Storyboard Discussion - Thoughts?


Hello CGTalkers-

Just getting a discussion started about storyboards. Yes, this started with a little debate between friends.

What level of storyboarding do you normally see for mid to low budget movies without elaborate shots or much in the way of FX. Trying to think of an example here, so maybe in my head what we’re talking about is something akin to (in way of story, stunts, and FX needs) maybe Practical Magic, Medicine Man (yes, I realize these are big budget movies with name casts), Near Dark, Get Carter, Identity, etc.

NOT the likes of the Underworld series (where almost every shot has an effect), or say Kramer vs. Kramer (pure modern drama - no stunts and effects). I’m talking about movies that have SOME notable stunts, and SOME notable FX.

Do you see every shot storyboarded in pre-production down to every angle of two people talking at a table, or totally shooting from the hip.

Does it depend on the director, the producer, the studio wanting to see EVERYTHING they are being asked to pay for, or giving carte blanche to an established director (or producer)?

Do you see too MUCH storyboarding, or not nearly enough? What do you wish for, for yourselves, in whichever field you’re working in for the movie/TV/webisode/home movie industry?

What are strengths, or weaknesses, you find with either side of the thought?

What would your advice for storyboarding be for a new company with absolutely no money, trying to make their first feature - yes, that’s us. Not even gonna try and hide that one - I’m both looking for advice for us, as well as something for our debate here.

I’m not entirely sure I’m wording this right, but I hope you get the point, and join in the thread to give your experiences and opinions.

Take care-



Please post in the correct forum. Thanks.


Arg - sorry about that - didn’t remember it had its own sub-heading in the forums!


Hey Lew,

I like yourself am working towards reaching a point where myself and my animation studio (not officially a studio yet as were still working on our degrees but come summer we will kick out what we can to bulk up our portfolios) can produce our first feature. I cant give a response based on industry experience, though i can give an opinion based on personal experiences with creating animated&video shorts.

I personally dont think there can ever be to many frames to a storyboard, the more the better. The only reason for ever creating a storyboard that doesn’t contain everything (within reason of course) is when you have a time limit to work to and cant afford to go overboard on the pre-production.

Shooting from the hip is going to result in issues further down the line, am actually trying to fix an on going project as we speak where my team mate insisted on doing just that, shot us all in the foot as well as the face. Nail the storyboard and it’ll make it a lot harder for people to NOT understand what they are working towards.



Thank you Juz-

From your experience, do you find yourself in more of the “storyboards help you work out the movie” as far as general prep, or the “storyboards help you figure out which shots to get, and which you can disregard” camp?

Yes, there is some crossover between them, but do you specifically find yourself using them for one or the other? Or something different - perhaps just for communication between departments (given yours seems to be from an animation standpoint)?



I tend to work from the standpoint of animation right, though i do also work with live action which requires the same pre-production storyboard wise. I’d say i use them for deciding which shots. - initially its working out the shots. Can cut them all out, pin them to a wall and see how your shots flow, draw variations for shots and replace frames that aren’t working. Later on I use the storyboards to work out the movie should i encounter issues, again its easier to resolve problems if you’ve a rough paper version of the paper infront of you that you can chop up and replace pieces of to see how the fix to a problem is going to effect things.

((In short, i suppose im on the fence :P))

I dont really need to use them for communication between departments as we are a small close knit group, but i often end up pulling out the wad of papers to help illustrate how things should be going and what im aiming to achieve with a given scene


I’d say it all depends on the need for storyboards in the production.
• An ad agency might want the client to sign off on the number of animated characters or effects in a live action commercial and so they storyboard every shot so the client throughly understands what they are buying (and aren’t expecting more than what they pay for).
• On a 2D feature we would storyboard every key pose, in and out, extreme pose (especially in action sequences) and possible even passing positions and contacts if they have story relevance. That is “story sketches”. Sometimes it’s animating on 6s or even 4s!
• Live action features usually only gets storyboarded for action sequences or money shots (explosions etc).
• 3D/CG features are handled pretty much like 2D features in my experience. That is storyboard so tightly so when you edit a story reel with a temp track you can really see if it plays as you want it to. If it works then approve the sequence for layout and production. If it doesn’t then fix it because you don’t want to be sending stuff into production that will be needing retakes later on – it just gets more expensive and takes longer to fix than in storyboarding.

