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The Saga of Filmmaking

  • Writer's pictureMaurits Valk

Top 10 Tips To Break in as Storyboard Artist


Over the past 10 years, I studied films, practiced drawing and explored tools to become a storyboard artist. This list summarizes the techniques and strategizes that helped me develop as an artist which I hope could be valuable to you as well.


1. Draftsmanship


Storyboarding is a very competitive field in the entertainment world, whether it’s for Live Action, Advertising, Video Game or Animation productions. When I started pursuing my goal of becoming an artist, I studied the most senior artists in the industry. The thinking behind it was to figure out what key characteristics made their work great which allowed them to continuously get hired.


  • High technical ability

  • Strong storytelling skills

  • Efficient workflow

It is imperative you show strong draftsmanship to help cross that box off any producer’s or director’s checklist for vetting. A technique for this comes from showing confidence in your line work. This relates to using less lines in your drawing instead of faster sketchy lines. Utilizing basic shapes to construct your drawings will show you can draw more efficiently and have a solid understanding of anatomy.

 

2. Understand Perspective & Cameras


Regardless of the medium your show is in, it’s important to ground your audience. Perspective is like the uncanny valley in your storyboard — it sticks out like a sore thumb if you get it wrong. The most common errors are objects in your environment that do not match the camera perspective. Be sure to utilize all the tools at your disposal to have the correct perspective in your shots, this will help check off another major box on the recruiter’s screening list.

Blender is a free tool that you can use to quickly model your environment and then capture screenshots to use as your background in Photoshop or Storyboard Pro. Photoshop and Storyboard Pro also have perspective guide tools that will lay in your perspective lines.

 

3. Edit Storyboards into an Animatic



If you explore a lot of storyboard artists’ websites, you will see a common slideshow function you can click through to ‘watch’ the story unfold. Speaker Deck is the number one choice for this because it does not have transitions between frames. Speaker Deck can be easily embedded in most website builders which is really convenient.

PRO-TIP: Do not have transitions between frames and do not have your frames load between clicks!

Although Speaker Deck is great, I suggest creating an animatic video. This is a quality of life improvement for the recruiter who is scrolling through your website. For one, they get a break from clicking through hundreds of slideshows. Two, they can easily scrub through your video to get a glimpse of your entire scene. Three, adding sound to a video will help bring them into your story.

Editing is an entirely separate skill that no one can expect you to master. However, if you put in the extra effort to time your boards out with sound then the story will be twice as captivating.

 

4. Make it Cinematic



Adding cinematic flare will improve your sequences providing an extra wow factor for the viewer. Cinematic elements can come from different sources such as:

  • Camera moves yield drama but should be motivated

  • Cutting on action in editing keeps animatics feeling smooth

  • Dirting the frame by adding elements in the foreground

  • Environment and lighting design provides production value

  • Depth in your composition avoids the feeling of flat staging

  • Strong acting performances breathes life into your scene

These attributes will quickly elevate your sequences and heighten the cinematic quality.

 

5. Clarity is King



Clarity is the most important and most common tip given to storyboard artists. Every frame should show clear action between characters. The environment should be laid out neatly with the correct perspective. Cameras should move smoothly and with good reason, action leads the camera. Your audience, who doesn’t know anything about your story, should not have to think about what has happened or where a character came from. Keep your story simple and your characters relatable, this will help your audience connect to what you are trying to say.

 

6. Invest in Yourself



Investing in education and tools will help accelerate your growth. There are several online and in-person art schools that offer courses taught by industry professionals without the 50k a year university price tag such as: Schoolism, Brainstorm Online, Proko, Concept Design Academy, and Gnomon to name a few. Some professionals offer classes by themselves which you can find through their social media channels. ArtStation and Gumroad are great sources for tutorials as well.


Andy Cung was my mentor over the last couple of years who has created a series of storyboard classes for all skill levels. His teaching style is very well structured and you will gain access to his discord group where students share their work and encourage each other.


Rajendra Ramkallawan is a very talented and inspiring artist who works at Netflix Animation. He provides helpful insights on how to learn filmmaking as well as offering affordable lecture series that covers a wide range of storyboarding topics.


Paul Coulthard, also known as Spitfire Storyboards on YouTube, has excellent Blender storyboarding tutorials. He’s an experienced board artist that works as a Director at Axis Studios. Join his discord community to gain more insights and learn from his peers.


