11 things you should know about storyboarding

Films are all about story telling.  And to tell a good story on film, it’s important to plan it out in great detail beforehand. That’s where storyboards come in. Because storyboarding done properly is basically the first stage of how to make a film.

So what’s a storyboard?  It’s simply another version of the script – often just the director’s drawings – showing the key visuals.

So let’s find out how to write a compelling storyboard!


1. What is storyboarding?

You might ask what is a storyboard? And what is the purpose of a storyboard? Well, storyboards can be as complex or as simple as you like. We’ve seen ones scribbled out in 10 minutes by an agency art director and wonderfully-illustrated ones that would put a manga comic to shame.

But the storyboard layout is always the same. And you can download ours here from our digital storytelling resource.  In a couple of words then, what is storyboarding? It tells the story of a film quickly  – so anyone can immediately see what it’s all about.

2. Why do you need a storyboard?

People (especially people in the film business) think visually when they’re story telling. So effective storyboarding is for quickly communicating your creative thoughts for a film. Just one scene might take a page full of words to describe, but people will quickly understand a simple storyboard layout. Much more than a written script, the purpose of the storyboard is to convey a mood, a colour palette, a tone of voice … even an editing style. That can save everyone’s time and potentially money too, as there should be less misunderstandings.

Finally, a film storyboard gives everyone a focus for their discussions – whether it’s in hard copy or digital. During pre-production and production, the final video storyboard will be the most referred-to document!

3. Creative storyboarding

If you’re worried about storyboarding from a creative aspect, don’t be! If you want to start creating a storyboard but can’t draw, there’s plenty of software and clipart out there to help with your story writing.

So don’t get hung up on how to storyboard. Rather, concentrate on getting the right key frames that demonstrate your ideas best. Remember, a picture’s worth a thousand words, so take the best scenes from your story and bring them to life!

Because storyboard design is all about making an impact – and remember in many cases, an Agency will use a storyboard to sell an idea to a client.


4. Using a storyboard template

Our blank storyboard template is available as a pdf or a PowerPoint template. Find these at the bottom of the Video Production Process Step-by-step page.  Here at SPL, if we don’t have the budget to hire a professional storyboard illustrator, we do storyboard design ourselves. We normally use PowerPoint, searching for pics and clipart from the web. There are plenty of sites with copyright-free files. And if you’re handy with Photoshop or Illustrator, you can modify them before putting them into your PowerPoint storyboard. But if you’re great with Indesign or another DTP,  use that.

So what should your storyboard contain?  Well, you know about storytelling right? So start at the beginning! But as well as showing the beginning, the middle and the end (what moviemakers refer to as the three acts of a film) you need to show the most impactful or meaningful moments in your video storyboard. The car chase, the kiss, the reveal, the packshot …

That’s why our blank storyboard template is a great place to start! But before you start on your film storyboard, you’ll need to have a script!

5. The art of storytelling

Telling your story in as short a time as possible is crucial when making TV commercials, YouTube bumpers and promos for Facebook, Instagram and the rest.

Having a concise, easy to understand story that gets to the point quickly is vital for every video and this will certainly hone your storytelling skills.  Especially in commercials, there’s a visual shorthand at work. You see it all the time as nearly every director does it.  It’s like a pact between the film-maker and the viewer; it allows the story telling to concertina time, cut corners and work on the ‘show don’t tell’ principle to get right to the point.  Viewers are conditioned to expect it now, so don’t disappoint!

Story writing is an art – scriptwriting even more so. And commercials are most challenging because of the ridiculously small amount of words you’ve got to play with.  But don’t despair – we can help!

If you ask us how to write a good story – the answer’s easy – be brief!


6. Storyboarding your brand story

Let’s say you’re tasked with storyboarding an ad for your branded product. Where do you start?

Go back to your brand values and work it out from there may be a good place to start.  But remember, although your branded product may have lots of USPs, digital storytelling doesn’t normally work that way. We always say ‘one idea = one film’.

And that’s especially true here. Concentrate on one situation that shows one of the USPs (probably its stand-out feature) of your product or service. Weave your story around that and don’t forget to end up with a good few seconds for what we call the ‘packshot’ at the end. (it’s called that even if you don’t show an actual product but sell a service!)

Still struggling with your storytelling in marketing?  We’re here to help. Call or drop us a line!

7. Script writing – the essentials

The first and most important thing to know is WHO are you talking to?  Knowing your target audience is essential. Try and visualize your perfect viewer or customer and talk directly to them. Essentially when writing a script bear these additional points in mind:

  • Short sentences work best. Don’t use long words unless you have to. Simple is better. Flowery doesn’t normally work.
  • Always address the viewer as ‘you’. Be pleasant and don’t shout at them. You’ve having a 1:1 conversation.
  • Always use positive words and expressions. Negatives are a no-no (!)
  • Don’t use technical language unless you’re talking to a technical audience.
  • Don’t talk up, don’t talk down. Be at the right level as your target
  • Don’t say anything you can’t prove 100%.
  • Don’t denigrate the competition unless you can prove it 100% in a real demonstration.
  • Finally – keep it simple!

