Do you love to draw? Do you love creating art with a narrative? Remember reading endless comic books as a kid, or watching cartoons and animated films? How could a drawing become animated and convey messages? Sounds like you want to be a storyboard artist!
The first thing to know is that storyboard artists don't just make art, they tell a story with their art, and that takes some real vision. So, we'll discuss below what a storyboard artist is, what their job entails, and how you can get yourself into the game of making art that tells a story, guiding you through the steps from educating yourself to starting your career.
All it takes is big dreams, an imagination, talent and a lot of hard work, but it's definitely not impossible. Let's find out together what it takes to make that dream a reality.
What is a Storyboard Artist?
Storyboard artists are visual storytellers. It's important to remember that when a storyboard artist is telling a story, they shouldn't need words. They're using art to convey the concept and story, and it's up to them to bring the character to life on the page in the way they imagine. In the following sections, we'll talk about pitching a concept and how even though the pictures usually do most of the talking, you're still selling your idea.
The storyboard artist's job is making a visual outline of a masterpiece, using that, passion, and technical skills to share it with collaborators. It's the first step in the process. It's important for a storyboard artist to be passionate, which is what needs to be portrayed in the initial pitch. Having a passion for the characters, and getting excited about the story will get your team excited and the final product will be that much better.
Job Role & Duties
Storyboard artists visualize the script or concept for commercials, films, television, music videos, and even video games. Video game work is a little different because instead of scenes, you might work on levels and character development. Essentially, they give life to words on a page, and usually, they don't even get to use the words as a crutch.
The goal with storyboarding is to tell the story in pictures, in a character's facial expressions and actions. But also, many storyboard artists have to pitch their initial visualizations to the team. This means presenting your work, letting the pictures speak for themselves, but letting them know your vision for big sound effects and dialogue and how the scene should play out. Nothing shows passion for a project more than sound effects.
You created a masterpiece on the page, but you still have to sell it.
You need to grab your audience's attention and keep it. But remember to be flexible because your ideas are still new. Also, remember that your pitch may include producers, people who are backing your project, the director, and other animators, so it's okay for things to still be changing at this point. You're trying to get fresh ideas flowing.
When an artist gets a concept or script, it's their job to create it visually so that others understand the vision and they can then change things like the tone or shift scenes around to make more sense. This stage is crucial because these brainstorming sessions are how original concept art evolves to become a finished project. The team works together to enhance the original ideas.
This is the best time to make changes because nothing is set in stone yet - the story still has room to go in other directions. A bad idea is just an idea that hasn't been workshopped yet, and this is a workshop session. It's rare for concept designs and storyboards to stay exactly the same, so let the team in and let them help make it better.
Collaboration is key, and we'll talk more about it in the next section. A large part of becoming a working storyboard artist is joining a community of others making art and film, so collaborate and network because that's what generates jobs.
Let's talk numbers
There are a few different jobs for storyboard artists out there. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the demand for a multimedia artist or animator is expected to rise about 6% between 2014 and 2024, which is about average. According to the BLS website, the salary for a multimedia artist or animator for film and animation averages around $73,270 for 2015. In advertising and public relations, salaries averaged $65,480. The general median salary for multimedia artists and animators in 2015 was $63,970.
There aren't many available entry-level storyboarding jobs especially at big studios, so unless you have experience, you may not get hired directly as a storyboard artist. However, animator jobs at smaller studios are often looking for help with storyboarding, so a small studio could help you build your resume and fortify your portfolio as you reach for bigger and better career goals.
And we can't say it enough: networking and collaboration are the keys to success. Who you know is an important part of the job.
Tips On Getting Started
One of the first things a storyboard artist might need is a bachelor's degree in fine arts, animation, or graphic design. It's not absolutely required, but they highly recommend it because there's a lot of technical knowledge that goes into the process of storyboarding, but as long as you take the initiative to learn about your craft and put in the work, that can be enough.
What is important is a polished portfolio, usually 15-20 pages with roughly 6-9 panels on each page. It should be your best work and not a quick doodle, so use pieces that showcase your range as an artist and really reflect what you bring to the table as a visual storyteller.
If you pursue an education in fine arts as a step towards becoming a storyboard artist, one of your focuses of study should be digital art and animation. You'll build a foundation of study about topics like color theory, design theory, digital illustration, and maybe even more specific topics like creating storyboards. You'll also get to learn firsthand about different design programs, especially the ones that are industry standards like:
- Storyboard Fountain
- Storyboard Composer
- Storyboard Artist Studio 7
- Toon Boom StoryBoard Pro
- Storyboard That
There are plenty more, but that's an abbreviated list. When you network, you'll learn about people's own personal pros and cons with the software, and your own trial and error with it. Since these are programs you'll be working with every day, keep experimenting and doing projects with them.
It's also important to network, so you can absorb as much as you can about filmmaking, television, theater, commercials, etc.
For example, you should learn how a camera moves, so you can describe how it follows the characters. You'll be part of a team of people all bringing a different piece of the finished project. Therefore, you need to understand their work and talk about your own. So don't be shy - get out there and make something new.
Again, if you go the education-first route, many of your professors will likely have been industry professionals and have contacts with people still in the business, so they may recommend you for a job and give you tips on how to polish your portfolio. Networking is a nice bonus to education, and you'll make important contacts and learn from your professors and peers. These are fellow future members of the industry, people you'll likely work with throughout your career.
And any kind of filmmaking is about collaboration, so keep that in mind. As stated earlier, collaboration generates jobs. If you do good work with someone or for someone, they might ask you to work together again on a different project or recommend you to someone if they think you're a good fit.
If you believe being a storyboard artist is truly your passion and calling in life, there's nothing stopping you from going for it. Drawing every day and honing your skills will only help you in the long run. Make sure your characters aren't static, but instead show signs of emotions and life.
Keep learning about the medium from everywhere you can: read 'how to' books and blogs, carry an idea journal, make friends or online acquaintances in your field so you can bounce ideas off of them, and look for internships and opportunities to grow in your craft. Collaborate because you'll be doing it in your career every day.
Most importantly, don't give up. The film industry and particularly storyboarding is a tiny field, but the people who get noticed make themselves seen. They show that they have the motivation and passion to create something great, so do that. Create.