What is a storyboard?

A storyboard is a outline or design of an idea which is to be filmed. Usually a sequence of hand-drawn frames, the aspect ratio of the frame conforming to whichever device the film will be shown on. Most of the time this is 16×9, or standard television screen. A storyboard will make decisions about camera angle, type of shot, positions and emotions of characters, choreograph movement. In short, allow the director to plan their film before shooting. This minimises costs on set. The faster you shoot, the less you pay actors, catering, gaffers and yourself.

Storyboards are often simple pencil sketches, although full colour is useful. They can be turned into animatics which are half static, half animated films positioned between a storyboard and the final film. Another useful tool if you have the time (and have to show the storyboard/animatic to whoever is paying you, to convince them of your vision). Directors sometimes ask their artists to be well versed with Storyboard Pro software, or at least to be working digitally, thinking it will allow for changes. Although I like working with traditional materials and can make changes easily with them, I mostly use Photoshop and Procreate these days.

A superhero heats up a man's coffee with laserbeam eyes. Storyboard.
Storyboard frame for Motorpoint TV commercial. Equinox Films. View the finished commercial here.

How do I work with a storyboard artist?

Your storyboard artist will be expecting to be told what to do to a fine level of detail. When a client contacts me I am quickly connected to the director, who will send me the brief. And a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Sometimes I am asked to sign over my copyright of the artwork although this is unnecessary. Copyright should be sold separately, if at all, and I advise against it. Clients have been know to insist however and at the back of my mind is the worry that the next artist will blithely hand it over.

The director sends a script, pertinent reference in the form of a swish PDF known in London circles at least as “the deck.” I ask not to be sent EVERYTHING, keep it concise as I do not want to wade through four versions of the script and other extraneous material. Once I have reviewed this I call the director and we go through it frame by frame, me making small thumbnail sketches. I’ll then draw better sketches (or “scamps”) of each frame, to size, and send them for approval. The director may ask to zoom in or out a few times, flip a frame, or entirely start over with a couple, and then I’m producing the final art. This, whether traditionally drawn or digitally, is emailed to the client before the often fast-approaching deadline. Missing deadlines is the main taboo. Throughout this process your artist ought to be amenable to making any amount of changes – indeed, be expecting to – and if they get surly and protectionist over their pre-production sketches you should find another artist. Long ago I learned to leave my ego at the door of whichever agency I was walking into, instead noting with interest the problems they found with the storyboards, if any, were often different to the ones I found, like badly-drawn hands or a too-masculine heroine.

If the deadline is tight please call or text first but expect good-humoured service all the way. An experienced storyboard artist thrives on late nights, cancelling social plans and fielding unbriefed changes. Sharpening the Palomino Blackwing or booting up the iPad and relishing the prospect of an all-nighter (and an excuse to order a takeaway) your storyboard artist will not let you down. For more information about my storyboard artwork, please click here.

Storyboards for Colman’s Season and Shake. Featuring chef Tony Tobin. For Karmarama, 2011. View the finished commercial here.