When you’re making a film with complex shots or sequences of shots, it doesn’t hurt to have storyboards. Though professional storyboard artists do exist, they don’t come cheap, and in any case they constitute one more player in the game of telephone between those who’ve envisioned the final cinematic product and the collaborators essential to realizing it. It thus greatly behooves aspiring directors to develop their drawing skills, though you hardly need to be a full-fledged draftsman like Ridley Scott or even a proficient comic artist like Bong Joon-ho for your work to benefit from storyboarding.
You do, however, need to understand the language of storyboarding, essentially a means of translating the rich language of cinema into figures (stick figures if need be), rectangles, and arrows — lots of arrows. Drawing on examples from Star Wars and Jurassic Park to Taxi Driver and The Big Lebowski, the RocketJump Film School video above explains how storyboards work in less than ten minutes.
As storyboard artist Kevin Senzaki explains how these drawings visualize a film in advance of and as a guide for filmmaking process, we see a variety of storyboards ranging from crude sketches to nearly comic book-level detail, all compared to corresponding clips from the finished production.
These examples come from the work of such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Wes Anderson, and Christopher Nolan — all of whose films, you’ll notice, have no slight visual ambitions. When a shot or sequence requires serious visual effects work, or even when a camera has to make just the right move to advance the action, storyboards are practically essential. Not that every successful director uses them: no less an auteur than Werner Herzog has called storyboards “the instruments of the cowards,” those who can’t handle the spontaneity of either filmmaking or life itself. Rather, he tells aspiring directors to “read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read… read, read… read.” But then so did Akira Kurosawa, who didn’t just draw his movies in advance — he painted them.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.