Storyboarding: Directing Shots: Telling a Visual Story, Varying Shots, & Introducing Movement by Mark Simonand

Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, February 2007. Storyboarding: Directing Shots: Telling a Visual Story, Varying Shots, & Introducing Movement by Mark Simonand. Pages 42 – 45.

As a storyboard artist, you will often be called upon to act as the director when working on a script. This is not to say that you will actually direct the crew, but that you will develop shot ideas and arrange the style, look, and staging of the action. Even when the director is calling the shots when going though a script, you may be expected to offer suggestions and solutions to the action in the script.

Some directors have training in or have a love for graphic arts and may sketch out their own storyboards. In these cases, either you won’t have a job, or you will be refining their boards. Steven Spielberg has been known to supply rough boards to his artists for some scenes. Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, and Tim Burton also sketch their own boards. The director of Jurassic Park III, Hidalgo, Jumanji and The Rocketeer, Joe Johnston, started as a storyboard artist. He was also one of the conceptual illustrators on the first Star Wars. Even Alfred Hitchcock also started in the film industry as a storyboard artist.

On SeaQuest DSV, two of our directors sketched out boards. One director, Bruce Seth Green, drew out rough boards when he was doing his shot breakdowns and did not need finer boards. This gave me more time to draw conceptual designs for the production designer. The other director, Jesus Trevino, would sketch out thumbnails of some scenes and ask me to redraw them and flesh out the action.

When you are doing your own breakdowns for a script, you need to keep in mind any nuances that a director likes to use Simon and what type of emotion any one scene is supposed to convey. Some directors like to move the camera and stay mostly with master shots for scenes, like Woody Allen. Others prefer a more hectic pace to their editing, like John Woo. Action scenes tend to demand faster edits on key action. Love scenes tend to be paced more slowly, with darker, warmer colors and contrast.

It is crucial that storyboard artists understand the techniques of directing and editing. This knowledge is invaluable in allowing the artist to contribute to the flow of a project. It is also important that the storyboard artist understand industry lingo and how shots work when a director is giving instructions to an artist. A storyboard artist will probably not be asked back if he or she doesn’t understand the basics of directing.

Tell a Visual Story

1. Cut-aways help define characters. Shots of trophies tell the viewer of a character’s success. Family photos help define who is who. A messy or clean home define characters as well as the type of decorations they have.
2. Lonely or scared figures shown from a high angle. Emphasize that a character feels lonely, scared or separated from others by showing them alone.
3. Quick action cuts build energy in scenes.
4. Romantic scenes are best edited with long cuts and dissolves. Nothing abrupt.
5. Use of shadows help make scenes mysterious and scary.
6. Allowing the viewer to see things the actors don’t see can be scary or humorous. A character lurking unseen in the shadows is scary. A child acting crazy behind a parent who is describing their calm child is humorous.
7. Allowing characters to completely exit frame at the end of a scene or enter a scene from off screen allows a perception of passing time. If you need a character to move a long distance from a house to their car, have them out of frame for a moment, and the audience will allow any amount of time to seem to pass.
8. Looking up slightly at a character makes them seem more important.
9. Special camera tricks or angles can help tell the story if properly used, but they can also detract from the story if they are used for no reason.
10. Looking up sharply at a character on a ledge or hanging somewhere adds peril to the scene. The same goes for looking straight down past a character seeing a great drop below them. Looking straight at a character who is in peril up high does not emphasize why they are in peril.
11. Fast moving objects need to pass stationary objects to emphasize speed. Planes against a blue sky look like they are just hanging there, but add clouds and mountains around them, and you can see how fast they are moving.

12. As you work, lay out your thumbnails and boards so you can see entire sequences at once. This allows you to make sure your pacing is good, and you don’t reuse too many of the same shots. This is one of the difficulties of storyboarding on the computer – referencing an entire sequence in one glance.

Create Visual Interest by Varying Shots

1. Use extreme close-ups to heighten emotion: if a character is crying, bring the camera in to see the tears.
2. Give the viewer a sense of place by using an establishing shot. This is a wide shot showing the layout of the location of the action. This also helps the viewer understand the visual relationships between the actors. This is important when you see a close-up of an actor talking towards screen right. The establishing shot tells the viewer who is to the actor’s right.
3. Use over the shoulder (OTS) shots during conversations and confrontations to give the viewer a sense of being part of the action.
4. Introduce interesting camera angles to disorient viewers or make them feel uncomfortable, when justified by the script. The POV or a shot of a drunk character may be tilted to the side and sway around to demonstrate his being drunk and off balance. (Angles that are off the horizontal axis are called canted frames, or Dutch or Chinese angles.) Tilted angles can also intensify scenes of violence.
5. Use point of view (POV) shots to allow the viewer to see what the character is seeing. POVs always need to be motivated by first showing the character looking at something.
6. Vary the distance of your shots. A film becomes visually boring if you always see characters from the same distance.
7. Mix wide, medium, and close shots in the same scene. Don’t be afraid to really pull the viewer in close if it enhances the scene. Mixing different width shots can make a scene dynamic.
8. Tangents. Don’t have any part of a character tangent, or adjacent to, the edge of the frame. It gives the visual impression that the edge of the frame is a wall or floor.

Introduce Movement

1. Keep the camera moving to prevent the film from feeling static. The amount of camera movement will be dependent on the director’s style. Camera movement should, however, be used mostly in action scenes or when there is a reason to move it. Camera movement should not replace good framing.
2. Use 3D arrows to show movement of the camera or of a character. 2D arrows can be misleading as they can’t show depth.
The wide shot shows the viewer the spatial relationship between the characters allowing the viewer to know who the woman is looking at in the next frame. Lonely Hearts storyboard by Alex Saviuk of Animatics & Storyboards, Inc.
Depiction of a canted, swaying frame showing that the character is out of sorts.
The soldier looking up in the first frame to motivate his POV in the second frame.
Stay clear of tangents such as the ones shown. Tangents draw the eyes attention away and flattens the image.
The 3D arrow shows the bottle enters from close to frame and slides back to the man.
3. Move the camera to follow or lead a character. The viewer feels a sense of being a part of the scene.
4. Pan the camera to track an object as it approaches and passes the viewer to give a sense of what a character sees; for example, if a car approaches, passes, and recedes into the distance.
5. Involve the viewer by moving into the action. For example, in a fight scene, using OTS and POV shots gives the viewer a sense of being in the middle of the action.
6. Follow an object or character to lead the camera into a scene. For instance, follow a waiter up to the table featuring your characters.
7. Make the viewers feel as if they are in jeopardy by creating shots where objects or people move towards the lens. These are usually POV shots showing a character in peril. More recently in films, debris from an explosion or accident will fly directly at the camera, making the audience want to duck. For instance, in the movie King Kong, Kong throws a car directly at camera during his New York rampage.
8. Move the camera with an object, carrying the viewer along. Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood has a great shot where the camera rides an arrow into the bull’s-eye of a target.
Mark Simon is the owner of Animatics & Storyboards, Inc. and author of Storyboards: Motion In Art, 3rd Edition. His website is

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