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Storyboards

Storyboarding, the process of previsualizing your film on paper, is a very powerful way of visually planning your film before you start shooting. Some filmmakers, like M Night Shyamalan, put a great deal of effort into their storyboards. On The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan had planned every single frame before he started shooting.Ridley Scott is another talented and successful director who quite often draws his own images to convey what a scene should look like. These pictures have become known as ‘Ridleygrams’. When he was making Alien (1979), 20th Century Fox was so impressed with the quality and detail of Ridley Scott’s storyboards that they substantially increased the budget of the film.

When you’re making a film, storyboards are an effective way to communicate the composition of shots to both your actors and crew. This video is an in-depth look at how to create storyboards for a film, covering: how to make effective use of shotlists to make storyboarding efficient; how to make storyboards using a digital camera or smart phone like the iPhone; storyboarding apps for the iPhone; making digital storyboards using templates in Celtx and Apple Pages; how to create traditional pen and paper storyboards; how to draw faces, eyes, noses and mouths; strategies for improving your drawing skills.

Before you storyboard, it’s a great idea to complete a shot list, this gives you an opportunity to experiment with the sequencing of shots before committing yourself to the time consuming process of drawing storyboards. A shot list is simply that – a list of all of the shots in your film. When you have completed your screenplay, a shot list is a great way to imagine how it will look on the screen. This is what a shot list might look like in Microsoft Excel. It’s useful to have the following columns: scene number, shot number, duration, shot size, location and description. Completing your shot list in a spreadsheet is a great idea because after you have printed a chronological list of the shots in your film, you can sort the rows by location. This is particularly useful if you’re shooting in a number of different places. When you’re shooting your film, it’s a great idea to print another copy of your shot list so you can cross each shot off after it’s completed. There’s nothing more frustrating and time consuming to organise additional shoots to pick up material you missed the first time around. A shot list is a surefire way to avoid this. This Google Docs shot list template allows you to choose shot size and duration from drop down menus. Clicking on the ‘Share’ button allows multiple people to collaborate on the same shot list at once.

Digital storyboarding

You don’t need to be a great artist to create storyboards. These days almost everyone has a digital camera in their pocket which can make storyboarding quick and lots of fun. When you’re previsualising your film with a digital camera or a smart phone, I’d recommend using the actual location. This means you’re forced to think about what filmmakers call ‘blocking’. You get a clear sense of where your actors are going to stand, where the camera is going to be positioned and how you’re going to compose shots. There are a number of apps—for iOS and Android—that make previsualising a whole lot of fun. Cinemek Storyboard Composer, for example,  is a great way to easily storyboard your film—allowing you to take take a photo, pan and zoom, play your storyboards back and export the finished document to a PDF.

Digital storyboard templates

If you’re using a digital camera to storyboard your film, there are a bunch of applications with great templates to help you out.

Celtx is free screenwriting software that also features a storyboarding component. When you open your screenplay, click on the ‘Add’ button and select ‘Storyboards’. Click the ‘Add Images’ button and select your photographs. Beneath the storyboards, there’s a handy drop down menu and space for typing additional notes.

Apple’s Pages also has a brilliant storyboarding template. When you launch the program, click on ‘Miscellaneous’ in the Template Chooser and double click on ‘Storyboard’. Adding images is simply a matter of dragging and dropping them directly into the document. If you want to change the positioning of an image, double click to move and resize the picture. When you’re done, hit ‘Enter’.

Using Post-It Notes

If you’re sticking with pencil and paper, post-It notes are a great way to storyboard, allowing you to quickly sketch out and sequence a scene. The advantage of using this method for storyboarding is that it’s highly collaborative and very easy to move the notes around when you’re working on your ideas. It’s also possible to buy Post-It notes that are roughly the size of a widescreen frame.