Animated features (CG, 3D and 2D) usually take 5-10 story artists 3-6 months to storyboard and I’d say an average of 3:1 story sketching. That is: 3 times as many story sketches are created than are actually in the final, production approved story reel. (Btw “animatics” are the film clips layout and animation produce. Not to be confused with story reels.) An a 2D feature I storyboarded on we produced 12.000 story sketches for a film that was 120.000 frames long. That’s basically animating on 10s on A5s if every sketch was in the final reel. At the big studios I’d guestimate that the average is even higher. I heard of story artists doing a sequence 7 times before it was approved for production. And that isn’t because the producer, director and story artists suck, it’s because they are the best in the industry and the result is what creates the gross the big studios get (with the proper marketing, animation, acting, sound track etc of course).

There’s is a way to breakdown a script into scenes (aka shots) before storyboarding and it’s the same method cinematographers plan their shoots. Just bracket the script section every time you want to cut to a new camera. Don’t forget to add any special camera moves or things that aren’t in the script like bullet time shots in the Matrix, or inserts, reaction shots, reverse shots, fx shots etc. Simply by marking and noting each scene down the script page you’ll get a pretty good idea of how many story panels each script page requires. Then you can decide if the story telling pose and compisition is enough for your story reels or if you need acting, action and though sketches as well plus extremes, contacts, ins and outs and passing positions.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away :slight_smile:


No-no - feel free to get carried away!

Good point on the ad agency stuff - my dad ran an agency and they’d have to storyboard very meticulously because business clients just can’t visualize anything. They needed everything spelled out so they knew what they were paying for, as well as realize they didn’t like it before shooting started.

One of the main things we’re debating here is for regular live-action scripts. Scripts we write and keep things simple as far as realizing we have no major resources and no money.

One of the guys feels everything in the entire movie needs to be storyboarded, and my point is that I’m experienced enough that I’m not going to storyboard 2 people sitting at a table talking, and 1 gets up and walks away. I can just shoot that after rehearsing the actors a little bit as the DP watches (or if I’m the DP, even better as I’m formulating what I want to see - despite the fact that I probably already had it in mind when walking through the door), go over what encompasses the shot, and then the DP orchestrates the camera and equipment accordingly while I talk to the 1st AD about what I want extras to do now that I have a line of site on where we’ll see them.

I might draw a small diagram while on-set, or I might just have the DP kneel down to where I want the camera - or he/she will have ME kneel down to where they think is a good shot for what we’re doing.

I don’t subscribe to “shoot a master, then just move in somewhere and shoot closer, then closer, then get your closeups” methodology. I like to know what I want, and communicate that clearly so we’re not shooting extra material, in a guessing game as to what we might use later in the editing room. Think and shoot like an editor, basically. Know how you’re getting in and out of a scene, and how it will pertain the rest of the movie.

If there’s ANY form of FX I’m going to draw storyboards to spell it out clearly.

If there are ANY stunts I draw storyboards to communicate that clearly so we can mao out what the goal is, then how to work with the stunt-people, the logistics of camera, and will FX be needed to clean up things like wires, objects we don’t wanna see (camera car, the 2nd camera, etc.).

My argument is that I’m currently unwilling to draw storyboards for 2 people sitting at a table talking when I don’t even have a location or set locked down. He (the Producer) thinks I should do this so that he can “anticipate my needs”.



On a live action feature I storyboarded the producer was very experienced and the director was a debutant feature length director. The producer wanted the film storyboarded to see what the director had in mind and to show the financiers. We started out by storyboarding the most action filled sequences and then continued to the more mellow script pages.
If the producer need to be reassured about your ideas for the film, even the dialogue bits then by all means humour them saving your 3 magic bullet to when they really count. It’s so easy to board dialogue scenes so they should eat up too much time and still let you develop your film especially if you don’t like shooting classic coverage. I love experimental film makers like Peter Greenaway (haven’t worked for him but would love) and if I was directing I most certainly be storyboarding everything together with my DP, editor and set designer using accurate plans and 3D proxy models. But that’s just me.


