So, you’ve decided to take on the exciting challenge of becoming a storyboard artist. Most likely, you’re interested in storyboards because you love to draw and you love telling stories. What you may not realize is it takes more than just pretty drawings to make it as a storyboard artist. You’ll need a varied skill set that includes art fundamentals, digital skills, cinematography, and a bit of writing.
In this article, we’ll give you an overview of all the drawing and art skills you need to have under your belt as you embark on your journey to become a storyboard artist.
If you’re new to storyboards, the list may seem big and overwhelming. Keep in mind, you don’t need to master all of these at once — you just need to know the basics to get started.
What Skills Do You Need To Be A Storyboard Artist?
To become a great storyboard artist, you’ll need to be proficient in many of the processes we discuss throughout this article. In addition, we have in-depth lessons and tutorials throughout our site.
Each of these topics will help make you a better-prepared storyboard artist:
- Drawing Fundamentals
The basics of drawing play a huge role in storyboarding
- Drawing Techniques
These are techniques to help optimize your work and push out projects faster
- Drawing Tools
Every professional has his or her toolset — learn what you need in yours
- Drawing Best Practices
Practice makes the perfect storyboard artist
- Drawing Great Compositions
In storyboards, you are essentially drawing camera shots — this is where a little cinematography and filmmaking knowledge goes a long way
- Perspective for Storyboards
Perspective is associated with drawing accurate camera angles. In storyboarding, the camera angle represents the point of view of the audience and will affect emotional reaction to a scene. If you don’t have control of the camera, you’re not in control of the story.
Drawing Fundamentals for Storyboarding
To become a successful storyboard artist, there are some drawing basics you need to take into consideration. You probably know or are unconsciously using some of these already.
Drawing Quickly and Accurately
Speed and accuracy are essential for the storyboarding process. Clear communication of an idea is the goal — it will help the rest of the team envision how the final product will look.
Storyboards are a quick shorthand meant for a small audience generally consisting of directors, actors, cinematographers, and other film professionals. They aren't meant to be published, adored, or admired as beautiful works of art — they’re only used for the duration of a production.
Simple, quick sketches are needed at this point, so everyone is working literally from the same page. Thousands of storyboards may be produced for a particular project, as they are frequently redone, changed, or discarded altogether.
Storyboards are disposable art — a rough draft of the movie. Because of this, it is important to utilize a series of drawing tools to create a complete-looking image in the shortest possible amount of time.
It may be the case that there is enough time to create a highly polished and complete illustration. What’s more often the case is deadlines are extremely tight and without the use of drawing shortcuts, it might be impossible to finish the assignment.
One advantage for the modern storyboard artist is the ability to use digital tools, which speed things up considerably. But having a thorough understanding of drawing shortcuts is still very important.
Building a mental library of shortcuts will help you draw effective, quick storyboards. Forget about the unnecessary detail and draw what is important to communicate the action. You should be able to draw — within seconds — a car, boat, house, person, or tree with simple, recognizable shapes. Simplifying a drawing also helps with clarity. If the drawing isn’t clear, all the fancy drawing in the world won’t fix it.
There are five skills you need to dramatically speed up your drawing:
- Simplify objects and draw basic shapes
- Create strong compositions showcasing clear action
- Draw with the proper tools
- Learn to “cheat” your perspective for speed
- Pick a focal point and simplify the rest
With practice, you’ll soon see you’re much faster at getting storyboard ideas down clearly.
Turning Your Life Experiences Into Stories
One thing you should do to further all of your creative endeavors is start carrying around a small sketchbook or notebook or both.
And make the effort to put pen to page at least a couple of times a day. Make this part of your daily routine.
Waiting in line for coffee? Stuck at the post office? On the bus or train to work? Whip out your sketchbook. Even a few minutes makes a difference.
This will get easier as the habit sinks in and, sooner or later, it’ll add up. You’ll have pages and pages of drawing and writing practice, and a wealth of raw material to pull from.
This material can be dashed-out doodles and notes for whatever storyboarding project is currently hanging over your head — the bits of inspiration that’ll see you through the work at hand.
It can be the bones of something you’re writing, or want to write — half-baked ideas and stray thoughts that may not mean much now, but may well later.
Or maybe it’s some visual element in front of you — the way a person is dressed or is moving, interesting brickwork on a building — that you want to capture now so you can use it down the road.
Every so often, you'll overhear something so good you just have to jot it down, so you have the words to put in someone else’s mouth some other time.
This is the sort of stuff that tends to disappear forever, forgotten, if not recorded right away.
Give it a try, and see how much you have in there after just a couple of weeks.
