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What is a Storyboard and Why They Produce Better Stories

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

Storyboards are vital tools for telling stories. In this post, we’ll dig into how storyboards are used to tell stories, the difference between storyboard types, and what free resources you can use to storyboard.

What is a storyboard?

A storyboard is a sequence of visuals arranged one after another. The linear display of images helps to visually realize a story before it is put to film.

Boards storyboard template

Webb Smith, an animator working for Disney, is credited with the creation of storyboards in the 1930s. Before he animated a film, Smith would sketch scenes on separate pieces of paper and then pin each up to a bulletin board in sequence. This soon became a regular part of the animation process at Disney.

The use of storyboards has remained a common practice throughout the film industry. Before a film is shot, filmmakers map out each individual frame in a storyboard so they know exactly what needs to be filmed or animated.

Storyboards can be used effectively in many other contexts too. DePaul University College of Computing and Digital Media likens storyboarding to taking your thoughts and the thoughts of others and spreading them out on a wall as you work on a project. This makes storyboards useful for a number of industries including project management, marketing, writing, design thinking, teaching, and UX design.

You can use storyboards to:

Show steps in a science experiment

See the character journey of a historical figure or fictional character

Plot a short story

Plot a novel’s main points of action

Map out a marketing persona

Give furniture assembly instructionsVisualize a user’s experience

Different Types of Storyboards

Traditional Storyboards

A traditional storyboard is probably the method of storyboarding you’re most familiar with. These storyboards show a linear progression of frames from one to the next.

Traditional storyboards are used throughout the film industry for videos big and small. They are especially important to the animation process.

Mulan Storyboard for “Reflection” Credit: The Walt Disney Company

Beat Board

Beat boards are storyboards with less detail. They hit on the most important beats, giving the viewer general ideas. Beat boards are useful in the initial planning phases of a story when you don’t need as much detail or in-depth imagery.

Mad Men

That makes beat boards perfect for short product or marketing pitches. In the television show Mad Men, they often pitch the stories they want to tell for their clients on beat boards. They reveal one important point from the campaign at a time, flipping from one board to the next.

Comic strips and graphic novels tend to tell stories in beats as well. Instead of illustrating every movement or moment in the story, you just get the important beats.

Flowchart Storyboards

Flowchart storyboards are best for nonlinear storytelling. Think of how a flowchart can depict multiple possible paths. Flowchart storyboards can help creatives plan the potential paths a person could take in an interactive piece of content.

Choose Your Own Adventure games use this model to carefully plan out possible branches of a story. Telltale games including The Walking Dead, and Batman: The Telltale Series as well as larger games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age benefit from flowchart storyboards.

Keeping track of storylines can get quite complicated when you have more than one possible ending to a story. Flowchart storyboards are the perfect tool for any interactive content that involves choice.

Interaction Storyboards

Interaction storyboards are principally used by web designers when considering user experience. Interaction storyboards are user interface mockups that show the steps in a task as a user interacts with a website or app. By using interaction storyboards early in the design process, web designers can test a website or app before they code it.

The mockups are often simple, rudimentary sketches or wireframes designed to make sure the screen layout and flow of tasks are clear and will make sense to the user.

Free Storyboarding Tools

There are plenty of free resources available to help you storyboard online or on paper.

If you want simple, printable storyboard frames, Boords provides professionally designed templates for free. You can preview and download a variety of storyboards in Photoshop, Powerpoint, Word, or PDF formats. Depending on what you need, you can customize your layout with options for portrait or landscape from 2 to 16 frames.

Storyboard That has an extensive image library of backgrounds, objects, and characters for creating storyboards online. The tool is free to use for up to two storyboards a week or you can upgrade for more boards and advanced features.

Canva has a free online tool for creating storyboards in a few simple steps. You can share them online and grant editing access so you’re able to collaborate on a storyboard without sharing a physical space.

Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories using the flowchart storyboard framework. It’s a completely free tool that’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Why Memory Tree Uses Storyboards

Telling stories is at the very heart of what we do. We create detailed storyboards for every one of our live action and animated productions because they help us craft the best possible story. Our in-house designers sketch our storyboards by hand or on the computer. After sharing the storyboards with our clients, we all work together until everyone is happy with the story we’re going to tell. The storyboard then goes to our cinematographers or animators who bring the work to completion. This process is vital to our work and it’s helped us craft incredible stories for our clients and community.

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