spongebob storyboard panels
SpongeBob FUN storyboard by Sherm Cohen

What is a Storyboard Artist?

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A storyboard artist is like the director of an animated film or TV show. The artist creates visuals for each major scene in the story including character poses, facial expressions, and backgrounds.

Each storyboard is made up of panels and the artist draws all the important panels including animation directions, like when a character lifts their arm or when a character exits the scene.

In some cases the storyboard artist gets a script and has to draw the story as-scripted. But many times, especially in TV animation, the storyboard artist is also the writer of the episode. The artist can include visual gags and dialogue to add their vision into the story.

This makes storyboarding a lucrative career for anyone interested in art, directing, and storytelling.

ed edd eddy valentines storyboard
Ed, Edd n Eddy storyboard via @dawn_of_the_eds

But storyboard artists can be used in any digital product including video games. Many games have cutscenes or repeat character movements that need to be visualized through boards.

Most people know about board work through cartoons because that’s how they’re made. Every episode needs a storyboard to dictate timing, camera shots/pans, and character poses.

Animation moves fast so every good storyboard artists need to be quick. This means an expert level of draftsmanship for staging and posing characters in a scene.

Traditional animation used storyboard panels drawn on paper. One 22-minute episode could easily be hundreds of sheets of storyboards just to tell the story!

But in the modern era of digital animation most storyboard artists use software like Photoshop or Storyboard Pro. This makes it easier to fix mistakes or make any last minute changes requested by the art director.

family guy storyboard
Family Guy storyboard test

Storyboard artists need skills in storytelling and possibly a good background in acting. A skilled board artist needs to understand a character’s personality and how they feel in any scene to create realistic poses.

This is why the job can be so demanding for newer artists. It’s never fun to work on a tight deadline rushing to tell a story while still trying to make it good. Talk about stress!

But there are huge perks to storyboarding too.

It is a very creative medium and it’s one of the few art jobs in animation that can influence the final product.

It’s also fun to pitch your board ideas and share them with the team. This is common practice in animation studios where everyone gathers around completed storyboards to watch a story presentation from start to finish.

There’s a cool mini-doc from Pixar showing their process for storyboarding feature films.

storyboard pitch
Trouble Shooter storyboard pitch by Eric Goldberg

If you want to become a storyboard artist you’ll need to be a real good draftsman. I’m talkin’ fast and comfortable whipping through drawings in a few minutes.

You’ll need an excellent grasp of perspective and figure drawing for posing characters accurately. And you’ll need to be OK switching between different styles of art as you move between shows.

A storyboard for SpongeBob will have a very different artistic style than a storyboard for Adventure Time.

adventure time storyboard example
Unused storyboard from The Lich

Generally speaking you’ll need to master the fundamentals and be quick with them. But storyboard artists rarely work in color so that won’t be as important.

If you’re past the fundamentals and want to delve right into boarding then definitely pick up a few books from our recommended list for storyboarders. That post should have everything you’ll ever need to learn about composition, staging, camera angles, posing, and all the related intricacies of drawing great boards.

You’ll also need some patience and a willingness to grind. It takes hard work to get anywhere in the entertainment industry.

But storyboarding can be such an enlivening process that for many people it’s worth the effort. Especially if you have a deep passion for both art and storytelling.