The Basics of A Good Sketch
Being able to sketch is essential to storyboarding. Sketching allows you to quickly try many visual ideas and experiment with different ways to draw objects. Professional artists emphasize the importance of practicing your skills regularly. Creating a regular habit of sketching out ideas is a great way to build your fundamental art skills.
Here are a couple of things that’ll help you improve your sketch work:
- Push and exaggerate poses
- Always consider the feeling you are trying to communicate
- Draw clear silhouettes
- Create interesting shapes in your compositions
- Use a bold, thick drawing tool so you can’t erase — a Sharpie or black ink pen
A storyboard drawing is about communicating an idea in a quick drawing. For this reason, when you draw a character, it’s not enough to have a stiff block shape as a placeholder. This might be fine for your initial rough, but in the end, you want to “push” and exaggerate the pose more than you imagine it in your mind.
Most of the time, beginner artists do not push their drawings far enough. If your character is in action, make the body lean off-balance even more than you think is necessary. If the expression calls for anger, push those eyebrows down even more.
If you think you’ve gone too far, you’re probably still only 90% there.
It’s more important to communicate a clear emotion than to get an accurate, photo-realistic drawing. If you draw the “feeling” you want the viewer to have, you’re on track to creating a strong story sketch.
Drawing clear silhouettes refers to having a strong, identifiable shape to the object you’re drawing.
If you fill the object in completely with a black marker, can someone still identify it? Don’t hide fingers or limbs within the body — get those arms out in the open with a good silhouette shape, so a viewer can see the clear body language.
We often underestimate how much information we can see just from an object's silhouette.
Divide the space within the frame however you want and draw using solid shapes to fill it in. You’ll use a combination of big shapes and small shapes. For example, if you have a street scene, your characters, cars, buildings, and trees can all be different shapes in your frame. The shapes can overlap each other.
The idea is to simplify your composition into shapes that direct the eye to a focal point within the frame.
We’ll talk more about drawing tools below, but one tip to build good line quality and bold, clear shapes is to use a thick, black pen. Use something you can’t erase. This way, you remove the fear of making mistakes and you’ll be creating solid drawings in no time. This might be tough at first, but stick with it.
If you want to take a deeper dive into each of these tips, feel free to check out our extensive guide on sketching for storyboarding.
The Importance of Creating Thumbnails
A thumbnail version of a storyboard is a fast, rough-draft sketch to see how your shot choices and your compositions are working before you begin adding detail. These are normally tiny drawings, no bigger than one or two inches, with many drawings filling up a single sheet of paper.
You can use these drawings to quickly lay out your whole scene, as well as to show your director for initial approval.
There’s no need to polish your drawings in the thumbnail phase.
In fact, fancy drawings distract from what’s important — the story point and the shot flow. In thumbnails, all you need are quick, simple drawings that convey the basic information about camera angles, composition, and staging.
No amount of shading will sell a shot or make up for story flaws — any good client or director will see right through it. Forget about the drawing and start communicating!
There are two main rules you should follow when creating your thumbnails:
- Rule 1: Keep the drawings simple. Forget about the details of drawing and lose yourself in thinking about the story point and what’s really important in the shot. This is a process in which you might draw, cross out, and redraw ideas. Each drawing should only take a minute or so to draw. They are designed to communicate an idea, and as a result, a good thumbnail may have rough, sketchy lines, but the focal point and story idea will still be clear.
- Rule 2: Communication, not illustration. Thumbnailing is about discovering the emotional beats through shots and staging. You’re making choices meant to affect emotions, and looking for the most efficient way to get there. Explore every possibility until you find the best way to sell that particular idea.
If you want to dive deeper into thumbnailing for storyboards, feel free to check out our guide.
Now that you’re familiar with the essentials, let’s dive deeper into some drawing techniques. As you improve your drawing skills, you may notice some techniques are more challenging to get a handle on than others.
A lot of people automatically attribute this to a lack of talent, but nothing could be further from the truth. All you need are the right tips and tricks to help you get over some bumps and you can truly learn how to draw well and be a storyboard artist.
The problem in the case of drawing is knowing what to learn and how to practice it.
Drawing Tips and Tricks You Should Know
When beginners are first learning to draw, they often rely on the physical drawing part, thinking their hand-eye coordination will bring the image about. Beginners focus on moving their hand, but they often forget there’s a lot of thinking that also needs to happen to create a good drawing.
In this section, we’ll give you some tips not often discussed when it comes to drawing, and also share some tricks we’ve learned after years of storyboarding:
- Forget about the result and draw with confidence
- Drawing is 80% thinking and 20% actual drawing
- Draw only what is needed — remove the unnecessary
- No amount of rendering will save a bad idea
- Drawing with feeling is more important than accuracy
As you draw, forget about the end result. You’ll eventually redraw and correct your storyboards many times over. As you draw, be confident that you can and will solve the visual problem. This means draw a first pass regardless of how wrong and messy you think it is.
