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What is a storyboard and how can you implement it into your next educational film?

To some, a blank storyboard is merely a sheet of paper with a collection of empty rectangles. In the hands of a visual artist, it’s the beginning of a story. Each rectangle represents a roughly sketched-out scene or shot. These sequences of images are the template or roadmap filmmakers use to shoot things like films, tv episodes and practically any type of scripted video production. Storyboards can be especially helpful in educational filmmaking, which is generally pretty collaborative. They help keep each team member on track with the overall story.

Georges Méliès was an early film effects pioneer and holds credit for being the first to use a storyboard. Walt Disney Animation Studios later perfected the format, creating standards we still use today. It’s now common practice for Hollywood films and television shows to begin with a storyboard. Storyboarding has become even more important with more modern video productions using animation and visual effects.

Not only has storyboarding become critical to video production, but it’s also a highly respected practice. The International Animated Film Society annually gives out an Annie Award for storyboarding. Believe it or not, some psychologists and counselors even use the technique on their clients. In many cases, it is simply the best way to communicate an idea visually.

You don’t have to be an artist

While storyboarding is a very critical part of video production, the great news is, you don’t have to be an art school graduate to sketch out a usable storyboard. You don’t have to draw out every single shot, either. The primary goal of a storyboard is to communicate an idea visually to someone else. You’re just mapping out the key ideas one scene at a time. You want to leave some room for your creative team to fill in the gaps. Your drawing skills only have to be good enough to give a general idea of what will be in the camera’s frame.

For example, if you want to begin with a shot of your lead characters with mountains in the background, a wavy line for the mountain and a pair of half-stick people should suffice. Include unique hairstyles or articles of clothing to differentiate between the characters. If you want to show a close-up of one of the actors, draw a single stick figure head.

Remember, keep it simple. If you’re still leery of drawing on paper, there’s more good news. There are some really good apps for your phone or tablet that will do the drawing for you. Some of the better ones include Storyboard That, Previs Pro and Card Flow. These apps have pre-made figures in various poses. You can paste them onto individual scenes within a larger storyboard sequence. In some cases, you can even use images from your photo library. This means you can take a picture of the specific background you want to see and drop in the pre-made figures.

Another common practice in storyboarding is the use of arrows. It helps to communicate a specific kind of movement in a scene. For example, if you want to use a shot that pans to the left and reveals something, a big arrow to the left will show that.

You can also just write out what goes in the frame. ike in the example above, you could write: “2-shot lead actors over mountains.” Ultimately, whatever will help you communicate the visuals is fine to include.

Educational film uses

Since educational films are often collaborative projects, storyboarding is one of the best tools to get everyone on the same page. Before you shoot a single video frame, everyone will have a great, general idea of what’s expected of them and what the final project will look like. Without a storyboard, some team members may have a different idea in mind and cause friction later on. A storyboard can help clear up some confusion.

It also can help keep production moving smoothly. For example, suppose your first-period class is responsible for the beginning of the production, your fourth-period class is working on the dialogue shots and your sixth-period class is working on the graphics. A storyboard will keep everyone on track.

Finally, it’s best to remember that a storyboard is merely a tool. It’s also an initial blueprint; nothing is set in stone. Every shot included on the storyboard doesn’t have to be included in the final cut. In fact, not every frame in the storyboard needs to be shot. The bottom line is that storyboards are a great way to get a general idea of what you’re looking to shoot. It’s common for projects to deviate from the storyboard as new, better ideas come up during and after production.