Wes Anderson's 5 Best Storyboards & the Stories Behind Them

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Wes Anderson is a US filmmaker of live-action and animated films. From his debut Bottle Rocket to his latest film, The French Dispatch, the director's ten films have grossed nearly $500 million at the box office worldwide.

His work has also received high praise for its distinctive visual and narrative style. We'll take a look at the storyboards for half his body of work to see just how much of the typical Wes Anderson we can find.

Looking for something different? Check out some of our favourite Pixar storyboards.

Storyboards for Wes Anderson's movies

Hailed as an auteur by critics, Wes Anderson works as a screenwriter, director and producer with close control over his films to achieve a level of symmetry and eccentricity bordering on the obsessive. Apart from his first and latest film, his catalogue of work is available on Netflix for your lockdown viewing pleasure.

The French Dispatch was scheduled to debut in Cannes in 2020, but the Coronavirus cancelled those plans. Not discouraged, the director shared a pandemic playlist of his own in an NYT interview, in which he included titles such as Alice Adams, Do The Right Thing, and La Grande Bouffe.

Let's look at some of Wes Anderson's top movies to see how his style shines through in the storyboards.

The animated storyboards of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Upon its release in 2014, Wes Andersons' The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. In 2020, the film was added to The Criterion Collection.

The Criterion release on Blu-ray comes with a range of special features including:

  • The Making Of, a documentary about the film
  • New audio commentary featuring Anderson, filmmaker Roman Coppola, critic Kent Jones, and actor Jeff Goldblum
  • Video essays by critic Matt Zoller Seitz and film scholar David Bordwell

An absolute highlight are the storyboard animatics; these are 25 minutes of animated storyboards for the following selected scenes:

  • Introduction
  • Washer Woman
  • Killing of Kovacs
  • Prison Escape
  • Gabelmeister's Peak
  • Hotel Show-Down

Thanks to entertainment website, Polygon, and The Criterion Channel, you can watch the animated introduction.

Director Wes Anderson made storyboard animatics for The Grand Budapest Hotel to map out the scenes for filming each shot

As it appears in the finished film, the hotel is in a shabby state during the introduction. It was shot in Germany on location and at Babelsberg Studios. You can already begin to appreciate the ornate visual environments and stunning cinematography by Robert Yeoman.

All of Wes Anderson's trademarks are there: symmetric, balanced composition and centred shots, an illustrative style, a storybook tale, and a first-person narrator.

The Royal Tenenbaums

2001's Oscar-nominated The Royal Tenenbaums is a wry family study, set in New York, that's both hilarious and melancholic. The dysfunctional Tenenbaum family is a perfect example of Wes Anderson's characters: emotionally fragile, often acting inappropriately, but still winning the audience over because their flaws make them human.

In The Royal Tenenbaums, children behave like adults and adults like children

Since their childhood defines the characters, Wes Anderson tells the story from the perspective of a child. The storybook style becomes apparent in the opening, where we see The Royal Tenenbaums as a literal book.

The Royal Tenenbaums as a library book

The exposition that follows is presented almost like storyboards themselves, feeding the audience information to understand the characters as adults. Cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, helped Anderson work out the distinct visual style for live-action films.

The movie begins with a storybook prologue which almost looks like storyboards

The "storybook motif" of The Royal Tenenbaums consists of a voice-over narration, on-screen captions like in a picture book, symmetrical and flat compositions, and a diorama-like presentation of scenes, which Anderson later repeated in The Life Aquatic.

On-screen text in the prologue of The Royal Tenenbaums

Example of a flat, symmetrical composition in The Royal Tenenbaums

Isle of Dogs

Released in 2018, Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson's second animated film after Fantastic Mr Fox. It was co-written by Roman Coppola, just like Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited. It's also Anderson's second collaboration with storyboard artist, Jay Clarke.

Wes Anderson wanted the Isle of Dogs storyboards to look like Japanese woodcuts

Because there are no takes in animation, Jay Clarke was aware that animators required extreme detail. Wes Anderson wanted to storyboard Isle of Dogs in chronological order and referenced Akira Kurosawa, who was known for his actor choreography, silhouetted framing, and dwarfing characters against a backdrop. The director also demanded that the film's storyboards look like Japanese woodblock prints and include Japanese text.

Comparison of Isle of Dogs storyboards and movie stills

Another source of inspiration were the Dutch angles of Citizen Kane. Clarke merged all of these with Wes Anderson's cinematography to produce storyboard panels with camera movement directions, all without using arrows. Because of this and the shot-by-shot approach, Clarke had to think far ahead. He also somehow managed to make Trash Island visually appealing in the movie.

Animatics for Isle of Dogs

A supercut showing symmetry in Isle of Dogs

Moonrise Kingdom

The 2012 follow-up to the animated film, Fantastic Mr Fox, was very much influenced by aspects of stop-motion, namely storyboarding. As Wes Anderson said, Mr Fox was carefully storyboarded and then edited before shooting. Though Moonrise Kingdom is a live-action film, his approach was much the same.

The scenes were drawn, cut together and edited with a soundtrack. In many cases, when Wes Anderson wanted to build elaborate things or create places that don't exist in reality, the storyboard helped to figure out the fit, construction and shooting.

Thanks again to the Criterion Collection, you can watch selected scene storyboard animatics. You can also see Anderson in the process of scouting locations, which he did in person, but also using Google Earth.

Bottle Rocket

Bottle Rocket was screened as a short film at Sundance in 1994 and caught producer, Polly Platt's attention. When she showed it to Jim Brooks, the filmaking careers of Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and Luke Wilson began.

Anderson's first feature film was released in 1996 and is about three young guys in Texas doing petty theft while dreaming about big heists. Yet any plot synopsis of Bottle Rocket will fall short of describing this humorous movie.

Wes Anderson has never been edgier and less niche than in Bottle Rocket. Though the beginnings of his visual style were already apparent, he storyboarded the film himself, and it shows - take a look at this short side-by-side comparison!

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