Storyboard Artists translate screenplays, or sequences from screenplays, into a series of illustrations in comic book form. These illustrations have two functions: to help Directors clarify exactly what they want to achieve, and to illustrate to all other Heads of Department exactly what is required, e.g., prosthetics for Make-up, Computer Generated Images (CGI) for Visual Effects, props for the Art Department, etc.
In many ways comic books are the art form that most closely resembles cinema – they both tell stories in a primarily visual form, involving discrete, framed images linked sequentially to convey information. Although comic book images are static, it is often useful to employ the comic book form to develop complex sequences in films that require careful planning, and that can not or should not be left to on-set improvisation. Helping the Director to conceptualise these sequences is the specialist task of Storyboard Artists. They work on a freelance basis.
What is the job?
Storyboards are mainly required on films containing large amounts of action and/or CGI, where complex chase, fight or battle scenes need to be visualised and carefully planned. It is now becoming commonplace for many big budget feature films to be storyboarded before shooting begins. Although it may be argued that this stifles the creative process of directing a film, it is a sensible way of avoiding overshooting and spiralling budgets.
Depending on individual Directors and their requirements, Storyboard Artists usually start work early in the production process. After reading the screenplay, they meet with the Director to discuss the mood and atmosphere of any scenes to be storyboarded. During this process Storyboard Artists must analyse the Director's requirements, and visualise the scene from the camera's point of view, working out the characters' positions, who or what else is in the frame, and from what angles they are seen, and imagining their feelings. After Storyboard Artists have delivered the first few illustrations, Directors usually allow them to suggest their own ideas for the following scenes, although some Directors are more prescriptive about what they want, using storyboards as a reminder rather than as a template. On big budget films, two or three Storyboard Artists may be employed full time, usually in Art Department offices at film studios, where they are able to examine any models of the sets and photographs of various locations, and refer questions to the Production Designer.
Although most Storyboard Artists still prefer to use pencil and paper rather than draw onto a computer screen, as they have more control over the movement and flow of a pencil line, they use computer software packages such as Photoshop to collate and change work easily. Because of advances in computer games and in animation techniques, many storyboard software packages are available, e.g., Storyboard Lite, Frameforge 3D Studio and Storyboard Artists & Storyboard Quick.
Typical career routes
There is no typical career route to becoming a Storyboard Artist. Individuals may have worked as Graphic Artists, Illustrators or Graphic Novelists; or they may have been employed in Design studios or in Animation and made the transition to film storyboarding by chance, or by making contacts with Storyboard Artists and Production Designers.
Essential knowledge and skills
Basic technical knowledge of film cameras and lenses is invaluable for Storyboard Artists. A thorough knowledge of the Director's role in the film making process helps Storyboard Artists to think in a similar way. A thorough working knowledge of image manipulation packages, e.g., Photoshop, is also required.
Key Skills include:
Training and qualifications
Most Storyboard Artists are graduates of Fine Art, Graphics or Illustration courses. A small number of courses (mostly specialising in Animation) teach storyboarding skills. Some short courses are also available. For those trying to find work in this area, it is vital to have as much drawing experience as possible and a strong portfolio of work.
Individual course accreditation in certain subject areas is currently being piloted. As part of Creative Skillset's and the UK Film Council's Film Skills Strategy, A Bigger Future, a network of Screen Academies and a Film Business Academy have been approved as centres of excellence in education and training for film.
Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset is the Creative Industries' Sector Skills Council. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Creative Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive Creative Skillset/BFI course database. Finally, Creative Skillset Careers is UK's creative careers advice service; for detailed careers information and advice, visit www.creativeskillset.org/careers.
- British Film Designers Guild
- American Cinematographer has regular features on film design and digital production techniques.
- Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design (Faber and Faber) by Christopher Frayling
- Production Design and Art Direction (Focal Press) by Peter Ettedgui
- By Design: Interviews with Film Production Designers (Greenwood Press) by Vincent LoBrutto
- Film Architecture: From Metropolis to Blade Runner (Prestel Publishing Ltd). Edited by D. Neumann 2001
- Filming the Future (Aurum Press Ltd) by Piers Bizony
- The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matt Painting (Chronicle Books) by M. Cotta Vaz and C. Barron
If your computer has the relevant software, click the document icons or document titles to view the relevant document. Right-click (PC) or hold your mouse-button down (Mac) on the document icon/title, you'll be given the option to save the file to disk. If you don't have the necessary software to view the documents, take the above links to download free reader programs.