How Storyboarding Works: A Brief Introduction to How Ridley Scott, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson & Other Directors Storyboard Their Films

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rid­ley Scott Demys­ti­fies the Art of Sto­ry­board­ing (and How to Jump­start Your Cre­ative Project)

How the Coen Broth­ers Sto­ry­board­ed Blood Sim­ple Down to a Tee (1984)

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Paint­ed the Sto­ry­boards For Scenes in His Epic Films: Com­pare Can­vas to Cel­lu­loid

How Bong Joon-ho’s Sto­ry­boards for Par­a­site (Now Pub­lished as a Graph­ic Nov­el) Metic­u­lous­ly Shaped the Acclaimed Film

The Art of Mak­ing Blade Run­ner: See the Orig­i­nal Sketch­book, Sto­ry­boards, On-Set Polaroids & More

Down­load New Sto­ry­board­ing Soft­ware That’s Free & Open Source

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.

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