What is a Storyboard & How Do You Create One

What is a Storyboard & How Do You Create One

14 min read
Illustration of a white pen on a blue and purple background

Discover what a storyboard is and learn how to create your own with the right software applications for film, videos, and more.

You need to start with a plan when producing interactive media projects such as films, videos, or presentations. A storyboard is a blueprint that brings your project to life, so learning how to create one and which tools to use is essential.

What is a Storyboard & How Do You Create One

A storyboard is most commonly known as the starting point for film production. These are created during the pre-production phase to help the story department and production team thinks through all the ins and outs of the sequence of events and how these will be presented. The film storyboard visually represents every moment to enable effective production design.

However, the storyboarding process is also used in many other fields and should be considered the first draft for any project with interactive events that form a narrative.

If you want to discover what storyboarding is, how to do it, and how this process can help you do your work, then keep reading. We will even cover nine storyboarding software tools to make the creative process more manageable.

What is a Storyboard?

As we’ve mentioned, it’s the visual representation of a film made up of a series of images or illustrations. Movie storyboards graphically organize the sequence of events to plan the narrative and every shot and angle meticulously. The story department uses this as a tool for production design, ensuring that the live-action film production is less costly and more focused.

But storyboards are not only used by film directors during the pre-production phase. They are also used to craft advertising campaigns for commercial advertising clients and to create videos, motion graphics, animations, or business presentations. You can even craft construction storyboards to design new structures.

Storyboards are widely used to describe and present interactive events because they allow you to make crucial decisions that help you decide on the value of all significant activities during execution. Keep in mind that even a few minutes of screen time can mean months of work. With storyboards, less trial and error could result in non-value added costs.

And don’t worry - you don’t need to be a professional storyboard artist to get going.

Using sketches, you can take a piece of paper and build a hand-drawn storyboard. A rudimentary version of this is known as a thumbnail storyboard. Or you can create a digital storyboard with photographs and illustrations.

Storyboards should not be confused with presentation boards. Presentation boards are used by architects, interior designers, and graphic designers to communicate a single concept. It provides a visual overview of the idea by specifying the concept's mood, theme, or spirit.

Storyboards differ from presentation boards as they represent actions over time - a sequence of events that together form a narrative.

The father of special effects, Georges Méliès, is one of the first filmmakers to use storyboards. Still, Walt Disney Studios pioneered movie storyboards as we know them today. Disney’s animator, Webb Smith, started drawing separate images on sheets of paper and pinning them next to each other on a board to illustrate the narrative, so storyboards were born.

Film director Alfred Hitchcock is also famous for his incredibly detailed storyboards during pre-production, ensuring that live-action film production goes smoothly. And the German director Bertolt Brecht used storyboards for his “fables.” This became a necessity for studios, given the cost of resources consumed during the production phase.

For more information on the history of storyboards, see Movie Storyboards: The Art of Visualizing Screenplays, published by Chronicle Books in San Francisco.

Storyboard images of a man and woman on a rug chased by white horses
Storyboard for Aladdin, Disney. Image source: Blogspot.com

The main benefits of storyboarding include:

  • Planning and polishing the narrative of a film
  • Enhanced communication with the creative team via visual illustration
  • Coming to grips with technical constraints such as lighting and camera angles
  • Saving time and money during production

Aside from film, storyboards can also be used for:

  • Business presentations - order your ideas for the development of client presentations.
  • Advertising campaigns - plan the creative executions for different elements of your campaign, such as videos.
  • User experience - create exceptional user experiences by employing the “brown paper technique,” which involves adding presentation slides in sequential versions to a big sheet of paper.
  • Construction - the design team and construction team join forces to create construction storyboards to prepare for the next structure they have to build.
Storyboard images of man in a cockpit
Star Wars storyboard. Image source: Unsplash

Storyboards are even used for software engineering to illustrate how something works, and architectural studios also use them to prepare client presentations.

Storyboards are generally used to deliver powerful presentation slides, create corporate video production, plan creative processes, and enable effective collaboration.

What’s not to love?

What Should You Include in a Storyboard?

First, a quality storyboard isn’t necessarily a hyper-detailed storyboard. You also don’t need design experience to create it.

