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Storyboarding For Animation

Jim Yuill Jul 16, 2021 Scroll to read in 6 minutes

One of the earliest stages when planning out any animation is the storyboarding process. This is the moment when script and ideas are brought together and put to paper for the first time in a way that resembles an animation. It’s a chance for creatives to interpret the ideas that the writers or clients have laid out into drawn images. Creating a storyboard is an essential step in any animation. But how can it be applied to stop-motion? This blog takes a look at how storyboarding is used and influences the stop-frame animation process from start to finish.

Why Do You Need A Storyboard?

Costa Christmas Storyboard 3

Every one of our commercials here at our production company starts with a storyboard, normally on paper. Our design artists work with the director and the brief to thumbnail each shot in the animation. Doing this creates a great visual narrative for clients and the animation team to give them an idea of what the final animation will look like. It also gives the client a chance to make any changes before the expensive, time-consuming, production stage. This approach means we don’t waste time and money by having to make changes to the stop-motion once it’s shot. Changes to the storyboard can take hours, whereas changing stop-motion can take days and weeks, or even starting over from scratch.

Each storyboard artist has their own unique style and voice when it comes to boarding out a scene. It is up to the director to guide the artists during this early stage of the animation process so that the storyboard produced fits the feeling and idea of the brief. A storyboard here at the studio for a product animation such as TK Maxx will be very different from a narrative-based animation like LEGO Fairy Tales Retold.

Creating A Storyboard

LEGO Fairytales Storyboard 1

The process of creating a storyboard is very much a state of flow as opposed to a rigid set of guides for the animation team. Anything drawn and pitched in at this early stage of pre-production is subject to intense changes by the client and advertising agency if involved. Sometimes planned shots are removed entirely if they are not working with the overall feel and pacing of the film. For feature projects or animated series, creators will often do a live run-through of a scene with storyboard frames across the walls. They act out and describe each frame to the crew to give them a better sense of how the scene will play out with voice acting and animation. It gives them the opportunity to really sell every element of an episode or sequence.

The drawings produced from this process can range from sketches of highly detailed scenes to simple stick figures to help demonstrate an important stance or action. The choice of detail ultimately lies with the person creating the images for the storyboard. All that matters is clearly conveying ideas, framing, and posing at this stage. If this can be achieved with stick figure drawings then that is totally acceptable.

Due to the nature of a storyboard, the main focus during the process of creating them is on story coherence. Each of the artists working on the storyboard have the job of making sure that each shot flows seamlessly into the next. Most people would assume that story is the only thing in film that needs to be focused on in order to create a coherent story, however, a good knowledge of film language really helps in creating scenes that are visually easy to follow. It is very easy to ignore these film techniques and end up with a film that is visually boring or muddled. Storyboarding helps to alleviate confusing shots in the final film through careful planning at this early storyboard stage.

Storyboarding For Animation

Portafina Storyboards 02

A storyboard provides a perfect jumping off point for animators to get an idea of how a shot should look before starting animation. It is then the job of the animators to interpret each frame of the storyboard or animatic and bring the characters and props to life with their own creative flair. Creating the board is an essential step in animation, providing every person involved in the animation process with a reference point from which to work.

Camera moves are shown in storyboards with large arrows drawn into frame. This gives the animators a clear idea of how the camera moves during the shot.

Animatics

Car Finance BTS 05

When we create a storyboard here at A+C, one of the things we have to consider is the potential need for an animatic. This is, essentially, a very simple animated version of the storyboard. Creating an animatic allows the creative team to move the production closer to the finished animation by adding recorded voice lines and simple camera moves.

For the animatic, we normally separate characters and backgrounds into individual elements in photoshop. Everything is then placed on a separate layer and moved into editing software. Each element can then be animated to show a better sense of the movement of characters and props within the finished film. An animatic really helps with timing and story pace - again, to save time and money being wasted during the shoot.

Software For Storyboarding

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There are also plenty of great pieces of software that can help you when creating your own storyboards. Probably the most famous of them is Toonboom’s Storyboard Pro. This is the industry standard when creating a storyboard. It is a subscription-based software so it will require monthly payments if you plan to use it for your own projects: https://www.toonboom.com/products/storyboard-pro

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, a good option is Wonder Unit Storyboarder. This is a free piece of software that is being constantly worked on by its developers. They have recently added a feature that allows you to manipulate 3D models of characters. This is great if you have trouble drawing and still need characters in your storyboard. https://wonderunit.com/storyboarder/

If none of these seem right for your own workflow, there is always the option of creating them the old-fashioned way… by drawing on paper or post-it notes! Experiment and see what works for you. As long as you are able to get your ideas down in some form, that is all that matters. 

If you would like some more information about the animation process from start to finish, why not check out our blog on Getting started in Stop-motion. It has some handy tips that give a real insight into the stop-frame process from start to finish, as well as some of the ways we create stop-motion here at the studio.