What are the characteristics of a good storyboard? What can the drawn sequence of images do for an image film or for a video in practice? This article presents an exclusive checklist and many examples.
The first word a young filmmaker learns to say as a baby is camera. The second word is storyboard. Beginners and amateurs often shine with the firm conviction that a film without storyboard is not a real film.
This is nonsense.
A good storyboard is not a sales aid, but it closes the gap between a story written in words (script) and its visual implementation (shooting). It operates in the area of conflict between creation, film technology, logistics and planning.
- The storyboard is a pre-visualization of the later video or film. It thus has a bridging function between the script and the shooting
- A good storyboard is always a means to an end. As a planning tool, a storyboard helps in the preparations for shooting or in the planning of digital effects.
- While the entire process is often visualised in commissioned productions, especially TV spots, this is often only the case for selected sequences in feature films.
- A good storyboard can be recognized by the fact that it takes into account the artistic vision of the director and thus anticipates elements such as setting sizes, camera perspectives and spatial depths and, if executed as a sequence of images, also a possible rhythm of the montage.
A good storyboard is a means of communication and a planning tool
Its function as a communication and planning tool in a video production is one of the reasons why in feature films only technically complicated scenes are pre-visualized as examples in drawings.
- While it is justifiable to draw all shots for a 30-second commercial with 10 to 15 settings, the effort required for a feature film is enormous (1).
- A 90-minute feature film, depending on the genre, consists of an average of 1,045 settings (1).
To have forty-five thousand individual pictures drawn, whether by hand or on the computer, is a considerable effort, which is usually dispensed with because of the costs involved.
(1) Analysis feature films for the period 1997 to 2017 by Stephen Follows.
Checklist for a good storyboard
A good storyboard can be recognized by different characteristics. The seven most important criteria are summarised as a checklist and explained in keywords:
|Visualization concept||it is comprehensible what is visualized as a storyboard and why?|
|visual clarity||do the pictures help to understand the film? Are they easy to understand?|
|Sender||created by the storyboard artist alone or in cooperation with the director and camera?|
|Professionalism||is the film language (setting sizes, camera perspectives) taken into account?|
|Key message||is the requirement for the film image made clear?|
|End in itself||A good storyboard provides clarity. It’s not trying to be a comic.|
|Picture description||supplementing or describing the drawing?|
|Sound level||mentioned, because action relevant for Bild? Or inserted thoughtlessly and without reason?|
Furthermore, a good storyboard four further requirements must be met:
|1||Dissolving the script or the shooting template into individual settings|
|2||Creation of image panels, depending on the task and complexity with description of the camera setting, camera movement and sound. Possibly also a description of the action if not visualizable (clarify superordinate relationships)|
|3||a new panel (single image) always means a new setting|
|4||all pictures are numbered. For feature films or TV commercials, it makes sense to use the same shooting schedule and shot list (example: scene 3, image 2, is listed as S3-2 in the storyboard)|
We learn from the checklist: A good storyboard is good if it fulfils its function as an explanatory tool. How “well” it is drawn from an artistic point of view is not important. That is why there are always areas of conflict here. Especially commissioned productions want to impress the customer with the storyboard. The main thing is to draw colourful and realistic.
Costs for a good storyboard
The effort for a good storyboard can be calculated in different ways. This makes it possible to calculate the costs per image or to set daily rates. For large orders it makes sense to agree a flat rate with the storyboard artist.
Whether to work with color or in black and white is on the one hand an artistic question and on the other hand also determines the effort per picture. Drawing and coloring a picture is more complex than leaving out the coloring.
Depending on the illustrator’s personality and preference, other techniques may be used. Whether the drawing is done from A to Z on the computer with software or classically and by hand, the time required per picture usually differs only minimally.
As always in the film and video business, the actual price depends on the individual talent, experience and expertise of the storyboard artist.
The bandwidth is enormous. The target prices per picture range from under € 50 to over € 200, always depending on the type of execution and the person of the storyboard artist.
How do I draw a good storyboard?
The checklist for a good storyboard can be illustrated with concrete tips and tricks.
Here are the 6 most important examples to consider:
(The numbers refer to the previous frames)
- Consider camera perspective (Figure 1): With the exception of 2D animation films and settings from a bird’s eye view, films and videos play in space. A flat image without spatial depth gives the storyboard an unnecessary abstraction.
- Not only the camera, but also the actors or objects move in space. A good storyboard locates people and things in three dimensions. This can be helped if you work with a “grid pattern” (example see Figure 2).
- Each image has a foreground, middle ground and background, which is deliberately played or deliberately ignored (image 3). Space may also consist of empty space.
- On average, the camera settings, depending on their setting sizes and the camera perspective, are combined to form a large whole. A good storyboard simulates the later assembly. People are depicted in the drawing, as in the later production. (Figures 4, 5 and 6).
- Unclear picture compositions or a picture composition that does not serve the story or the audience guidance (picture 7) Pictures that every cameraman refuses to create are chewing gum for the eyes and therefore prohibited. See also note in the checklist on the core statement of a scene.
- A good storyboard not only simulates the later picture montage, but also shows the motivation for the picture editing. (Picture 8)
Like the screenwriter, the storyboard artist often puts his work on paper in the early stages of his work, only to have it changed again immediately. Storyboarding is a dynamic process.
