Storyboarding Basics – Infographic Guide for Film, TV and Animation

Storyboarding is a process where you take the finished script and visualise it with drawings. This is mainly used for planning the rest of the production. In this step, things like type of camera shot, angle and blocking of characters are decided.

If you have ever struggled with making a storyboard and want some practical advice on techniques, then you will love this infographic which covers storyboarding basics. Consider this infographic as an intro to storyboarding tutorial.

A questionnaire is there at the end that you can use to question your boards after drawing a rough sketch. Questions are explained in detail below this infographic.

storyboarding-basics-infographic

Storyboarding Basics Questionnaire:

Direction:

1. What type of camera shot and angle are you going to use?

Here are the list of camera shots and the list of camera angles you can use. Note that each item in the list is used for a specific reason. e.g. A low angled shot is used to feel the audience small and helpless. The so called “Storyboarding technique” is nothing but consciously using the options you have based on the story.

So, the story should motivate what type of camera shot and angle should be used.

Big Buck Bunny | Blender Foundation

 

2. If the shot is a close up, is it important enough to be a close up?

Close ups are used only when you want to show something significant, examples include the emotions of the character, when you want to focus on the specific actions of the character/points of interest, to show a major plot point etc.

Use this sparingly unless you want your movie to become a soap opera. Close ups lose their significance if used far too often, just as you can’t survive on high class desserts alone.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) | New Line Cinema

 

3. Is your camera going to move? If yes, then which type of camera move are you going to use?

Same as stated earlier, the camera movement in storyboarding should have a defined reason.

youtube-image

 

4. Are you maintaining Screen Side / Screen Direction between cuts?

As explained in the Infographic above, once a character is established in the frame, he should stay there for the rest of the scene unless he changes side in the frame. If you break this rule, it is hard for the audience to follow along. You can break this rule if you want to show chaos like a prison riot.

Same goes with screen direction, if a character exits the frame from the right, he should enter the next frame from left to maintain continuity. Here is a simple storyboard example below from The Simpsons.

screen_direction

Storyboarding The Simpsons way- by Chris Roman

 

5. Is the staging completely and unmistakably clear? Can I clearly see what’s going on?

Staging in storyboarding (aka blocking in live action) is the positioning of characters in the frame for clear readability of actions. The camera should show whatever is important to the story. For example, if a character is drinking coffee, then the frame should show the character and the coffee. Unless you show what’s going on, the audience aren’t going to figure it out by themselves.

Tom and Jerry | MGM

 

6. Does your scene have more than one character….?

First, check whether you need to have all the characters in the frame. After that, see whether the other characters need to react to the central character’s action. For example, if a person is aiming a gun, the other person should be shown as scared with his hands up. This is called opposing poses.

Dragonball Z | Toei Animation, FujiTV

If there are more than 2 characters, make sure they aren’t all making the same pose and action. Each character is different and their personality should decide how they should pose. However, if the story requires all of them to be in the same pose, disregard this guideline. For example, in a military drill, you do have to position all the characters making the same pose.

The Simpsons | 20th Century Fox Animation

 

7. Do they have the same stature in the story…?

Read your script, do your characters have the same stature in the story? If not, can you show the power dynamics by staging? Below is the staging used by Akira Kurosawa for the movie “The Seven Samurai.”

The hierarchy of stature is shown in the frame itself. There is no need of explaining who is what. This type of staging is called pyramid composition as they all are placed like on an edges of a pyramid. The apex of the pyramid pointing upward denotes stability. If the apex was pointing downwards, it would have denoted instability.

 

8. Are you using Dutch angle in your shot?

Dutch angle or Dutch Tilt is a type of camera angle where the camera is rotated so that the horizon line is not parallel to the bottom of the frame. It is primarily used to show unstability, unease or tension. Like Close ups, this too should be used sparingly.

Transformers | Paramount Pictures

 

9. Do the actions of your character suit the nature and personality of the character?

It is not necessary that every character when encountering a situation will act the same way. For e.g. a tough person when he encounters a things he fears will act a different way than a weak person encountering his fear. The tough person will try to act like he is not scared. The weak person will throw all away and will be paralyzed by fear.

The below image from The Simpsons is an excellent example. Here we see Martin putting a poster berating his opponent Bart. You can see he is using a foot stool and is applying neatly cut duct tape. We can also see they have planned ahead and kept the rest of the posters nearby for applying it elsewhere. This shows that they are neat, organized and studious. The poster’s content is meant to be a caution to the eligible voters.

The Simpsons | 20th Century Fox Animation

Now we look at the second image where we see Bart using a trash can as a foot stool, throwing away all the trash in the ground, applying the large duct tape haphazardly. The paper is not neatly cut, the page is tilted and the words are scratched on the paper like a warning. This shows that they are unorganized and chaotic. Moreover, the poster’s content (while the exact same) is meant to be a strong point for Bart for voters to vote him.

Study your characters and see how should the character react or act when facing a certain situation.

 

Drawing:

1. Is the silhouette of your character readable?

wilma

The Flintstones | Hanna Barbara Productions, Cartoon Silhouettes | Brett Jordan

Can you look at the silhouette of the character and figure out what she is doing? If yes, then the silhouette can be called as readable. For a silhouette to be readable, you need to have negative space surrounding the character. The elements of the body (hands,legs) should overlap each other but should not be parallel to each other while posing.

