Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Great Quotes From Uncle Walt - cartoons are written by artists on storyboards

The following paragraphs were written by Walt Disney for "Wisdom" magazine in 1959."The early cartoon-makers were hampered in an orderly preparation of stories because of the nature of their medium. The written script used for live-action filming couldn't convey the swift action and fantastic effects that could be achieved in cartoons. A need for a better mode of presenting cartoon stories was felt.

When the Walt Disney Studio was bursting forth with creativity in the early thirties, the first storyboard was born. Today it is standard procedure in the cartoon industry.

The storyboard is ideally suited to cartoon making. It tells the story graphically, exactly as the camera's eye will see it, and is also flexible.
Changes in the storyboard can be made by merely unpinning sketches and substituting others or even changing the sequence of the boards. The boards show pace, movement, excitement.

Sixty boards generally comprise a board. No attempt is made at art. The sketches are made boldly, so they can be read across a room.

Usually they are done with black pencil or charcoal since color can give a board a jumbled appearance. However, color is occasionally used to suggest a mood or illustrate a costume.

With its many sketches underlined with strips of paper containing the dialogue or musical lyrics, the boards take on the appearance of a comic strip.

Three storyboards can usually tell a short subject. (by "storyboard", he means a 4 by 8 bulletin board filled with individual story panels, not the individual panels themselves)

A feature requires 25 or more.

When the story is complete, the boards are photographed and photostatic blow-ups are distributed to all the artists working on the production." - Walt Disney

to be continued...

Here's an interesting interview with one of Disney's top story-men - Bill Peet. According to him, Walt would periodically hire big time screenwriters, but they never worked out and it was a waste of money.


Warner Bros. cartoons are the best written and funniest cartoons in history. They also have the most developed personalities. The storyboard artists drew very rough and not on model, because these writers were more concerned with telling the story than doing finished art as they drew the storyboards. It was up to the animators and assistants to do the finished slick art.

from Baseball Bugs by Friz Freleng

How many of you storyboard artists out there go insane when you read scripts written by non-artists that just don't work? Post some horror stories in the comments.


Anonymous said...

That's what visual story telling is all about.

I would have liked to have been at one of the sessions when Walt would read the storyboards. Or Jones. Or Barbera.

John when are you going to tell more stories about Joe Barbera.

J.E.Daniels said...

I believe that Bugs Bunny panel is actually a deleted scene from "Baseball Bugs". There is a similar gag in "Super-Rabbit".

BrianMORANTE said...

I boarded this series that was supposed to be about these "x-treme" girls in all sorts of adventures.

One script had this scenario
-girls ride dirt bikes to location, they take out their skate boards and ride down to the river. They take out their surfboards to surf down the river.

It was a big challenge to figure out where they are keeping all of these xtreme items, and to figure out how one would surf a river.
(this was mostly the producers doing not the writer)

Rob said...


Now that animation, and sometimes even layout are done over seas, are people depending more upon the storyboard artist for finished, usable drawings?

The only recent boards I've seen that have the same loose, rough quality to them are CG feature animation storyboards, because the drawings themselves will have no use in the final film.

Niko Anesti said...

If I ever get a career in animation, storyboarding would be the one job I'd love to have. These posts help a lot. There is some good storyboarding out there today, but nothing seems to ever match the classics.

Roberto González said...

I learnt some things about storyboards a long time ago. Even if I had forgotten plenty of the concepts I knew of a studio that needed a storyboard artist and I figured out that I would try. I didn't have that much to loose.

I really don't know if I did a good or a bad job. I was trying to learn it by myself. One thing I can tell is I did a hell of a lot drawings, maybe too many. I mean, I did a much shorter thing than a feature and I think I did as many drawings as you mentioned. But somehow I couldn't help but introduce some character expressions and action poses. Besides I had to do it by layers, which I think it is a very annoying way to do an storyboard cause you have to think about how you'd separate the layers and it distracts you from the story and the fast sketch. I've worked on layouts before, and I think the layout is the part in which you'd think on separate the layers and clean up drawings, but it's distracting when you are storyboarding. I did a hell of a lot drawings, used a lot of paper in it, because I already made it quite long and besides, I had to do it in different layers too. I thought they would be mad with me for taking so much time in it. But they didn't. They were actually nicer than when I demanded the job (they quite treated me like rubbish when I demanded the job) . They also took a lot of time to answer me and they finally said me I was not selected. So I don't even know if I made a good job or not.

