Storyboards: A Critical Tool for Video Creators

Everyone has a story on movie clapboard

Storyboards are a critical component of any video creator’s pre-production. In post-production, they can be reclaimed and used to build barns. 

The complexity of your storyboard will depend on the kind of video you’re making. For screen recording and some social video, a simple storyboard will typically do. But even if your current storyboarding needs are basic, you should understand how storyboards work and how to create them.

So at the most basic level, what’s a storyboard?

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What are storyboards for and why do you need them?

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A storyboard is a map of your script in sequential, visual form. It can show composition, camera angles, character blocking, stage directions, and dialogue snippets tied to a particular scene. By giving your team a rough idea of how every shot will look, it greatly streamlines the pre-production and recording processes. It also helps in post-production.  

To understand how storyboarding helps in all those parts of the process, think about one annoying thing they help you avoid and one way they make your video storytelling. 

Let’s say you’re making a video to give your followers a tour of your favorite farmers market. You spend a few hours shooting your video on the day of the market. Then you go home, upload your footage for editing and realize you didn’t shoot the musicians who sit next to the market — one of the things that makes it your favorite place to shop. 

Now you’ve either got to drop that point, which could weaken your story, or edit around it using some kind of b-roll, which could be a lousy viewing experience. A storyboard would have depicted that shot and helped you avoid that situation. 

Storyboarding can also strengthen your storytelling. It forces you to crystalize your idea, so you can see what’s working, what’s not, and what you may have missed. And you can share it with collaborators, colleagues, clients, friends, and anybody whose feedback you value. They’ll point out any remaining gaps in your narrative, unconvincing parts of your argument, or potentially boring parts — stuff that’s far easier to fix in pre-production. 

Again, a storyboard doesn’t have to be complicated. For a simple social-media video, you might be able to fit your storyboard on a single page. But if you don’t create one at all, your margin of error will widen considerably, during both shooting and editing.

To recap storyboards:

  • Streamline every part of production.
  • Help you clarify your idea for the script.
  • Allow you to share your ideas with others and get feedback. 

How to create a storyboard


Here are key steps for making a proper storyboard, regardless of your subject matter.

1. Break down your script

Divide your script into individual scenes, and then tie each scene to a specific frame. Note that the script should be finished before you start storyboarding. 

Breaking down your script helps you plan your shoot, but it also gives you a good idea of your video’s overall pacing. And it allows you to ballpark the video’s total length.

2. Create blank slides for your frames

After you’ve broken your script down into scenes, you’ll need to insert those scenes into your storyboard template on blank slides. Ideally, the slides should be a standard size that matches the aspect ratio of your video. They can either be drawn by hand or in a digital template. 

You’ll also want to put a blank space beneath each slide to fill in filming instructions and snippets of dialogue attached to that scene.

3. Sketch your storyboard

Sketches can take several different forms. 

In short, the method that you use will depend on your drawing ability, the kind of film you’re making, and who you’re creating that storyboard for. You don’t need to be an artist — so long as you and anybody else who looks at it can understand what’s in each shot, you’re good.

For example, are you sketching out a storyboard for your vlog? You can probably get away with hand-drawn stick figures. Are you creating an animated film for a client? You’ll most likely want a full-blown professional illustration that clearly conveys your ideas, and that gives the client a sense of how it will look.

4. Add your script and filming directions

Next, drop in your script, along with filming instructions for particular frames, if any. Here is where the compartmentalization in step 1 will come in handy, as it allows you to drag and drop those sections of the script into the correct spots.

5. Review and share with others

Lastly, you’ll want to share your script with your production team to solicit feedback. If you work for a client, you’ll probably need to run it by them, too. If it’s just you, you can run it by a friend or peer — or just scrutinize it yourself.  

Storyboard Formats

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There are a few different ways creators approach storyboards. Here are a few, and the scenarios they’re most useful for.

1. Traditional storyboards

Here you’re going old-school, sketching scenes out by hand. The method is still popular, partly because the price point of pencil and paper is relatively low. And you can make changes or map out new ideas reasonably quickly to map out new ideas, too. 

2. Thumbnails

Thumbnail storyboards are useful in team scenarios, where your team has developed a short-hand method to quickly convey information in a visual style. 

For example, a particular arrow within a thumbnail can simply mean “pan left.” Thumbnails can be less polished than traditional storyboards, too.

3. Digital storyboards

Like everything else these days, you can make storyboards on a computer. It’s more expensive but allows you to do more elaborate planning and show your ideas in greater detail.

You can design a storyboard that includes text, drawings, and graphics using various apps and programs. Digital storyboards also work great for animated sequences or when you need to collaborate with other team members remotely.

Storyboard Tips

Before we finish, a few more tips:

  1. Always number your panels. If you have lots of them, It’s easy to mix up the order.
  2. Be imaginative. Storyboards are a place to play and to see what works! Save the polishing for post-production.
  3. Don’t be afraid to seek advice and feedback on your work.
  4. Always keep your video’s aspect ratio in mind, as it will change the composition of each scene. Don’t skip the aspect ratio in step 2 above. There’s lots more on Descript’s blog.

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