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Different Kinds of Storyboards

A storyboard artist helps directors visualize their films with storyboards.
Ciaran Griffin/Lifesize/Getty Images

The storyboard is one of the most ubiquitous and vital filmmaking tools. Nothing more than a series of illustrations that visualize the action of a screenplay, storyboards allow a filmmaker to adjust the visual flow of a film, plan camera angles and locations, block scenes and even pre-edit a film. Visual artists use storyboards extensively in television, animation and comic book art. As the technique has grown, so have the styles of storyboards available to the modern storyteller.

Traditional Storyboards

The traditional storyboard is a series of pencil or ink sketches, which a storyboard artist usually creates under the director's or producer’s supervision -- although directors frequently create their own storyboards. Printed on heavy stock paper, filmmakers can display traditional storyboards in sequence on a wall or collected together in a spiral-bound book for convenient reference while on set. Storyboards are as detailed as a filmmaker desires, from plotting every scene of a script to sketching one or two scenes.


Drawn faster and with far less detail than traditional storyboards, thumbnail sketches are typically small -- literally the size of a thumbnail -- and collected together on a single sheet of paper. Comic book artists most often use thumbnails, drafting panels for each page and doodling action within the panel, thus ensuring smooth story flow. Storyboard artists also use thumbnail sketches to plot traditional storyboards, before drafting more detailed art.


Advances in computer technology have allowed filmmakers to create animatics -- animated storyboards. In their most basic form, animatics are individual sketches filmed in order to create the sensation of motion and timing. With rough dialogue and music added, animatics can give a filmmaker a greater sense of visual flow and timing. Some filmmakers will use consumer video cameras to film action figures, toys and models as stand-ins for actors and sets, then edit the footage to create a more dynamic animatic.


Similar to animatics, digimatics replace sketches and toys with digital images, strung together to create the sense of motion and timing. Used mostly in advertising to visualize commercials and other ad campaigns, digimatics represents a way for filmmakers to use technology to preplan expensive film shoots. By digimatics allowing filmmakers to make changes and experiment early in the process and on the fly, filmmakers can create “test films.”

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