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Dramatically Speed Up Your Drawing


With practice of these five skills, you’ll soon see you’re much faster at getting storyboard ideas down clearly:

  • 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

Simplify Objects and Draw Basic Shapes

Break down visual elements into the most basic abstract shapes. Later, we'll be able to imagine these shapes as people, trees, or explosions, etc. For now though, let's take a look at how these shapes work in isolation:

Lines

Lines will give a different emotional reaction to an audience depending on how you use them:

  • Horizontals give a calm, static feeling
  • Verticals also feel calm, but somewhat more active than horizontals
  • Diagonals feel more active than either verticals or horizontals
  • Lines that divide space evenly are boring
  • Lines dividing space unevenly create visual interest
  • Parallel lines give a sense of stateliness and order
  • Non-parallel lines give a sense of chaos and disorder

You can create the feeling of symmetry or asymmetry, depending on what your story requires. If a story calls for a noble king to enter into the frame, you might want to use horizontal and vertical lines to represent his nobility or power. If, on the other hand, the story is about a disorganized business executive, you might want to use asymmetry to create the feeling of uneasiness and disarray.

Shapes

Different shapes also give different emotional reactions to an audience:

• 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

These visual elements add great richness and depth to the story. In a storyboard image, every element is important.

Create Strong Compositions Showcasing Clear Action

As a storyboard artist, you should always start out with a compositional boundary or picture frame. This helps determine the elements that go within the composition and how they’re arranged within the box for maximum visual appeal. By manipulating elements in the composition, you can direct an audience to the focal point or center of interest and help communicate the emotional beat and broader story point. Most visual stories follow a horizontal, rectangular composition.

The goal is always clarity of story, told with clean, visually pleasing images.

A good way to push your skill with composition is to revisit your old boards, whether they're practice boards or "for-pay" boards, and see what you might do differently if you were to create them again. You could even sit down and actually do the work, if you wanted to.

Go all the way back to the thumbnails. Would you resolve all of the story points exactly the same way, the second time around, or would you try something different? Exploring this could be the difference between a scene being "pretty OK," or being "portfolio-worthy."

Draw With the Proper Tools

You don't need much to draw storyboards. A few pencils, pens, and markers, along with some paper, will do if you're working the traditional way. If you're working digitally, you'll need a tablet and a program that can mimic those tools, and a decent computer and internet connection.

Keeping it simple is better — overly complicated tool sets can lead to overly complicated images if you feel compelled to get “a little bit of everything” in there.

The other good thing about keeping it simple is none of these items have to break the bank:

  • The same pencils you used in grade school will work just as well here
  • For pens, fineliners are nice. Sharpies work, too
  • Two or three different gray-tone markers are all you need
  • Plain white cartridge/copy paper is perfect, along with a sketchbook or two
  • Computer hardware can be purchased used, and some software is free

If you're used to working traditionally, working digitally will take some getting used to. The reverse is probably also true. But you're here to practice, practice, practice anyway, right? Keep at it and you'll quickly adapt to your tools.

Learn To “Cheat” Your Perspective for Speed

Perspective basics: Objects follow parallel lines that converge as they recede into the distance toward vanishing points on the horizon. These objects will appear to get smaller as they do so. The horizon line represents the eye level of the audience, and the height of the physical camera as placed on a movie set. You can have an infinite number of vanishing points, but only one horizon line. The common forms of perspective in storyboards are one‐point, two‐point, and three‐point.

Cheating Perspective

You don’t have to draw the horizon and grid lines with a ruler. In a quick sketch, things might not exactly line up. A roughly sketched grid of converging lines is enough, and with time and practice, you should be able to draw solid-looking perspective simply by knowing where your horizon line and vanishing points should be in relation to your subject.

Hanging Perspective

Characters 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 — they'll all seem to “hang” on the horizon line from this intersection point. This is a quick way to plant characters and objects of the same height within the frame.

Start with the character or object you want to be your reference subject. In this case, say it's a character cut off at the waist by the horizon line — you can add more characters in the foreground and background and “hang” them all at the waist along the horizon line. The same rule applies even if the characters or objects are above or below the horizon line — characters or objects of the same height will "hang" a proportionally equal distance from the horizon line.

With very little effort, you now have a scene full of characters, all in roughly correct perspective.

The Grid Trick

Including perspective grids on your storyboards is incredibly useful, not only to add depth and describe camera height, but to change the nature of the shots completely. By changing the direction of the grid, you can indicate a different camera angle without redrawing your subject. By changing the grid, you can suggest a down shot in one frame and an upshot in the next. Add in some background elements to complete the illusion, and you’ve got a convincing storyboard.

Pick a Focal Point and Simplify the Rest

Every storyboard needs a focal point or center of interest. This focal point can be anywhere within the frame, but it’s important to choose beforehand where it’ll be. Creating storyboards is about describing story beats, and manipulating the audience to look where you want them to.

In order to make your story point clear, your focal point needs to be clearly designed within the frame — every element of the composition should emphasize the center of interest. You might deliberately angle tree branches in the direction of your focal point, or, maybe, design the angles of tables and chairs to point to and accent your center of interest.

In any storyboard, you should only have one major focal point at a given time. Compositions get cluttered with too much information, leaving the focal point unclear.

A storyboard image might have primary, secondary, and tertiary focal points, but even though there might be multiple centers of interest, there will always be an order of importance. You must decide where the primary focal point is and keep that element as the most important in the frame. Secondary and tertiary focal points should always support the primary focal point.

As with any new skill, it takes repetition and practice to get comfortable. Learn to enjoy the process of creating art and images and this practice will turn into mastery in no time. What we cover here is just scratching the surface of drawing and image creation, but try them out and take note of how quickly you improve.

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