How to Storyboard your film

A storyboard is a pictorial representation of the sequence of events in a film, depicting what’s happening from start to finish in a linear, graphical fashion. It can also be thought of as a flowchart for the plot or narrative. Step by step, it graphically unravels the order of activities through square/rectangular images. 

Each image is accompanied by notes of the particular shot and the dialogue or other important details happening in that scene. You can draw a storyboard via rough hand sketches or make a more professional design with computer-generated drawings. Some people refer to the storyboard kind of like the script’s comic book adaptation. 

The storyboard is a road map for video production. It is important for works of all kinds, be it something as simple as an ad or even as comprehensive as a feature film. It visually guides filmmakers through the process, illustrating what and how to create certain shots. 

The storyboard offers the first draft of the production, allowing you to make changes where and if necessary, to avoid doing that when the cameras start rolling. You can pinpoint problems that would have otherwise sneaked into filming. Storyboards also give you a feel of how your vision would look before footing the expenses of filming. 

Tools for Storyboarding your film

Using index cards

Index cards have long been a ubiquitous item across production offices. The modest 3”x5” is common paraphernalia in writers’ offices and has often been the launchpad for some incredible movies.

You don’t need to have Michelangelo skills to draw the perfect storyboard. The objective is to illustrate the main actors in the scene, important conversations, and a few essential details. Stick figures work just as well as detailed sketches.

The general rule of thumb is to keep it one scene per card. Start by noting down the scene number, then list characters on the left side of an index card, or whichever direction you prefer. Be sure to also include alongside it, the scene location. Also, what’s happening in that scene? You could write a synopsis at the top. 

That should preferably be about the length of one sentence. It could be something like: the hero gets pulled over by a skeptical cop about a broken tail light. You can flesh out the scene more with bullet points below the sentence. E.g. continuing with the above example: cop asks for registration, an altercation ensues, hero resists, & hero gets arrested, etc.

While a storyboard conforms to a certain order, you don’t have to pay attention to the arrangement at first. You can draw the storyboard out from the script as a guide or randomly draw up scene cards as fast as you can, according to what comes to mind. You can then organize the events later on once you’ve recorded the most important bits of the plot. Maybe shuffle the pack and place them all on a large table then join the order of events.

Once you have everything laid out, the big picture will come to mind. Read over each card after rearrangement to figure out if the progression is plausible. Ask yourself whether important scenes are missing or if anything seems misplaced. Your script may help readjust your story if unsure. It’s advisably the case that the script comes first so that it supports the illustration. However, some creatives may work back from a storyboard. They sketch down a rough idea for a film, then work out the script later, which many label as putting the cart before the horse.

Once all your index cards are in the right order you can tape them together on a story wall. If you didn’t follow an arrangement, tape each card one at a time as you’re working on them to avoiding overwhelming yourself. 

Relying on the power and convenience of software

You can take the digital route for a more professional look and convenience. There are many storyboard templates available on the interwebs. One you can try out is this one from Vyond

It breaks down each scene into several shots, which are further detailed by allowances for action, dialogue, and FX. The FX section is generally for the technical specifications of the shot. For example, you may want a certain camera movement or aspect ratio for a particular shot or scene, and you can stipulate that in the FX. Other details often described here include special effects, sound effects, shot type, and camera angle, among others.

Vyond is an online animation software that’s largely targeted towards digital marketing for businesses. But it has a selection of incredible storyboard templates that you may find useful. You can even rely on the CGI instead of having to come up with the sketches yourself. 

It’s a premium service but fortunately, there’s a 14-day free trial option available to newbies. But you may consider a subscription to gain access to important features. Or you can simply print out the template, which comes out in PDF format. That means you’ll have to handwrite or sketch over the structure because you can’t edit it in Word.

Storyboarder is a similarly affordable and helpful software you should consider. It is free and open-source, making it appealing for those on a limited budget. 

You can download it for free across Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. Add new boards with a click and doodle over them with a light or hard digital pencil, among other simple, sketch tools. Users can specify shot details in the right-hand description tabs, label shots according to a particular order or type, and lift, drag and reshuffle the boards as they please.

You can draw characters and shapes with ease and speed, including dialogue information. Moreover, you can animate your drawings to simulate scenes in simple sketches.

The upside about Storyboarder is that it links with Photoshop. It pairs seamlessly with the latter allowing you to directly edit on Storyboarder via Photoshop. What you work out on the editing software gets automatically updated on Storyboarder.

Additionally, the program offers provisions for similar collaborations with other editing software as well. It’s also really cool how you can transition physical paperwork into a digital format. The software allows users to download in-built worksheets, sketch on them by hand, then take a picture which is imported to your digital storyboard. 

Hiring a storyboard artist 

Storyboarding can be a complex and tedious process, and you can offload this part of pre-production to a talented and experienced professional. Once you have a significant script to work with, you can bring in an artist to turn your words into pictures.