8. Shot types: what effects can you get?

Just like making a real film your film storyboard needs to have a variety of shot types in it. This creates focus as well as pacing. The normal convention is to start a scene with a wide shot (or establishing shot) cut to a mid shot and then go to a close-up shot.

You should do the same with your storyboard, varying the shot types throughout to make it look good. However, once the director gets to film it, what was drawn as one shot size might turn out to be another – and they may have very good reasons so to do.  So design your video storyboard to look good as well as give an exciting impression of what the film will be like.

For tracking shots and other shots where the camera is moving, either add arrows to the scene to show where the camera will go or use ‘break outs’ as discussed before.


9. Why Camera angles matter

Directors know that camera angles matter – a lot.  So bear in mind when you’re creating storyboards.

For instance with the camera shot slightly above someone’s eyeline, it makes them look a little insignificant. But with the camera angle just below, it gives them a bit of authority. When you’re storyboarding you can over-emphasise camera shots for effect and people will understand why.


10. Shot list: using your storyboard

A storyboard is a great start to creating your shot list.  But bear in mind it is only a start.  A professional director will consider all the different ways the film could be cut and add shots to their shooting schedule that will cover these eventualities too.  

Another thing to bear in mind is that unlike storyboarding, a shot list will detail all the shots in the order in which they will be shot – which is normally not the order that they’ll appear in the finished film.  This done to minimise set-up and strike times and to make the most efficient use of the budget.


11. Animatic versus storyboard

An animatic is an animated storyboard, or put it another way: the storyboard brought to life. Instead of a selection of still pictures, a much more dynamic presentation can be created, more accurately matching camera moves and editing effects. Additionally, overlays can be used to simulate movement, add titles and in the case of films that have a specific soundtrack (perhaps based on a chart hit) this can be demoed much more powerfully.

So an animatic, or storyboard animation, is done when storyboarding is deemed not to be enough. And in the past we’ve done them for agencies where the client was deemed to be a bit too dim to understand a static board. Yes really!

The disadvantage of animatics is that production will cost more than a storyboard and if there are last-minute changes to the creative (after all, this IS advertising …) it’s difficult and potentially costly to make them.

Storyboards and organisation

Remember that storyboards help you organise your creative thoughts and act as a repository for ideas – not just yours, but the whole team’s.

Software that helps organise the creative process is a massive boon; because with structure and process, creative jobs go so much faster. That’s why you should try Milanote as a useful tool to help get things organised – and keep them all in one place.  It certainly works for us!

A basic free account should see you through one smallish project, but it’s worth upgrading to get loads more space and a lot more benefits. Here’s a sample screen, but check out the website for more info.

Storyboard Examples

Search the web for storyboard examples. When we see good ones, we’ll post links here.

If you’re looking for a decent storyboard artist you could go onto one of the ‘per hour’ sites like Fivver.com. But unless you brief the artists very carefully, you may not be happy with what you get. We’ve worked with storyboard artists for many years so we know what we can ask for, what will work and what won’t. So working with us will result in a better board, faster.

Storyboard Software

In no particular order, here are some links to storyboarding software. The only one we have experience of working with is Storyboard Quick from Power Production software. This definately has its uses but takes a while to get into using due to its rather quirky UI.

Storyboard Quick

Storyboard That



Last, check out this somewhat partisan list of other storyboarding software on the web (We feel it’s partisan, as theirs is at #1!)

schoolchildren illsutration from a storyboard

Storyboarding tips for presentations

So you’ve spent ages on scripting and storyboarding and have got an appointment to present to your client or your boss. Although we live in a digital age there’s nothing like impressing them with a bit of analogue razzamatazz.

Mounted storyboards are just the thing to leave after you’ve pitched. Because it’s not something that will be thrown away immediately; it’ll sit around and either remind your boss or your client of the great job you did or remind them (regretfully) that they should have used you instead of the jokers who got the job and have been useless ever since.

But even if you just email a storyboard or present it on screen, here are my tips for making the show a winner:


  • Always have an even number of frames. If necessary ‘add’ frames at the end by showing a build up of a packshot or something like that. Remember some storyboarding software will format the pages for you.
  • Ideally make your storyboard in multiples of 6 frames (as the template is 6 frames to an A4 page) as it looks neater and more like you’ve actually planned it.
  • Number each frame INSIDE the box so if you cut’n’paste you won’t lose track
  • Don’t include a lot of detail in the audio boxes. Just the main words will suffice
  • Consider doing what comics and graphic novels do and ‘break out’ bits of action from the confines of the box. This demonstrates excitement and movement.
  • Never email anyone a PowerPoint. Before converting to a PDF, reduce the size of all the photos as much as possible and embed all the fonts you’ve used. Then use the PDF file creation controls to see how small you can make the file without the quality falling off.
  • If you’re going to present in person, A4 sheets printed on an inkjet are not good enough. Laser-print all the sheets onto heavy paper (at least 120 gsm), cut out all the frames very carefully (here’s where it’s useful if they’re numbered) and mount them on black A3 foamcore. This can be purchased from art shops and stationery stores. Use repositionable 3M Spray Mount or roller adhesive to mount them.
  • Remember to add your details on the back together with a copyright notice if you leave a hard copy with anyone.