Your first attempt will be the starting point — you can correct it later. Storyboard drawing isn’t about getting things right the first time. It’s about getting ideas out no matter the method, and then looking them over to see what you can use and correct for a second pass. By forgetting about the end result, you’ll focus on what’s important in communicating the idea and not how pretty your drawing is.
Here is another tip about drawing — never turn your brain off.
Drawing is a mental discipline and you need to train your mind and hand to deliver the ideas in your head. Each stroke is a conscious and deliberate choice about where to put down the line or how big to make the shape inside the frame.
This isn’t a process where you can allow yourself to be free and let your hand explore ideas with arbitrary strokes. In fact, drawing is 80% thinking and 20% actual drawing. After a while, the physical process of creating the strokes on the page is not too difficult — the hardest part is deciding what should be created inside your frame.
If you’re a beginner, set yourself up in a quiet room with no distractions and focus on creating thoughtful and deliberate drawings.
In storyboards, you find a focal point of your composition and make that stand out above all other details. If you have this focal point or story point clear in your head, you can simplify all the other details in a drawing.
Many beginner artists try to stuff too much information into one drawing and nothing stands out as important. Then, they make the added mistake of polishing every object, thinking that’ll impress the viewer. Only one focal point is necessary for each frame. Make sure it’s clear and you can remove the unnecessary detail.
Emotional importance is the foundation for all action in the story. The end goal of all drawings should be motivated by a strong driving force in the characters or environment, grounded in emotional feeling. The importance of emotion cannot be overstated — audiences are paying to experience emotions.
With this in mind, it’s less important that you create a beautiful drawing and more important that your audience understands the emotion you’re trying to convey.
Check out our article on the best tips and tricks for storyboard beginners.
Draw With Confidence
If you’re struggling with throwing clean, consistent lines, here's a quick tip to help get you there:
Watch where you're going, instead of what, exactly, your hand is doing.
Whether it’s a short line, a long line, or anything in between — a straight line, a curved line or whatever — don’t look at your hand.
Instead, think about the line you’re about to make, set up your hand wherever you're planning to start it, and then look at wherever it is you want the line to stop and draw it in one smooth motion. This will avoid the sketchy, “hairy” line look. An overworked drawing often happens because you’re trying to figure out what you’re drawing as you’re drawing it, and the result is a messy puddle of lines.
We often say “think twice, draw once.” You want to get into the habit of knowing what you’re going to draw first, seeing it in your mind, then laying down the stroke in a bold and confident way. This is the process of “thinking” that happens as you draw. You’re making a decision each time you lay down a stroke. Even if you mess up, just go over the same line again with another bold, confident stroke after you’ve clearly thought about where it should go.
It may not work the first time. Or the second time. And maybe not even the 10th time.
But if you practice it, it’ll work eventually.
If you’re REALLY struggling at hitting the mark, try "ghosting" or pretending to draw your line a couple of times before you actually do it.
When you finally get this method, the result is a solid, confident shape that’s clear for all viewers to see.
Drawing Directly In Ink
Learn to draw without fear, and you’ll get through paying your dues a whole lot faster.
Try keeping a specific sketchbook handy, along with a few pens.
For the sketchbook, it should be something you can remain detached from, so as not to get too fussy about the work that’s going into it. Maybe consider going with something ugly and cheap. It’s best to get something small and portable as well.
For the pens, big, bold black markers or Sharpie pens work well.
There’s only one point: No undo commands. No pencils and erasers. No takesies-backsies.
This is going to be rough while you get over the possibility of making a "bad" mark, but eventually you’ll find yourself just DOING. And then, you’ll find yourself diving into new fundamentals without fear, because you’ll be far more confident and thoughtful in how you draw.
You’ll consider each line before you throw it. And when a line doesn’t work out exactly as you thought, you’ll consider how to "fix" it and carry on.
Try this direct drawing method: Think about your shape, lay down the stroke confidently, in a completely calculated, smooth way. If you don’t like the result, stop. Think again. Then, lay down another bold stroke right on top of the previous stroke and continue until you’re satisfied.
Understanding symbols and simplification really allows you to be lean when drawing and communicate ideas without much effort. Think about playing a game of Pictionary, where you have to draw an idea in a short amount of time.
In the beginning stages of a project, storyboard artists aim to visualize concepts for the team. Many times, some of the ideas and concepts will be selected and some left out.
- By simplifying your drawings, you’re able to create more drawings
- The more drawings you’re able to create, the greater the scope of ideas and concepts you can cover
- The greater the scope of ideas and concepts you cover, the greater the chance you'll find the best options.
