There are several elements that make for good staging.

  • Character placement
  • Composition
  • Camera angle/position

Suppose you are doing a story about a girl who hopes to ask a popular boy out to the dance, but gets turned down. You could start with a shot of the girl slipping a note into the pocket of the boy.

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For your initial staging, think in terms of foreground, middle ground, and background.



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This will keep things simple. As a general rule, darker shades closer to camera, lighter as you go back.


Character Placement

Later in the story after she gets rejected, she laments to her cat about her troubles.

Your placement of the characters in the shot can make or break the story Idea you are communicating. I wanted to show how sad/desparate the loveless cat girl is so I put her low in the frame. I contrasted her loveless-ness by showing the indifference of the cat.

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She is clearly the needy one in this drawing. If I were to place her larger in the frame, it wouldn't be as effective to show her sadness.


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In the shot above the girl is the dominant figure. But she is disconnected from the cat. She is absorbed in her book while the cat looks on. Staging her in this way doesn't say pathetic. Her dialog tells us that she is. Using dialog as your only communication tool is poor filmmaking. SHOW, don't say.

The Loveless Girl projects her feelings on the cat. By framing the cat with her arms I'm suggesting the cat is trapped. 


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In the drawing above, the shot is playful. We can make it more sinister. It depends on the tone you are going for.


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You wouldn't shoot every scene with the cat framed in or trapped. Just when you want to punctuate the cat's feelings.


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Here, he's not trapped. Same expression on the cat, different feeling in the scene. See the difference?


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This last composition has less feeling to it.

When you frame something in your compositions it is called frame in frame. Here's a few more examples:



Hogarth is framed by the kitchen door. This scene was staged to keep Giant's hand out of sight of Hogarth's mom. We're anticipating Hogarth's secret will be exposed. It's a good example of escalation.

Here's a very famous one from "The Graduate".


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"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"

Ben's line wouldn't be as effective if it was shot like this:


Use your compositions to tell the story.

Another great one from Spielberg. Skip ahead to about 00:53 As Quint's boat heads out after the shark it is framed by a set of shark jaws. A prediction of things to come.




Every story sketch should have a focal point -- one spot in the sketch that draws your eye.
I call this pointing. Have the stuff in you composition point to where you want the audience to look.
Here are a few examples from David Lean's films, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago:
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Contrast and movement are also good ways to direct the eye.
From Coen Brothers Fargo. When this shot came on the screen right after Jerry's conversation with Wade and his business partner, I wasn't sure what I was looking at till Jerry walked into the scene. 

Camera Placement

Where you put the camera will also help you tell the story.

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In this shot, the popular kid doesn't know he's getting a note in his pocket. We see what the girl thinks about what she's doing.

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In this shot, the camera is placed in the locker so we see the popular hipster's face and what he thinks about getting a love note.

I can make this drawing stronger.

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I tilted the sweet bearded hipster and had her arm coming up from below. His hand is pointing right where I want you to look. So are his eyes and beard. I fixed the composition so it doesn't look like he is sprouting an extra arm. Character placement at work!

In this next version, the camera is eye level. Character placement is such that we see his face and reaction to the note before she does. The audience can develop empathy for the girl before she gets the news.

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Like we talked about in the last lesson, doling out story information is a good story technique. Develop a sense of when to give out info and when to keep it.

Here's a good example of exploring different camera placements or Buster Keaton trying to get a free ride on the back of a car.

Is it better to reveal the gag?





Or to see it happen before he does?








Here's a bit I did for Peanuts. Same camera placement, different character arrangement. Trying out different way for him to slide down the hill.



A word on rule of thirds







Your job as a board artist is to come up with solutions to story problems that come up in the process. Sometimes you know where you need to go, but have to figure out how to get there.

A girl gets stood up fpr a date, she wishes her cat could be her date -- the wish is granted!



Random Storyboard

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