Sorry this took so long to get back to - we’re still finishing everything for the next episode to upload tonight. There’s supposedly a problem with youtube now where you can’t upload anything longer than 10 minutes, yet it worked the last time… We’ll see how it goes tonight…

Back to topic:

Okay, this SOUNDS a lot more glorified than it is (when you’re throwing around titles like Producer, etc.) - we’re 4 friends who’ve started a multi-media production company. While this sounds big on paper, we all have day-jobs - none of which pertain to filmmaking per-se - I’m a product photographer by day, and shoot on as many production crews as I can get myself on in my free time - I’m the closest thing to doing this for a living. The others are a Creative Director for a direct-marketing company, my Photoshop guy, and a guy who has a Masters in Creative Writing who works for hospitals. We’re not making a dime, and we’re not even on the map yet as far as recognition for what we’ve done in the last 2 years we’ve been a “company” on paper.

It’s the last guy on the list I’m debating/arguing with, mostly (the Creative Director, having directed a coupla commercials is almost exactly on the same page as me).

There’s no money, there are no financiers - this is just the 4 of us with no resources sitting around a table going in circles. There are no locations, no sets, nothing. We don’t even have a final script. This is going to be bare-bones just a handful o’guys with a camera and some sound gear and a coupla lights guerrilla filmmaking.

For the last year we have made 7 shorts that are 15-20 minutes each as episodes of a series (the 6th of which goes up tonight) being released every 2 weeks on the web. Comedy/horror, and not a storyboard ever in sight for the last year - the first things they’ve really done as a real “project”.

The tune changed when we said the word “feature” as though it were a different process altogether. All of a sudden for “this” we have to storyboard everything, they’re discussing things as though we’re 20th Century Fox when we have NO resources. And I know full well the worst thing you can do is to act as though you’re something you’re not, because you won’t respect your limitations. Try to overcome them, work around the, compensate for them, but respect the mere fact that you HAVE them. If you “create” too big a bite to chew (this is nothing handed to us, or offered to us - we’re completely controlling this on our own), it’ll spiral out of control and fall apart.

It feels like he’s nervous about doing something bigger - and rightfully so (for me, having produced and often run camera and been 2nd unit director on 2 no-budget features myself - as well as gripped/camera/DP/directed commercials, training videos, PSA’s and infomercials since '94 - I’m kinda past it) and this feels like a “if we don’t do this, then we won’t know what we’re doing once we’re on-set” kinda thing.

I do…

So basically I was trying to get a gauge from others like you who actually DO this (as opposed to the 3 guys I’m talking to) as to how deeply you/they go into storyboarding - and I literally mean down to 2 people sitting at a table talking. Because, quite frankly, we don’t even have a location, and if we get somewhere really cool I’m going to entirely change how I would shoot something (not only shots, but staging, actor/location interaction, etc.) to incorporate the cool location, or change it the another way around to compensate for somewhere that’s boring.

The location alone will greatly change how I would interpret shooting a scene, and chances are with us that I won’t even see it until we shot up to shoot.



As a professional story artist I haven’t worked on any features that don’t storyboard. But how’s this? If any of those on your production have really cool ideas for specific sequences storyboard those so you know what you need to find specifically (locations, sets, lighting, decor etc) and also use those boards to see if you can simplify what you do need to get, your camera setups, tracks, amount of lenses etc. That way you can get really nice sequences with minimum light gear, decor and props, actors, extras and sets/costumes/etc.


“That way you can get really nice sequences with minimum light gear, decor and props, actors, extras and sets/costumes/etc.”

That’s actually my general train of thought as well, don’t get me wrong - I’ve just grown more and more tired of them for simple scenes and setups. Here’s my general experience concerning storyboards and filmmaking in general:

When there is money involved, time IS money. Are you “wasting” time doing unnecessary things, or taking too long for what will end up being useless during any stage of the production? The people with the money (or in control of your paycheck) will not hire you again.

When there is no money (no-budget shorts and features, spec commercials, etc.) time is your reputation. Are you “wasting” time doing unnecessary things, which will waste your rep, (and people will start walking away from any production that has your name on it) during any stage of the production.

Everything that’s been longer than a commercial - if they had storyboards - that I’ve worked on has abandoned the storyboards halfway through, or even at the beginning, usually due to the location, or time (on the set of The Shield they had a saying among the crew for new directors - “Feature film by day, documentary by night”). When it’s been the location, they have found better ways to stage or shoot than were drawn.