As described in the infographic above, the character should not pose like it is a symmetrical figure with a straight line of action as it appears to be fake and un-natural.

 

2. Are you pushing your poses?

Here is a comprehensive source on how to push your poses. Pushing your pose mean making the action of the character more obvious to the audience for clear staging.

Johnny Bravo | Hanna-Barbera

 

3. How are you creating your composition?

This is a great interview of a Artist named Mason Menzies who is just 15 year old and is creating stunning images using Blender 3D. See the images of how he had decided the composition of his tree image. His style of workflow is the standard in art.  You should always start from a broad idea and then figure out the details. A sculptor creates a rough shape as a base and then hammer in the details, the same principle is applied here.

layout

First image by me, the rest is Pixar’s Monster’s University

Start from a broad sketch and just fill the frame with broad shapes. Here, the only job you have is to visually balance the image and figure out what goes where. If two items in the frame are close to each other then draw it as a one broad shape. After that, you break the broad shapes into the minor shapes (the silhouettes of the objects, characters and points of interests) . Finally you fill in the details within the shapes. Remember, if your major forms are not good, no amount of details are going to help you.

 

4. Is there open space in your scene?

There shouldn’t be any open space in a normal scene. This breaks the visual balance of the image. There are a few instances where open space can be beneficial when the story calls for it.

Imagine it is a scene at a restaurant. The love interest of our main character walks midway angry through lunch. Then the camera shifts to our main character speechless with an empty chair in front of him. Here, the scene should show the empty chair as the open space symbolizes emptiness in our character’s life.

garfield

Garfield | Jim Davis

 

5. Are you using a design principle like Rule of thirds / Golden Ratio for staging?

The Golden Ratio is a mathematical ratio. When it is plotted as a curve using the Fibonacci sequence and if you place objects of interest using this curve as a guide, it is said to produce a aesthetic feel to the image. The rule of thirds is basically dividing the frame into nine parts and placing objects of interest where the lines intersect.

The main goal here is to have some kind of structure. You can’t just place objects in the frame by gut feeling. The frame should convey information to all the viewers of where the objects are placed. Using either principle is fine as long as you don’t place the objects dead center in the frame as it feels mechanical. Nobody stands right in front of you between both of your eyes. Even while using symmetry, the camera should be slightly off center.

    

Dexter’s Lab | Hanna Barbara Productions                                              Sonic the hedgehog | Sega

 

6. Can I tell visually, where I have been, where I am and where I’m going?

After reading the script, can you show in the panels where our character is headed, where is he or where he is going? You should fulfill at least one criteria out of the three. The images below are a great example of this.

All of images are from Family Guy. The first image is of Meg returning after a prison stint, just by looking we can realize what has happened. The second image is of drunk Peter at a construction site. The third image is of Peter saddened that he isn’t going fishing.

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Family guy | 20th Century Fox Television

 

7. Is there a need for subtle expressions or body language cues in the scene?

Here is a great source on body language cues. Does the story calls for some subtle expression based on current situation. Can you show it via facial expressions? For example, a guy pretending to like the food his wife made, in order to not offend his wife. He will not act the same way a person will act who genuinely likes the food.

The guy who is pretending would have difficulty swallowing the food, he will have a fake smile on his face but his eyes show misery etc.

 

8. Are you trying to create depth?

There should be a foreground, middle-ground and background in your scene. The foreground should overlap with the background to create depth. Try using leading lines to focus attention to your point of interest. Don’t use flat composition, move to camera to the corners if you can. There should be depth in the scene.

Try using contrast in details,shape,size and texture to differentiate the foreground with the background. Make sure the visual weight of your image is balanced.

The Simpsons | 20th Century Fox Animation

 

Editing:

1. Can you motivate the camera cut using visual cues?

By using character’s eyeline or by entering or exiting a scene, we can cut a shot to a next shot for smooth transition between cuts. The effect of smooth transition is due to natural human instinct. The audience should not be aware of the editing and should be engrossed in the story. A good rule of thumb is to cut on motion.

sp

CID Spoof: South Park Bureau #2 | Jugaad Animation

 

2. In terms of information conveyed, is the audience with the camera? If not, are they behind the camera or in front of the camera?

You can put the audience behind the camera if the story calls for suspense or a twist in the story. You have seen the murder mysteries where our characters already know who the criminal is but they don’t disclose it to the audience. They hatch up a plan and catch the criminal in the act. In this case, the audience is behind the camera in terms of information conveyed.

It is also used for comedic purposes by misdirecting the audience such as the family guy image below. Peter isn’t shown dying in front of the camera. After the clip ends, he is just shown as dead.

peter

Family guy | 20th Century Fox Television

You can put the audience in front of the camera if seeing the reaction of our main character is the goal. For e.g. A guy has his wallet stolen in the bus stop, this scene is shown on the camera. Later, when he is paying for groceries, he reaches for his pocket and realizes that his wallet is stolen. In this case, the audience is ahead the camera in terms of information conveyed.

 

Resources:

 

 

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