Thoughts and Process: Storyboards for an Illustrated Book #1

A photo of a storyboard book on top of a desk and laptop. The book title reads "Composition Notebook, SS: Outlook Storyboard Paper."

Storyboards can be a bit of an intricate and complicated art form, despite what it may initially seem like. How many you need, how detailed they are, and how they are presented seems to vary depending on exactly what medium the boards are being used for. Some storyboards get used for animatics for video media, and some are used as a thumbnail for a sketch of a single illustration! But what about a short story? How do storyboards get made for those? Well today I’ll be discussing the thoughts and process behind my storyboards for my short story, SS: Outlook.

So what’s the story I did storyboards for? SS: Outlook is a story of mine being presented in an illustrated book format akin to children’s books. It’s about a personified planet Earth becoming frustrated over her conflict between wanting to explore, but knowing there’s nothing new for her to see. These first few pages take place purely in space. Obviously there’s more to the story than this, but for this post I’d like to first focus on the first three pages that I’ve done the full illustrations for. The main concept for these pages is simply to establish setting and show the main character.

I ended up doing about 3 full rounds of storyboards for my short story, which will end up being an estimated 36 illustrations. There were a couple pages where I only did two, and some where I ended up with four versions of the same page. The main idea was that I only stopped when I was satisfied with what the composition would be, or at least had a very clear idea of the direction the composition would go. The text on the top line of each page is the story text that’ll be placed in the final composition. The storyboards I ultimately chose for the page were circled, any nitpicks or changes I wanted in the final product were written in pink or pen ink (it was whichever I had available at the time). The dates underneath each board are simply the days I finished the boards on; I like dating things so I keep my work in check if it starts getting too long since the last revision. The text underneath the dates are descriptions for each board, in the case that there’s an idea I couldn’t communicate through visuals alone. Finally, the shaded blocks in the actual boards are where I planned on putting the story text. I will say my visuals for the boards aren’t meant to be the most detailed things, they simply have enough detail to get the central idea across.

The first round of storyboards I did, I realized they were done with a more emotional theming, as the character’s expressions took more focus. The second draft of boards I tried to focus more on the actual setting and less on the character themselves. Since the story is about losing your sense of wonder, yet still having the desire to explore, the lack of setting focus in the first draft just didn’t make sense. When I made the third draft of storyboards, I tried to focus more on interesting ways to present the composition. Something that sticks out to me, in regards to composition and presentation, is all the thought process that went into that iconic scene from Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. When Miles Morales jumps off the skyscraper and falls into the city, all the staff did for that one shot was flip it vertically. But because of that one simple trick, the audience sees the scene as the character Miles rising to the occasion, where as if it was presented without the flip, the audience may feel more tension about Miles getting hurt or being in danger. With that in mind, I tried to find neat new ways to present certain themes and shots of the story that wouldn’t immediately bore the reader. There’s an example of this on page 3 of my storyboards.

To wrap up this initial process, there was one rule I had for the story has a whole, in case anyone gets confused about why certain things are drawn the way they are: my character’s cloud hair must always be blowing or moving in the right direction, as in literally the reader’s right side. This is to both encourage the character to move forward and for the reader to subliminally turn the page. Actual intensity of the movement varies by scene. I also just draw these boards in a simple number 2 pencil. I was mainly concerned about getting the ideas I had across as opposed to what tools I used. If you are storyboarding for a more corporate or professional setting, this is something to be conscious of, in case your materials smear or get messy.

So now that we have the basic of how I chose to lay everything out, let’s get to individually dissecting these boards!

Page 1

A page of two storyboards, with miscellaneous notes written around the page.

Page 1 only got two storyboards for a couple of reasons. The first major reason was that after I did the first round of storyboards, I realized that the first page absolutely had to be an establishing shot of space. The first storyboard didn’t properly set the stage, let the audience know where they were, and was a poor introduction of the character. What it was meant to do was show that the character had reached a spot of emptiness, and became unwilling to explore. It was simply too soon to present this kind of shot. I guess that’s what they mean when they say that your first ideas can be your worst! Even though I was certain in choosing the second board for the composition, you can still see all my little notes and nitpicks in the pink writing for things I wanted changed. I’m sorry if my hand writing is pretty messy. Overall I felt the first shot was done correctly with the second version of the storyboard, it’s meant to be a very clear establishing shot of space.

An illustration of space showing the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

When I started painting the official first page, I had to use an online space orbiter reference to realize where the planets would end up and where during a certain time period. So the actual layout of the planets ended up being different than the storyboard, but the central idea was the same.

