Home Story Development What is a Storyboard? A Comprehensive Overview

What is a Storyboard? A Comprehensive Overview

by Andrew Stamm

Storyboards are the stepping stones between a finished script and rolling cameras to shoot the action.

Storyboards are visual aids that show what your film would look like frame by frame. Based on your script, these sketches constitute the visual chronology of your film. At a glance, storyboards resemble comic strips because they show dozens of frames, depicting action which is frozen into static images. Like a comic, storyboards show separate panels, or tiles, to bring your script to life visually. 

Storyboards are visual, first and foremost, but these drawings are accompanied by details on the direction of the camera and note any dialogue being spoken underneath. A good best practice for three details to include under your storyboard frame are a short action description, dialogue, and any visual effects.

You did the hard job of translating your imagined story into words. Now the work of storyboarding is to translate your script words back into an image. Easy, right?

And don’t worry . . . you do not need to be a trained artist or know how to draw at all to make an incredible storyboard.

Why Would Someone Create a Storyboard?

There are many reasons why someone would create a storyboard, at the end of the day, it usually comes down to saving both time and money.

Another reason storyboarding is essential for most filmmakers is because they help refine the script’s story and better prepare the story to be shot scene by scene. 

The storyboard process follows the scriptwriting process and comes before filming takes place. Why? It is easier and less expensive to make edits to scenes when they exist as sketches in storyboards – compared to the expense and time required to reshooting and editing multiple takes. 

Second, storyboards are valuable because they act like visual instructions for the production crews who will then shoot the film to achieve the same compositions and action as shown in the storyboard. It gives the creatives bringing this project to life a collective vision and guide for how the scenes will unfold chronologically. It’s easy to have a shared goal of the script’s visuals in theory, but a clear breakdown of the shots will iron out any misaligned visions.

So, why do you need a storyboard? It saves time and money and helps everyone get on the same page of what your project will truly look like on screen. 

Storyboarding  Basics

Start with the broad strokes and then add in further details afterwards. If the idea of breaking your script into each camera shot is feeling daunting, then a good strategy to get going is to storyboard the scenes which you can envision well first. 

The scenes which you can clearly storyboard will act like signposts in your script, which then makes it easier to depict the rest of your scenes with more granularity. 

Another piece of advice which will stimulate your storyboarding skills is to check out a storyboard to a film you like or know well. By checking out a few storyboards which have been used for a production, you will likely notice a few features

One, there is a wide range of detail used in storyboards. Some look like works of art and other like they were done on the back of a napkin. Two, some have color, but the majority are simply black and white sketches. Hopefully you will see that the there is no singular or correct way to story board and that your work will soon join this eclectic bunch.

It is important to remember that perfect sketches are not the marker of a perfect storyboard. A great storyboard is one which you readers can watch. What does that mean? It means that your storyboard should be clear in depicting the action you wish to express on screen. Anything beyond that is a bonus. 

This is not a work of art; storyboards are rough around the edges. 

If you are still doubting the crucial importance of storyboards in film, try checking out the credits for the next movie you watch. In a film’s post-movie credits, you will spot credited storyboard artists in the crew. That is because the storyboard process is so important for pre-production filmmaking that teams of dedicated artists will work on creating the most visually accurate representation of the script possible before cameras start rolling. 

How to Make a Storyboard 

If you’re not an artist, there is no need to sweat. You will be relieved to know there are many sophisticated storyboard software options and tools online which will help you produce a professional looking storyboard. No art skills necessary. 

If you are artistic or enjoy sketching, you could grab a paper and pen, draw dozens of rectangles, and start sketching your shots into the boxes to create your storyboard tiles. Alternatively, simply print out storyboard templates available online to save you a little time.

Or a more popular method to get your storyboards looking polished is to use a storyboard software like Celtx.

Best Storyboarding Software

There are many software options available online for building storyboards and this broad spectrum of applications cater to a wide range of projects which benefit from storyboards. 

Below is a breakdown of what some of the best storyboarding software can offer you.

1. Celtx  

Celtx offers you many free storyboard templates if you would prefer to start sketching by hand. However, it also offers users online storyboarding features too. Users can create individual shots and easily add in key information about the shot type, dialogue, and any relevant descriptions. 

Celtx then makes it easy to create compelling sketches, without users needing to draw, by giving you access to a large library of designs and images. This library allows you to select and layer images to produce backdrops, props and characters for your storyboard.  

