Production Journal – A Million Little Drawings

OK, maybe not a million…but lots!

I’m talking about the first step in creating a storyboard. At least the first step I take…I can’t speak for everyone, of course. After getting the materials, going over the script and getting organized, I draw small.

Those little drawing are called thumbnails. Smaller versions of the panels I will eventually draw bigger, nicer and cleaner. Just as the storyboard is the plan for the cartoon or the film, the thumbnails are the plan for the storyboard.

Some artists go right to full size panels and rough out their boards. Then they clean them up. If this works for you, great. But here are some benefits of drawing small thumbnails first.

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Production Journal – The One Thing You Should Do Before Putting Pencil to Paper

I once had a colleague come to my place to help me out with a pressing deadline. I had two desks at the time, so she could work alongside me (which was great). When she walked in my studio, she stopped, looked around and said, “Did you clean up just for me?”. A little confused, I said, “No, this is how I work.”

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a freak.

I’m an artist and I’m organized. An unusual combination that I’m not ashamed of. Some creative types seem to think that disorganization equates being a true artist. Well, if riffling through mounds of paper every-single-time I need a design means I’m not a true artist, then so be it.

But I think that’s cr@p. Storyboarding is a business and every business can benefit from being organized. Gee…that almost sounded like a rant : ).

So what’s that one thing you should do?

Organize your work area.

I’m going to turn this subject into a whole category because it’s something I enjoy and think can be useful to the rest of you. For now, I’m going to keep it general and about the problem of paper.

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10 Signs to Know if You’re Reading a Strong Script

Before I get into this, I just want to make one thing clear.

I love writers. I respect writers.

I know how hard it must be to write a script from a blank page. Just as I know how hard it is to draw a storyboard from a blank page. It’s very easy to come in after it’s finished and pick out what could be better.

I just want you (and the writers) to know how artists see their scripts when taking them to the next level in production. I’m writing this from a visual storytelling point of view. And it’s all for the good of the story, right?

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I see myself as the ‘fresh eyes’ when I get a script. Board artists can point out things that may have been overlooked by the writer and director. Sometimes time runs out and it just has to be good enough…because hey, there’s schedule to keep! I get that completely.

I write this out of my experience and opinions of animation scripts.

Read more10 Signs to Know if You’re Reading a Strong Script

Production Journal – Getting the Show on the Road

And so it begins.

Here I am, starting the first board of a new cartoon. I’ll be doing five shows in a series of 52 eleven minute episodes over the course of six months. It’s a brand new show created (and directed) by a buddy of mine, so that alone makes it all pretty neat.

I’ll be working from my studio at home but you could very well end up working in-house. Studios sometimes want the less experienced people in-house but feel comfortable with the experienced ones working on their own. There’s no set rule and I’ve done both.

So what happens first?

Well,I had a meeting with the series director on Monday and signed my contract along with a few other forms. Since I’m dealing with a studio I’ve worked with many times over the past 8 years or so, it’s all pretty much routine at this point.

I had received the script on the Friday before, to become familiar with it. Read your script before you talk about it with the director! It would be ridiculous to try to ‘fake it’ and read along as you discuss it. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this script so it’s important you understand it and get the director’s take on it.

The meeting begins.

Here is where we discuss the script and his vision for the show. And I had a few notes. Now, I love story and want the cartoon to be as good as it can, so I give my honest opinion about the script. I see myself as the ‘fresh eyes’ to the story. Keep in mind that I know the director and the studio, so if you’re new to this, be careful…they can be a sensitive bunch. They have worked very hard on those scripts and I respect that. If you don’t feel you have the experience to give your opinion, then don’t.

I do. So I did.

It was fun, right Boots?

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So You Want to Be a Professional Storyboard Artist, eh?

I couldn’t help it, I’m Canadian.

This is an introductory post I’ll expand on in the ‘Production Journal‘ and ‘Storyboard Like a Pro‘. If you want to do storyboards for a living and have no idea what it takes, I’ll break it down for you. No sugar-coating…you deserve that. Here we go:


Do you have to know how to draw? Yes. How good? Pretty darn good. Do you have to be drop dead amazing? No. I’m nowhere near amazing, but I’m pretty good and get the job done. As I’ve said before, the drawings aren’t the most important thing in a board. But to work professionally, you need good solid drawing skills. And hey…amazing can’t hurt.


Do you need formal training to be able to work professionally? I’d like to say ‘no’, because anything is possible, but I’d be more inclined to say ‘yes, you do’. Any kind of formal art training is great to grow as an artist. Take classes in drawing, painting or life drawing if that’s what you love. Will that alone make you a storyboard artist? Nope. If you want to work in the animation, film or gaming field, you need some training in that field. You can’t produce storyboards for an industry if you don’t know how that industry works. You must know how a cartoon is produced or a film is shot in order to storyboard for a production effectively. Even if that training is reading everything you can gets your hands on…you need it. It’s expected.

Read moreSo You Want to Be a Professional Storyboard Artist, eh?

But I Can’t Draw!

Well, not with that attitude.

Wish you could produce your own storyboard for a short film? Not an artist? Can’t draw a straight line without a ruler?

I don’t buy it.

If you’re capable of writing your name, you can draw.


As I mentioned in a previous post, storyboards are about communication, not pretty pictures. Sure, pretty pictures help. I won’t deny that. But if these boards are just for you, or for a small group of people to work from, you can do them yourself. With some guidance and a few tips. Which you will be able to find right here…how convenient!

OK, and some practice : ).

Read moreBut I Can’t Draw!