With practice, you’ll build up a mental library of standard poses, expressions, and shapes that you can draw quickly without having to think too much about it. You’ll need this drawing shorthand to quickly draw characters in any pose at any camera angle, or add shapes like trees or buildings.
A simple smiley face will convey a lot of information without having to add unnecessary detail.
We can’t possibly talk about drawing and storyboarding without taking a good look at the tools you need and how to use them.
Many beginners assume you need an expensive setup or fancy brushes and markers to create a winning drawing. Even with a basic setup, you can get started. What’s important is how you apply your tools to create strong drawings. Here, we’ll take you through common setups, so you can immediately get started.
The Tools of Drawing Storyboards
You’re unlikely to find a storyboard artist who doesn’t have a pile of sketchbooks, a giant mug full of pens and pencils, and all kinds of other art supplies.
There are so many different pens, pencils, and sketchbooks that, for a beginner, it can be quite hard to understand where to start, especially on a budget.
Some common questions we get asked are:
- What programs should I use?
- What pens or digital brushes are best?
- Does the resolution matter?
- What is the best drawing tablet out there?
- Is there any free software I can use?
- Can I still draw with pencil and paper?
We cover all of these — plus a list of supplies every beginner needs — in an in-depth article.
Tools, Desks, and Computers
There are two main setups you can have: traditional and digital. For a traditional drawing setup, the most basic thing you need is a table with a desk light attached to it. In a pinch, your kitchen table might work, but it’s a good idea to get something you will dedicate only to your artwork.
Many artists like to use a drafting table or board, or a drawing tablet that can be set up at an angle. Stand-up desks can help you vary your posture and protect your back from the strain of leaning over your work. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a desk or table. Check resources like Offerup, Craigslist, or eBay for good deals on used drafting tables or desks. Often, you can find a deal for under $100.
Other things to consider are what type of chair to use and how to keep your drawing tools organized and easy to reach. A side table on wheels from Ikea or the second-hand markets listed above will do just fine.
Creating a comfortable work environment is important for the longevity of your career. As you get older, bad choices in terms of posture, hand health, and vision can catch up to you.
The other common question we get is what type of paper to use. Any cheap office paper works perfectly fine. In fact, you can download our free storyboard templates and make copies on your standard white, letter-size paper.
If you like a larger drawing size, you can use ledger-size 11”x17” paper.
This standard type of bond paper has a smooth surface and works well with pencil and markers for a quick storyboard. You can opt to use fancier paper made for drawing artwork, but keep in mind a storyboard is a quick sketch, so you don’t want to use very expensive paper since your sketch might get tossed out in the end.
Every artist has their favorite pens and pencils, but the basics work just fine. A standard HB or 2B pencil is great for roughs. A black Prismacolor pencil and Sharpie markers are good for cleaning up storyboards. There’s no need to get fancy colors or paints — you’ll most likely only be drawing with black-and-white mediums. A set of gray markers are helpful. Any brand will work, but Prismacolor makes a decent set of markers. Color boards are rare for film production work.
Tools for a digital setup also may include a solid desk and chair. Again, you can just use an economical table you find at Ikea or a second-hand marketplace. We’ll dive more into specific hardware for drawing storyboards, but the basics you need are a solid computer and drawing tablet. A scanner is optional, but can be good to have as well if you like to start your storyboards on paper.
You don’t need to have the latest and most powerful computer hardware unless you’re doing heavy, advanced storyboard jobs. You can even get by using hardware a few years old, as long as it can run the latest versions of the programs you need. We’ll go into software tools later.
You can use any type of operating system you want, from IOS to Windows to Linux. For beginners, we recommend using a Windows-based machine, since you can easily find deals on used hardware.
To get started, have a working computer with enough hard-drive space and ram to run a program like Adobe Photoshop. You’ll also need an internet connection — get the fastest one you can afford.
Below, we talk more about the drawing tablets you’ll need for a digital setup.
Tablets for Digital Drawing
Digital drawing gives so much opportunity to a storyboard artist. There are so many options and capabilities that you simply cannot get while drawing on paper.
But barriers to getting into digital drawing can include the varying cost and quality of tablets.
It’s easy for a beginner to get lost in all the different features a drawing tablet can offer. It's not as easy as “just get the best one” when some of the best drawing tablets are in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Again, for the creative and frugal storyboard artist, your best resource is finding used or second-hand versions of the monitors and tablets we recommend. You can even get started with some Wacom tablets for less than $50.
Wacom Cintiqs are the standard in creating professional storyboard drawings. These are fancy monitors with a pen interface that allows you to draw directly onto its surface. There are portable versions and large desktop versions. Prices vary, but Cintiqs start in the hundreds of dollars. Used and older versions are readily available as well.
