What is a Storyboard

September 28, 2023  

If you’re just starting out your filmmaking journey, you may have come across the term “storyboard” once or twice. Perhaps you’ve watched a behind-the-scenes feature and the directors have talked about how they’ve used storyboards, or you’ve been trying to prep your short film and it’s come up a few times during pre-production. You’ve probably even seen a snippet or two of filmmakers trying to explain things such as continuity boards, beat boards, and pitch boards. But let’s break it down a bit more and answer the question: What is a Storyboard?

A Blueprint For Visual Storytelling

To put it simply, storyboards are the blueprint to laying out your project's story visually. It’s a roadmap to understanding what shots a director might use, how actors will be blocked in a scene, where key objects will be, what actions will take place, and what the tone will be. They also serve as a key ingredient in the construction of animatics, helping to determine a film's timing.

Who Uses Storyboards?

Storyboards can be found in a variety of industries and fields. Commercials, live action TV and Film, and animated TV and Film all use storyboards to plan their projects. But so do video games, explainer videos, documentaries, and VR. If a project is going to use video, chances are a storyboard will come into play to help figure out the visual details of the project.

What do Storyboards Look Like?

Though it depends on who is asking for them, it’s common for storyboards to be loose representations of what the project is going to look like. The goal for a storyboard is to give a clear representation of what the story is supposed to be. As such, the focus of a storyboard is not the cleanliness of the image, but instead the clarity of the story points.

Of course, the level of detail can vary based on the project you are working on. For example, a commercial may ask for highly rendered color storyboards whereas a feature film may only need loose sketches.

Types of Storyboards

While the purpose of the storyboard remains the same, there are many different types of storyboards that may be used depending on the production.

Continuity Boards

One of the most common types of storyboards, continuity boards map out the main beats of a scene and additional posing for acting and emotion. These boards are typically used for animated film and television, and video games.  They can sometimes be directly translated 1:1 into the final film.

Beat Boards

Also referred to as shooting boards at times, beat boards are used to map the major beats of a scene. Unlike continuity boards, additional panels for acting and posing aren’t as necessary as they are primarily used for live action scenes where the actors will have their own interpretation of the character.

Pitch Boards 

A subset of beat boards, pitch boards are often used for commercial pitches. They are typically more rendered and may include color.

Storyboard Artist vs Storyboard Revisionist

Within the last 20 years a new position has become available for entry level storyboard artists: the Storyboard Revisionist.

A storyboard revisionist is a type of clean up artist for storyboards. After a storyboard has been submitted to a supervisor or director, the original artist may have to move into a different scene or project. It is the storyboard revisionists job to take any notes and revise the storyboards. Because the revised storyboards may need to match the style of the original artist, the revisionist position is often a more technical position. However, it is also a great way for newer artists to gain experience in production, while building up their skills and resume.

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