10 Tips for Compelling Storyboarding in Animation
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Focus on storytelling
  2. Use a variety of shots and angles
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Plan for movement and timing
  5. Show, don't tell
  6. Create clear characters
  7. Use annotations effectively
  8. Consider the audience
  9. Iterate and refine
  10. Practice makes perfect

Drafting a compelling storyboard is a fundamental phase in animation. Having a well-designed storyboard not only makes your work easier but also helps you create a compelling narrative. The right storyboard can take your animation portfolio from good to amazing. Whether you're a seasoned animator or a beginner looking to build your animation portfolio, these ten tips will help you create storyboarding samples that impress. Let's dive right in with the first tip: focusing on storytelling.

Focus on Storytelling

At its core, animation is all about storytelling. Your storyboard is where you first bring your tale to life. It is like a visual script, giving you a chance to map out your story before you start animating. Keep the following pointers in mind when focusing on storytelling in your storyboard:

  • Character Development: A compelling story lies in the details. Develop your characters with specific traits, quirks, and flaws. Give the audience a reason to connect with them.
  • Conflict and Resolution: No story is complete without a problem to solve. Create a conflict that challenges your characters and a resolution that leaves your audience satisfied.
  • Flow: Just like a river, your story should flow smoothly from one scene to the next. Use your storyboard to ensure that your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  • Emotions: Feelings drive the story. Use your storyboard to map out the emotional journey of your characters. This will help you create more impactful animation sequences later on.

Remember, a good story is what makes your animation relatable and memorable to your audience. Incorporating strong storytelling in your storyboarding samples will undoubtedly make your animation portfolio stand out.

Use a Variety of Shots and Angles

Just like in filmmaking, the use of different shots and angles is a powerful tool in animation. By providing varied perspectives, you can add depth to your story and make it visually interesting. It's an excellent way to showcase your creativity in your storyboarding samples for your animation portfolio. Here are a few tips:

  • Close-ups: These allow you to show the audience the details or emotions of a character. Use them wisely to emphasize important moments.
  • Long shots: A long shot can set the scene or show the characters' environment. It's a great way to give your audience context and a sense of place.
  • High and low angles: Looking up at a character can make them seem powerful or daunting, while looking down can make them seem vulnerable or insignificant. Experiment with these angles in your storyboard to manipulate the audience's perception of your characters.
  • Point of view shots: These shots are from the perspective of a character, immersing the viewer in their experience. Use these shots to make your story more engaging and personal.

Remember, variety is the spice of life. The same applies to your storyboard. Mixing up your shots and angles will make your storyboarding samples more dynamic and will surely make your animation portfolio more compelling.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to storyboarding, less is often more. A common mistake made by animators is over-complicating their storyboards. Your storyboarding samples in your animation portfolio should illustrate your ability to communicate effectively, not just your talent for detail.

  • Clear Layout: Make sure your panels are neat and well-spaced. A clean layout will help the viewer follow your story more easily.
  • Focused Detail: It's not necessary to draw every detail in your storyboard. Focus on the important elements that contribute to the storytelling. The color of the protagonist's socks probably won't affect the plot, but their expressions might.
  • Straightforward Storyline: Keep your storyline simple and clear. If you can't explain the plot in a few sentences, it might be too complex for a storyboard.
  • Visual Clarity: Your drawings don't need to be museum-worthy, but they do need to be clear. Stick figures can work if they effectively convey the actions and emotions.

Remember, the purpose of a storyboard is to visualize the narrative, not to become a work of art itself. By keeping it simple, your storyboarding samples will showcase your storytelling skills, making your animation portfolio stronger and easier to understand.

Plan for Movement and Timing

Animation is all about movement and timing. It's what brings your characters to life and sets the pace of your story. So, when you're working on your storyboarding samples for your animation portfolio, these two aspects need careful consideration.

