Due to the lengthy animation process, it pays to plan ahead, especially if you’re working with a large group of people rather than alone. You may have a clear idea of what your story and movie will look like in your head, but how do you get that idea across to other people? This is where storyboards come into play.
The role of the storyboard in the animation process
A storyboard is pretty much what it sounds like – a board for your story. A visual representation of the still images in your film, a storyboard marks each key moment in a film, drawn like a picture book and presented in order. It presents important movements and events visually, as well as camera angles and camera movements.
The storyboards themselves don’t have speech bubbles, so they’re not like a comic book version of the movie. They leave out the dialogue and all the details and just focus on what the visual is going to be. They sometimes include large arrows to show if something is zoomed or panned left or right, but they place dialogue or important information underneath or let someone speak through storyboards during their presentation.
You can compare the storyboard of the opening sequence of The Lion King with the final animation of the same sequence. It shows a great example of storyboarding, all consistent with the theme and camera angles of the final animation they created. This precision not only gives people a better understanding of the story and what’s about to happen, but it also helps the animators immensely.
A beacon for the animator
When you animate a story, you know what you want to happen, but when it’s given to someone else, it becomes clear that two people can interpret the same scene radically differently. The storyboard helps the animator align with what was laid down in your pre-production work. Thanks to the storyboard, he knows which camera angles to use, how to move the camera, and how the story should unfold.
Storyboarding is not limited to animation. Live film storyboarding is just as important as animation: when the live footage is shot, all the cinematographers, actors and assistants can agree on what needs to be done.
For example, storyboarding was the dominant method for Mad Max: Fury Road. Rather than writing a screenplay, screenwriter George Miller designed the entire film as one long storyboard. Fury Road is such a visual film that adapting it as a storyboard rather than a script helped bring to life the amazing vision that was conceived. (Fun Fact: Due to the heavy influence of storyboarding, Miller initially envisioned this as a film with no dialogue).
A help or an obstacle
When working alone, storyboarding can be both helpful and a hindrance. For a solo project, it can slow you down and limit what you can do once you start animating. Since you have a good idea of what you have in mind, you may not feel the need to set everything up in advance – there’s a good reason to just do it.
However, some animators find it very useful to present what they need to do through the storyboard, even when working alone. This can help you focus and have a clearer view of what to expect for the project. It can certainly help if you need to know how long it will take you to animate a certain aspect of your film.
It’s up to you whether you want to storyboard or not, but it’s worth trying at least once.