The next option would be a portable tablet, such as an iPad or a Samsung. A pen-enabled laptop computer is also a great option. Anything that allows for a pen interface will work just fine. I know artists who even use their pen-enabled smartphones to create storyboard images.
Here’s a general list of tablets currently on the market you should be looking at:
- A budget option $$-$$$: Any used version of the iPad pro, Wacom Intuos, Microsoft Surface Pro, or Samsung Galaxy tablet. Check Offerup, Craigslist, or Ebay
- A value for money options $$$-$$$$: A Wacom-alternative, such as Huion or XP-Pen
- A high-end option $$$$: A new iPad Pro with pen, or a Wacom Cintiq or Cintiq Companion
We also have a more in-depth list of tablets featuring more models at more price points. Check it out if you want to optimize your budget to the max.
Software for Digital Drawing
Now that we know about the hardware related to digital drawing, let’s take a look at the software. There are many software options, but don’t worry — you don’t need to master every software out there.
When choosing software, you should mostly care about whether the software is paid or free.
For the free or almost-free options, your best choices are:
For paid options, your best choices are:
The free or low-cost versions above will do most everything you need to create storyboards. The higher-cost options above have more tools and streamlined workflow, but if you’re starting out and on a budget, start with the free versions.
Adobe Photoshop is a standard for drawing storyboards. The file formats used and the flexibility of layout make it easy to get started. Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro is another excellent option for creating pro-looking boards and animatics.
Drawing Best Practices
Throughout this article, we’ve mentioned the importance of practice multiple times. Now, it’s time to dive a bit deeper into the best ways to practice drawing for storyboarding.
Creating Good Drawing Habits and Routines
Creating good drawing habits is the best long-term investment you can make. No matter what your initial drawing skills are, once you get into routine practice, your skills will never stop improving.
Here are a few tips to start building out your habits:
- Set aside a regular time for drawing each day
- Don’t aim too big too soon. Small steps will get you to the final goal, not big leaps
- Keep a sketchbook with you
- Choose a category of items to draw at the beginning
- Join a drawing or sketching challenge
- In the beginning, don’t worry too much about the quality of your results
- Draw things you love and are inspired by
Check out our in-depth guide on how to develop good drawing habits.
Avoiding Bad Habits In Drawing
Just as good habits come with time, there are also some bad habits you can develop on your path to becoming a professional storyboard artist.
Most of these can be easily avoided if you know how to spot them:
- Not drawing on a regular basis
- Learning from only one source
- Drawing without reference or research materials
- Not sharing your work with others for feedback
- Comparing yourself to others
It doesn't really matter where or how you learn to draw, sooner or later, you're going to get one particular bit of advice — eventually, someone is going to tell you, "if you want to get good at this, you'll have to do it every day, for a long time."
And they'll also tell you, "if you want to stay good at this, you'll have to keep doing it every day, forever."
There’s no substitute or workaround for the endless grind — you have to draw on a regular basis to improve. If you're in it to win it, get ready to tally up many, many hours of drawing over your lifetime.
It’s important to make sure you don’t get stuck in a loop of only looking at one thing for inspiration. You need to pull from as many sources as possible. You should be looking at other artists, including storyboard artists, comic book artists, modern genius illustrators and classic master painters and sculptors, and anyone else you can think of who makes or made beautiful works.
You should also be looking at film and television. Makes sense, right? Know the medium you mean to master.
And you should be looking at life as it happens around you. Those sketchbooks we always nag at you to carry with you wherever you go, they’re not for show. The idea is to use those to draw while people-, place- or nature-watching.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of “winging it” and working without resources or reference material at all. When you’re starting out, it's crucial, and that never really changes. No matter how well you think you know a subject, there’s always something more to be learned, or another angle to take.
Even with all the inspiration, resources, and reference materials available to you, sometimes, you’ll still get stuck. One of the best things to do when you're stuck is get a second opinion — it could offer you a fresh perspective.
Along those same lines, having a work partner is a great way to stay motivated.
All of which is to say don’t be afraid to share your work with others and get their feedback — it will make you a stronger storyboard artist.
But don’t compare yourself to others. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been drawing for, you’ll always feel like your work could be better, and if you look hard enough, you’ll always be able to find someone whose work you think is better than yours. That’s all natural, but it’s a trap you need to avoid.
The truth is, “better” is relative. Nobody else is going to draw quite like you do, and you will find an audience who enjoys your work. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to draw like someone else because you think that’s what clients and directors want, but you should focus on producing the best storyboards you can, in the way only you can.
We’ve written a whole article on how these bad habits are formed and how you can avoid them. Definitely check that out if you’re struggling with drawing or feeling discouraged.
