What Are Storyboards? A Comprehensive Guide for Freelancers 🎬

  • Design & Creative
Contra Tips
· 8 min read

Be it a full-length feature or YouTube short, one of the basics of working in film is knowing what a storyboard is and why it’s essential to storytelling.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, storyboards are worth even more.  

Storyboards play a crucial role in any film and video project, be it a full-length feature or YouTube short. They help communicate ideas clearly and concisely, optimize resources, foresee potential challenges, and tackle them head-on.

Whether you’re an experienced independent film producer offering services on Contra or just getting started in the biz, understanding the art of storyboarding is key to seeing your projects make it out of the editing room and onto the screen. This guide will tell you everything you need to know. But first, the basics: Exactly what is a storyboard?

What is the purpose of a storyboard? 🎥

A storyboard is a two-dimensional representation of a story, a concept, or an animation that helps creatives plan and visualize projects before production begins. Storyboards define the project’s creative vision, provide a detailed roadmap for production, and help creatives experiment with different ideas and make adjustments as needed. 

A storyboard comprises a series of illustrations or rough sketches, similar to a comic book. These images are displayed sequentially, representing the project’s key scenes and actions. 

The storyboarding process allows directors, animators, and other production team members to visualize the storyline’s video or animation, plan shots, and manage resources effectively. It may also include notes, dialogue, and other essential elements for storytelling for each scene. 

Storyboards are created by hand, using pencil and paper, or digitally, using storyboarding software like Storyboardthat and StudioBinder. Regardless of their inception, an excellent storyboarding process is an indispensable element of video production that can help grow your brand

The benefits of using a storyboard 👍

Storyboarding streamlines the creative production process, making it an essential step for any project. It fosters clear communication, enhances productivity, and maintains consistency, ultimately contributing to a successful final product and happy clients. 

Using a storyboard offers the following advantages:

  • It’s a straightforward way to share your vision. A storyboard communicates your ideas visually to everyone involved and is a valuable tool for communicating ideas to clients, stakeholders, and collaborators.
  • It makes video production more accessible and productive. A detailed visual guide helps you plan production, coordinate resources, and establish a project timeline. Visualizing the project helps create a more efficient, effective production process. 
  • It creates consistency throughout the project. A storyboard ensures that all team members are on the same page, working toward a unified vision leading to a better result.
  • It helps you identify problems. With a storyboard in place, you can catch potential issues and inconsistencies — and address them — before they escalate. This proactive approach saves time, effort, and resources, including funds, for you and your client, such as revisions and reshoots.  

The critical elements of a storyboard 🍿 

Compelling storyboard examples contain several key elements that work together. Whether the storyboard is hand-drawn or created using computer software, the following crucial components help ensure clarity and cohesion for the project:

  1. Project name. The name of the project on the storyboard. 
  2. Shot images. Illustrations or pictures that represent the videos’ key scenes and actions. 
  3. Shot types. Information about the type of shot for the scene, such as close-up, wide-angle, or moving. 
  4. Shot number. Unique numbers that indicate where a shot appears in production in sequence. 
  5. Timing. An indication of how long each scene or shot will be to indicate pacing. 
  6. Action. A description of the main activities in the shot that clarifies the intent of the visuals.
  7. Dialogue. Any speech or narration that accompanies each shot. 
  8. FX. Technical details required for each shot, including special effects, sound effects, aspect ratio, camera angles, and more. 

How can you use storyboards? 🎞️

Storyboards have versatile applications across many industries and are commonly used for storytelling, process explanation, and showing the progression of time. 

In the entertainment industry, storyboards are a staple for creating films and animations, as they help filmmakers and animators visualize scenes and plan shots. But they’re not just for Hollywood. In the business world, storyboards are used for customer behavior modeling and advertisements, allowing marketers to map out consumer journeys and convey compelling brand messages. Educators also benefit from storyboards as a means of storytelling, providing teachers and students with a clear, visual way to explain complex ideas. 