Jama Jurabaev is a renown concept artist in the film industry. His Gumroad tutorials are mainly for concept art but a lot of his work can be applied to keyframe principles. He also continues to explore new tools and techniques to improve his craft which is deeply inspiring.


Studying professionals is important and learning from them directly will help level up your skills quickly. The other and most important investment is time. Storyboarding takes years to become proficient in. Block out time each week to improve your drawing abilities and practice storytelling. Making sacrifices is necessary to achieve your goals.

 

7. Reference & Film Studies



Studying film is probably the most important resource to learning how to storyboard. A Film Study is the process of drawing the shot you see on your screen. This helps you deconstruct the story of the scene, the editing and the performance of the actors.


Regardless of what type of commercial project you work on, everyone will reference some sort of material before the project gets underway. It’s the foundation for building ideas. If you have a story with two characters walking through a forest, then find movies where that exact same situation happens and learn how they tell that story. If you are having trouble drawing the performance of a character, then film yourself doing that performance for reference. It is much easier to draw from real life than from your head — Google “mind horse”.


Shotdeck and Film-Grab are great resources for looking at still frames. StudioBinder, Every Frame a Painting and Thomas Flight are great YouTube channels that study filmmaking.

 

8. Portfolio Website & Social Media



You don’t have to go to art school to get into the industry. All you need is to show you can produce the work needed for a production. This is where your website and social media platforms come into play. ArtStation is great to have and an art account on Instagram can also be valuable. I personally use Wix for my website but Squarespace and other website builders will work so long as they allow you to embed PDF’s, videos and Speakerdecks in them.


Your website should have a clean neutral look to it that is easy to navigate. The first page should show a storyboard sequence without scrolling too far. You have to put yourself in the perspective of a recruiter who looks through hundreds of applications a day. Keep their attention focused on what they need to see. Include a bio page with your work history and a few sentences about yourself (don’t need a life story). Here are some different storyboard artists websites that work well:


 

9. Networking In Person and Remotely



The entertainment industry is relatively small and close knit but it is always open to letting in new talent. Attending industry seminars, going to conventions and finding in-person drawing groups are great ways to meet industry professionals who share the same passions. Lightbox, CTN and The World Animation Summit are for animation. SIGGRAPH and VES are for VFX. GDC is for Video Games.


Studios look for approachable people who are willing to learn so dress professionally and come with business cards. If you look serious about getting a job then the recruiters will take you more seriously. Be sure to follow recruiters on LinkedIn before attending events because they post will post about their studio’s respective booths. Showing a portfolio via an iPad is accessible and the most common way to show work these days.

PRO-TIP: do not attend these events with the expectation you will land a job. It is fairly unlikely so go in there knowing you have nothing to loose and put yourself out there.

Networking remotely is called LinkedIn. You can Follow individuals and studios without having to connect with them directly. This allows you to get notifications when directors, producers and recruiters are posting jobs. Additionally, posting finished sequences on Friday mornings is a great way to get exposure. Ensure your profile is complete with your website listed under your contact information and a real picture of yourself — how do you expect anyone to recognize you at a convention if you have a drawing of yourself as your profile picture.

 

10. Inspiration & Motivation



Inspiration comes from living life, doing new things and exploring. It’s important to draw from your experiences to craft a universal story that your audience can relate to. Daydreaming is how I go about developing my ideas, just sitting alone, in the shower or going for hikes living through your imagination.


Browsing other artists’ work is another great way to get inspired. Find work that speaks to you. Experiencing movies in theaters or playing a story-driven video game are also ways I look for inspiration.


Crafting a sequence is difficult so try to break down every shot into a step by step process. A great exercise in storytelling is finding a picture online that shows a narrative and telling the next four to five frames that would continue that narrative. It’s a short exercise that can strengthen your problem solving abilities.

 

11. Bonus: Dealing with Rejection


Receiving rejection letters is the natural order of things in the entertainment industry. There are not enough jobs for all the artists competing to win them. At the time of writing this, there is a WGA strike and all the major studios are reevaluating the streaming business model because it is proving to be less profitable which is significantly slowing down productions if not out right cancelling them. The only thing you have control over is improving your craft. Keep a steady income to pay rent and continue practicing, eventually the right opportunity will happen when you are prepared for it.


Don’t ever let anyone tell you, you can’t do something. You have to will your dreams into reality. Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn, Instagram or subscribe to my YouTube channel where I post my personal projects.

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