1. Story Beats

For more example of Story Beats go here.

Story Beats are panels that convey only the key events in your story.  What the plot turns on.  There will be plenty of time to work out your acting queues (Action Beats), transitional actions, and other storytelling subtleties in the Rough Boards (which is the next step in story development).  Right now use the limited number of panels provided to work out the larger story.


I recommend you work small using thumbnails to help focus your ideas and compositions.  Feel free to create as many panels as you need at this stage to find your story, arranging and rearranging , throwing out and adding panels until your story really starts to gel.  Once you have the basic story arc you will need to temporarily remove the extra panels reducing your number to only the Story Beats. At this point your story arch should be as condensed as possible.


From here you can begin to rearrange your story beats experimenting with how your story is being told.  For instance: Should you start with an establishing shot informing your audience of everything they need to know?  or Should you begin very close up keeping your audience in the dark and guessing  as each new plot point is revealed?  Can you start from the end and work back?  How much can you avoid telling by letting your audience fill in the gaps? 

Points to remember about Story Beats:


2. Rough Story Boards (Action Beats and Revisions)

For more examples of Action Beats/Rough Story Boards go here.

Once your Story Beats are in place firmly establishing a complete arc it's time to work out key acting moments using extra panels to convey Action Beats and shot to shot transitions.   At this point we begin to create clear distinctions from one shot to the next and us multiple story panels to convey action within a shot.


This stage in the development of your story is called Rough Story Boards. Composition, camera placement, editorial transitions (dissolves, cuts, and fades) should all be taking shape in your Rough Boards as well as key acting moments (Action Beats).  Most importantly the Rough Boards are where the finer elements of your story are worked out. Most likely this means a number of revisions. 


Keep the drawings loose but legible, and focus on composition, shot to shot continuity, and storytelling.  Make sure you are working strictly within your final aspect ratio (HD or Standard Full Screen).  Work as quickly as possible keeping in mind that clean lines, details, and tonal rendering come later.

Points to remember about Action Beats/Rough Boards:

3. Clean-up Stage or Final Boards

For more examples of Final Boards go here.

Once you have worked out any story kinks in your Rough Board Revisions use the Final or Clean-up pass to refine your drawings, add tone to strengthen compositions and fill in any needed panels to communicate story flow and camera moves.  This is also where all camera notations are clearly communicated. 


If you are not already working digitally you may want to consider it at this point.  While old school story artists use registered paper (taking advantage of the animation disc/light table) most of you will be redrawing directly over your scans in Photoshop.  Either method will allow you to refine your images, add tone, and solve issues around having to repeat backgrounds as each shot may require multiple panels to convey action.  At this point you should be working in layered drawings that will most easily translate into a Story Reel.


Points to remember about Final Boards/Clean-up pass:



4.  Story Reel 

Story Reel by Kayla Mitchell


The Story Reel is simply and edited version of your Final Storyboards using stand-in sound effects, a scratch version of your final musical score to help establish pacing and emotional tone.  You will also be using sound beeps to indicate hard transitions between shots. 


If you aren't planning on a musical score you may want to insert a Click Track or metronome beat to help pace your editing decisions. This can be done by recording an online metronome and inserting it into your edit as an audio track.   By introducing audio, pacing, and camera movement to your Storyboards it is possible to get an accurate impression of the finished film.   This will prove invaluable as you begin to plan out the rest of your production.


In some cases separating out foreground, mid-ground and back-ground elements can greatly enhance the movement of your camera.  This will need to planned into our Photoshop files.

Software Choices
There are a number of tools at your disposal so feel free to use whatever you are comfortable with.  For camera moves and multi-planes I prefer to use Toon Boom Animate Pro or After Effects but Adobe Premiere can also be very effective.  Toon Boom Storyboard Pro works too but I prefer to use it with previously scanned panels or digital files created in Photoshop.


The trick is to keep things simple while representing your final film as accurately as possible (that whole fast vs. accurate thing).  


To save time (and CPU) the artwork for your Story Reel should be reduced to 1920x1080.  You may need to work with larger PSD files if you are planning to use camera moves.  Movie files should be exported as 1280x720 QT at h264 compression.


No doubt there will be plenty of revisions for your Story Reel but most of these should be painless.  It's amazing how much clearer things get what you add audio and pitch them to an audience.  As you create revisions remember to include the new date at the end of your file name so you know which file is the latest.


Points to remember about the Story Reel:


5.   Production Boards and Renumbering Shots



Production Boards help to accurately communicate story decisions into the production pipeline.  This step has more to do with formatting than anything else.  At this point your main concern will be to renumbering shots and panels, labeling production queues such as dissolves, fades, and camera moves, and inserting dialogue and production notes.  


The renumbering of shots and panels reflect the final edit of the approved Story Reel. At this stage once new Shot Numbers are assigned they are locked and will not change during production.  If a shot is added from this point a decimal will be inserted.  Once completed Production Boards are printed out between 3 and 6 panels to a page.


The best tool for formatting boards is Toon Boom Storyboard Pro.  Even if you have chosen to compile your Story Reel with other tools (After Effects, Premiere, etc.) Storyboard Pro has some unique tools for numbering, labeling and printing out your boards in a variety of formats.  Once you learn the steps it's a very simple process.


Points to remember about Production Boards:


6. Thumbnail Pages



Thumbnail Pages are a reduced/simplified version of the Production Boards without any production notes. The Thumbnail Pages are laid out with up to 16 panels to a page.  These are very valuable for the Layout Artists and Animators to help them view each shot within a larger context.


Points to remember about Thumbnail Pages: