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Animation Storyboarding: Step-by-Step Guide 2021

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Storyboarding your 3D animation can help you nail down the story, saving filmmakers time, money, and stress before the production process begins.

Animators, animation studios and motion graphics people share a secret weapon: the storyboard. It's a vital tool for anyone working in the animation industry that helps you get crystal clear on the storyline before you dive headfirst into cinematography.

Storyboard pros know that storyboarding has countless benefits. It'll help you break down your story into thumbnails then sort them into a sensible flow – ensuring your story's perfectly paced. And it'll force you to start visualizing your final output, thinking about the likes of camera movements, special effects, and more.

In this step-by-step tutorial, we'll show you how to go about creating a top-notch storyboard that'll level up your production process. And we'll throw in a free storyboard template for good measure, too.

History of the animation storyboard

A storyboard is super similar to a comic book – a series of drawings accompanied by a little bit of text, where each drawing represents a specific part of your animated film. Storyboarding became popular in filmmaking back in the 1930s thanks to the OG storyboard artist, Webb Smith, who turned it into something of an art form.

Smith, an animator at Walt Disney Studios, started drawing rough sketches of frames on different bits of paper, then stuck them up on a wall to communicate a sequence of events. Many years later, bigwigs at the likes of Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar still follow the same process when cooking up box office-busting feature films.

Walt Disney in front of the Pinocchio storyboard

Why it's important to storyboard your animation

Being a storyboard artist in animation is a biiig challenge. You're in charge of cinematography, illustration, character design, prop design, backgrounds design… the list goes on.

When your mind's buzzing with an idea, it can be tempting to dive straight into filmmaking. But if you don't know where you're headed, you risk drawing yourself into a corner. Making a pre-production plan is going to make the whole process a lot easier. That's where storyboarding comes in.

Storyboarding is where you take your kernel of an idea and reproduce it in image form. You can use it to detail things like establishing shots (so that your viewers know where you are) or close-ups (where you show an in-depth view of a person, object or situation). As well as being important for animation filmmaking, it applies to other film genres, too – even our mate James Bond and his live-action films.

Make sure that each image on your storyboard contains enough information for people to understand what's going on, but not so much that it masks the most important details.

Three things to remember

  • Your storyboard is a rough outline of your animation. You should dedicate each of the storyboard panels to an important moment in the story.
  • The storyboarding process has two main goals: ensuring you have everything you need before you start the production process, and doing it in an efficient way so that you don't have to spend time fixing things afterwards in Photoshop.
  • A storyboard is every board artist's friend. It'll show you if you've missed some necessary details in the script, or if something only works in text but not visually.

How to create a professional storyboard for your animation

1. Set up your storyboard

  • Go to your Boords dashboard, click New project and name it after your animation
  • You'll be prompted to create a new storyboard – you can name that after your animation, too
  • Click Create storyboard

2. Customize your fields

You can use custom fields to add extra information and keep all your ideas in one place. We recommend adding a Notes field and using a nifty custom icon.

  • Click the settings cog to open the storyboard settings menu
  • Add Notes and any other new fields that'll be useful for your planning. For example, you might want to add a field about camera angle, sorting shots by:

  • Worm's eye (low) view to make your character seem powerful

  • Eye level (regular) view for normal shots

  • Bird's eye (high) view to make your character seem vulnerable

  • You may also want to add a field dedicated to camera moves, like:

  • Panorama shots (a camera move where we move the viewer from left to right or right to left, vertically or diagonally)

  • The cut (try to get as close as possible to show whatever's most important at that moment while still leaving enough room for any action that might happen in that scene)

Pro-tip: Skip the setup and start with ready-made free animation storyboard template..

3. Add a storyboard panel for each moment

  • Break up your storyline into important parts of the story, with a frame for each
  • You can also use a new frame for each new camera angle as you switch between points of view
  • Label each frame so you can understand it at a glance

4. Add illustrations

Add a simple illustration in each frame to help tell the story. Emphasise each moment, and think about how your character feels about it.

Don't worry if you're not a pro board artist – a simple sketch is fine. There's also a tonne of stock images and handy illustrations in Boords' image editor.

  • Click Edit
  • Upload your own image, add a stock image or use the drawing tool to sketch
Get familiar with the basics of storytelling. We'll show you how to tell a masterful story by doing your research, inspiring people, knowing your audience, and editing like a boss. You'll also learn about our favorite movie franchise, Rocky. Learn more.

5. Add notes

Leave more information in the Notes field of each frame to give more context. You can also show what a character's thinking with thought bubbles. Try to include any details that your production team will need to know.

6. Rearrange the frames

Now that you've got the entire story laid out, take a step back and check that everything flows correctly. Drag and drop frames if you need to tweak the order.

7. Create an animatic

You might find it helpful to review the story in animatic form. Click Animatic to convert your images directly from storyboard format to an animatic.

Your animatic will be arranged into a timeline with the position of each frame marked by a grey dot. Easy.

8. Ask for feedback

After you've finished your storyboard, you can show it to other people for feedback.

  • Click Share in the top right of the screen
  • Copy the presentation link
  • Send the link to people for feedback
  • Optional: click Manage people to give people editing access

What next?

We've got plenty more articles that can help with your animation craft. Have a sniff around our blog, or check out some suggestions below:

Become a pro story artist with Boords

Boords is the simple, powerful way to storyboard your next blockbuster animation.

Try Boords today for free. We can't wait to see what you make!

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Storyboarding in filmmaking is the process of creating a visual representation of a movie.

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