No right or wrong
As far as the layout of a storyboard is concerned, there are different forms depending on the type of film and the objective of the visualization. Neither is there only one right form nor a right or wrong. This also applies to the checklist set out in this article. There are only examples.
Why a storyboard?
A storyboard of different functions and at different project phases is used. These also determine the requirements and the level of detail. Nevertheless, there are commonalities across all genres and applications.
One image per setting
Like a comic, the storyboard tells a sequential story in pictures. But unlike the comic, they are displayed linearly on the time axis. Similarly, the idea, form or style of presentation is not the main focus, because these elements are not determined by the draftsman, but by the director, cameraman and art director.
Common to both forms, Graphic Novel (as comics are also called) and Boards, is the representation of movements by means of drawn arrows or lines. Otherwise, comic and storyboard have completely different tasks to fulfil.
Sometimes the best storyboard is no storyboard. Because there are no rules and no laws that make a storyboard mandatory. With all types of moving image communication, in the end it is not the path to the result that counts for success, but whether a film or video reaches, touches and seduces its audience. There are many examples of this.
Differentiation between storyboard and moodboard
Again and again storyboard and moodboard or shooting boards are confused.
The mood board has a completely different task in film. It serves to visualize the mood (or as the advertiser says in moving image communication: the look and feel) of a scene. That is why the mood board does not, like the story board, include only one setting per picture, but the entire mood picture at a certain moment of the action.
This is the reason why mood boards are usually much more elaborate. They serve as a basis and examples for set design, for lighting, costumes and increasingly also as a starting point for the creation of virtual worlds.
Conversely, in the advertising film, unlike in the feature film, the mood board is usually understood as a collage of real images intended to illustrate items of clothing or accessories.
Again something different is the Shooting Board.
What must be included
The visualization concept determines what is drawn as a storyboard. In feature films, these are usually the most important key scenes or technically demanding shots. This is not the case with commercials or TV commercials, where everything is always captured in drawings due to the brevity of the film. A board is always unprofessional when the viewer cannot understand the motivation behind the selection of the pictures.
The checklist and examples should make it just as clear that a good storyboard makes life easier, not harder. Incomprehensible images not help here. If sketches are only readable and understandable with text, it is better to leave them out. Exceptions confirm the rule, as the example of Steven Spielberg shows. The star director is not afraid to work with hand sketches.
The professionalism is particularly evident in the way the creators know how to use the cinematic tools at this stage. In this respect, it must be said quite clearly and loudly that this quality criterion does not only concern the storyboard artist.
We have already explained the function of the storyboard. It is therefore not acceptable for a director to delegate the work on the storyboard to an illustrator. Because in this way the storyboarder assumes the function of director and cameraman.
What we call here a cinematic tool is nothing other than the knowing-how in dealing with the film language in the form of a checklist.
It is about examples, about the knowledge about the size of shots, perspectives, types of movements in front of the camera and with the camera (camera movements), rhythm and montage. At this point at the latest, it will also be clear that not every artist is a storyboard artist. Neither can the storyboard artist be director and dramaturg at the same time.
In practice, it has proven to be a good idea for the director to sketch the storyboard by hand in advance, defining the content and individual images in rough strokes. This forces him to consider all the thought processes for the scenes or key images to be visualized before he commissions the storyboard artist to draw the images in.
Image film and TV spot
In commissioned films, a storyboard plays a particularly important role compared to independent feature films. Here you often have to deal with film laymen. Many people find it difficult to assess the potential of a film idea before its completion. That’s why the storyboard has to help.
This brings it close to a comic for image films and commercials. The drawn sequence of images serves as a placeholder for the remaining film frames.
For this reason, image films often depict key scenes whose content is important for understanding the film. The added value resulting from the visualization is rather limited for the director, camera and other participants. Here it is all about inspiring the customer and picking him up for the idea.
This is not the case with commercials (also known in the industry as TV commercials or TVC, the short form for TV Commercial). Why?
- First, because in this genre nothing is left to chance.
- Secondly, because the advertising film, in comparison to the image film, usually has to meet tough requirements. The TVC serves as an instrument for sales, for product positioning vis-à-vis competitors or it gives a product the emotionality necessary for sales success.
- That’s why, thirdly, the storyboard in commercials is often at Hollywood level. The settings already drawn with the correct focal length? Not uncommon. Every single picture discussed with the Digital Artist? Well, of course! The board as a checklist: this is the case with commercials.
This precision sometimes leads to absurd excesses in the agency and advertising business.
The author of this article has seen how a director, who was known far and wide for improvising on the set and therefore exploding costs, commissioned a storyboarder to trace his finished film frame by frame as a board. He used the TV commercial and the 100% identical storyboard as proof of how precisely he could film a storyboard when new job requests came in from agencies and customers.
Software for the visualization of storyboards
Any filmmaker who wants or has to work without a storyboard artist and does not want to pass on his or her awkward hand drawings can now also access the services of software. Specialized programs such as Storyboard That provide an uncomplicated means of breaking down scenes into their constituent parts and illustrating them, even for non-experts.
Said in one sentence
You can recognize a good storyboard by the fact that it serves the later movie and helps to solve important questions, but doesn’t try to replace the movie itself.