Medium-Fidelity Storyboarding: My Process

Hello, everyone!

Some folks from AC4D have been asking me how I do my storyboards for classes. I haven’t had a chance yet to sit down and go through my process in-person, so I’d like to document this on the blog for everyone. I’ll go over my ideation process, the sketching process, and then shading and inking. Keep in mind that this just the way I do it—there’s no right or wrong about this. My hope in showing you my process is that you get inspired in your own storyboarding processes as well.

Thinking in Text Boxes
I’ll start out with Post-Its of what I want the storyline to be. Each Post-It is text box where that text will live. This way, I can judge how much text there is going to be in the picture and plan for it. Ideally, each box takes up about one Post-Its’ worth of text. If I’m using three or four Post-Its to convey an idea, that means that I need to simplify it or break it up into multiple Post-Its.

When I have a better way of phrasing the text, I’ll just put it over the old text. Usually, I don’t throw out any Post-Its until the end of the process, because I might come back to them later.

Planning out Panels
Once I have all of the text mapped out, I take a different colored Post-It and start mapping out the panels. In this example, the word “text box” is where text lives, and the word “panel” is where pictures live.

Notice that it’s not a one-to-one ratio with text boxes and panels. Multiple text boxes can be on one panel, and multiple panels can be on one text box. It depends on how you want to convey the information. Is it simple, or complex? I’ve found that if I am stating an action, like, “Elaine meets Wanda at a coffee shop,” that’s a relatively straightforward action that I can draw. However, if it’s a vague action such as, “Elaine searches for friends online,” I might have to draw more to convey the information I want, like Elaine logging onto her computer, inputting information, and then seeing the result.

At this point, my pictures are still stick figures, but it is clear what they are doing. As a basic rule of thumb, I should be able to see:

  • What action the person is taking
  • (If their face is visible) How the person feels about the action
  • Any main pieces of architecture or interface that they are interacting with

Similar to the text boxes, if I don’t like the drawing, I just overlap it with another Post-It. I’ve had pictures where the first Post-It comes out great, and then I’ve had pictures where I needed ten Post-Its.

Drawing on Paper
Here’s the fun part for me! Using a Prismacolor No-Photo Blue pencil, I sketch out a more detailed version of the scenes in the Post-Its. This is probably where I’d say my materials might be different than most people, because I’m a lazy cartoonist. No-Photo Blue allows you to draw on a piece of paper and then ink right on top of it. When you scan it or copy it, the blue will disappear, because it is a shade of blue that isn’t picked up by scanners/copiers. No erasing, no multiple sheets of paper!

I start out with the basic stick figure (which looks like a capital I with a head), and then sketch out limbs and expressions. I’ve found that with the face, drawing the nose first (which is a central part of the face) helps keep me centered and not go drawing incorrect proportions.

A Note about Characters
How do I make my characters look like people? As far as characters go, I try to remember noses of people I like, or perhaps choose a face structure of someone I’ve noticed on the bus or on my scooter. Usually what I do is observe people in a public setting, and think about their features, and what makes each person special in a visual sense. The more I look at people, the easier it is for me to pick out distinguishing features (a large nose, thin lips, wide eyes, a short face) and add them to my characters.

This process is much harder to illustrate, and could take up an entire blog post, so if you want to learn more, get in touch with me personally and I’ll talk you through it.

I draw each panel on a sheet of paper (usually 8.5″ x 11″). This means I don’t have to map out the layout of the panels until I put it all in Photoshop.

Ink it Up!
Once I’m finished with the blue pencils and I have everything where I want it, I go back in and draw over the No-Photo blue pencil with a simple Sharpie for lines. I’m continually surprised by the versatility of Sharpies—they have some great line weight (how thick or thin the line is)!

My rule of thumb for line weight is the thicker the line is, the more people will pay attention to it. So, if you want the attention drawn to someone’s face (as I wanted in this picture) I outlined the side of the face once or twice more with Sharpie, and then filled in her lipstick to focus the viewer’s attention onto her smile.

This also works well in the case of mistakes—if you mess up your inking somewhere, use thicker line weights to draw the user’s attention away from your mistakes. I use this all the time with my work. Sometimes a piece can come out perfectly, but usually there are a couple of mistakes here and there. Line weights are your friend!

I’ll shade in anything that needs shading. The same rule applies with line weights as it does shading—anything I shade will draw more attention to it. I used to take the “fine arts” approach to my work and shade anything I knew had a shadow, but unless I’m working in something really detailed, it usually ended up looking like a mess of dark lines.

As a side note, I always make sure that my lines are nice and clean. Because I’m going to be scanning these in and resizing them on an 11″x 17″ piece of paper, I want to make sure nothing bleeds in with one another.

The Finished Product

This is what the one panel of the storyboard looks like when it is finished. The storyboard is now at medium-fidelity, and I have all the pieces I need (text boxes, finished panels) to scan into Photoshop and add shading and coloring.

So, that’s how I bring storyboards up to medium fidelity! I hope that was helpful for you. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me either via email or on twitter @chostett.

Happy drawing!