Storyboards are many things, but most importantly you need to think of these two concepts most of all:
Camera and Graphic Design.
Creating storyboards for an animation is an integral step the creative process that should never be rushed through or abandoned in favor of getting right into Production (ie: modeling or animation). There may be some confusion in relation to the specific verbiage that describe this step – are we creating storyboards, thumbnails, mockups…?

For the sake of our discussion, we’ll use the following naming conventions:

Thumbnail: a quick, small sketch to jot down ideas. Usually done on a cocktail napkin at an airport bar.

Mockup: a more detailed and thought-out drawing to convey the idea to a client. Usually used for static images like illustrations, posters and graphic design layouts.

Style Frame: a snapshot of a finished frame of animation before actual animation and render are done. Used to show colors, textures, media, assets and content.

Storyboards: a visual representation of illustrations that map out the flow of your animation.


A general rule of thumb: the more time you spend in Pre-Production, the more you can save in Production.

Storyboards_AliceInWonderlandThe importance of planning out your shots – without investing heavily in time spent or getting bogged down in details – is one of the most valuable skills in your animation arsenal.

Before you even put pencil to paper (or pixel to screen), establish solid answers to the following questions:

1) What is the purpose of the project, why are we doing it?
2) Who is your target audience?
3) Are there language/cultural considerations?
4) How will this be viewed?
5) What should the audience take away (Call-To-Action)?
6) What is your deadline?

You don’t have to be an amazing illustrator to create highly effective story boards that communicate ideas distinctly. Keep in mind the word communication – unless you are a full-time storyboard artist creating other people’s vision, the focus should be on the message, not the art.

Why are we drawing on paper in this all-digital age? Simple: because it’s much faster. At this stage you should not be married to any camera angle or asset – so creating and revising them quickly will not waste much time.

Keep everything as simple as possible. The only goal is to be understandable and complicated visuals may get in the way. Everything that appears in a storyboard must be there for a reason.

Low Detail: Simple basic sketching – good for quickly getting your ideas out.

Medium Detail: More detailed sketching – good for showing more of the scene.

High Detail: Polished drawing/paintings – excellent for conveying tone and mood of the scene. High detail is also great for presentation to potential investors.

Cinematic Language – Shot vs. Narrative

At this stage you should be concentrating on cinematic language – camera angles, camera movements, framing of elements – the beginning of the mise-en-scène.

When applied to the cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. the “mise-en-scène”, along with the cinematography and editing of a film, influence the verisimilitude of a film in the eyes of its viewer. The various elements of design help express a film’s vision by generating a sense of time and space, as well as setting a mood, and sometimes suggesting a character’s state of mind.

It goes without saying that since camera is so important at this stage, you should attempt to reproduce the camera shooting aspect ratio as closely as possible.

The only cinematic convention that trumps beautiful shot composition is of course Narrative. Narrative is the connective thread that entwines all your shots together and creates a cohesive message or story. In Motion Design, we often use the words Story and Message interchangeably.

Story to us is not the proverbial fairy tale or what may have happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Story is the communicative idea or emotion you are trying to convey to the audience.

Designing the narrative is also the time to bring in other cinematic conventions, such as visual metaphors, symbols and themes.

Drawing Storyboards:

Storyboards_IndianaA few things to keep in mind:

Focus on the foreground objects and characters that play a role in telling the story. Don’t waste a lot of time filling in details in the background if it doesn’t impact the core message. Visual clarity is a priority.

Lock down the script (as much as possible) and write down the applicable text below each box. This is especially important for voice-over text. This establishes proper pacing between action and the spoken word.

StoryboardPlateInclude notes and arrows that describe the action, dialogue, time code estimates, or camera movements. If you need a template like the one I use that includes space for all the above, feel free to download mine (zipped up .TIF file, 11×17). Keep in mind the aspect ratio is 16×9. If your final delivery is in another aspect ratio, you’ll have to draw your own frames.

Examine the storyboards below of a famous shower scene, drawn by the legendary Saul Bass. In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 movie Psycho, the relationship between the pre-production drawn frame and the finished film is almost exact. Hitchcock was reported to have never even bothered looking through the camera viewfinder, since he felt he already has the storyboards. In fact, Hitchcock used to joke about not making the movie at all – after finalizing the storyboards, shooting the film was “redundant”!


Other Great Examples for Inspiration:

Check out some more great work from industry artists – some of this movie evolution shown below may surprise you!






All storyboard examples on this page are copyright of their respective owners:
©Walt Disney Feature Animation, ©Amblin/Universal, ©Saul Bass, ©Erwin Budiono, ©Industrial Light and Magic