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Film & TV

How to Make a Storyboard for Film

Written by MasterClass

Dec 11, 2018 • 4 min read

There’s an important step between ideation and creation for films, comic books, and other mediums that require planning out scenes: making a storyboard.

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Written by MasterClass

Dec 11, 2018 • 4 min read

What Is a Storyboard?

A storyboard is a visual outline of a film, animation, or motion picture. It’s an important part of preproduction and consists a series of images that show everything that’s going to happen in your finished piece. Many storyboards are hand drawn, but some creators choose to use storyboarding software. The finished result resembles a comic book or a graphic novel.

The Importance of Storyboarding

An image of a storyboard in progress after sketching it out
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If you’re working with a script, you already know the flow of your project. The key is translate that flow from word form to image form. Each image on your storyboard needs to include enough information that someone who has never read your script can look at it and know what’s going on. But it shouldn’t contain too much information, as that will crowd out the relevant details.

Think of the storyboard as the graphic novelization of your script, where each panel represents a new camera angle or a key moment in the action. The aim of storyboarding is twofold: to ensure that you get all the coverage you need on set to craft a coherent and exciting story in the edit room, and to do so in an economical way, so as to avoid spending time and money filming unnecessary shots.

Storyboards can be supremely useful when directing big action sequences. Drawing out your shot list can be an organizing principle in the cacophony of producing complicated shoots. Storyboards become a precise map of what’s almost certain to be a hectic shoot day. You want to get this right.

How to Make a Storyboard in 4 Easy Steps

An image of a computer screen where you can use popular storyboarding programs
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Follow these four steps to create a storyboard for your next project:

1) Make a Shot List

Take a scene from your script and make a shot list. How can particular camera angles tell the story, or make a moment more impactful? What can you reveal about your characters and the story via camera angles? Draw a rough sketch of your shot list.

2) Sketch It Out

Whether you’re working on a motion picture or as short animation, choose one of the more complex sequences, and scope out a vision for the scene. List all of the shots that you anticipate needing as raw material, and then sketch them out in the squares of your storyboard.

If you’re not much of an artist, it’s fine to use basic shapes and stick figures on a piece of paper. But if you’re not getting the effect you want, you can work with a storyboard artist to map out a proposed sequence. If you need help finding an experienced and qualified artist, consider starting your search on Jorgen’s List, Upwork, or the public Facebook group “Frame Dump.”

3) Fill in Details

Your storyboard has to contain the most important elements of each scene. But while it’s a static image, the end result will be a moving video or animation. With that in mind, be sure to indicate motion in your storyboard. For example, you can indicate the direction a person is walking with arrows.

You’ll also want to include any props that will be present in the final product, as well as the camera angles and framing of each shot. A good rule of thumb is to include a general outline of all of the relevant details of each shot, without going to deep into distracting details.

4) Add Words

Once you’ve created the images, it might help to add additional words at the bottom of the images to give more context about what’s going on. This is a great place in the storyboard process to include anything that can’t be expressed in your simple drawings, like any voice over you plan to include, for instance.

The Best Storyboard Templates and Programs

If you have a couple hundred bucks to spare, invest in screenwriting software. These are the top four, in order of most expensive to least:

Final Draft
Movie Magic Screenwriter
Fade In
Celtx

These tools take care of the formatting your script for you, so that you don’t have to fiddle with margins, spacing, page breaks, and other clunky word processing commands. These programs also feature many other tools to help you create storyboards, shot lists, schedules, and budgets.

Alternative Programs for Storyboarding

But if you’d rather strip out the bells and whistles and work with a free storyboard template program with the bare formatting essentials, consider Amazon Storywriter. Or, if you’re already well-versed in Photoshop, you can use that to create your storyboard. There are even a bunch of free storyboard templates that you can upload right to Photoshop, making it affordable and easy to create your own storyboards.

StudioBinder provides customizable solutions for production managers, such as script breakdowns, shot lists, storyboards, shooting schedules, contact lists, task management and calendars, and more. Available at several different subscription levels, as well as for a free trial, the website also publishes a helpful blog filled with tips for pre-production.

As you get started in your own film career, keep in mind that storyboarding is an integral part of the creative process—one that will help you successfully translate your vision to the screen.

Ron Howard

Teaches Directing: Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 22 days with $602,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes the craft of directing like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen—whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.

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