  • Movement: Planning for movement involves thinking about how your characters interact with their environment and with each other. How does a character walk, talk, or express emotions? These details add depth to your story and make your characters more relatable.
  • Timing: Timing is key in animation — it dictates the rhythm of your story. Consider the speed of your characters' movements and the length of your scenes. This affects the overall flow of your storyboard.
  • Arrows and Lines: Use arrows and lines in your storyboard panels to indicate movement. This helps make the action in each scene clear, enhancing the viewer's understanding of your story.
  • Frame Count: Including a frame count in your storyboard can help you plan your timing more precisely. It's a simple way of ensuring that your story unfolds at the right pace.

Remember, your storyboarding samples should demonstrate your understanding of movement and timing in animation. This will make your portfolio stand out, showcasing your skills as an animator.

Show, Don't Tell

Whether you're crafting a simple, heartwarming tale or a complex, action-packed saga, the golden rule in animation is always "show, don't tell". This principle holds true even when you're working on your storyboarding samples for your animation portfolio.

"Show, don't tell" means that you should use visuals to convey the story and emotions, instead of relying on dialogue or narration. Visual storytelling is potent — it can say a thousand words without uttering a single one.

  • Expressions: Use your characters' facial expressions to show their emotions. A furrowed brow, a wide smile, or a single tear can reveal much about what a character is feeling.
  • Body Language: Body language is another powerful tool in visual storytelling. Show your characters' attitudes and emotions through their posture and movements. This can make your characters feel more real and relatable to your audience.
  • Visual Metaphors: Visual metaphors can add depth to your story. For example, a wilting flower could symbolize a character's loss of hope. Use these symbols wisely to create subtext and layers in your story.
  • Color and Lighting: Colors and lighting can set the mood of your scenes. Bright, vibrant colors may suggest happiness or energy, while darker hues can evoke feelings of sadness or mystery.

When you're crafting your storyboarding samples for your animation portfolio, remember the mantra: "show, don't tell". This will allow you to create compelling, emotive visuals that draw your audience into your animated world.

Create Clear Characters

As you're working on your storyboarding samples for your animation portfolio, it's vital to create clear characters. Characters are the heart of any story—they drive the plot, engage the audience, and bring your animated world to life.

But what does it mean to create clear characters? Let's break it down:

  • Distinctive Appearance: Every character should have a unique look that reflects their personality and role in the story. Think about their shape, size, color, and attire. How can these visual elements help convey who they are?
  • Consistent Design: Consistency is key in character design. Your characters should be recognizable from scene to scene and shot to shot. This not only helps maintain visual continuity but also strengthens audience connection with your characters.
  • Expressive Features: Just as we discussed in the "show, don't tell" section, facial expressions and body language are powerful storytelling tools. Use them to show your characters' emotions, thoughts, and attitudes.
  • Clear Motivations: Each character should have clear motivations that drive their actions. These motivations can be revealed subtly through their actions and reactions, rather than explicitly stated.

Remember, clear characters are memorable characters. If you can make your audience care about your characters, you're well on your way to creating captivating storyboarding samples for your animation portfolio.

Use Annotations Effectively

As you work on your animation storyboarding samples, you'll find that visual elements are not always enough to convey your vision. That's where annotations come in. These are the notes and instructions that provide additional context to your storyboard, guiding the animation process.

Effective annotations can be a game-changer in your animation portfolio. Here are some tips on how to use them:

  • Be Concise: Try to keep your notes short and to the point. Remember, an annotation should clarify, not confuse.
  • Use Clear Language: Avoid jargon or overly technical terms. Your annotations should be easily understood by anyone who reads them.
  • Indicate Movement: Annotations can help illustrate the motion of characters or objects within a scene. For example, an arrow can show the direction a character is supposed to move.
  • Describe Sound: If there's a specific sound effect or piece of dialogue that goes with a particular scene, make a note of it. This will ensure that your audio team knows exactly what you have in mind.

By using annotations effectively, you can make sure that everyone on your team understands your vision. This can save time, reduce miscommunication, and create a more seamless animation process. And, let's face it, who wouldn't want that in their animation portfolio?

