What is a storyboard? Storyboards are an invaluable tool for designers — especially for those who create music videos and advertising. They are a vital means of not only helping you visualize your earliest ideas, but also charting the road to a finished product.
Blind — the folks behind ads for Microsoft, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and music videos for Coldplay and others — have proven themselves especially adept at storyboarding. We sat down with one of their creative directors, Matthew Encina, to discuss the best ways on how to make a powerful storyboard that both aids the process and dazzles clients.
Know What to Storyboard, Before You Storyboard
Blind’s ultimate goal is to design something that makes their clients happy. So, before any storyboarding begins, make sure you know exactly what you should be storyboarding. “We ask a whole lot of very specific questions,” says Encina. “Afterward, we summarize everything we talked about in a very concise one-page document and say, ‘This is what we heard. These are the creative parameters we’re working within. And this is your goal.’ We send that back and make sure we’re all on the same page.” That’s all part of what Encina believes is their job. “Clients have a picture of what they want in their head. It’s our job to extract and visually translate that picture.”
Make Your Client’s Goals Your Bible
Once Blind has their clients’ goals, objectives, and creative parameters, that becomes the team’s bible. Every part of storyboarding is guided by the principles handed down by the client. “We print those out, make them really big, and put them up on the wall as we’re developing ideas,” says Encina. “When I’ve created something at any point, I look up at those parameters and see how I’ve addressed them. That’s our guiding north star to make sure we’re always heading in the right direction.”
Use Storyboards as Your Creative Map
“Storyboarding is really good for helping us to start to define the path that we need to get from A to Z,” says Encina. It doesn’t matter what form storyboards take — rough sketches or highly rendered digital images — it’s about mapping a course that gets you as close to “Z” as possible. “Ultimately, storyboarding becomes the blueprint for the entire process, and serves as a roadmap for when you get into production.”
Use the Method that Suits Your Project Best
There are a lot of ways to storyboard. Encina says that Blind uses a variety of approaches: pencil and paper, reference images, Photoshop. They even use other programs if the project calls for it. “Sometimes we incorporate some 3D programs, like Cinema 4D, to help visualize anything that needs to be a 3D effect.” With so many tools out there, it’s always best to use the one that suits your creative process, but is also ideal for meeting the goals of your clients.
Don’t Forget the “Story” Part of “Storyboard”
It’s easy to think otherwise, but storyboarding isn’t about creating images. It’s about creating images to tell a story. “It doesn’t matter if you design the most beautiful storyboard images ever. That work will be ineffective if it doesn’t advance the story in an interesting way,” says Encina.
A Story Needs a Framework, Not Just Cool Moments
Blind’s most recent success is a stunning interactive music video for Coldplay’s “Ink.” Given its “Choose Your Own Adventure” format, it proved a challenge to figure out how to harness the multiple paths and possibilities the story required. “There was a giant wall of Post-it notes in different colors,” says Encina about the process, which wound up yielding dozens of what he calls “cool moments” pinned to the wall. “They were just all over the place.” He finally cracked the story once he realized he needed an arc to rein in all those moments. “Until I defined what the larger framework was for the story, I was a little bit lost,” he reveals. Once he did, however, he and his team were able to storyboard with greater focus and success.
Storyboarding Is a Collaborative Process
Storyboarding is not something Encina and Blind believe should be siloed — especially when working with clients. “We don’t like to go in our cave, work on something for three months, then come back out and say, ‘Here it is! It’s all done!’” With ads and music videos, you’re creating something for someone else, not yourself. “It’s vital for the other party to be involved in the process, so they feel like they’re building the work with you, and are more invested in the end product.”
No Idea Is Too Precious
A key element of Blind’s storyboarding process is disposability. No idea is locked into, because Encina and his colleagues feel it’s creatively limiting. “Early in the process, we use Post-it notes and Sharpie pens,” says Encina. “Because you can draw up a sequence fairly quickly — even if it’s not refined — and because it’s on a Post-it note, that idea is not very precious.” It enables them to put up brainstormed sequences, then easily take them down, throw them out, and re-sketch. Blind have found this approach invaluable to their process. “When you make an idea and you treat it like your baby, it’s sometimes hard to let go.” Encina says. “If you approach the design process as an iterative process, and don’t commit to the very first idea you create, then you open up the door to being able to create really stellar and amazing ideas.”
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