Storyboards: The Imaging Begins.

The collage of storyboards pictured above is a good cross sample of the boards I’ve worked with in my career. In the eighties most visual effects companies had in-house art departments that would create storyboards and key frame production paintings that captured the scale, mood and dramatic intent of a particular scene or moment in the script. Most storyboards in those days represented all of the elements in each shot that could be broken down into schedulable and budgetary terms - a visual menu if you will. Art departments needed a lot of wall space because each board was tacked up, in sequence, for all to see and talk about.

Storyboards should be drawn with the projects aspect ratio in mind. The three boards across the top are drawn in the 2:40 to 1 or “widescreen” format. In the old, old days art directors would actually draw with a specific lens in mind from a shoot-able spot determined from a plan view drawing - now that’s knowing your set.

What’s inherent to storyboards is that they are static and Pre-Visualization is not. This animated process gives the director a peek into the possibilities of framing, speed and scale of a sequence. It’s a moving storyboard that can be edited and improved upon prior to actual shooting. The down side of pre-vis is that the animator may create something that is very difficult if not impossible to shoot. A lens too wide, a camera move that’s too fast or a focus and magnification issue that is un-obtainable with standard equipment. Also, if everyone falls in love with the pre-vis it denies the filmmakers a chance to improve the sequence in the real world with real people. This actually happened to me once on a very big feature film: I thought I came up with a better, more efficient way to shoot a scene, pitched it passionately but was ultimately shot down because, “the studio likes it the way it is.” They had seen the pre-vis and wanted it shot exactly that way. Boring, and we also had to reshoot parts of it because the pre-vis didn’t translate well to live-action. I tried to warn them!

On the other hand, a storyboard is a guide that’s expected to be improved upon during production. It’s an inventory of beats that will be photographed in a real setting. Screen direction and blocking will be established on the day. In other words, don’t be constrained by the boards.

It’s why we mostly only board action bits and Visual FX sequences. Anything complex and potentially expensive should be planned as meticulously as possible. Never show up on the day without the equipment you need and a couple of sketches on a napkin. Please don’t prepare that way because the crew will punish you for it.


We don’t board much in TV because they don’t want to pay for the illustrations and there is rarely enough time to shoot the scenes properly as it is. In those cases, I’ll do some simple drawings of my own to keep track of the moments that are essential to the sequence.


Work on your drawing, it’s a very handy thing to know how to do.

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