the initial phases of production. It’s a key tool for:

  • Planning the sequence of a film or video.
  • Visually communicating an idea, especially in a team where it’s important that everyone’s on the same wavelength.
  • Saving time and resources by avoiding costly mistakes during production.
  • Testing and tweaking the narrative flow.
  • Anticipating technical or logistical problems.

A storyboard can also be used in other phases of the film production process:

  • Pre-production: A storyboard helps directors and producers to visualise the story, plan shots and decided on budgets and logistics.
  • Production: It serves as a guide on set, helping the crew to understand what they are trying to achieve in each shot.
  • Post-production: A storyboard can also be a useful point of reference during editing, ensuring that the end result is in keeping with the original vision.

Famous examples of storyboards

Many successful films started out with a detailed storyboard. For instance, the action sequences in films such as “Jurassic Park” and “Indiana Jones” were first fleshed out in this way. The same goes for complex productions like “The Lion King” and “Star Wars”, which used storyboarding to perfect their sequences before shooting or animation began.

Some of the most iconic films in cinema history have used storyboards:

  • Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”: The famous shower scene was planned frame by frame with a detailed storyboard.
  • The chariot race in “Ben-Hur” was first visualised using storyboarding.
  • George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”: Instead of a traditional script, Miller began with a storyboard comprising some 3,500 panels.

These examples show the power of a well-made storyboard and how it can help projects succeed.

How to create a storyboard from scratch

To put together a storyboard from scratch, you need to work step by step.

  1. Set the goal: Before you start drawing, think about what you want to achieve with the storyboard. Do you want to tell a story? Present a product? Communicate an idea?
  2. Write an outline: Once you have a clear idea of your goal, write a brief outline of the key sequences or events that you want to illustrate.
  3. Decide on the format: Do want a landscape layout, like a comic? Or would portrait be a better fit? Now’s also the time to determine how many frames per page are needed.
  4. Start drawing: You don’t need to be an artist to create a storyboard. The main thing is to get your idea across. Use simple shapes, stick figures or any other method that helps you to visualise the sequence.
  5. Add descriptions: Each frame should have a brief description below it, explaining what’s happening.
  6. Review and refine: Show your storyboard to other people, get feedback and make any changes necessary.

How to create a storyboard panel

Creating a panel for a storyboard might seem daunting at first, but if you follow these steps, it will be simple and straightforward:

Decide on the shot: Decide if the scene will be a close-up, medium or wide shot.

Choose the angle: Will the camera be at eye level? Will it be low angle? Or will it be high angle?

Draw the main elements: Start with the actors and key objects.

Add details and background: Make the scene lively and dynamic, but be careful not to overload it.

Note down additional information: Next to the panel, make a note of details such as camera movements, dialogue or sound effects.

What to put in a storyboard

Each panel of a storyboard should include:

Characters: Who is in the scene and where they are positioned.

Setting: Where the scene takes place.

Key actions: What the characters are doing.

Dialogue: If there is any, this can be noted beneath the panel.

Technical details: Such as camera movements, lighting, special effects, etc.

Tools for creating a storyboard

Even if you’re not one for hand drawing things, there are lots of digital tool out there that can help you to prepare a storyboard:

Software: Programs like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or Storyboard That offer templates and specific tools for creating storyboards.

Apps: There are tons of apps for tablets and smartphones, like “Procreate” or “Storyboard Composer”, which let you create storyboards in an intuitive way.

Templates: You’ll find plenty of free, ready-to-use templates online to help you get started.

Fascinating facts about storyboards

Now you know what a storyboard is, how it works and how to make one, we’re going to wrap up with a few fun facts.

  • Not all film-makers use storyboards. Some directors, like Clint Eastwood, prefer not to use them, relying instead on spontaneity and instinct while shooting.
  • The film “Mad Max: Fury Road” had a storyboard with over 3,500 panels before the screenplay was written!
  • Even NASA has used storyboard techniques to plan missions and train astronauts!
  • “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” could have had 250,000 more drawings if it hadn’t been for the storyboard.

We’ve seen how the storyboard is a powerful tool for narration that helps creators, directors and crew visualise and refine their ideas before and during production. Whether you’re creating a film, video game or just a presentation, a storyboard can be the key to transforming your vision into reality.

Happy storyboarding!