How to Storyboard a Video

October 6, 2023  

You have an idea you want to film, but need help on where to start?

Being a filmmaker can be a challenging, but rewarding career. There are so many aspects to the process that it can be tough to focus on what should be done first. If you have an idea you want to film, you should think about making storyboards for it as they will serve as a key guide to bringing your film to life. But how do you go about creating storyboards for your video? Here is our step by step guide to preparing your story to be filmed.

1. Craft Your Story

Your first step, before you even touch a camera, is to figure out your story. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a sci-fi epic, fantasy adventure, kid friendly cartoon, or even a documentary or commercial. Everything starts with a story. More specifically, a beginning, middle and end. You don’t need the whole story written out or even thought out completely. But you should have a general idea, or the beats of your story. If you want to know more about how to develop your story structure, you can check out our article “Story Structure and Writing for Storyboard Artists”.

2. Brainstorming and Research

Once you have your basic story idea, it’s time to expand on it, starting with brainstorming. Write everything down you can think of, characters, settings, backstories, timesetting, conflicts, desires, etc. Once you have everything down on paper, you’re going to want to do some film study. Find movies and stories that match the themes of your story. Are there any scenes that evoke the emotions you're looking for? While watching these films, start doodling. Examine how the camera moves through the scene, what the actors are doing, and draw it out. Keep your drawings fast and loose. As you're going, throw down any ideas that may arise from this process. The drawings will inform the writing, and the writing will inform the drawing. This step is building up the resources you’ll need to storyboard your idea and eventually film it.

3. Develop Your Story Beats

This step may actually happen at the same time as the previous one. As you continue to research, you’re going to get your basic story solidified and have reference material that you’ll pull from. Here you’ll organize it into chunks, or story beats. The highs and lows of your story, the turning points. This is where you begin your story’s structure, IE. your beginning, middle, and ending will really start to take shape. Though they look different depending on the story you're trying to tell, structuring your story is true for all genres and formats of film, video, animation, or any other kind of storytelling. If you want to learn more about story structure you can check out our blog post on the subject here.

4. Starting The Thumbnail Pass

Once you’ve put together your story, you're ready to start putting together your thumbnails. In short, thumbnails are your story beats and ideas quickly put down onto paper visually. You don’t need to be precious with these drawings. These are meant to be very fast drawings and no one else may even see them. Your goal in this stage is to make sure that the basic elements of your story are present in your compositions. If you want to learn more about the thumbnailing process and why it’s important, check out our article on thumbnailing.

5. Make Your Rough Pass

Once you’ve gotten your ideas down through thumbnailing, it’s time to give them a bit more structure. This is what is known as a rough pass.

Here, you are going to further flesh out your thumbnails into more comprehensive storyboards. You’ll refine your perspective a little bit more, push your gestures and really explore your compositions, thinking about how the shots and camera angles affect your story as a whole. Still keeping your drawings loose, but clear. Like the thumbnail pass, they don’t have to be perfectly rendered, but they do need to be clear enough so that others can follow the story you are trying to tell.

6. Start Your Revisions

Once you have the entire story roughed out and can get a good visual overview of your project, you should be taking an inventory of your current version of the story. Are the beginning, middle and ending working well together? Does the story make sense? Are the logistics of filming understandable? Does the story work well in general?

If the answer to these questions is no, then revisions will be needed to further push the story forward. During the revision process, you can easily rearrange, redo, add, or remove sections of storyboards to better achieve your story goals. It is common for storyboards to go through multiple revisions before being finalized for production.

7. Prepare Continuity Boards

If you are working in animation, as you go through your revisions, you are going to want to start adding in additional poses to fully connect your shots together. These are called continuity boards and are probably what most people think of when they hear the term storyboards.

In this stage, you will go through adding additional panels and character poses to your scenes to shore up any holes in your shots. Like your rough boards before, these will continue to be developed through multiple revisions until your story is clear and interesting.

A quick note: continuity boards are not usually found in live action. Instead, they use what are known as beatboards. If you want to know more about the live action storyboards you can check out our article here.

8. Finalize Your Boards

This can sometimes be the final step before filming while other film, video, and animation projects can call for a more detailed animatic to be created before filming.The final boards should be completely ready in terms of your story. This set of storyboards should also have details important to your filming goal, like being numbered and sequenced in a way to help you film, scene by scene and shot by shot. The final boards are your ultimate guide to the filmmaking process.

9. Make an Animatic

While not always necessary, the animatic has become a more popular tool, especially in animation or more action oriented filming. The animatic is a rough video of your storyboards in motion. Usually, to create the animatic, more boards are created or manipulated for this process.Animatics can help establish and clarify camera motion in a scene, which is why it’s become more and more popular over time. An animatic can be as simple as a quick video of one shot after another in a choppy motion, or they can get more and more detailed, looking similar to finished animation. The final product of an animatic is up to you and the needs of your story.

10. Assemble Your Team and Film or Animate Your Project

Once you have your final boards or animatics ready, you are ready to begin filming your story. And just like previous steps, you’ll find spots where you can tweak and improve as you go along in the process. But with your final boards acting as a roadmap, you’re in a much better position of having your artistic vision realized than if you were to go in blind.

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