Ergonomics In Drawing
Ergonomics in drawing is a topic that isn’t talked about enough. How are you supposed to make drawing a habit and sink hours into it every day if it causes you physical discomfort?
Maintaining your physical health is important for this career, so here are a few areas you should look out for:
- Posture: Bad posture can lead to problems in your back and this can negatively impact your overall quality of life and work
- Hand health: Problems in your hands and fingers can develop over time and it’s pretty difficult to reverse the damage
- Eyesight: Constantly focusing on details in not enough or too much light could strain your eyes and worsen your vision, and these days, you might be staring at a screen all day
Your real tools aren't all the sketchbooks and pencils, the tablets and styluses, or the what-have-yous. No, your real tools are your hands. And, over a lifetime, a million little choices will add up and take their toll. Repetitive strain injuries are a thing.
Likewise, your back and eyes are at risk of taking damage over time, if you’re not careful.
If you're nursing nagging hand, back, or eye problems, you should seek out medical advice — we cannot give you that. But we can offer some common-sense tips:
Set up your workspace to be as comfortable as possible for lengthy sessions. That means chairs and desks or tables at the correct heights and alignments, and computers, boards, and whatever else within easy reach.
And everything should be well-lit. Don’t work in the dark.
Think about posture when sitting to work, and maybe consider standing to work whenever that's possible.
Take short breaks at regular intervals. You can keep thinking about what you’re working on, but take some time away from the table to stretch your legs and give your hands, back, and eyes a breather.
It’s also OK to let yourself focus on something else entirely for a bit.
Whenever you’re taking a break, consider that there are a great many stretches and exercises that can help prevent repetitive strain injuries or ease existing ones.
Working shouldn't hit the point where it hurts. If it does, you should probably think about stopping for a while. And if it keeps happening, that's probably the time to start thinking about seeking out medical advice.
Nobody's saying there aren't going to be times when you need to push yourself to get through whatever work it is you’re trying to get through. There definitely will be. But if you’re smart about how you treat your body overall, it may be less damaging on the occasions when you put yourself through the paces.
Over the years, we’ve learned many tips and tricks to help protect ourselves from these issues, and we’ve compiled a list of what we believe are the best ways to stay healthy.
Advanced Drawing Techniques
Over the years, some drawing techniques have been refined by the artists who came before us. These techniques are either focused on drawing for specific projects or specific drawing styles. Having knowledge and skills in as many of them as possible will help you be a more effective storyboard artist.
Let’s briefly go over each one:
Drawing Dynamic Poses
Drawing dynamic poses is an artistic method in which you exaggerate a pose for dramatic effect. The result is a drawing full of life and energy that’ll inspire the rest of the artists in the production pipeline.
The purpose of drawing dynamic poses is to help communicate an action faster in a quick read. Think of the impact this has in action comic books. It inspires the imagination of the viewer and makes the story come alive on the page. Spider-Man comics would be dreadfully boring to read if it weren’t for the dynamic action poses in the panels. This ties closely to the concept of drawing with feeling and emotion. After practicing this method, you’ll discover it’s not about drawing clean or pretty pictures, but communicating a visual idea audiences will understand at first glance.
Facial Expressions for Storyboards
Every storyboard artist should have a visual library of facial expressions they can quickly draw. This includes unique mouth shapes and eye shapes. The eyebrows of a character communicate so much information that, even a limited drawing, including eyebrows can get the feeling across.
Without mastery of strong and simple facial expressions, you’re at a disadvantage. Your characters will look stiff and overworked if you try and figure it out as you make your drawings. It’s important to practice and build up your library of facial expressions so you can quickly draw a character with any emotion you choose.
Drawing for Animatics
These are specific techniques related to preparing your boards for animated projects. Animation often requires the creation of an animatic story reel. An animatic shows lots of character acting and poses that are used to time out shots with accuracy, and may require many panels for each shot.
Animated projects incorporate hundreds of artists and the storyboards are the blueprint for the rest of the production. You need to know the drawing format, resolutions, and shot requirements specific to the animated project, so you can adapt your drawing style. If the final animation is produced in another country, you may need to clean up your boards with tighter line work and leave your drawings “on model.” A skilled storyboard artist should know how to handle creating storyboards for an animatic.
Anime and Manga Drawing
Anime or Manga is a very specific style of drawing that originated in Japan. Because it has its own shapes and style, it’s very different from the traditional drawing you’ll find in most animation or comic books.
Anime and Manga have become so popular around the world that they easily rival the comic book and feature animation industries. If you like this style and find it fascinating, you should definitely spend time studying it. You can apply this knowledge to your storyboards by using the unique proportions and facial expressions in Anime for your panels. This is another tool to add to your drawing shortcuts and can help with speed and communicating ideas.
