Storyboarding techniques

From my home studio in Orem, Utah, I like to draw with paper and pencil very much.  It’s one of my favorite mediums.  I also like to draw people.

a sketchbook rendition of Bob Cratchet

A sketchbook rendition of Bob Cratchit.

Another sketchbook sketch.

Sometimes I draw from my imagination, sometimes from life, and at times from photo reference.

Aaron on halloween in an illustration class.

This girl dressed as a gypsy for halloween.

Clearly a drawing from photo reference.

I love it when I can apply these skills to a storyboarding assignment.

A simple cartoon style panel.

Or an illustration, animation, or design project.

Key character poses for an animated film.

Cleaned up pencil drawings for a character design.

I usually start my storyboarding with just paper and pencil and work into embellishing and refining on the computer.  I scan on a large Epson flatbed scanner and work in Photoshop.

This is a progression from the rough thumbnail sketch in pencil, to larger, more refined pencil work, to toning and even color done in Photoshop.

I usually draw with blue Col-Erase pencils.  I learned this in the years that I spent in animation.  It was the preferred drawing tool at Don Bluth animation and Disney animation for many years.  I came to love the look and feel and have carried it with me ever since.  However, some people become puzzled as to the blue color and it throws them off.  In phototshop I can always adjust that color to a sepia, grey, or plain black and white.

In photoshop, I can change the coloring to anything I want. It also a good place to make choices about the framing (or cropping).

There are several techniques that can be utilized in photoshop to enhance a sketch.  Lighting, lens flares, highlighting, and baby spotting are quick and easy steps that can really make a big difference in creating a mood.  This is true of rough preliminary sketches and tighter finished panels.

Photoshop effects can really "plus" the sketch.

I usually  prefer not to do full color panels.  It’s primarily a cost thing.  Sometimes for big corporate ads, color is an important element to sell the idea.  However, on any project minimal color can be very helpful in creating a clear running identity (especially a particular character in a crowd), highlighting the focal point, and keying in on a mcguffin.

Color highlighting for clarity.

These are things that ultimately may be accomplished with the full effect of the motion picture, but sometimes we need a little help in the static panels.


I find that each of my clients have different needs.  I have to be ready to adapt to the requirements of each assignment.  Sometimes rough sketches are desired, others, a more refined drawing is appropriate.

rough storyboards

A rough set of storyboards.

In this set of rough boards, I tried to draw the sketches to represent what each shot would look like.  I call these shooting boards.  Others call them editorial boards.  The idea is to take a stab at converting the written script into a visual script.  It’s the first evolution at directing and editing.  These can be done and re-done until they are fine tuned to perfection (perhaps not the case here).  The level of finish only has to be such as to effectively communicate the idea to the film crew.  In this approach, there will be many more panels, so it is usually too time consuming and costly to take the level of finish to a very high degree.

The whole idea of the storyboard is to save the production money.  Although I enjoy drawing things in a much more refined way, it is not always cost effective.

presentation boards

A more refined level of finish is noticeable in these presentation boards.

In this set of presentation boards, we see an example of a higher degree of finish.  These  boards are intended to be used in pitching the concept to  executives who are going to be financing the operation.  They need to look much more presentable and polished.  They are generally much larger.  They don’t however, need to show every shot as it might appear in the final film product.  They just need to hit the primary beats.  It is understood that they would be pitched by a presenter, who would fill in a lot of gaps with his/her verbal explanation.  Most of the time these panels are simply embellishments of the ruffs that are seen above, but sometimes for clarity sake they are actually drawn out differently so that they work together in the presentation.  As long as the basic idea is clear and sells the executives on the concept.

Some further samples of storyboards can be seen here.  Notice the differences in style and technique.  Clearly what I draw for animation and live-action will look very different, but even from one assignment to another I try to adapt to the feel and individual character of the project.

I have drawn storyboards for film, television, commercials, animation, and theme park attractions.  Just the other day I was asked to draw a couple of quick boards that would be shown to the insurance company that was considering underwriting a film shoot.  They were confused as to what exactly a particular stunt entailed.  The boards illustrated to them how the stunt was going to play out so they would feel more comfortable providing insurance to the production.

Panel one of the stunt.

Panel two of the stunt.

Panel three of the stunt.

Storyboards can be useful in any number of processes.  Howard Hughes utilized storyboards in his aircraft factories to illustrate the assembly line process that he wanted to implement.