So you’ve worked tirelessly on writing a script that both entertains and ethically motivates people to take the action you want. You’ve written and rewritten at least three times now. Phew! Now you’re happy with what you’ve got. What’s next? Well, that would be the storyboard – the moment we find ourselves going back to the drawing board to get really clear on how we’re going to bring these words to life. If you wanted to know how to make a storyboard for your project, strap yourself in because you’re in the right place.

If you’ve followed my scriptwriting advice, you wrote the script as visually as possible, knowing that the more translatable it is to animation the easier your life will be later. But it’s not until now that we can get really specific in turning those fanciful dreams into concrete worlds – the props, the characters, the action, the camera angles, everything.

You probably won’t know exactly what you want right now, and that’s OK! Take yourself through this article step-by-step, take some time out to reset your creative brain and throw your artist’s hat on. If you haven’t already, it’s time to download the Storyboard Template by simply clicking on the icon above. Once downloaded, give it an open. In the next section I’m going to walk us through the different sections that can be filled in on your template through your computer alone. This is great because when you make those inevitable changes as your story evolves, you won’t need to reprint and waste paper! (If you aren’t able to fill out the fields in the template, make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Reader here.)

Now you’ve got the template opened, I’m going to give us a quick walk-through so you can put yourself in the strongest position later on when you start animating or shooting your piece.

1. Shots

First up we’ve got the shots on the left hand side, and the ‘shot #’ over in the top-right. It can be difficult to know how many drawings you’ll need to do for your movie, but the golden rule of thumb is to have a different drawing for every camera angle. For longer scenes, you might also want to introduce extra shots so that the storyboard can be read by anyone on your team. Try to imagine illustrating for a person who will be directing your movie, but they have no idea what you want. You’ll also thank yourself later when you’ve got your hands full and forget subtleties that were fresh in your mind at the time of drawing.

The shot numbers are perhaps easy to dismiss before you have pages and pages of storyboarding. By numbering each shot you can instantly orient yourself to the project. It’s also a must-do if there are multiple people/clients looking at the storyboard.

2. Assets

Assets represent everything you’re going to need in the respective scene. This means every character, prop, sound effect, music track and – if you’re doing an animation – the artwork that makes up your background scene. If you’re a little unsure, don’t worry. We’re going to be looking at a case study animation I did recently with this template completely filled out, so you’ll know exactly what I mean.

3. Actions

Simply, actions are whatever happens in each shot. This is especially important for longer scenes where the drawing doesn’t immediately convey what’s going on. As I noted earlier though, you’ll need to find a balance between how many drawings you do vs how detailed your action descriptions are. (The longer an individual shot, the more detailed a Actions section generally needs to be.) A quick tip, you can illustrate actions in the drawings. If you have a morning scene where the sun rises and then goes down shortly after in a fast-forwarded day scene, draw the sun in the middle of the shot and mark on an upward arrow beside a downward arrow. More generally, arrows can be more intuitive between team members , but do it sparingly.

One last point is on timing, which I would recommend for only the most complex of projects. For explainer videos it’s not necessary in my opinion as they are no more than a few minutes usually. The exception here may be if you would prefer to have every aspect of your piece carefully planned with a view to speeding up production later. (A consideration for larger teams.)

4. Script

Last of all we have the all-important script. Again, pretty self-explanatory. But one challenge I would point out is deciding how to segment your full script between shots, which we’ll explore in the next section.

Translating your flat script into a multi-dimensional drama with an accompanying visual for every line can be difficult to say the least. It can lead a wonderful script to disrupt the whole context of how words are perceived by your watcher – does the scene feel rushed? Or is it drawn out? Is the pace consistent throughout?

Just remember that the most concrete transitions between shots are camera angle changes, or a visual change in action which isn’t conveyed in the shot’s drawing.

And if you still have difficulty deciding whether you need an extra shot or not, realise that each of the four storyboard pillars are interconnected – shots, assets, actions and script. So if you find yourself struggling to segment the script (#4) for example, consider the insights that the number of assets (#2) brings. Or the realistic time needed for all the actions (#3) to be played out.

Other structural assets includes music, SFX and the voiceover, which again have a big impact on how your watcher experiences your movie. Plan a shot too short, and the voiceover has to be delivered so quick that the animation necessarily has to follow at the same pace! So try to visualise not only how you want the experience to look like, but also the overall tempo of the video and how that relates to the theme of your product, and your brand. Create rough animations and play it against a selection of music tracks which you’ve considered for the video. If you sell a performance-enhancement supplement, then giving your watchers a fast and stimulating experience might make sense. But if you’re the preeminent enterprise for house slippers, then a fast paced piece may conflict with customer expectations.

One more neat dynamic here is to make a distinction between the pace when introducing the problem at the beginning (if applicable), and the pace when you reveal the solution. A slow problem followed by a fast solution will emphasize the ‘hero’s journey’ of your character(s). This is the perceived progress made between the problem and the solution, and the greater the progress made by the character, the greater the value which your product appears to bring. On a subconscious level your prospects will become that protagonist on screen, and you want them to finish watching your video with an deep-seated sense that they’ve just been taken on one hell of a journey that undeniably resolves the problem they’ve been looking to fix.

The hardest step for many will be the drawing, particularly if you’re like me and are hard-pushed to draw coherent stick men let alone adding depth and emotion to artwork. If you consider yourself in the same boat, I have good news. It doesn’t matter! In fact, time spent in perfecting drawings will likely be time wasted. Spend time, instead, identifying the shots which form the building blocks of your movie. If you draw like a 4 year old, I’ll give you a member’s card.

Rush your drawings if you need to, anything to capture that fleeting thought in your head and preventing it from getting lost in the ether. You can absolutely use a drawing tablet like a Bamboo pad or Wacom, but frankly, unless you plan to do this professionally or as a service, a basic pen/pencil and paper is going to be not only cheaper, but help to nurture creativity in translating thoughts into illustrations. With that in mind, don’t print off your storyboard and experiment in the template. Just get some scrap paper, or an economy A4 pad, divide a page into 4, 6, 8 or 12 sections with a quick line template (don’t even use a ruler) and start drawing. Just go for it. This is an especially good productivity hack if you have the drawing equivalent of writer’s block. Engage the drawing part of your mind and those brain waves will come soon enough. Then once you’ve gone through dozens of iterations in the rough, you can copy the final version onto that sacred storyboard. Sacred that is, but not perfect.