At first glance, a storyboard could be mistaken for a comic strip - but while a comic strip is the end product in itself, a storyboard is an intermediate step in animation and film making. It’s a fundamental part of the pre-production process.
The purpose of a storyboard is to help communicate your vision for a video. It sets out how you want the final production to flow and in doing so, it simplifies the entire creative process. Although a storyboard may take some time to create in the beginning, it will save you time (and money!) in the long run. Just as you wouldn’t set off on a trip without a road map, it’s never a good idea to begin a video without a storyboard.
Whether you’re just starting out with your first storyboard or you're a seasoned pro, there are some key storyboarding terms that you should be aware of. To help give your vocabulary a new lease of life, we’ve compiled an extensive list of the most common storyboarding terms that you’re likely to come across.
A storyboard template from Boords
Creating a storyboard with pen & paper is a lot more straightforward with a storyboard template! These templates can be downloaded and printed out, and act as the foundation for a hand-drawn storyboard. They outline a specified number of frames and generally include empty slots for scene, shot and page numbers.
16:9 is the standard for widescreen video
Aspect ratio refers to the relationship between the width and the height of an image. In essence, it defines the shape of the image. Aspect ratios are written as two numbers with a colon (:) separating them. The first number represents the width of the image, while the second number refers to the height.
Some common aspect ratios include the following:
A storyboard is divided into individual frames, which are represented as square or rectangular boxes. Each frame depicts a specific moment or event in the story. Your storyboard can be made up of as many or as few frames as you like – just make sure to include enough frames to make it easy to follow the flow of actions throughout the story.
A shot is a series of continuous actions and is typically made up of a sequence of frames. In a storyboard, shots can be numbered in various different ways, depending on the message that you’re trying to communicate.
The most basic option is to label frames in numerical order (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4). This option works well when there’s just one frame for each shot. With more complex actions, however, you’ll generally need more than one frame to convey the action in the shot. Grouping frames together is an effective way of highlighting that certain frames are related to each other. This typically involves labelling frames under a single number, followed by a letter - for example, 1a, 1b, 1c.
In film making, it’s common to see shots labelled in increments of 10 (i.e. 010, 020, 030, 040). With this method, it’s easy to add new shots, as necessary. For example, if a new shot is added between 010 and 020, it would be labelled as 015.
In its initial stage, a storyboard should be made up of rough sketches. The process of creating these sketches is called scamping.
The purpose of a scamped storyboard is to help make sense of the story and quickly make changes, as needed. Simple stick figures are often enough to communicate the flow of a story. A scamped storyboard shouldn’t be viewed as a precious work of art!
Before creating a storyboard, you should start with a script. A script is essentially the text-based version of a visual storyboard. A script can be a simple piece of text, outlining the bare bones of what will happen in the story – or equally, it can be very complex and may describe transitions, voiceover and more information in great detail.
A shot list is a checklist that describes each individual shot in detail. It outlines what exactly will happen in the scene and what is required for the scene to be a success. It generally includes information such as the shot number, location, shot description, framing, dialogue, actors involved and props required. A shot list is used in combination with a storyboard.
Voiceovers (often shortened to V.O.) are commonplace in video production and for that reason, you’ll generally see this being referred to on a storyboard. In its simplest terms, a voiceover is a person reading from a script. Its function is to communicate the narrative for a piece of moving image. It’s important to note that the voiceover speaker isn’t visible on the screen.
Dialogue refers to a conversation that takes place between two or more characters in a story. It can help to convey information and reveal character traits, and is often used to help the viewer experience the action through the character’s eyes. Dialogue shows us what the character is feeling, rather than merely telling us.
Style frame from Tend
A style frame is a full-colour image that helps to establish the overall look of a piece of animation. A variety of different style frames are often shared with a client, giving them the opportunity to choose the style of video they’d like to opt for.
Sound effects are artificial sounds that are added to a production to enhance the illusion of reality in the scene. Examples of sound effects include a car horn sounding, birds singing or other subtle sounds in the background.
As the name suggests, background music is the music that accompanies a piece of moving image. While the music isn’t intended to be the main focus, it can be incredibly effective at enhancing an emotional response in the viewer.
