On Storyboarding

Process Series

On Storyboarding

Process Series

My Storyboarding Process
This article is from an interview I did with Concepts App, read the original Medium article here.  I'm posting it here to have a centralized collection of resources.
Interview by Erica Christensen — Director of Community at TopHatch.​​​​​​​
What is storyboarding, exactly? How do you use it and how does it fit into your creative process? How does it help you to achieve your goals?
What it is. Storyboarding is basically using rough illustrations to visualize the sequence of a storyline or user experience. It can be for a book, a video, a game, etc. I love drawing and creativity, but I also really enjoy planning and organizing. To me, storyboarding combines all of that.
 When creating any sort of story-driven work, storyboarding is very important to my process. It’s like laying out the game plan before diving into the drills. It helps me think through the messages and emotions I want to convey, and how to best represent them in a picture. It is meant to be loose and rough, so you don’t get caught up in the details while still working out the big picture.
Works for Many Formats. The actual visuals and elements of a storyboard will vary depending on your project. A traditional 32-page picture book is a great example for basic storyboarding because it’s a condensed, straight-line structure that still tells an entire story. A feature film can have thousands of storyboard panels, while a storyboard for an app interaction may include more interface instruction.
Getting the storyboard to a good place is critical in making sure I don’t lose sight of the bigger picture when I dive into creating the visuals. I always keep it nearby as I start coloring and flushing out the script, allowing myself flexibility to edit but keeping my mind on the overall vision. It’s also very important when I’m working with a collaborator or client, to make sure we’re on the same page. I really believe story is the most critical aspect; even the most beautiful visuals ring empty if the storytelling is weak, while simple line drawings can evoke a lot of emotion if told in the right sequence with the right message.
A printout of a storyboard (aka game plan) Mimi created with Concepts.
What tools (analog and digital) do you use for your storyboarding and illustration? How do these tools fit into your workflow and help you to create your final work?
1. Good ol’ paper and pencil for thumbnailing. In general, I start on paper with the roughest basic thumbnails because that’s where I can think most intuitively. They’re pretty much scribbles that only I understand. PS - I love Palomino Blackwing and Prismacolor Col-Erase Blue pencils for sketching.
2. Procreate for sketch iterations. When I’m feeling good about my thumbnails, I’ll move onto digital tools because they’re best for iterating and refining. Procreate is great for drawing and thinking through my thumbnails in more detail. However, because each image is one file, it’s hard for me to get a sense of the big picture.
3. Concepts for storyboarding. I like to use Concepts to place the sketches in a neat storyboard because of its infinite canvas interface. I like to create a simple linework panel based off my rough Procreate sketches, and Concepts’ vector system makes it easy to move panels around, edit shapes and align elements.
4. Photoshop for final art. Once the storyboard is in a good place, I’ll then move it into Adobe Photoshop for coloring the final illustrations and InDesign for creating the print files.
Would you be willing to walk us through your storyboarding process?
Sure, here’s how I’d go about working through a typical picture book as an example.
1. Writing. Assuming I’m writing the text, my general process is to first come up with an idea and write out a basic script. I’ll focus on just the words and message and run it by a few people to get their thoughts. My goal here is to make sure the heart of the content is solid.
2. Thumbnailing. Once I have the basic script in a good place, I’ll start storyboarding out the sequence. As mentioned above, I like to start with really rough thumbnails to start visualizing some of the ideas I have in my head.
3. Show, Don’t Tell. In this stage I think about how to express the feeling and sentiment I want to convey. A series of illustrations has different design questions compared to one painting. I make a lot of decisions such as how to reveal key story elements and how to incorporate a sense of dynamism in the panel developments.
It’s also important to think through what is conveyed through words versus visuals. Sometimes you realize you need some more clarification or more panels. But even better, you realize there are things you didn’t need to say because the pictures show them. A lot of humor and poignancy in picture books comes from the illustration showing something different from the text. Hiding some easter eggs and surprise details is fun, too!
4. Thinking Through the User Experience. As hinted at above, a lot of illustration is about design. A great thing about storyboarding is getting an immediate sense of the page turns of a book, which play a big role in the experience of the story.
How can you surprise your reader, showing them something they did not expect or revealing something in the picture that the words do not say? How can you provide that sense of wonder on a flat piece of paper, drawing someone into a character’s mind and then zooming out into a wide perspective landscape?
I think it’s a similar thought process if you’re working on storyboarding for an app, game, video — what are the cuts and angles, and how does it reveal the story in a way that is enjoyable for the viewer given the framework and purpose of your platform?
5. Sketch + Iterate (and Review, if Collaborating!). Sometimes panels come out exactly how I want it from the very first sketch. Others take iteration after iteration, trying different angles, building up, simplifying. Sometimes you need to take some time away from it and come back with fresh eyes. It’s important to keep an eye on the big picture and the overall flow while accounting for significant details and plot points.
When working with a client or collaborator, I’ll put the storyboard spreads into a Keynote PDF so they can flip through it and really get a sense of the pace and rhythm. I have always had good feedback with this approach.
6. Now… On to Actual Picture Making! That’s a lot to get through before refining the actual drawings, but I think it’s important to lay a strong foundation as best you can upfront.
From storyboard to completion: Mimi’s first book for Mimochai.
Learn more about the book, including how to pre-order, here.

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