Video Storyboarding: Borrowing a Scripting Tool from Walt Disney

One of the most useful video scripting techniques is storyboarding. I first learned storyboarding while helping a high school friend who edited video footage for a local TV station. Later I learned that the art of storyboarding had been developed by such directing geniuses as Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock, and George Lucas.

Disney first developed the prototype of the storyboarding concept in the 1920s while working on his earliest animated films. The first complete animated storyboards were used while creating the 1933 short film “Three Little Pigs”. The technique proved so useful that it quickly spread from Disney to other animation studios. Live-action studios soon realized the value of Disney’s technique, and David O. Selznick adopted it to plan the shots for the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. Storyboarding is now universally used throughout the film industry, and has also been applied to planning business ads, comic books, plays, and novels. It’s popular because it enables smoother storytelling, makes for more effective shots, saves money on retakes, and saves time editing.

The concept of storyboarding was borrowed from early comic strips. In a comic strip or comic book, after the writer has created a script outline, the visual sequence of the story is drawn in a series of panels. Captions and dialogue from the script can then be added to the panels.

Psycho Storyboard

Storyboard used by Alfred Hitchcock for Psycho

Disney realized that film producers could use a similar process to plan film shots before actually shooting them. There are different ways to approach storyboarding, but normally, the process begins after the script for the screenplay has already been written.

You go through your script and identify the points where one shot should end and another should begin. One way to do this is by creating columns, where one column shows the script and one shows the shots. You can further break this down with columns for stage directions, dialogue notes, and other notes if you wish, depending on the needs of your production.

Next, analyze each shot so you can plan what you will need. The best way to do this is by having a standard checklist of items you typically need to consider. These include location, actors, props, type of shot, shot angle, motion of the subject, motion of the camera, lighting, and special effects.

Now, with a better idea what each shot will involve, you can create a numbered list of shots.

You can then review your shot list to evaluate which shots need storyboarding. Some simple shots may not need storyboarding or can be handled with a quick thumbnail sketch. Others may require more detailed drawings.

Finally you can draw your storyboard panels for each shot. A best practice is to construct your panels so that you have room to include captions and dialogue outside the panel borders. When you’re done, a page of your storyboard should look a lot like a comic book page.

Star Wars Storyboard

Storyboard from Star Wars

Star Wars Storyboard Enlarged

Star Wars Storyboard Enlarged

Storyboarding can be done with tools as simple as a notebook, index cards, or Post-it Notes. If you’re going to be doing storyboarding often, you might consider investing in storyboarding software to semi-automate the process. A variety of tools are available, ranging from freeware to high-end software. Popular storyboarding software includes Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, FrameForge Previz Studio, StoryBoard Quick, ToonBoom Storyboard, Atomic Learning Storyboard, CeltX Plus, and Springboard.

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