Drawing for Movies
These are specific techniques related to preparing your boards for a live action film project. Every production will have specific requirements, but there are common traits found when presenting storyboards for film. The focus here will be more on composition and less on character acting, since a live actor will fill in what’s needed in the final scene.
With so many film productions produced every year, this is a great opportunity to get work and apply your skills. You need to know about film language and shot communication, along with presentation styles, to be successful working in live action movies.
Drawing Different Camera Lenses
You can vary the size of the lens you use in your drawing by adjusting the distance of your vanishing points on your horizon line. The further apart your vanishing points are, the longer the lens (narrow-angle) will appear, and the closer together your vanishing points are, the shorter the lens (wide‐angle) will appear.
It’s important to understand the visual effects different camera lenses produce. Most productions will reference a physical camera and physical lenses when talking about shots and storyboards. It’s not necessary to understand technical photography, but knowing the general difference between lenses is important when discussing storyboard shots.
Drawing Great Compositions
A composition is a fancy way of saying every picture or frame you’re drawing has a certain organization of the items displayed inside it.
The term composition comes often both in art drawing and the film industry. Learning how to organize, group, overlap, and space out your subjects is important to convey a vision to the user.
What Makes A Great Shot or Frame
When your composition is good, it will instill a sense of normalcy and stability. To achieve that effect, consider the following:
- Focal point
- The rule of thirds
- Foreground, middleground, and background
- Strategic use of shapes
By following these rules, you’ll be able to create believable and stunning shots. Check out our guide on what makes a good shot or frame to see how you can apply these examples in practice.
Every storyboard needs a main focal point or center of interest. This focal point can be anywhere within the frame, but it’s important to choose beforehand where your focal point will be.
Every element of the composition should emphasize this focal point.
You might deliberately angle tree branches pointing in the direction of your focal point. You can also design the angles of tables and chairs to point to it.
In any storyboard image, you can only have one main focal point at any given time.
Often, compositions get cluttered with too much information, and the focus isn't clear. This might be a case of trying to describe too much at once.
Just as you should only relay one story beat at a time, you should only have one main focal point at a time in your image.
This doesn’t mean you can't have supporting elements that help balance the composition — a storyboard image might have a primary focal point and a secondary focal point, or even a tertiary focal point.
But even when there are multiple centers of interest, there’s always an order of importance.
The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a guide to help you avoid symmetry in your composition.
Symmetry tends to split your composition and make it seem overly stiff and formal. Unless this is your intent, avoid putting areas of interest along the halfway line.
In most cases, you should put the most interesting elements of your compositions into the area where the picture divides into thirds.
Draw lines that divide the frame into thirds both vertically and horizontally. The intersections of the lines make good places to put your visual elements. You can align objects with the lines themselves.
Contrast, or the difference or between objects, can help define the focal point of a shot as well as create depth.
The eye is attracted to what is different — a light object will stand out if everything else is dark.
You can juxtapose different objects and elements in shape, color, value, size, and almost any attribute you can think of, and by contrasting shapes or isolating a color, you can easily create a focal point within your image.
- Big vs. small
- Circular shapes vs. square shapes vs. triangular shapes
- Dark vs. light
- Sharp focus vs. soft focus
- Moving vs. still
Value and color contrast are also ways to help achieve depth — light objects feel closer to us while dark objects recede, and with color images, warm colors feel closer while cool colors recede.
Objects close to us appear to have a broader range of light to dark than objects farther away, due to atmospheric perspective — the range of light to dark is much lower in objects that are far away.
Foreground, Middleground, Background
When composing your storyboards, always try to incorporate a foreground, middleground, and background into each shot.
Our natural tendency is to flatten things out and draw images that are on just one plane-- force yourself to break that tendency.
Push the size of objects meant to be closer to the viewer larger, and the ones meant to be farther away smaller. Or overlap objects to put something closer in front of something farther away.
Even in a close‐up shot, you might be able to add a foreground or background object to enrich the image.
As we mentioned previously, using a variety of shapes is one key way to create contrast in your images, but shapes also work on a more basic, primal level.
As humans, we’ve been conditioned to have specific visual stimuli evoke certain emotions in us.
Knowing this, these visual stimuli can be used by an artist to trigger these feelings in an audience, who often won’t even realize (or at least won’t care) they’re being manipulated in this way.
- Circles, ovals, and curves evoke feelings of friendliness, fun, and happiness
- Squares, rectangles, and right angles evoke feelings of formality and order
- Triangles create feelings of aggression and dynamism
Use the design of the shapes in your compositions to create the feeling you want your audience to have for certain people, places or things — these visual elements add great richness and depth to a story.
