November 21, 2023

Using the Art of Storyboarding to Visualize Films

By Sarah Amy Leung

When making a film, the pre-production stages are just as important as creating the film itself. One of the most integral parts of film pre-production is storyboarding. Storyboarding creates an outline of a creator’s vision of their product.

Explaining Storyboards

A storyboard creates the filmmaker’s template to their film. Many fields utilize storyboarding, from all types of film mediums (live-action and animation) and even fields like user experience (UX), which details how a consumer interacts with products.

Storyboards not only outline an initial concept for a film, but they also help iron out potential issues before the production develops. It helps individuals figure out what they need to make their film a reality. This includes everything from actors’ movements, camera shots, set design, lighting, and dialogue.

By creating a reference a production team can look back at any time, everyone can view the storyboard and understand the framework as the project progresses. By forming a clear path for production, storyboards create the foundation for a film’s early success.

Preparing to Storyboard

Before making a storyboard, an idea of the story needs to be laid out first. After all, the storyboard visualizes the story: without the story, the storyboard doesn’t exist. A good idea of the product’s script should be prepared, understood, and conveyed clearly to all those working on the storyboard(s).

A script alone will not do the job, it is the efforts of the team to thoroughly know their product in and out. Without a strong grasp of the script, the storyboard will not do its job either. Just like how the storyboard serves as a template for the future production steps of a film, the script serves as the basis of material for the storyboard.

Each preparation step involves the materials and also the team’s collective knowledge and shared talents. The other parts comprising a film will likely fail to effectively come together without everyone on the same page. Ensuring that individuals involved in the production understand the messages conveyed through the project will help immensely come the storyboarding stage.  

Methods of Storyboarding

Creators can choose between creating physical storyboards or creating virtual storyboards. Physical storyboards use a classic method with sheets of paper and the choice of a writing tool, like a pen or pencil. Physical storyboards offer greater accessibility without the need for much financial and technological advancement. Traditionally, people used physical storyboards before technology advanced; physical storyboards still have their use in today’s world. The pen and paper combination is truly a classic.  

Virtual storyboards use digital software as their method of delivery. Artists draft the storyboards using software on devices like computers and tablets. Though more costly than physical storyboarding, the investment into virtual storyboarding can decrease the time needed for revisions. Incorporating edits within virtual storyboarding is easier, and team members can easily share their creations using the internet.

Which type of storyboard to use depends on the situation. As part of a company, they might have software provided for storyboarding already, or they might have a history of preferring physical storyboards. As a student, this depends on your school, your program, and your financial situation. Some programs might already provide digital software, or you may need to pay out of pocket.

The Aesthetics of Storyboarding

While drawing storyboards, the focus is not necessarily the quality of the drawings, but the quality of storytelling. Creating a storyboard does not require the director to showcase the best drawing skill. A production’s director, director of photography, and storyboard artist(s) usually combine their efforts to make the storyboard. Many teams use their designated storyboard artists for the design aspect, but anyone can make a storyboard by themselves if necessary. A storyboard needs to tell the story effectively, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it looks.

It’s a draft in the preliminary points of creating a film, not a fully refined polished product with stunning visuals and effects. With storyboards, they help conceptualize your film in the early stages that make inserting changes easier. Remember, these storyboards represent the pre-planning stages of films.

Many storyboards look like comic strips: boxes containing characters, dialogue, and backgrounds, all with an often-simplistic look. They can portray simple stick figures and can still convey the meaning of scenes. However, storyboards detail all sorts of elements critical to one’s film. 

Visual Cues in Storyboarding

 Each part of a storyboard contains a lot of information within a small area. In each box, not only are the characters and dialogue accounted for, but aspects such as scene lighting or camera angles come into play. A good storyboard could contain stick figures and still deliver its message across effectively, provided that adds important context. To include camera angles and movement in your storyboard, detailing specific terms would benefit the production phase.

Think about the usage of camera movement in your shots: will the camera remain static (staying fixed), will the camera pan (moving horizontally) or will the camera tilt (moving vertically)? Incorporating arrows in the storyboard helps figure out the direction the camera will move.

Specific camera shots also help in describing your film. Describe how the shots will be captured: in a wide shot, capturing a large area including your subject; a medium shot, often capturing a subject from the waist up; a close-up, capturing more precise details of the subject; or an extreme-closeup, capturing one small aspect of the subject.

Creating a shot list alongside your storyboard can mutually benefit both. A shot list, a detailed list of camera angles for each scene, compliments a storyboard and acts very similarly to one. Each shot list consists of:

  • Scene number (which section of the script being filmed)
  • Shot number (which order the team captures the shots)
  • Location (which filming location the shot takes place in)
  • Shot type (which size of the shots used)
  • Camera angle (which angle the subjects are filmed at)
  • Camera movement (how the camera will move)
  • Subject details (how the subject and props will act in the scene)

Storyboarding at Virtual Film School

Here at Virtual Film School, storyboarding comes into play in our New Media Pre-Production and Production course, and helps with New Media Writing I: Writing a Digital Series Pilot. In New Media Pre-Production and Production, students will learn how to create their series through their own writing, producing, editing, and filming. In New Media Writing I: Writing a Digital Series Pilot, students will explore different kinds of entertainment formats from advertainment, comedy, and vlogging.

It’s all about exploring everything and seeing what works best for each individual. Students will eventually shoot their own pilot. Through these kinds of courses, students will learn a foundation into film and how to translate their ideas onto the big screen.

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