The major difference between the chosen storyboard and the final illustration is simple: there are far less stars in the illustration! When I had used that online orbiting reference, I got to see exactly how many stars there would be and where. This ended up benefiting my story theme a lot, as I didn’t want the sheer amount and shine of stars to overwhelm the page and making it too pretty. I know, that’s a weird thing to complain about, but for now, the less wondrous shine, the better. Other than that, painting all the planets was really fun. I never realized, until I saw a reference, how beautifully colored Mercury is!

Page 2

A page of three full storyboards, with miscellaneous notes written around the page.

Onto page 2’s boards: this page is probably the most obvious when it comes to drafting ideas. The first board is more focused on the expression and emotion on the character’s face, which I decided wasn’t going to work without the character having been properly established first. Boards #2 and #3 are very similar in composition and the setting theme, they simply have rotated poses and different text placements. Both are to serve as a zoom in of page 1 board #2. Also, I apologize for the ink from the last page showing through on this one, guess I should get some thicker paper…

When my Earth character sits in the beginning, I kept getting the idea in my head for her to be sitting in a ball, knee hugging position, what I believed would be the closest to a round silhouette. This is because when she’s zoomed out, she looks more like a normal Earth globe, and I believed the initial reveal that the Earth is an actual character with further zoom ins would provide intrigue in the beginning. After I knew that the first page would be a space establishing shot, it became obvious to me that the next page should be a zoom in. Board #3 ended up winning out.

A woman in the coloration of planet Earth hugs her legs to her torso, resting her forehead on them. Her cloud hair flows in a right direction.

This obviously looks very different than the initial storyboard. The major reason for this, and the full illustration for page 3, is because I don’t want to show the entire illustrations for the characters until I’ve finished the entire story. As for the final illustration of page 2, I’m going to have to go back and change some quick things. After I figured out how to paint the cloud hair I wanted in the page 3 final illustration, I realized I would need to go back and fix page 2’s illustration. I also want to make the stars look more hand painted in page 1. Hopefully this entire project isn’t me just going back and fixing things. And yes…in the full illustration for page two, there are a couple stars haha.

Page 3

A page with three drawn storyboards, with hand written notes and text written alongside each one.

Finally, I’ll end this discussion on page 3 of the storyboards. The first board I really don’t have too much to say on: it’s a zoom out of page 2 board #1 with the character looking spacey and disappointed, sitting in the air. The second board has the character sitting in a ball position, zoomed in from page 2 board #2.

Remember when I said I was entranced by the innovative thought process in Spiderverse with that iconic scene? Well, if you look at the third version of the storyboard, you can see the Earth character is sitting in a ball position, but she’s been rotated around so her head is closer to the bottom of the page. I felt that spinning her around, as if the actual Earth was spinning, would provide some visual intrigue, especially paired with that third storyboard on page 2. However, after some research on how the Earth actually orbits, this idea of clockwise spinning got scraped. The Earth rotates and spins mostly horizontally along the equator, but at about a 22 degree titled angle. So the actual spin in the final illustrations is more horizontally around her body, and not vertically at all. I did want to keep some degree of realism in my story, so no feet up in the air anymore! Even with that research, I felt the third version of the board was still strong enough to be the core idea of the page’s composition.

A woman colored like the planet Earth is sitting in space and staring towards the viewer with red eyes. Her cloud hair floats in a right direction and her left arm hugs her legs towards her torso.

When I made the full illustration for page 3, I did have to get more lenient with the pose since it was hard to find a reference. In hindsight, I really like this pose, since it looks like the character is slowly unraveling and relaxing her body, while still feeling troubled. The way her face and the cloud hair came out also makes me pretty happy. It was at this sketch I realized I wanted to draw the hair lineart as I would a character’s curly round hair, and simply color and shade it like clouds. I’m very pleased with the result, but naturally that means I must go back and fix the second illustration since now that cloud hair looks a little too cartoony. Opps…

I think that’s everything I have to cover for these pages! I plan to talk more in length about the thoughts and process for the future storyboards and illustrations I make for my short story. I just need to finish more of the final illustrations first! As I continue to work on this story, we’ll get to more interesting compositions and settings, so I’m looking forward to writing about that! Finally, I also want to thank the lovely people who followed my website in the last two weeks. I see you, and I’m so appreciative, thank you so much for seeing and/or reading my work. If you’ve read this far, thank you very much for your time and I hope you enjoyed what I had to say. I wish you the best, until we meet again.