An animatic from the animated film, Tend
An animatic is a series of images played in sequence, often with a soundtrack. In essence, it’s an animated storyboard.
In pre-production, creating an animatic is the step that comes after the storyboarding process. While a storyboard acts as a planning tool to communicate how the video will flow, an animatic is used to convey the timing of the finished piece.
For more insights on creating animatics, check out our Animatic Toolbox.
Layering is the process of setting up subjects within different layers of a frame. It helps to establish a sense of location, while also adding an element of depth to your images. Images often have a foreground, middle ground and background layer.
The foreground is highlighted in red
The foreground is the area closest to the viewer’s eye.
The middle ground is highlighted in yellow
The middle ground is the area in the centre of a frame. It sits between the background and the foreground.
The background is highlighted in blue
This is the area furthest from the viewer’s eye, behind both the foreground and the middle ground.
An overlay is when one element overlaps another, but both elements are still visible. Applying an overlay to your frames can help to add interest by creating a sense of depth.
Read our guide to the essential camera angles
There are many different ways to frame a subject in a shot, which can vary from showing the entire subject to fixating on one finer detail.
Some of the most common shot types include the following:
An establishing shot is often included at the beginning of a scene and helps to create context for what's to come.
This type of shot is used to frame the subject from head to toe.
A medium shot is sometimes referred to as a ¾ shot and generally shows the subject from the knees up.
With a close shot, the subject's head or face takes up almost all of the frame.
Extreme close shot
This shot is so close to the subject that only one specific detail, such as their eyes, can be seen.
An up shot is taken from below the eye-level of the subject, creating the illusion that the viewer is looking at them from below.
A down shot is taken from above the eye-level of the subject, which appears as though the viewer is looking at them from above.
Over the shoulder shot
This shot is taken from behind the shoulder of another character and generally frames the subject in a medium or close shot.
With a two shot, two characters are presented together within the same frame.
Point of view shot
Often referred to as a POV shot, a point of view shot is taken from the character's perspective and shows what they are looking at.
Read our guide to the most popular camera moves
Incorporating a variety of camera moves into your shots is a great way to add interest to your finished production.
Here are some well-known camera moves to keep in mind:
A zoom move gives the impression of moving closer to or away from the subject.
Panning involves moving the camera horizontally from one side to the other along a central axis.
With a tilt move, the camera stays in a stationary position and focuses on upwards and downwards movements.
A dolly shot is when the camera is mounted on a track and is moved towards or away from a subject.
Trucking involves moving the entire camera along a fixed point with the motion going from side to side.
A pedestal is when the camera ascends or descends in relation to a subject in the shot.
Check out our guide to video transitions
A video transition refers to the way that a scene or shot fuses together with the following one. There are many different transitions that can be used, with each one communicating a specific tone or mood. Using a certain type of transition can indicate a passage of time or help to separate parts of a story.
Here are some common transitions to consider:
This is when an image appears on screen gradually, beginning as a dark image and progressing to full brightness.
In contrast to a fade out, a fade in begins with an image in full brightness, which gradually gets darker and eventually fades to black.
A wash out is similar to fade out but instead of fading to black, it fades to white.
A dissolve is when one image is slowly replaced by an image in the next scene. Two common types are cross dissolves and ripple dissolves.
A cut is the point when one scene ends and another begins.
A jump cut is an abrupt transition that makes a subject appear to “jump” from one place to another, creating the illusion that they're jumping forward in time.
With a cutaway, the camera cuts away from the main action to a separate, secondary action, which is still related to the main action in some way.
This is a transition where one frame “wipes” out the other frame and replaces it with a new image. A clock wipe is a popular example.
An iris in is an effect where the image starts as a small circular area on screen and expands outwards to reveal the entire image.
Iris out (a.k.a. Iris wipe)
At first the entire image is in view, but from the outer corners, a contracting circle closes in, resulting in a black frame. This is often used to conclude a scene.
Although storyboarding is just one step in the pre-production phase, its value shouldn’t be underestimated. Being able to clearly communicate the vision for your video is an essential part of the process. With a firm grasp on the lingo, life will be so much easier as you begin your storyboarding journey!
Karen Mc Guinness is a Customer Success Specialist at Boords. Originally from Ireland, she currently works from sunny Greece.