Storyboarding, as a process of capturing the essence of moving images, is one of the most powerful and practical ways to create and shape the abstract imagery and intentions a screenwriter commits to the page.
This allows the cast and crew to set to work about achieving the director’s vision in the most efficient manner possible, before and during production. Thus the value of building a visual reality in terms of describing, planning and sequencing cannot be overstated.
Here are some illustrative techniques that will help you to utilise this process to its full potential.
1. Draw Your Sequence as Thumbnails First
One thing a screenplay doesn’t and shouldn’t do is denote camera movement — that’s your job as the storyboard artist working on an illustrative retelling of what’s already written down.
The last thing you want to do is proceed before you have the entirety of the sequence worked out and so it may help you to start small with thumbnail sketches. This allows for the timely and efficient exploration of numerous compositions where framing matters more than detail.
So feel free to sketch in the margins of the script, on a scrap piece of paper, in a blank notebook or even directly into Photoshop — anywhere you can easily refer back to when drawing at a larger size.
2. Break the Boundaries of the Box
Storyboard artists typically work within the constraints of the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio but there are some circumstances under which you would need to draw beyond the border.
For instance, when:
• Conveying part of the world and/or scenery that is unseen, or
• Depicting camera movement panning left or right, or craning up or down
Aside from these examples, sketching outside the border is a good way to go about handling proportions and ensuring that everything remains in perspective — whether you’re drawing interior with people and props or exterior scenes with environmental elements.
Then, either before or once you’re done adding line weight and value to help the image read, erase any unwanted lines or marks.
3. Aim for Function Over Form
Recognise that storyboards don’t need to be perfect — only effective at communicating a narrative — and the pressure you’ll undoubtedly face as a practising illustrator in the film industry will ease.
Work horizontally and focus on getting the essential elements of composition, scale and depth of field into the final illustration before switching media to establish a reproducible rendering style.
This approach is a great way to achieve a balance of accuracy, consistency and speed.
A Reminder to Adapt to Project Requirements
In writing about the process of storyboarding, different projects have different objectives and what may be a suitable methodology for one might not be for another.
It may depend on things like whether the storyboard is to be turned into an animatic at some point — in which case working digitally just makes sense — or something more arbitrary like the director’s preference. You never know.
All in all, a storyboard is a powerful tool that has a direct influence other parts of the filmmaking process such casting, costume design and production design.