How to Become a Storyboard Artist
There are many routes to take to lead you down the path of becoming a storyboard artist. The most obvious is simply having the desire to work long hours, drawing until your wrists break, and often spending many hours by yourself or even working creatively with other artists to create a unique artistic vision.
Love art? Want to work in the movie industry? Read on to find out how.
1. Have the Desire
Realize first that work as a storyboard artist, especially when you’re just starting out, is very much “feast or famine”. You may work on a single project for weeks at a time, earning decent money and feeling like you’re a part of something bigger — then a few months of no work at all in which you may have to supplement your income with other employment. That is — until you make a name for yourself and build a few associations with industry types.
Do you love movies? Do you have some understanding of what it takes to make a movie? If you haven’t spent time in film school or in a film and television department at a university, you may find yourself out in the cold when trying to work as a storyboard artist. That’s why your built in desire to work as a storyboard artist isn’t always enough to earn you work. That’s why a person interested in being a storyboard artist should seriously consider getting some kind of training in film. Work for an ad agency making commercials, or go to film school. Storyboard artist work can be (in the words of one experienced storyboarder) “all Ramen noodles and black coffee” — so possessing a strong drive to work as an artist is as important as learning the skills.
2. Have the Ability
Obviously, you need to figure out if you have talent in art and drawing. The good news is that storyboard art is not meant to be perfect. In fact, for most projects, seeking perfection is counter productive. When you do get a storyboard contract, and you have 400 different boards to draw in just a few weeks time to earn your pay, you simply aren’t going to be able to draw perfect bricks on the wall of the building in the background. Storyboard art is pretty too look at sure, but it needs to be clear and be capable of telling the story. What a storyboard artist does it essentially to translate the script or screenplay shot list from a verbal medium (or words on a page) into a visual idea of the film.
3. Get an Education
You don’t need a formal education in art to get work as a storyboard artist, but to get consistent work and to give yourself an easy time of just starting out, a degree from an institute of higher learning is a good idea. There are film schools and even community colleges where you can learn the art of storyboarding, usually as part of a program called “sequential art”, “illustration”, or even as part of a director’s film school training. When you work as a storyboard artist, you are a communicator first and an artist second. Sure, an education in art (learning about perspective, anatomy, lighting, etc) is important to be able to communicate, but they aren’t necessary parts of a storyboard artist’s background. Having experience in drawing a variety of objects, people, and things will help you in your career as a storyboard artist, if for no other reason than you never know what a storyboard will call for.
4. Get the Tools
Most of the time, a storyboard artist will be content to use a few pencils, drawing paper, and a computer and scanner. A variety of pencils is usually required — you might do a rough version of your work with a basic 4h pencil before filling in with 2h, then h, and finally a charcoal like art pencil. Template paper is also important — this paper is already marked out with the storyboard formatting and a film friendly 4 : 3 aspect ratio. Once you’re happy with your storyboards, you should be able to scan them into a computer and use a program like Photoshop to alter your boards. An ability to work with computers is a must these days for storyboard artists, as most of your communications with the director will be via email, and Photoshop skills are a must, as storyboard editing is easier to do on a computer screen.
5. Be a Professional
Even though a storyboard artist is a creative professional, they must be good at behaving appropriately. Being professional means being early for meetings, having work in before it’s due, and communicating with the higher ups with a ton of patience. Sending in work early (not just on time, but a few days before) will earn you a good reputation in the industry. This means staying up all night several days in a row, fixing hundreds of boards in order to get them in early. The film business is nothing more than a series of deadlines and schedules, so a good work ethic will be your best weapon. Artists aren’t always known for their work ethic, which is why not just any artist can work in the film industry.
How much money do storyboard artists make?
The cash you earn as a storyboarder depends primarily on your work experience. Artists just starting out may trudge on with annual earnings of under $30,000, while the highest end of storyboard artists will easily earn six figures. Your first years as a storyboard artist will be your leanest, and proving your value as an artist is an uphill battle. If you work in one of a handful of major film markets (LA, New York, Toronto) you can earn more, while storyboard art work you do in a smaller market (like work for an ad agency or small film producer) is obviously going to earn you less cash.
A career as a storyboard artist can be financially rewarding, but only after a few years of late nights and very little cash in the bank. If you are a film nut and you have a talent for storyboarding or art, there are few careers you are better suited for. Want to work in the glamorous film industry and use your natural artistic talent to boot? Filmmakers need good storyboard artists to create their final product.