When hiring a storyboard artist, there are a couple of things you’ll be looking at. The first and most important detail will be the artist’s portfolio. You’d want someone who demonstrates an understanding of film techniques. Additionally, he or she should display good craftsmanship.

Also, how will he get along with you or your team? 

Consider these points in my article on how to hire crew for your film. The same considerations on who and where to hire a storyboard artist applies.

Interpersonal skills can be an important factor, so schedule an in-person interview if you’re aiming to recruit locally. A degree may substantiate skills, but its absence shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. Experience should take priority above all else. 

Ask for references, and request to see samples of past works to determine if his style fits into your vision. A storyboarder specialized in serious tones and drama, for example, may not be a good pick for a light-hearted comedy. So be sure to follow up on experience in similar projects.

If you’re going for a remote hire, they’re more things to consider. First, can he work under a deadline and consistently deliver what you need? 

If the production will depend on the storyboard for everyday shooting, you’ll naturally want someone who’s readily available and can stay ahead of the clock. Otherwise, the filming will stall as you wait upon deliveries, slowing down the production process and speeding up costs.

Tech-savviness is also a key consideration for a remote hire. You’ll want to get storyboards in the right format so experience with production management software may be a big deal. The ideal artist doesn’t have to know all the popular software suites in great detail. As long as they match your tech-friendly requirements, that’s good enough.  

There are many digital options when it comes to outsourcing artists. You could try job boards such as Upwork, and film directories/websites like ProductionHub and, which is a film industry version of Craigslist.

Jorgen’s List is a platform exclusively for storyboard artists, and it’s one for more accomplished professionals. Art Directors do the vetting on Jorgen’s List, so you’re likely to find good talent with the bar set so high. Users can browse samples beforehand to determine the styles they’d like in their storyboard artists. Consider looking into social media groups as well.

On Facebook, Concept Artist and Frame Dump may interest you. A storyboard artist may set you back at least $250 per day. 

What to include in a storyboard?

Camera movement

To avoid your concept or vision getting lost in translation, it is prudent to include hints for camera movements during various shots. Some storyboard software offer provisions, often in the way of indicators or arrows, to illustrate the type of camera motion that supplements the scene. You can also depict camera movement by showing two indexes or shots, including the final outlook of the scene and the initial one. 

Your DoP will then know what to do, saving you the trouble of unsuccessfully communicating with frustrating hand gestures and seemingly ungraspable wordings. You don’t need to have an in-depth background in cinematography to put across how you’d like scenes to play out visually.

If you’re going for the “long take”, you best be prepared prior to filming or you can be in for a “long” day yourself. Think of all the prep required to shoot these epic scenes:

For example, you can illustrate a simple zoom shot (camera movement that moves the frame closer or further from the subject) with arrows pointing inwards or outwards. Alternatively, you can specify in the FX section of your index card that you’d like a zoom shot to one of the character’s faces during a certain sequence.

Maybe you want to get the emotions that one character is going through when receiving certain news. This camera motion enhances the intimacy between viewer and character and also adds to the dramatic tension.

Your director of photography can help inform your choice of camera movements during storyboarding. He may suggest pan/tilt motions in certain circumstances, i.e. panning involves horizontal camera motions while titling encompasses vertical movements, to create a sense of place/space, among other goals. 

You can show pan movements with horizontal arrows. For example, to pan left, you’d draw an arrow across the frame pointing left.

The same applies to tilting and other basic camera movements.  

Set design

Storyboard set designs guide film production. They do much more than set the stage for where the shot is going to take place. In addition to conveying setting, the set design also communicates the period of the plot. 

The backdrop cements the style and contemporaries of that period. 

For instance, huge retro furniture and patterned floors and walls with shades of brown and yellow will give a scene that 60s feel. 

See how the creators of Mad Men brings us back to the 1960s advertising era:

The set design can also provide exposition about character personalities and other important little details, deciphered from symbolic props. In film, it’s advised to show viewers what you mean rather than tell them. Set design is a big part of that showing, hence you should pay particular attention to it on your storyboard.

The background orients viewers, and it’s usually the first thing you or the storyboard artist you hire, draws. Rudimentary drawings will do just the trick as more meticulous representation. You don’t need to go into tedious artistic detailing. If you’d like to show that a shot is taking place in the park, stick drawings of trees can pass that message to your production or set designer. You can represent buildings with lines and cars with wheels, among other simplified map legends. 

If a particular backdrop persists for an extended period of shots, you can convey the horizon with a simple line or state that the same scenery goes on for while in the technical descriptions or simply leave the backdrop blank.

For photoshop-compatible storyboard software, you can “borrow” sample background images online and superimpose your characters to create one seamless shot, incorporating your set vision. Some storyboard software suites may already have a selection of in-built background templates you can work with.