Different types of storyboards 🖌️

Each type of storyboard has unique characteristics that suit different applications. That’s why understanding their differences is critical — it helps you choose the right one to use for your specific project. For example, you would use a different type of storyboard for a graphic design video project or a YouTube short than you would for a presentation on customer journeys. 

Here are the three main types of storyboards:

Traditional storyboards 📜

Drawn by hand, a hand-drawn or traditional storyboard typically features illustrations or images of each shot in the project, including details like shot numbers, actions, dialogue, and special effects notes. If you’ve ever wondered what a storyboard is in film, traditional storyboards are your answer. A traditional storyboard is economical, offers a comprehensive visual overview of a video project, and delivers time-tested results.

Thumbnail storyboards 🐾

As the name suggests, thumbnail storyboards contain smaller, rougher sketches. Often the size of postage stamps, these sketches capture the essence of each shot without providing too much detail. Useful for quickly drafting ideas, these storyboards frequently appear during the early stages of a project, as they allow for quick visualization. Projects often start off with a thumbnail storyboard for brainstorming and obtaining initial feedback before moving on to a more detailed version.

Vertical storyboard 🪜

A vertical storyboard displays its panels in a vertical format. Vertical storyboards are effective for visualizing a narrative that flows from the top to bottom, such as customer journeys, different stages of a commercial or advertisement, and social media content. 

How to make a storyboard 🎨

Crafting a storyboard is critical in any creative production project. As an Independent offering freelance services on Contra, follow these eight steps to create a compelling storyboard that effectively communicates your vision to your client: 

  1. Plan ahead. Before you get started, decide on your storyboard’s length, format, and structure. Consider the number of shots, the desired format, and the overall structure for the best results. 
  2. -Choose the type of storyboard. What kind of storyboard does your project need? Choose a traditional, thumbnail, or vertical storyboard — whatever suits your client’s needs the best. 
  3. Create your storyboard frames. Use a pen, pencil, or online software to outline your storyboard shots. Add your story's key scenes and actions, ensuring each frame accurately represents the intended composition and perspective. Use an online storyboard template to streamline the process.
  4. Sketch your story. Illustrate each shot to capture the essence of your narrative. Aim for a clear visual flow and highlight any details that convey the video’s progression and narrative arc. 
  5. Add descriptions and dialogue. Add context below each shot. Include descriptions of the action, dialogue from the script, and other relevant details. 
  6. Add additional details. Add details like transitions, sound effects, and music to each shot to bring the story to life. 
  7. Add camera movement. Indicate any necessary camera movements for each shot, including pans, zooms, and tracking shots. This information helps guide the production team. 
  8. Thoroughly review your work. Does your storyboard accurately convey your vision for the project? Review it carefully for consistency, coherence, and effectiveness, and make any necessary revisions. 

Tips for creating effective storyboards 📸

Creating effective storyboards is foundational for the successful production of any creative project and requires thoughtfulness and attention to detail. To craft impactful visual outlines that clearly communicate your vision with clients, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Have a clear goal. Establish the primary objective of your project before you begin and create a storyboard that aligns with it. 
  • Use logical, coherent content. Organize your shots in a logical sequence to maintain a cohesive narrative flow. 
  • Always keep a “cinematic” mind. Think like a cameraperson — visualize your project’s camera movements, special effects, and more for the best visual impact. 
  • Include relevant details. Don’t forget to consider the little things like transitions and lighting; this helps convey the full scope of your vision. 
  • Revise, edit, repeat. Make as many revisions and edits as you need to ensure a high-quality end product. 

Join Contra’s community of Independents 💥

If you’re an Independent looking to kick-start or elevate your freelance journey, Contra is the perfect platform to showcase your skills, connect with like-minded creative professionals, and get paid for the work you love. Join the Independent community on Contra’s commission-free platform for tips about freelancing and information on specializing in specific topics, and to connect with like-minded video and creative professionals, join our Slack channel.

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