Don Bluth's - Storyboard Notes

Don Bluth's Animation Academy
How we Storyboard
Building the storyboard is an integral part of putting together an animated feature. The process provides not only a visual interpretation of the script, it also allows designers in each department to get a feel for what is being presented on screen.

Creating the visual story composed of consecutive storysketch panels that depict the action and staging of the film's script is the first step in the animation production process. The concepts and timing intiated here will be built upon by twenty or more departments, converting them into a final full color film. The storyboard is the basic game plan, the vision of continuity that will drive the entire production.
Storyboarding involves working from a film script to set a story down in picture or illustration form; rather like a comic book. The storyboard functions as the blueprint of an animated picture. The following is a breakdown of the story-sketch artist's set up, and the thought and drawing processes involved.



  • Whatever the individual feels comfortable with. Anything from an HB to a 6B depending on the quality of the line and darkness of shadow required


  • 8.5 x 11, standard white


  • Story sketches are drawn to a standard 8 field size (5.5 x 10.25). This is traced down on the paper and represents the screen edge all around. Significant details will occasionally be drawn outside this cutoff since all production artwork is finished out to the edge of the paper. Wide screen projects will have altered field sizes and measurements.


  • It is frequently necessary to enlarge or reduce artwork to specific sizes, both to save time and for cutting purposes. Final approved boards are then enlarged or reduced to proper production size.



  • Any comfortable desk will suffice. An animation disk is not necessary, though backlight is sometimes useful.




  • For displaying sketches in continuity.


  • To pin up sketches


  • For cutting xerox copies before revising.


  • Plastic or kneaded soft eraser: the plastic for getting rid of drawings completely, the soft for lightening lines.


  • as needed.

It is also important to keep your work area neat and easily accessible. Keep the desk functional and as uncluttered as possible. Reference material should be pinned up or displayed for use as you draw.


There is also a method for the thought process when creating boards. Consult your Director to find out as much as you can regarding your sequence. Story sketch, if done properly, looks easy, but the thinking involved is complex.


  1. PLOT POINTS: Learn the script and how to differentiate between significant pivital action on which the plot hinges and entertaining business. When in doubt - CONSULT YOUR DIRECTOR.
  2. ENTERTAINMENT: Does the scene possess entertainment value...drama, humor, shock, fear, endearment, etc?
  3. SETTING: Where does the action take place? Desert or forest or ocean...etc.what time is it? Again, when in doubt, consult your Director - and your script.
  4. STAGING: Where are the characters in relation to one another? What is the action and how can it be conveyed in the simplest, most direct way possible? When in doubt, consult your Director.
  5. CUTTING: This can be very elusive. It involves some of the elements of staging, that is, awareness of action and character placement, but it also involves the pacing and how various effects are achieved.

For example:

These scenes all relate to one another, being various distances from the same object, but they affect us differently depending on their order. Trainees should study film techniques closely from books and films. Again, when in doubt, consult your Director.



  • In order to get the film's characters to act and behave as you wish, a thorough understanding of their construction and proportions is necessary. Also, since we film everything from mice to humans, it is necessary to understand character size relationships, both to one another and to the setting.


  • A thorough understanding of perspective is important for creating the illusion of three dimension in a sketch. Without it, scale is impossible to convey. A close study of books and layout drawings is critical here.


  • A knowledge of design principles is just as important as a grasp of character drawing and perspective. It makes all the difference between excellent and mediocre storysketching. You will be drilled regularly in all of these aspects of drawing. Skills will vary from one trainee to another, as will difficulty of assignments. The same as with all other matters of great import, when in doubt, CONSULT YOUR DIRECTOR (and even when not in doubt).

This is the standard form most story sketches will take. This will differ slightly from vertical and horizontal pan moves, diagonal moves and camera trucks.

PLEASE NOTE: These last four examples involve special camera moves. These should be written on the sketch wherever they will not interfere with the drawing, i.e. outside the field guide.
Any special instructions involving characters, special effects animation or the set should be written inside the field guide, but judiciously, so as to avoid obscuring the drawing.

This is a rough outline of the craft of story sketch. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to master all aspects of this job and develop the judgment necessary to excel.


  1. Report to your Director.
  2. Discuss the sequence of script you will be working on, to iron out any problems and get a firm picture of what the Director wants to achieve.
  3. If requested by the Director, plan the sequence as small thumbnail sketches (no larger than 4 x 5) to work out staging and cutting. This may sometimes be necessary. If so, return to Director before going ahead.
  4. Return to Desk.
  5. Using all reference, including script and thumbnail sketches, work on full-size sketches, utilizing format described in the introduction section. These should be left in a rough state until the Director makes his judgement as to whether they are working. However, sketches should be complete enough that all different characters and important background details are distinguishable. Notes should also be written and properly placed.
  6. Sequence is now completed in rough state and should be presented to the Director and any instruction changes he deems necessary should be in notes.
  7. Return to desk and make necessary changes. Be patient because this stage may be repeated as many times as necessary to please the director.
  8. When the Director has approved final changes, sketches should be brought to completed stage. Bear in mind your drawings must hold up under repeated xeroxing, including enlargement to production size, and reduction to storyboard size. All writing and drawing must read, so lines must be crisp.
  9. Boards are now ready to be timed. Here again, the Director has ideas in mind which the story-sketch artist must grasp thoroughly to complete the job.
  10. Footage for all sketches is noted on a round sticker at the top right corner of the story sketch, just inside the field cutoff.
  11. After all notes and final touches are completed, the board should be presented to the Continuity Department for duplication and work preparation.
  12. Note total footage of sequence for entry on your weekly report. This will be credited to you once final approval is official and your sketches have been reduced and pasted up as a finished storyboard.
  13. Clear your desk of all extraneous matter, including discarded drawings and scraps, except for necessary reference materials and tools.
  14. Report to your Director for new assignment.


  • A SEQUENCE consists of a series of SCENES which follow a particular event from beginning to conclusion. In live action, a sequence is generally termed a scene, while what we call a scene is a shot.
  • Be patient and consult the Director frequently. Story sketch is a refining process and bull sessions will improve your work.
  • One foot of film equals 16 frames or two-thirds of a second (the amount of time it takes for 16 frames to travel through to projector). The footage numbers are noted in base 16, with the remainder noted to the right. Thus:

one foot = 1-00 or 16 frames

two feet = 2-00 or 32 frames

one and one-half feet = 1-08 or 24 frames (1 second)

  • PLEASE NOTE: The story is constantly being amended. Changes will continue to be made as necessary to the benefit of the picture. No storyboard is truly completed until the sequence is in final color, and even then there are occasional alterations.

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