Students frequently ask, “How clean should my story drawings be?” The answer to that is, “Depends on what the director wants.” I've seen directors accept one artist rough drawings while requiring another to clean up their work.

I think the decision comes down to clarity and details. The rough boards that get through are clear and have enough details in them that the director can see what was going on and could envision the scene. The boards that got rejected were less clear and didn't have enough detail in them to give a sense of what was going.

I hope it pretty obvious what clarity is (can you tell in one glance what is going on?) so I'll focus this lesson on the details.


To illustrate this point, look a the drawings below:



It's not that you can't tell what is going on in either sketch, it's the details (umbrella, cow, fence) that make the second drawing 'feel' better.

If we were to add more details to the drawing, it would become muddy with too much information.


In the final shot there may be a barn, a house, a tree, a cloud and a bird, but those elements are not necessary to the story of the man on his tractor so leave them out.


If we were to draw all the detail we see in the frame it would overpower the eye. The reason all that information works in the final is because we are looking at a moving image.

herbie 004

In the middle panel I drew all the trees and bg elements you see through the window of the car, all the wrinkles on the suits, detail on the helmets. Without shading it would be a mess.

herbie 001

There is too much information here.

herbie 002

By simplifying, the sketch becomes easier to read. The detail of hands on the wheel let us know the characters are in a car as does the windows in the bg.

herbie 004

Even works without shading. You can vary the line with to achieve a near/far effect.


Placing Details

After blocking out your boards think about what details you need to add to the sketch. Details will give clues like:

  • Location
  • Attitude of character
  • Camera angle
  • Mood
  • Lighting
  • Time period


Here's the rough board from ICE AGE 3. Its a bit rougher than what is usually acceptable but because everything was there, it managed to slide by. Let me point out a few things concerning details:



In the panel below Sid is telling mama dino that he's raised the babies vegetarian.


It's a simple two shot set up. What makes this shot more complicated is scale -- Momma is the size of a building! I tossed in a few palm trees, birds and bushes to hint at scale and remind that we are not in the ice age world but the dino world.


 Now take those 'minor' details out and the sketch doesn't work.


Add the trees back, better, but it's off balance.


The birds off in the distance and the bush round everything out here.

Here's another example:


The bird is falling off a cliff. Bummer!


By adding a ground plane you have created scale. Adding Brontasaurs give it even more scale and remind us of the world we are in.


Details in your acting and facial expressions:

Suppose your assignment was a bored kid at school. The body language is the detail that will really sell the attitude in a set up like this:








Try different things to give your sketches the right amount of attitude.


Look at these boards from Zootopia by Dean Wellins:






They appear rough, but they have weverything you need to tell what's going on.

Now compare Dean's to Hyunjoo Song's boards form Troll Hunters:






 More detailed but not muddy.



Take three characters, they are playing a card game. One is cheating, one has a burrito and the other has bad breath. See where it takes you!




Random Storyboard

019 .jpg