Pre-Production Update #5: Storyboarding

Today, we’ll be having a discussion on storyboarding. What is storyboarding? Why do it? Where am I? All good questions, and I’ll be answering at least two of them.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, storyboards are essentially a movie in comic-strip form. All animated films are first storyboarded (usually multiple times) before animation, and many live action films are as well. Most action sequences are storyboarded in great detail as a means for saving money and increasing safety through careful planning. Now, whether a director uses storyboards or not is up to the director. Some use boards (ex. Ridley Scott) and some just use a list of shots needed for each day of shooting. Still a third group (and hopefully the smallest) are those directors that can just show up and figure things out on the day, like Steven Spielberg. However, if you’re not a master filmmaker, it’s your job to be as considerate of the crew’s time and self-prepared as possible, so you should probably storyboard. Alfred Hitchcock storyboarded every shot of his films, and if it’s good enough for the Master of Suspense, it’s good enough for the rest of us. Personally, I board every project that I’m working on. Some directors hire an artist to make their storyboards for them, but if you can draw well, I think it’s fairly lazy to not do it yourself.

Now, there are two main reasons I can see for storyboarding extensively for stop-motion animation projects. First, you want to have every shot planned and timed so that you don’t animate even a second more than is necessary. This is essentially editing your movie before you shoot it. Second, with the shots planned, you know exactly what your camera is going to be seeing, so you’ll want to only build the parts of the sets that will be in view. Both of these reasons save time, and when you’re talking about film of any kind, time is money.

For “Jupiter IX,” I made the first set of storyboards in 2008. These are extremely rough because I just sat on my bed (how professional!) and boarded out the whole movie in about an hour.


These are just thumbnails, 10 per page, and probably took an average of 15 seconds each to produce. They’re obviously not meant to be pretty, instead, I was rushing to get the film out of my head and into a visual form as quickly as possible. These boards are more like the storyboards that are scribbled on the day of filming. In fact, that’s how Martin Scorsese works; he famously sketches his shots on the backs of script pages. Now, there are shots in the above collection that I plan on changing, or replacing all together, but, as I’ve begun creating the real boards, I’m still referring to them as a rough draft of sorts.

From here on out, I’ll be showing you the first 2 pages of boards for “Jupiter IX” and talking you through what’s going on to let you know how storyboards are constructed. Unlike the above thumbnails, these drawings are all at the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is the Epic Film ratio (think “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Searchers”), also referred to as “Shooting in Scope” and “Anamorphic” (both for the kinds of lenses traditionally used for wide screen).


1.1: Storyboards are named after their scene and their shot. In this case, this is the first shot of the first scene, so, 1.1. “Clean Entrance” means that the spaceship is not in frame at the beginning of the shot, and “Clean Exit” means that it’s not in frame at the end of the shot. Clean entrances and exits are useful when editing because it allows for easier cutting. If I want to trim the shot, I will have the option to do so with the spaceship in frame. In this instance, 1.1 will cut just fine to 1.2 without a clean exit, but because I am planning to shoot it as such, I can change it later. The arrow in the storyboard shows the direction that the ship will be moving, NOT the camera (I’ll get to that description later). “WS” stands for “Wide Shot,” which means that the ship will be small in the frame. Wide shots are also known as Establishing Shots, because they are used when establishing a location (like outer space).

1.2: “Pass-Through” means that I’ll be going from the outside of the ship to the inside of the ship in what will appear to be one continuous shot. I’ll be using the window as a means of transitioning between two shots (an exterior miniature to an interior set). “LS” is “Long Shot” (the entire subject is in frame) and “ECU” is “Extreme Close Up.” “Truck In” is a camera move in which the camera is dollied closer to the subject during the shot.


2.1: “MCU” is “Medium Close Up” (from the chest up).

2.2: An Insert is a close up of an inanimate object. In live action, inserts are often shot without the actors, giving work to any number of talented hand doubles out there.

Well, that about does it on the subject of storyboards. Turns out that I still remember at least some of what I learned in film school. Next week, I’ll have the completed first sequence of the film to show you.