Details in storyboards

the storyboard for Idle Hands - the attention to detail is actually very good

Storyboards can be very useful. They’re not always needed, but when they are, it’s useful. But I hear you ask “What are they for?”. They’re basically for mapping out what will be filmed. It’s easier to do this if you have a location already down and drawn out.

Overall, there’s a clear difference between a floor plan and a storyboard. The floor plan lays out the technical details – where actors should stand, where the lighting rigs must be set up, where the camera needs to be/to go, etc… It goes hand in hand with the storyboard – showing what’s possible, what you need to do to get the creative elements of your shots, etc…

While depicting fabulous pieces of artwork is awesome, it’s also important to remember this: it’s designed to be rough and fast. Only get in the details you need. Here’s a short list of things that should be in a storyboard:

Character Body Language – It’s often important that the actor follow specific body language – especially if it’s quirky or important. Giving an actor a vague way of portraying the character is okay, but if you create visual example of specific body language patterns it can take the character to a whole new level.

An instant to understand using a picture - most likely difficult to understand if only read from the script

Movements – Obviously this is subjective, a bit like comics. Showing movement of character can be done in various ways, but just make sure it’s clear and there’s no ambiguity about what’s happening.

Notice the arrows indicating movement if stuff flying through the air

Expressions – For certain scenes, strong facial expressions, and especially big gestures should be shown. Though regular expressions on the face (when a character isn’t supposed to express anything specific) can probably do without. Though I usually still show a central line down the face, as well as a line across to show the eye line. This just allows you to know which direction the character should be facing.

A storyboard from Heroes where Nathan saves Peter. Lots of facial expression.

Anything story related – Basically anything in the background, object or scenery that will play an active part in either the scene or a future scene. This allows you to make sure that positioning is okay – for example a close up shot of a persons face cannot have a telephone at waist height in.

But not every scene really needs to be storyboarded. It the scene is fairly plain (and lets face it, sometimes a short dialogue scene can be necessary to move the plot along), with a two shot cutting between an uneventful conversation between two people, it’s unlikely that you’ll really need a storyboard.

Just remember, a storyboard is basically a reimagining of the script – made visual. This means you need to plan any visuals you want to include, including action sequences and creative shots (so strange camera angles, depth of focus, blocking, etc…).

But drawing isn’t the only way to get storyboards. You can take live action photographs – you don’t even need a high resolution image, just a cheap camera would do, since you’re getting the bare bones of the images rather than the final quality. This method also forces you to think about the practicalities of filming – whether there will be enough space to get the shot you want, what lighting you need, any potential sound issues, etc… It’s also potentially less time consuming.

I know this is done post, but it shows that it can be done, even if you can't draw!

If you hadn’t already noticed though, I have provided my own storyboard template here:

Allow me to outline how it should be used. Title, Date Drawn and Page number are all obvious. The line above the box is to include information about the scene itself (e.g. EXT. Night – outside a bar). The box itself should be drawn in. The red line is to describe the technical camera work, the green line for lighting directions and character movement while the red is about sound. Obviously not all apply in each box, but it’s more helpful than having just a picture. The smaller blank box should have transition details (if there are any) including cut to, fade to and swish/slide to.

The visual illustrations of both the storyboards and the floor plan are useful not just to the director, but to every member of cast and crew. They provide an immediate guide to how things should be set up and since filming can take a while, you’ll want to minimise the amount of time you have to mess around with positioning cameras, lighting, sound and characters.


2 Comments on “Details in storyboards”

  1. Dolph says:

    Any way I can look at a copy of the idle hands storyboards? I’m a film student and the detail looks amazing!

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