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How to: Creating Cinematic Storyboards

cinematic storyboards

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There are a few different ways that you can storyboard. The most important thing is to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper so that you can better communicate with your team.

You can use whatever medium you’re comfortable with, whether that’s pen and paper, digital painting, or even Lego. For this guide, we’ll assume that you’re working with pencil and paper, but the steps will mostly apply to any medium; you’ll need to choose how to implement them.

1. Gather Supplies

Art Supplies for storyboarding

You’ll need a few things before you start storyboarding.

Something to Draw on

The first thing you’ll need is a sketchbook or some blank paper. This is where you’ll do all of your storyboarding.

You can use any type of paper you want, but we recommend using graph paper if you plan to draw your frames by hand.

Something to Draw with

You’ll also want a pencil and an eraser. If you’re going to get fancy, you can also use pens, markers, and colored pencils.

A Ruler

You might also want a ruler if you want to draw straight lines or if you do not plan to print your frames but want to draw them yourself.

Shooting Script (numbered)

You’ll also want to have a copy of the script that has been assigned scene numbers. That way, you can give your storyboards a corresponding scene number. Without a numbered script you can do some general sketching, but you’ll find it challenging to keep everything organized

2. Choose an Aspect Ratio

Next, you’ll want to decide on the aspect ratio of your storyboard. Some of the most common ratios are:

  • 16:9 (widescreen)
  • 4:3 (SD television)
  • 2.35:1 (anamorphic widescreen)

Once you’ve decided on the aspect ratio, you’ll want to draw boxes that match that ratio. For example, if you’re working in a 16:9 aspect ratio, each box will be 16 units wide and nine units tall. Again, using graph paper and a ruler can be extremely helpful for this step.

To make things easier, we have a wide variety of downloadable templates (in multiple file formats) that you can download and print as needed.

If you’re unsure what aspect ratio to use, start with a simple 16:9 rectangle that will give you the most flexible space for most projects.

3. Shot List

If you don’t already have a shot list, now is the time to create one. A shot list is simply a list of all the shots you’ll need for a particular scene.

A shot list is helpful because it lets you visualize the flow of a scene before you start sketching your storyboard frames. With a shot list, you can have a clear idea about the order of the shots that you’ll need to tell the story.

Building a shot list as you storyboard is entirely acceptable, but just know that you’ll likely have to re-sketch some of the frames as you refine your ideas.

4. Start Sketching

Now comes the time when you’ll actually start sketching out your shots. If you’re not a great artist, don’t worry! Storyboards don’t have to be perfect; they just need to give a general idea of what’s happening in the scene.

Start by sketching out the basic layout of each scene. Where are the characters positioned? What is the setting like? Are there any essential props involved? Once you have a general idea, you can add more details like facial expressions and actions.

Stick Figures Welcome

Stick figures are a perfectly acceptable way of storyboarding. In fact, some people prefer them because they’re less distracting than more detailed drawings.

While most storyboards presented in promotional materials for films tend to be the work of professional artists, non-professionals can also create storyboards that are just as effective.

The important thing is to get your ideas down on paper (or whatever medium you’re using) so that you can start refining them.

Remember, storyboards don’t have to be beautiful. They just need to provide an overview of the action.

5. Show Movement

Using arrows, you can show both character and camera movement. For characters, arrows show the general path that they’ll be moving. For the camera, arrows indicate dollies, pans, tilts, etc.

You can also draw a frame within the frame to show how the camera will dolly or zoom in or out. With this approach, you can show the starting and the ending framing of a camera movement.

6. Notes

Once you’re done sketching out your storyboard frames, you’ll want to add some notes. These notes can be anything from a description of the action that’s happening, to the mood of the scene, to the dialogue that’s being spoken, or props and other technical considerations.

If you’re working with a team, notes are also a great way to communicate your ideas to others. For example, if you want a particular shot to be done with a Steadicam, you can make a note of that so that the DP knows what you’re thinking.

The notes section is also a great place to jot down ideas for shots that you might want to add later. If you’re not sure how to show something, or you want to try something different, make a note of it so that you don’t forget.

Wrapping up

That’s it! You now know the basics of how to storyboard a scene. Just remember to keep it simple and have fun with it. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at it.

Up next, we’ll take a look at some of the storyboard software offerings. Which provide ways to generate storyboards via templates and

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