Also consider utilizing asymmetry — whether edged or round, your shapes don’t have to be even, and often, you’re better off if they aren’t, as perfect shapes tend to be boring compared to uneven ones.
Perspective for Storyboards
Perspective is one of the most important things to keep in mind when talking about any visual media. With the proper use of perspective, we properly depict the position and size of objects relative to each other and relative to the viewer.
There are a couple of types of perspectives you should know about:
1-Point, 2-Point, and 3-Point Perspective
When we talk about perspective, we’re talking about a method of using lines in 2D to create the illusion of depth in a drawing.
Every composition has a viewing angle or horizon line. It might be off the page and out of view, but it still exists.
On this horizon line is where you place the “vanishing points.” These points on the horizon are where objects appear to recede back into the distance and “vanish” away from the viewer. Imagine standing in the middle of railroad tracks, and you see how they appear to converge in the distance away from you.
There are three main types of linear perspective used in drawing:
- One-point perspective — One-point perspective is a drawing method that shows how things appear to get smaller as they get further away, converging toward a single “vanishing point” on the horizon line
- Two-point perspective — This is the same as one-point perspective, but the lines converge in two vanishing points instead of one
- Three-point perspective — In this perspective, we again have two points where the lines converge width-wise and one extra point where the lines converge vertically
High- and Low-angle Shots
High-angle shots are shots in which the camera is placed above the subject's eye level. High-angle shots tend to focus the viewer's attention on the environment or situation, making it more prominent than any individual character. This is often used to make a character seem less in control of their situation.
An overhead shot is a shot that looks straight down on the action, so that no horizon line is visible in the frame. It is often used to diminish subjects and make them seem insignificant.
The bird's eye view is a special type of high-angle shot that is so high above the action, it seems to be from the point of view of a bird. This gives a broad view of the environment and its layout.
Low-angle shots are shots in which the camera is placed below the subject's eye level. These shots tend to make the subject seem more powerful or in control because as a viewer, we are looking up at the subject.
Low-angle shots can naturally spotlight an individual by the fact that the closest subject to the screen will naturally have his head higher than any other subject in the shot.
This camera position also tends to speed up action, since the scaling effects of perspective are more pronounced when the camera is placed low in the shot.
The worm's eye view is a specialized type of low-angle shot that has the camera shooting from ground level. Speed and perspective seem more exaggerated and extreme from this viewpoint, and the scaling effects of perspective are very pronounced.
Perspective is a BIG subject, and a tough one to truly master, but here are some quick tips and tricks you can use to get yourself started:
Try “Hanging” Your Perspective
Figures and objects of the same height will be cut off at the same place on the horizon line, even if they're located at different distances within the scene — objects will seem to “hang” on the horizon from this intersection point.
This is a quick way to plant figures and objects of the same size within the picture frame just by knowing where your horizon line is.
Start with the figure you want as your reference subject — other figures will be based on this first one.
Say the figure is cut off at the waist by the horizon line — you can add more figures, anywhere in the foreground and background, and “hang” them all at the waist along the horizon line.
With very little effort, you have a scene full of characters that all give the illusion of depth in correct perspective.
The same rules apply for hanging perspective even if the objects are above or below the horizon line rather than intersecting it — the proportional distance (one head, two heads, etc.) of your subject figure from the horizon line will be the same for all figures of the same height.
Try the Grid Trick
Having a perspective grid on your storyboard is an incredibly powerful tool. It doesn't just add depth and describe the camera height — it can be just as useful to change the nature of the shot completely.
By simply changing the direction of your perspective grid, you can indicate a different camera angle without redrawing your subject.
Scrap Your Ruler
In a quick sketch, your vanishing points and converging lines might not exactly line up. What’s important is the overall sense of objects converging to the vanishing points.
Often, your vanishing points and horizon line may be outside of your picture frame, and you may even have instances where the vanishing points go off your drawing table or digital canvas
A roughly sketched grid of converging lines is enough, even without the horizon line and vanishing points inside the frame.
With time and practice, you should be able to draw a solid perspective grid simply by knowing where your vanishing point and horizon line should be in relation to your subject.
In a storyboard, it is not necessary to correctly rule out head heights or any other rigid measuring point — as long as the illusion of perspective is drawn correctly, it is enough to sell the scene.
With practice, you’ll be able to draw an image that has depth and multiple figures freehand.
We Can Help You Succeed
If you made it this far with our tips, you have the passion to make it as a storyboard artist. Our mission is to help artists reach their goals and tell the stories they want for a living. Once you get a taste of developing your own stories into images, nothing else you do art-wise will ever feel the same. Dive right in with passion and the results will start to show. We’ll be here to help you along the way.
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