Consider the Audience

When you're working on your animation storyboard, it's easy to get caught up in your own artistic vision. But let's not forget one of the most important elements: the audience. Every great animator knows that understanding their audience is key to creating a successful animation portfolio.

But how can you ensure you're considering your audience in your storyboarding process? Here are some tips:

  • Research Your Audience: Aim to understand who will be watching your animation. What are their interests? What are their expectations? The more you know about your audience, the better you can tailor your storyboard to meet their needs.
  • Choose Appropriate Content: Once you understand your audience, you can determine the type of content they would enjoy. For instance, a younger audience might enjoy more humorous content, while an older audience might prefer more complex storylines.
  • Create Relatable Characters: Characters should reflect the audience in some way. This will help the audience connect with the story and keep them engaged.
  • Check Your Language: Ensure the language you use, both in dialogue and annotations, is suitable for your audience. If your audience isn't familiar with industry jargon, stick to simple, clear language.

Remember, the audience is the reason you're creating your animation. By considering them in your storyboarding process, you can ensure your final product is well-received and enjoyed—a surefire way to boost your animation portfolio.

Iterate and Refine

Let's talk about one of the most valuable parts of the storyboarding process: iteration and refinement. Most of the best storyboarding samples in animation portfolios went through several rounds of changes before they became the masterpieces we see today.

A storyboard is not a one-and-done deal. It's a living, breathing document that evolves over time. As you develop your animation, you'll likely come up with new ideas, find better ways to tell your story, or encounter unforeseen challenges that require changes to the storyboard.

So, how can you effectively iterate and refine your storyboard? Here are some tips:

  • Be Open to Change: Don't be precious about your initial ideas. Storyboarding is all about exploration and improvement. If a scene isn't working, don't hesitate to change or even remove it.
  • Seek Outside Opinions: Sometimes, you're too close to your work to see its flaws. Ask others for feedback. They can provide a fresh perspective and might even suggest improvements you hadn't thought of.
  • Test Your Ideas: Before you commit to a significant change, test it out. Create a rough version of the new scene and see if it improves the overall story.
  • Don't Rush: Good things take time. It's better to spend a bit longer on the storyboarding stage to get everything just right than to rush ahead with a subpar storyboard.

Remember, every iteration brings you one step closer to a compelling, engaging animation—one that will surely make your portfolio stand out.

Practice Makes Perfect

Let's face it; nobody starts out as an animation genius. The secret sauce behind those stellar storyboarding samples in animation portfolios is pretty straightforward — it's practice. Just like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Here's the deal: one storyboard won't make you an expert. Ten storyboards might not either. But each storyboard you create teaches you something new. Maybe it's a better way to convey movement, a neat trick for showing perspective, or a deeper understanding of visual storytelling. Every storyboard is an opportunity to learn and grow.

But how do you practice effectively? Here are some tips:

  • Try Different Styles: Don't limit yourself to one animation style or genre. Try your hand at everything from action to comedy, 2D to 3D. This will not only make you a more versatile artist, but also expose you to new storytelling techniques.
  • Dissect Existing Storyboards: Find storyboarding samples in animation portfolios that you admire and dissect them. What makes them work? How do they convey the story? What can you learn from them?
  • Challenge Yourself: Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try to storyboard a complex action sequence or an emotional dialogue scene. It might be tough, but it's in these challenges that you'll grow the most.
  • Be Consistent: Practice regularly. Even if it's just a few hours a week, consistency is key to improving your skills.

Remember, every renowned animator started where you are right now. With enough practice, you too can create stunning storyboards that will make your animation portfolio shine.

If you're looking to enhance your storyboarding skills and create compelling animations, don't miss the workshop 'The Ultimate Role-Getting Portfolio Layout' by Jasmine MacPhee. This workshop will not only help you improve your storyboarding techniques but also guide you in creating an impressive portfolio to land your dream role in the animation industry.