A storyboard artist provides visual illustrations to map out an effective production blueprint for TV shows, film and commercials.
The storyboard artist’s job is to provide a visual representation prior to the filming of a feature film or television production. Taking the script or teleplay, the storyboard artist will interpret the objective, whether it is to tell an effective story or represent a product for sale, and deliver a storyboard: a collection of visual scenes which will show the director how he/she may be able to shoot the project. The storyboard can represent angles for shooting, lighting themes, colour, clothing and motion/blocking set-ups.
While the director will probably have their own ideas about how a production should look, a storyboard provides an easy-to-interpret breakdown of all included scenes, and may give the production staff further ideas on how to develop the production. Often in advertising, the storyboard can take precedent as key production source ahead of the original screenplay for highly visual projects. The storyboard artist must be able to produce hand-drawn or computer-generated storyboards quickly, and must often be prepared to adapt them “on spec” with very short notice.
At the top end of the scale, electronic illustrators working for major production houses in the US can expect to receive a salary of up to $100,000 (£63,410); this figure comes up time and again during online research on various industry source web sites, and so would seem to represent the upper end of what is practically achievable for experienced storyboard artists.
Many storyboard illustrators work on a freelance basis, so the rates of pay in this instance can range from around £150 per storyboard for a locally-produced advertisement video, up to £2500-£3000 per storyboard for an internationally-funded commercial project.
- Understand and interpret requirements from the film/advertising concept
- Study the script to understand required mood and overall theme
- Consider camera angles and lighting to be used in the storyboard presentation
- Compose wireframe drawings from which the more detailed illustrations will be developed
- Complete colour or monochrome storyboards in full for use by production staff
- Edit storyboards and make changes as per the request of director or production team
There are no formal qualifications required to be a storyboard artist, although an academic background in Art and Design (for example, A-level) can be beneficial. Most artists who develop the love for visual representation or artistic expression tend to do so at a young age, and so intrinsically they are drawn to the more artistic areas of study at school. This could be art, design, drama or media production. Art remains a popular study area at university also, but the demand is for storyboard artists who can convey themes, concept and “blocking” (practical pre-planning of producible scenes) in an easy-to-understand way; this means that a four-year study period at Art College or university is not required. Some candidates choose to enter this career as an alternative to graphic design, which some artists find quite limited in terms of creative freedom. Storyboard artists who will be rendering storyboards on computer will need an appropriate collegiate background.
- An ability to understand complex or ambiguous production instructions given to the artist in the initial meeting
- A creative mind which can conjure new perspectives
- A sympathetic approach to the time constraints of media production
- Strong artistic ability, and knowledge of how to present visuals in a convincing way
- Willingness to consider and learn different/new artistic styles outside the “comfort zone”
- Strong understanding of computer design software suites, where appropriate
The biggest pressure that comes with this job is being able to turn round concepts and visualisations in a small number of hours. Work for TV commercials is particularly pressured because of the high daily costs involved for producers, which subsequently result in very tight production schedules. Often, the storyboard artist will be asked to return designs within a day, which is particularly hair-raising for new entrants. It is also part of the buzz of drawing professionally in a creative field.
New entrants often begin by providing storyboards for no-budget indie films or low-budget corporate jobs. It is essential that the artist starting out builds a portfolio, which means taking some jobs which don’t offer a lot in the way of cash. Things often get easier after the first big corporate job, for example, storyboarding for an internationally recognised company. This then equips the candidate to pitch for work on other covetable creative jobs.
It is possible to become well-known in the industry for candidates who are capable of meeting the demands of top-drawer commercial clients; storyboard artists do not need to work only with feature films to make a name for themselves. Working for high-profile advertising agencies can bring great benefits in terms of giving the opportunity to deliver very high-end projects for blue chip clients. Freelance storyboard artists will tend to draw for a variety of different creative projects, and not just stick to adverts, feature films or commercial productions. The last of these is probably the easiest in terms of picking up work, and subsequently pays the least. Film is more competitive, but yields the greatest returns in terms of remuneration and the development of one’s professional reputation.
An overwhelming majority of storyboard artists are freelance, although some do join in-house teams, either with TV companies, advertising agencies or with independent video production houses. The industry in the US is vast, with Industrial Light and Magic and Dreamworks being the two most famous examples. The industry in the UK is smaller, but still healthy; there is a significant number of creative production studios dotted throughout the UK.
Adam Beer is a freelance storyboard artist based in London. He has 10 years of high quality experience in producing storyboards and visuals for TV, commercials, games, music promos and animation.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I wanted to draw for a living for as long as I can remember, but after doing an Art & Design degree, I still had no idea how to achieve this. A friend of mine was working as a runner on the Teletubbies and she heard they needed someone who could draw. I put a portfolio together and managed to get a job in the art department. It was great experience - storyboarding, helping out on set and doing bits and pieces in the design work. From there, I went on to work in animation and advertising. After starting out on the Teletubbies, I have since worked for BBC, Nickelodeon Cartoon Network, Aardman, Nexus Productions and F/X producing storyboards for a wide variety of companies and products, including Coca Cola, Nike, Honda, Orange, Lexus, Universal, BMW, Mercedes, Intel, Sky, Reebok, Evian, Jack Daniels, LEGO, Samsung and Playstation.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
Most jobs begin with a meeting with the director (and maybe producer) to talk through the script. At this point, I might make some quick pencil sketches and gather any references I need. Then I would make a rough pass of the storyboard, get feedback, make alterations and work up the final storyboard.
What is the most common job you take on?
Mostly commercials and animation, but I have also storyboarded for events, computer games and the medical industry.
What do you like most about the job?
I love drawing for a living and I enjoy the collaborative aspect of storyboarding – working with directors, writers and animators: all of these creative people.
What do you like least about the job?
I don't really have any complaints! Being able to draw for a living is great, in terms of my personal expectations of a rewarding creative career.
What are the key responsibilities?
Most storyboarding work is freelance or contract based, so the only responsibilities are to meet the deadline and produce a consistently high quality of work. Also, knowing what you can achieve in a day – most jobs are very quick turnaround, so you have to be able to plan your time very well. Digital experience is becoming increasingly important. All of my storyboards are now produced on a Cintiq tablet, drawing directly into the computer using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, e.g. A Levels?
There are no academic requirements. Clear storytelling, drawing ability and speed are the main requirements.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
This is really varied, so there is no standard rate, but your daily rate does rise rapidly with experience.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Develop your portfolio using live jobs as much as possible, use student and low/no budget films to get used to deadlines and working with directors, and to build a portfolio.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
There is now a lot of helpful information online, and I've put together a list of useful links on my own web site, www.adambeer.co.uk.