A storyboard set design ensures various departments of filmmaking can understand what is required from them across scenes. It facilitates important conversations between the cinematographer, props master, designer, and director before they make any expensive decisions or mistakes. 


If you’re making the storyboard yourself and don’t have the best drawing skills, you can specify your fashion requirements in the index card descriptions. Perhaps you don’t have an exact idea of the kind of attire you’d like characters to wear across scenes. 

In which case, you may simply break fashion description down to casuals, e.g. lazy Saturday morning wear, or professional, e.g. corporate office dressing, among other categories. Your costume designer will then suggest a few ideas and you can determine what works for your concept.

If you have something more specific in mind, you can go into detail in the shot descriptions.

A skilled artist can draw characters for your storyboard, including what you want them to be wearing across scenes. It’s often the case that when you outsource your storyboarding needs, your costume designer will come up with a fashion storyboard completely different from the plot version. That’s done to avoid stuffing the storyboard because costume choices and requirements may crowd out other important details of the scene. 

Just the one can suffice though, but you’ll need to be succinct with your fashion instructions, maybe breaking down character costumes in bullet points. You don’t need to use complete sentences rather pass the idea with phrases. For example, you may simply say: character 1: denim jeans & grey shirt, character 2: cop uniform, etc.

Costumes affect filmmaking in so many subconscious ways. Before a character says anything, the way he dresses already communicates what kind of personality to expect. Someone who prefers bright colors comes off as light-hearted or happy, with more dull options inspiring the opposite feelings. 

Costumes are especially important in period pieces or movies capturing an exotic culture because they help cement the illusion. 

Here’s Great Gatsby (2013) – a 1920s period piece, adaption of the famous book. It won an Oscars for its costume design:

You should therefore give a lot of thought to how your characters dress up. 

After you’re through with the story script, you can go over it and pay attention to how you’d like characters to be dressed according to the moods across each scene. Your costume designer can help you out with this.

Makeup & Hair

You may not know much about hair and makeup, but you may have an idea of how you’d want certain characters to look or feel at certain times. If you don’t have specific aesthetic requirements in mind, let your hair and makeup artist in on how you’d want characters perceived at certain points via your storyboard descriptions. 

Perhaps simply describe the impression or feeling you’d want characters to portray e.g. chronic fatigue (pale face and dark eyes can give off tiredness or long-term pain/suffering) for a character that has a terminal illness like cancer.

The hair and makeup artist can work from your specification of emotions to realize your vision for the characters. He possibly has an artillery of aesthetic solutions to depict a range of personalities and feelings so a simple hint will probably suffice.

Makeup & hair is particularly important for superhero movies, where characters need to glam up to play the part. Here’s Suicide Squad (2016) which won the Oscar’s for makeup and hair:

Maybe you have an idea about what prosthetics you think will make a scene seem more real. You can make that clear too in your storyboard notes for the shot. If you have specific hair requirements, include that as well. Maybe you’d like curly red hair for an adventurous protagonist who regularly blurs the line between fun and dangerous. Perhaps you want shaggy or unconventional hair to mirror a character’s disorganization or unique sense of style.

Aside from enhancing realism in film, makeup and hair can also hint at character development, the period of the movie, and make characters camera-ready or appealing. It is therefore an aspect that shouldn’t be an afterthought when coming up with the storyboard. When well thought through, hair and makeup selections can make characters and scenes play out more powerfully, emotionally, and visually speaking. 

Actor blocking

Actor blocking is a more technical aspect of filmmaking. In simple terms, it is the strategic positioning or movement of actors on the set to achieve a certain cinematic goal. Your director may guide on how to block scenes during filming, depending on how you want to make your audience feel or what you’d like the viewers to deduce from the scene or focus on. 

The more technical storyboarder may have exact ideas about how they’d like a scene or shot to be blocked. If that describes you, you can make your feelings known in the technical description of the shot in the storyboard.

Alternatively, you could show your director how you’d like scenes to be blocked via character drawings. You may put one character further away from the frame and another nearer to it to illustrate the power dynamics at play. For instance, a teacher may appear closer to a shot when he is talking to a student.

Here’s an analysis on the famed director Akira Kurosawa’s use of blocking:

You can capture that in your visual illustration to show that the teacher is the person of authority in that scene. Some software suites offer the ability to animate your storyboard drawings so you can put across any movement detail you’d want to play out in the scene. Body language may also pass vital subtext so you may want to stipulate that as well in your storyboard.

Blocking will also influence your camera setups and angles, and you can make it known in the technical description area how’d like these arranged. 

For example, would you like two opposing camera setups to maintain the 180-degree rule of film dialogue in a way that gives attention to an important prop, background character, or backdrop? 

Don’t be afraid to go into the specifics. 

You may need to work with the director of photography to make sure your blocking requirements don’t get in the way of certain important details such as lighting.

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