December 10, 2019

5 Important Tips to Help You Make Great Storyboards

The Birds
No matter what kind of project you're setting out to make, storyboards can be an important and useful tool.

So you've got a great script, and you've gathered your team, and you're prepping to shoot. What's one thing you can do to help your crew achieve your vision and get your production to run more smoothly?

It's a simple, but vital, step in the pre-production process called "storyboarding." Traditionally, this involves quick sketches of your project's key visuals, including framing, blocking, camera moves, and brief notes.

The Birds
Credit: Universal Pictures

This process is also known as pre-vis, or previsualization, and also might involve more complex animatics that show roughly how characters will move and be filmed. This is incredibly valuable during expensive or complicated sequences that need every beat planned in advance.

Mike Wilhelm over at Videomaker has some great basic advice for creating great storyboards. Watch their video below, then get into the main takeaways!

1. Remember to focus on story

Even if you're working on an experimental art film or a documentary, it might be useful to think of your project in terms of conflict and characters. You can carry this into your storyboarding process, too.

Remember to consider who your story is about, your setting, and the tone and look of your project.

Go through your script, if you have one. Make notes. Create shot lists. Sketch out your most important or complicated shots. Even the process of thinking through these elements will be beneficial, in the end.

2. You don't have to create a masterpiece

Not everyone is an artist, and not every crew will be able to pay for a professional storyboard position.

If you find yourself having to storyboard your project yourself, keep in mind that you don't have to put a lot of time or effort perfecting your storyboards. They don't have to be small masterpieces, either.

Stick figures or shapes will work just fine, as long as you're conveying your ideas accurately!

If you need to, you can create a legend or color-coded system for representations or your characters and settings. What matters is that you and your crew will be able to refer to the storyboards as you begin work on the actual shoot.

3. Make accurate storyboards

While the actual talent level of the drawings don't matter, the content of the drawings does!

If you're trying to draw a two-person scene with many shot variations (for example: Extreme close-ups, canted angles, bird-eye shots, POV shots, etc), one drawing of two stick figures standing together isn't going to cut it.

Make sure you're taking the time to map out things like camera angles and camera moves. Make notations to clarify anything you think isn't clear.

Include any visual information you think your crew will need in order to set up and achieve the shots you want.

4. Consider how everything flows between shots

Not only can you plan out perspective, moves, and composition in storyboards, but they are also a great tool to help you see how shots connect.

Does a camera move need to continue between two different shots? Does it your blocking make sense? Are you keeping track of all your characters, even if they're off-screen?

As the video points out, even though you're drawing in 2D, you still need to be thinking in 3D. It might help you to also have reference photos of your sets available.

5. Keep your storyboards on-hand

This might seem like a simple tip, but remember to bring your storyboards to set!

Keep them with your script so you can refer to all those complex plans you made during pre-prod.

Give copies to your crew so everyone is literally on the same page. You don't want anyone having to improvise. That can cost you time and money.

What's next? Get storyboarding!

Check out these storyboarding templates, make by filmmakers. Look at Kurosawa's storyboards for inspiration -- they're beautiful. Then you can learn what the job is like for a modern-day storyboard artist    

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1 Comment

Storyboarding might be my 2020 New Year resolution. Thanks for the tips!

December 12, 2019 at 2:44PM

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Bryan Howell
Screenwriter, corporate videographer, and indie filmmaker
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