Keep posting things like this cause it might be quite useful for me if I ever try it again.

LeoBro said...

Off-topic but related to the animation lessons: I need technical help. In copying the Preston Blair characters, I'm trying to get not only the proportions and shapes but also the wonderful line quality of the originals. How does he achieve the variety of weight in his lines? It looks like he's using pencil, but how does get such contrast of thick and thin lines with a pencil?

Any ideas?

tark said...

nowadays they teach us drawing super cleaned-up storyboards, with all characters on model and, eventually, with definitive backgrounds behind.
so it's more easy to koreans to animate them... =)

Jamie said...

Awesome post John

I came across this bad article on how storyboarding supposedly doesn't work in todays 'digital age'. Im not a story artist, but I would like to become one so I really appreciate all the great info you teach us.


Do you have any pictures of some warner bros. storyboards? keep up the awesome posts!

Ben Pixen said...

Hey John,

I was wondering what you thought about the sequence in Sword in the Stone where Merlin and Madam Mim battle it out.

(Dont mind the different language)

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

Great post John!
Horror stories?
Oh my God, where do I start?
We had a writer on a one movie that woulld get the story artists to "help" her write her pages (ie, dictate them to her). When she did write something on her own, we'd just throw it away and board what we thought was right. She would then come in before the pitch, transcribe the board into her little computer, and then turn in script pages reflecting that board into the producer so thus making it seem like she came up with the material in the board!
I got a million stories about this broad.

Max Ward said...

Let's hear your stories John. And Eddie's stories.

Roberto González said...

Incidentally the series in which I tried to work also included skateboarding and x-treme stuff like that. It seems that they have only one idea everywhere. And yeah, they wanted on model drawings.

:: smo :: said...

i've always been a fan of rough boards that suggest composition and character. but i'm seeing more and more a trend in boards with high finish that are to be used as the final product. then shipped out for mechanical looking animation.

i suppose if you're sending work overseas it makes sense to do as little as possible that's drawn as well as possible, but from an artistic perspective i'd much rather work with rough boards and make layouts based on them, as opposed to tracing boards or skipping layout all together.

flash seems to feed this. paperless studios are alright, and bringing things back to places like new york, but still, too many shortcuts doesn't mean "good."

i think a lot of us, especially in new york are getting stuck in situations where we want to work in animation, but the jobs offered are a lot of these hack job flash cartoons.

since i was about ten i've wanted to make funny cartoons. then it was "i want to work for warner brothers." now that i know those cartoons are 60 years old and i can't really work my way up as an inbetweener...i've taken on a delusional quest to bring animation back to america.

hopefully people are listening to you john. i know a lot of cartoonists read this, and know this stuff already [i hope!] but maybe someone with the monies will start paying attention. or hell, people without money that just want to make damn good cartoons.

walt wanted to make money, sure. but he wanted to be proud of how he did it. his strategy was simple. make the best damn cartoons possible, and people will like them. schlesinger definitely followed suit, except he gave his guys credit for knowing what was funny and let them make it.

that perspective has totally changed, maybe because there's so many more cartoons out there now than before. but now it's, pump out as much crap as possible for as cheap as possible and take as much money as possible before people forget about it.

farming out animation makes my blood boil.

story isn't all that matters. animation matters too. doing clean boards doesn't mean all the "art-work" is done. make rough boards, give good direction and let animators have fun and make something that's fun to watch!

sorry...touchy subject. in any event, thanks for postin!

:: smo :: said...

also...a less ranty comment...

is that drawing up top by bill pete? it looks like it is for some reason, but i'm a little rusty!

mdouglas said...

I love seeing the progression of these innovators. Thanks alot for sharing! I would love to have a career in animation, but would have a hard time boarding for a show such as the Backyardigans... Eek Gad! Its at this point in the Animation industry we need a change. How does this stuff even make it on air? If I was 1 and watching that show I think i would have even thrown up my pureed carrots


P.S. No offense to any Backyardigans fans.