When constructing storyboards, you should only include the information that moves the narrative forward, which consists of the central events and an idea of how this will be represented. Without this focus, you might end up with countless frames that fail to communicate the story.

The process could be as simple as taking post-its and writing slide titles on them. You can then replace these with draft presentation slides during creation.

Hand-drawn illustrated frames might also be sufficient for your needs, and advanced computer software can then be used later to enhance this draft presentation.

The content for a storyboard includes:

  • Main Events - the sequence of events needs to be captured by placing each occurrence in a frame or thumbnail (succinct representation, description, or summary). This communicates the relationships among activities, and you can represent movement with action lines or arrows.
  • Number Of Shots - every storyboard includes a shot list, where each frame must have a specific shot and camera angle. Indicate how the camera will move using arrows at the edge of each panel. An arrow pointing upwards will indicate tilting, while an arrow pointing sideways will indicate a pan.
  • Dialogue - write down any text that will be spoken or heard for each frame.
  • Special Effects - if any additional special effects will be added, such as visual or sound effects, you need to communicate this for each frame.

Every storyboard consists of the following elements:

  • Panels/Frames - these are the individual cells that sequentially represent every moment in the production or presentation. The series of frames are usually small rectangular or square boxes.
  • Imagery - each frame contains a visual representation of what’s happening at that moment. The images can be hand-drawn, original photos, illustrations, stock images, or even a combination of these.
  • Content Descriptors - using titles and captions to explain each moment in more detail is part of the planning process. You can indicate any speech or dialogue that will feature in the frame, and add further direction regarding the action, shot list, camera angle or movement, etc.

When all these elements come together, you get something like this:

Anime storyboard images
Storyboard of the anime Jin-Roh the Wolf Brigade. Image source: Halcyonrealms.com

The Process of Creating Your Own Storyboard

To create a quality storyboard, you need to follow this storyboarding process:

  1. Cut Up The Script
  2. Generate Blank Panels
  3. Add Text Notes
  4. Create Your Visuals
  5. Hear What Others Think
  6. Produce An Animatic
  7. Post-Production Storyboarding

1. Cut Up the Script

The script must be broken up according to individual actions that each frame can represent. Start your initial storyboard by segmenting the script to show the layout of events; then identify and number each action.

The numbers should match how you’ve numbered each storyboard frame. Also, ensure the accompanying text is included in each frame to organize each action with the relevant wording.

If several minor actions fall under a more general action, you can focus on the overarching event and include details in the description. Otherwise, you could end up with countless frames that fail to capture the main narrative.

2. Generate Blank Panels

Create a grid that will function as your wireframe. The series of frames tell the story, and you can find different pre-prepared storyboard templates online that can be customized to suit your needs.

Pay attention to whether the frames you use are in the correct aspect ratio. This guarantees that your drawings have the correct proportions and match what you see in the film.

“Aspect ratio” is a photography and design term. It simply refers to the relationship between an image's width and length, represented using “image: length.” For example, Instagram Stories works with a ratio of 9:16, whereas it’s standard for widescreen videos to be 16:9.

Aside from the white space where you insert your image or drawings, you also need a dedicated note space to insert any additional information and the script segment related to that specific action.

3. Add Text Notes

Each panel must include notes that describe the action represented in the frame. Make sure this matches how the script has been broken down per image, and also include any dialogue or narration that corresponds to that action. This will clarify the relationships among activities.

Number your scenes and panels to ensure accurate correspondence and planning. If your storyboard is longer than a page, you should number each page to avoid any confusion.

Articulate what the background and setting of each scene are or whether there is a character on screen. You must also include directions regarding the shot list to specify camera movement and angles.

Storyboard images of an airplane chase
Storyboard for the film Thunderball, 1965. Image source: The Atlantic

4. Create Your Visuals

This is the essential part of the storyboarding process, as it involves the creative work of visualizing how each action should be represented. This doesn’t require the skilltoward expert illustrator, as a simple hand-drawn storyboard can go a long way towards capturing the style and meaning of each moment.

The focus here is on conveying as much crucial information as possible rather than rendering detailed storyboard images.

For the initial storyboard, you can take a piece of paper and use rough sketches, line art, or a series of photos to explain the action occurring in detail - where everyone is, how they will move, and what the camera will be doing, i.e., the shot list which specifies camera movement, angles, and framing.