Celtx does not restrict users to this library of images as this software also allows you to upload any images or sketches you may have drawn. Therefore, you have the freedom to pick between the pre-made images and your own designs. Celtx storyboarding gives you the best of both. 

Another key tool which will help your storyboard is Celtx’s storyboard player. Like hitting play on a presentation, you can watch your storyboard move sequentially through the images you have organized. This allows you to see your film really taking shape and, importantly, spot and quickly resolve any issues regarding continuity, pacing or missing action beats. 

Making any necessary adjustments is easy because Celtx software lets you arrange and rearrange your shots with a drag and drop feature. 

2. StudioBinder

StudioBinder is another powerful software with free templates and customizable storyboarding which would be an asset to anyone working to bring their script to life. 

The software is straightforward to use but has many features, such as changing the aspect ratio of your frames and changing the number of frames on each row of the storyboard. Like Celtx, it is possible to rearrange the order of shots, and you are able to play a slideshow of your storyboard to gain a better understanding of how the action flows together on screen. 

StudioBinder is clearly built for TV and film projects and priming your storyboards for serious production. This software is set up to encourage you to get specific. You can add in the shot size, shot type, movement of the shot, equipment needed to shoot the shot and the lens size. There is really no stone left unturned with StudioBinder! 

One of the distinguishing features of StudioBinder’s storyboarding suite is how collaborative it is. You can loop people in to review, edit and contribute to your storyboard. It allows you to track comments and feedback on your storyboard as you work which is particularly useful considering this stage of the creative process is often where differing interpretations of the script’s imagery may arise. 

StudioBinder’s feedback friendly features are a big help in improving the overall quality of your storyboard. If you are presenting your work to others, StudioBinder allows you to export your work and have it ready to present or pitch.  

One key caveat of StudioBinder is that it requires users to upload visuals to their storyboards, as it is lacking an in-house storyboard imagery builder or library of stock images (which Celtx has). Therefore, while this software is very high quality, it is better suited to those who have sketches, photographs or saved images chosen and ready to organize into a storyboard. 

StudioBinders’ full packages are not the cheapest options: Indie package for $29 per month, a Pro package for $49 per month and a studio package for $99 per month.

3. Plot

Like many great products, Plot was founded by a frustrated consumer, specifically an animator who wanted a more efficient way of making storyboards. That’s probably why this amazing software is designed with a no fuss or frill approach to producing a neat storyboard. 

Plot is a refreshing software option as it was designed with the sole purpose of improving the storyboarding process and the tools are designed to create strong storyboards, not perfect drawings.

You can upload images or draw your own. However, Plot does not have a library of images to flip through like Celtx. Instead, Plot prides itself on being up to 3 times faster compared to software which relied on static template imagery to build storyboards. 

Instead of pre-made images, Plot provides the retro-feeling of an uncomplicated paint application. You have a choice of pen thickness and some simple shapes, so it really is hard to feel overwhelmed by Plot’s streamlined approach to storyboards.

Under your uploaded image or sketch, Plot’s simplistic style gives you only two small subheadings for additional information – script and action.  You can only collaborate on your storyboard with other Plot users. However, the software does allow for you to make a print friendly file of your work if you want to share your progress with others who are not Plot account holders.

Plot is an ideal choice of storyboard software if you are searching for a no-nonsense approach to getting a rough sketch. This software is doodle-friendly and primed for producing visuals quickly. If you are looking for a very commercial and polished storyboard or are needing to have more pre-made backgrounds and visuals to help you make a storyboard, then this may not be the right fit for you.

The price of Plot is also characteristically simple. All plans allow for unlimited storyboards. A solo user costs $9.99 per month, a Pro user with collaboration features costs $14.99 per month and a business plan costs $19.99.

Conclusion

Before any creative project comes to life on-screen, it undergoes several stages of metamorphosis, changing from one thing to the next. Storyboarding is the first and exciting step towards translating the words on your script page into production-ready stills and frames that allow everyone on your crew to get a sense of what the move will actually look like. 

With a clear understanding and appreciation of storyboards and their value in the creative process, enjoy diving into your own! It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re artistically talented or not; doodle some of your scenes into frames, and focus on representing the framing and composition of action on-screen.

This is the stage of your script where you get to resurrect the words on your script back into their vivid visual form, so enjoy the process and allow for some storyboarding software guide you along the way! 

Author

  • Andrew Stamm is based in London with his wife and dog. He spends his working time as Partner and Creative Director at Estes Media, a budding digital marketing agency, and performs freelance scriptwriting services on the side. Off the clock he loves to bake, hike, and watch as many niche films as possible.

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