I keep bringing up “2 people sitting at a table” because of one particular shoot where that was the entire setup for the whole thing. The director was new and nervous, and the DP was neither (and had a beautiful Aaton XTRProd that he wouldn’t let us touch - bastard…). The director had meticulously storyboarded with photos of 2 people in his living room sitting in chairs. After every “cut” the director pulled him over and half the crew and had little pow-wows that took sometimes 20 minutes an analysis (yes, he was CLEARLY overdoing it, but I’ll get to the 2 points quickly) while the rest of us grips and PAs stood around bored - wasting time, which = money.

About halfway through the shoot, the director called “cut” and the DP didn’t move… He just stood there and asked “where do you want the camera?” The director was stunned, taken aback but tried not to show it (he has a horrible poker-face) and merely walked over to where he wanted the camera and pointed the direction.

It went a LOT faster after that and none of us were standing around except during actual takes. Later, after all was said and done, it was obvious to ALL that there was so much the location had to offer (a small restaraunt back room with a handful of extras and nice decorations) that was never taken advantage of because he stuck completely to his storyboards.

In that particular case the director also ruined his rep with a very lackluster commercial and to my knowledge has only been a producer since.

So, yeah, I hesitate to storybord something akin to 2 people sitting at a table…

If there’s a cohesive line of action, or even remotely cool (or stunts, or FX, etc.) shot I’ll jump right to storyboard it. I merely keep coming across tunnelvision with storyboards and was wondering how others fared, and what their thoughts and experiences were.

For animation you had better storyboard every conceivable shot and play it through to figure out what you need to set up and render.

It seems you’ve had good and valuable experience with them for live action as well. I apologize for being so jaded about them - for simple setups I use them for reference only, and usually divert from them quickly for better shots (which, again, then makes me wonder why I took the time to draw them).



Hi there,
I just heard an interview with Ed Catmull where he says Pixar averages a 5:1 storyboarding ratio. That is, each sequence gets restoryboarded at least 4 times. No wonder their movies are tight and work like water in the Sahara!


I would at the very least figure out all your camera angles and moves. Capture the gist of the acting and positioning on screen. Ensure the story and timing (animatic) are coherent and working. Now is the time to make these sorts of decisions and adjust as needed.

There are a lot of other great things you can achieve from a story board from essential set design, facial and body expression, all the way down to nailing your shot lighting. But the above notes are probably the most important.


“I just heard an interview with Ed Catmull where he says Pixar…”

Yeah - they HAVE to. With an animated movie you’d better know EXACTLY what is to be rendered before you send a single shot out to a dozen departments to assemble, light, texture, render out, and composite which could take weeks per shot once you even have all the assets. Every single shot has to go through a complete approval process because all of the setup and finish takes monumental amounts of time.

“I would at the very least figure out all your camera angles and moves…”

Action, choreography, stunts, FX, etc. - I storyboard everything out. Any shots I have in my head as a signature shot, I storyboard. Anything I remotely think of as “complicated” I storyboard. A general guideline type of shot I’ll storyboard. I diagram my general camera positions as far as movement and dolly tracks. Where people come in, where they exit, etc.

The problem this guy and I are having is that as the years have gone on, I have realized what I will throw out during the shoot - because once you get on set everything changes, things grow, performances will produce interesting things to highlight (or bad things to hide) and Ill be making up angles and the actors will be given room for ad-libbing.

When there’s time to really work with the actors in a space, you can get your needed shots and coverage, and then have time to create something you couldn’t plan because the magic doesn’t happen until you’re there. Beyond a couple of “signature shots of the 2 people at a table” that I have in mind, I start to freewheel even more as the actors and I start to experiment with “what can we say about your characters/this situation/what’s going on in your character’s lives/etc. that wasn’t written in the script?”

No FX, no stunts, no animation - this is ONLY for simple scenes with a couple of people.

He wants a storyboard for everything regardless of whether or not it will be used.

I think my time is better served communicating to to everyone what I want “this character’s furniture and surroundings to be” based on their character, and not based on a storyboard. Where this gets muddy is when it comes to deciding “do you dress the ENTIRE room, or just nail down the parts to will specifically see?” At which point I storyboard…

Get it?



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