Popular storyboarding methods include creating an initial draft called a thumbnail storyboard. It consists of quick, rough sketches that are no bigger than a thumbnail. These drawings are also usually no more than stick figures.

Once you’ve finalized the first draft with a thumbnail storyboard, you can move on to another popular storyboarding method, such as 3D storyboards. Online storyboarding tools can help you with this.

But remember, a 3D storyboard isn’t necessary. The central aim is a detailed storyboard that includes all vital information.

The key aesthetic components to keep in mind include:

  • Focus - What is the focus of each frame?
  • Transitions - How will you transition from one frame to the next?
  • Continuity - Is there proper flow and detail tracking from one frame to the next?
  • Lighting - What will the lighting be for each frame, and how will you transition into lighting for the next frame?

Look at emerging video and motion graphics trends for inspiration on fresh approaches to motion graphics trends.

While most storyboards are black and white, you can also add a color palette if hues play a significant role in how each frame is represented. You can spend time developing a color script to explore this component color script more deeply.

5. Hear What Others Think

Since your storyboard will direct and shape your project, making it clear and accessible to everyone who will use it during the creative process is essential. This includes the film director, camera operators, concept designers, clients, animators, etc.

This is the time to perfect and polish the cinematography and storyline, so get as much input on your current storyboard as possible to see if you need to revise earlier versions.

6. Produce an Animatic

You have likely seen an animatic under the special features of a feature film DVD.

Once the final storyline is pinned down, you can create a more impactful storyboard through production animatics. The animation of scenes allows you to check the look and feel of different components running in tandem.

Even simple zoom and pans using non-linear editing software can help you achieve this. And with animation programs, you can place the frames on a timeline and add an initial soundtrack with some rough camera movements to see whether all the elements work well together. Add composite photo animations for more detailed images, and include subtitles to represent the speech.

The process of production animatics is particularly useful when it comes to determining the pace of your video. This way, you can get a clearer idea of how to time your transitions between frames and your soundtrack.

7. Post-Production Storyboarding

There are also times when storyboarding occurs in post-production. This usually happens when the production staff realizes they need to capture more footage during the editing process. Storyboard frames will represent the missing shots to help the production team visualize the narrative.

It is also used when 3D animation is required for certain shots. The production staff will insert placeholders to guide the animation team.

Storyboard Tools

Software development has come a long way. You can enhance your earlier versions with online storyboarding tools; you can enhance your earlier versions by creating digital storyboards and animating them with specialized software.

So, let’s look at some examples for both beginners and more experienced creatives that will stimulate ideas on storyboards.

Canva - For Free & Simple Storyboard Templates

This piece of software is an image library, providing visual creation tools that are perfect for exploring ideas on storyboards. With this visual studio’s extensive selection of free storyboard templates, you can find the exact look and feel you need for the project you’re working on - and you don’t have to be a professional storyboard artist to do it, either.

Plug in the images or project files - whether these are a series of photos or stock images - and text for a professional-looking storyboard. This visual studio is an excellent video medium as you can easily craft the storyline, making it suitable for developing client presentations.

Studiobinder - For Customized Storyboarding

Say goodbye to hand-drawn illustrated frames and hello to an online storyboard application that allows users to upload images and customize the shot list details, layout, and aspect ratio. This visual studio even comes equipped with shot list software, allowing you to open up the storyboard as a fullscreen slideshow to create presentation slides with a punch.

This software is free if you only use a limited number of panels per project, and it only costs $29 per month to access the full service.

Vectornator - For Creative Freedom

Vectornator’s vector-based tools make it ideal for experienced designers who expect more freedom. If you’re a designer looking for advanced computer software that will give you the power to create richer, more detailed images, Vectornator is the tool for you. You can customize, edit, or create your own brushes for truly spectacular illustrations. And with its auto-trace technology, you no longer have to trace by hand.

Vectornator runs on all your Apple devices, which means you can continue working while on the move using your iPhone or iPad. And since it’s free, you have every reason to give it a go!

FrameForge - For Sophisticated Shot Work

If you’re looking for a storyboard software application that goes beyond thumbnail storyboards and provides optically-correct shots which are technically advanced, FrameForge is the answer. Each service bundle is priced according to the complexity of the features.

