When planning out a big animation project, a lot of animators tend to have an awesome general idea of it but don’t know how to actually plan it out and convert those ideas into a full finished project. A lot of people just start animating from a blank slate, but without some kind of organization, it’s easy to lose track of the story, ideas, and potential better ideas that they could’ve had. Another point to highlight is that the term “storyboarding” is very general and there’s no right or wrong way to do it as long as it helps with your project.
A lot of people think storyboarding is complicated because of how some animation studios show it with frame numbers, camera pans, and shots, but really it can be extremely flexible and useful even for a beginner. In this blog I’ll go over my personal methods of planning out an animation from ideas in my head to finished animation. By no means is this the “proper” studio method of storyboarding, but for me it’s simple enough to get the job done and I think that’s what matters most, to use a way of planning that works for you.
Step 1: Write down your ideas in text
The first thing I do when starting a project is to put everything down in text. It doesn’t have to be paragraphs and pages of text. Just put down all of your ideas in a google document as bullet points. Every idea in my head that I would want to happen in the animation, I’ll put down as a bullet point. And this can be anything: specific dialogue lines, plot points, choreography ideas, etc. The whole point of this phase is to dump out ideas and to start organizing them into something that can be reworked and reordered easily. Since you’re not even at a drawing phase, you’re able to move, remove, and add new ideas very easily. Don’t be afraid to rework and revise until you have something that sounds good to you!
Step 2: Storyboarding
Storyboarding in my opinion is a very loose term and I don’t have a set system for it. I strongly believe storyboards have two main requirements: They have to be simple, and they have to get the idea across. After I have the general idea of my animation in text bullet points, I’ll go in and VERY ROUGHLY draw out the shots as animated storyboards, going through my bullet points and making sure the images clearly convey what I wrote. They key point is that these boards are very rough and it’s mainly to show what camera angle or main movement I want to show for each shot. Making changes at this point should still be easy and you should make changes where you feel like your shots don’t read clearly.
Step 3: Animation & Polish
Now is finally the time to start animating! Because you’ve had 2 phases of planning with revisions in between, you should have a strong idea of what your animation is going to be from beginning to end. NOTE you can still make changes in this phase if you feel like you have better ideas. I’ve made many changes from the storyboards to animation and there’s nothing wrong with that. The point of storyboards is to have a solid concrete base of ideas for your animation. Animation itself takes a long time and it could take months to complete a full length project. Without storyboards, it’s very easy to forget ideas you might’ve had so writing them down early and roughly making storyboards will help solidify your animation.
So I want to highlight that this is my own way of planning out animations. There are many different ways to go about the animation process and they can get as simple or complicated as you want. For bigger projects that involve more people, the process can get much more involved and complicated, but for the independent animator, I feel like going simple is better. Either way I hope it helps a few in making some awesome animations!