Drawing storyboards

Of course, the quickest way to storyboard your film is using a pencil and paper. Although you might not be too confident at drawing, just imagine how much better you’ll be when you’ve finished storyboarding your first film. Here are some storyboard templates to get you started:

16:9 Storyboard Template (four to a page)

16:9 Storyboard Template (eight to a page)

So what makes a good storyboard? In my opinion, good storyboards are quick, clear and simple. They show emotion, they show movement and—most importantly—they give your cast and crew a clear sense of how shots should be composed.

To draw storyboarding, you’re going to need a few pencils, mainly an HB but it’s also helpful to have a 2B or 4B sitting around if you want to give your lines greater definition. It’s also helpful to have an eraser and pencil sharpener at hand.

It’s a good idea to work from  reference photos of your actors or images from the internet when you’re drawing. This can make your illustrations more accurate and realistic. Start off by lightly sketching the basic shape of what you’re drawing. Once you’ve got that right, you can fill in the shadows with a darker pencil. Don’t be afraid to erase any errors. Even professionals don’t get it right the first time.

Drawing faces

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When it comes to storyboards, faces are often one of the most difficult things to draw. To make it easier, it helps to have a basic understanding of how the human face is structured.

When you’re drawing a face, remember the following:

  • Start off with an upside down egg.
  • Draw a line down the centre to help keep the face symmetrical.
  • Diving the face in half gives you the position of the eyes. As a general rule, the face is five eyes wide and there is a space of one eye in the middle.
  • If you divide the bottom half of the face in two, this will give you the position of the nose.
  • Divide it in half again and you’ve got the position of the lips.
  • Ears extend from your eyes down to your nose.
  • The hairline is usually halfway between your eyes and the top of your head.
  • The width of your lips is typically the same distance between your pupils.

Drawing eyes

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Drawing eyes is also pretty simple if you keep a few simple rules in mind.

  • Start off by drawing an oval shape with a triangular tear duct in the corner.
  • The iris and the pupil are round and there’s often a small gap between the iris and the bottom eye lid.
  • The top of the iris is usually covered by your top eyelid.
  • The iris is a series of lines that extend out from the pupil.
  • Don’t forget to add a couple of highlights to make it look like it’s reflecting light.
  • Another important thing to remember is that a shadow is usually cast by the upper eyelid.
  • Eye lashes are usually sparse on the bottom eyelid and much stronger on top.

Drawing noses

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Drawing noses can be a little tricky—but there are a few rules to help you out when you have to draw one!

  • Keep in mind the shape of the underside of the nose, remembering that the nostrils cast shadows underneath.
  • The nostrils are like hooks that extend out from the middle of the nose.
  • Remember that light bounces off the middle of your nose, the nostrils and the bridge, creating highlights.

Drawing lips

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Now some hints and tips to help you draw lips properly…

  • Make sure you remember the basic shape of lips. The upper lip is usually very thin and shaped like an elongated ‘M’—which some people call ‘Cupid’s Bow’ presumably because it kind of, uh, looks like a bow.
  • The bottom lip is much thicker than the top and casts a shadow on the chin.
  • Don’t forget the vertical groove between the lips and the nose which—and here’s a piece of trivia—is called the ‘Philtrum’.
  • Another thing to remember is that there are usually highlights on the bottom lip.

Improving your drawing

Filmmaking is a visual endeavor and there are times when you’ll have to express your ideas with little more than a pencil and paper. To improve your drawing skills, I recommend drawing frequently and checking out the numerous books available on how to draw faces and figures. Always have reference photos when you’re drawing your actors. Sketch out basic shapes lightly, then add the midtones, shadows and highlights. Remember that good storyboards are quick, clear and simple. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.

Storyboard Bootcamp

Want to improve your storyboarding skills? Download and print off these templates and compete against the clock to become a better storyboard illustrator. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect…just do your best. Remember, your storyboarding skills will only improve with practice!

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Storyboarding Activities

Want to practice your storyboarding skills but don’t have a film idea at the moment? Have a go at storyboarding these short sequences!

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