Now you can create a helpful, optically-correct storyboard where every level includes virtual cameras that capture optically-correct shots. The higher-end options allow users to define the precise equipment specs for cranes and dollies. You can even accurately calculate sun positioning and execute exact lighting for every shot on your shot list, making this an excellent tool for crafting detailed storyboards film directors will find incredibly useful in drafting a film storyboard.

The price for this advanced computer software ranges from $399 - $899 based on the package.

ShotPro (iOS) - For 3D Storyboarding

To create more elaborate storyboard images, you can always generate 3D storyboards. ShotPro is built for the iPad; add a structure sensor to scan objects, people, and locations which are imported as 3D representations to insert into your 3D storyboard.

For only $39, you can turn your current storyboard into a 3D storyboard that gives you dramatic shots and an even more realistic idea of what the final product will look like.

Prolost Boardo - For After Effects

This after-effects plugin allows you to animate your storyboard and add special effects to your images. You will need to generate your images in outside software to do this. Vector-based drawings on an iPad using Astro Pad or Noteshelf will work well. Combine these completed sketches in After Effects/Boardo to produce animated boards that can be exported as videos.

For a more straightforward animation method, you can always look for theme animations that are free, ready-made, and customizable.

This visual studio software starts at $30 and is perfect for enhancing your storyboard with sound effects, visual effects, and animation.

Clip Studio Paint - For 2D Animation Programs

While Windows has animation software that enables simple functions like moving the storyboard to the specified animation position, Clip Studio Paint takes 2D animation to the next level.

This graphic design software is one of the animation programs used mainly by comic artists or illustrators. With 2D storyboarding programs, you can draw more detailed illustrations and then style or color them. The drawings can then be arranged sequentially in the software for the animation of scenes.

Clip Studio Paint is popular in 2D animation studios because it makes the animation process much more manageable. Whether you need to work on still images, camera angles and movement, or audio tracks, this software lets you do everything in one application, generating a detailed storyboard that simplifies the storyboarding process.

You’ll need additional software if you want to create composite animations, which means you can combine multiple animations in one frame and work with them as a single unit. And if this animation software is a bit too complex for you, you can always use theme animations.

Start animating scenes with your 2D storyboarding program at $49-$219, depending on your desired features.

Procreate - For Mobile Storyboarding

This sketching, illustration, and painting storyboarding software is built for mobile devices. You will have access to 136 brushes and 50 customizable features designed for busy creative professionals. This visual studio also constantly auto-saves to guarantee no work is lost.

As a complete art studio, Procreate offers fast, intuitive creation that allows you to generate hyper-detailed storyboards with dramatic shots. And at only 10$, it’s worth a try!

Boords - For Non-Technical Users

The user-friendly nature of this storyboarding software makes it ideal for collaboration between team members of differing abilities. Easily add images and notes while specifying the lighting, sound, action, and camera details. It is perfect for beginners because you don’t need expert knowledge.

The accessible design of Boords gives you the confidence to get started quickly. And the tool even offers notes at the bottom to provide guidance per frame.

It costs $36 per month for the Studio package, $60 per month for the company package, and $120 per month for the Company Plus package.

Start Your Storyboarding Journey

With these storyboard creation tips in hand, you are well on your way toward discovering the benefits of storyboarding for the creation of interactive media projects.

You certainly don’t need to have design experience or be a full-fledged creative, graphic designer, or animation artist to dip your toe into the possibility pool.

While the storyboarding process is necessary for studios because of the cost of resources consumed during production, it is also helpful for presenting interactive events - business presentations, crafting exceptional user experiences, corporate video production, advertising campaigns, and conceptualizing the consumer experience - the benefits of storyboarding cut across numerous fields.

If you are still a beginner, we recommend starting with simple and sophisticated software such as Vectornator.

Download Vectornator to Get Started

Take your designs to the next level.

For experienced creatives, we believe that more specialized software will deliver the results you’re looking for. So, whether you want to start animating your storyboards, create a helpful, optically-correct storyboard, or focus on 3D storyboards, there is a tool to make it happen.

We hope this short guide on storyboarding will get you started or help you keep going as you discover all the wonderful possibilities of storytelling.

Illustration of a white pen on a blue and purple background
Illustration of a white pen on a blue and purple background

What to read next

Press ESC to close.