Josh Lieberman said...

I did storyboards from "What's Opera Doc" in my spare time.
I storybaorded the whole short, its over 100 boards, I learned so much doing it.
Check them out


also, does Spumco offer summer internships? if so where and how can I apply?

thank you

Graham said...

I agree with Tark. At my school I was in a class with a poo head teacher from Art Center. He made us all draw on model with super detailed background and all that crap.

Then I took a storyboarding class by a guy who worked at Pixar under John Ranft and he let me draw however I wanted as long as it was readable and told a story.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

I once saw a line in a Simpsons script (from either the 5th or 6th season) that simply read "everyone in the town goes crazy" or something to that effect (excuse me but I'm going on just my memory from an event 12 years ago). That one line would take lots of board drawings and layouts to do correctly. (Since it would most likely end up as a montage of different shots of rioting townspeople.)

The Simpsons was known for that kind of writing, and the artists were expecting to finish the animatics on the same tight schedule, no matter how many crowd shots in the picture. It became a matter of consternation for many of the directors there. (One director cut out all those "Indians take the town" type sentences from The Simpsons scripts and taped them to his office door.)

This is unrelated to the scriptwriters, but during the 4th season of The Simpsons, Matt Groening thought the artists were exaggerating Homer's eating habits too much, so he passed a rule that Homer could never open his mouth wider than the food he was eating! (Honest to God, that was a real Simpsons rule!) The artists at Film Roman went nuts when they heard the news. Tons of drawings ridiculing Groening's rule were hung up on every cubicle in sight. Eventually, that rule was either dropped or forgotten about.

Shawn said...

I'm storyboarding for a great project right now. It's my first time storyboarding for anybody and I have no horror stories to tell... It's just fun, and I'm learning a lot of cool crap as I go.

Rodrigo said...

Kickass post.

One thing I hope people realize, is to not get caught up on exactly HOW to storyboard, but instead how to tell a story. The image sequence should roughly be visualized to begin with.

I've worked with enough people, that scrutinize the proper story board format, but have terrible visual stories. I'd rather see a well conjured story, than a slick by-the-rules board.

As far as bad experiences go. . . in one of my classes we had a group animation project, and one of the team members was a student from the BUSINESS SCHOOL *dramatic chord*. I don't know who the fuck let her in. She took this class just as an elecive.

She'd get so caught up trying to fit everything in a neat little list on her notepad and was clueless when it came to visualization of the story. I'd say "Okay, then the character gets knocked out of the frame towards the left, and then enters from the right in this new scene." I'd spend half the class period explaining why this makes sense to the viewer.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! This is music to my ears! I agree in spades with everything you said!

Storyboards should be quick sketched and altered constantly as new and better versions of the gags emerge. It should be a work in progress right up until it's time to turn it in!

Storyboards are done the way they are to eliminate the need for layout and because inexperienced execs think they're getting more control that way. They aren't. They're getting less control.

There's so much rendering to do in the layouts-as-boards system that boarders are forced to concretize their first impressions in order to make time for all the on-model drawing. I don't know about you guys but my first impression is seldom my best. For me freezing first impressions results in a filmically and comedically hamstrung film.

Mad Taylor said...

Storyboard Horror Story Time...gather 'round boys and girls!

So the last job I was on we animated the spoken word of a political figure. His words didn't always lend themselves to the best visuals. Since the script was generally what he spoke, it was therefore written by a non-animator.

My art director was a simple guy and not the best at knowing how to go about an animation production. Here's why.

We had 5 episodes to do and we did storyboards in Flash except for the first episode. Now doing them in Flash is ok, but we were suddenly commanded to make our storyboards tidy finalized art instead of loose and workable.

This was a nightmare, I knew storyboards had to be loose and you use them to figure out what the final art would be in terms of the action,staging,mood,and even some timing, much like the Warner approach.

Doing final art from the beginning was awful because of course we would have to make changes to it constantly. It would have been much easier to construct the boards, edit those, then knock the final art out with a good understanding.

We'd give the final product to the client and the big boss and they'd demand a bunch of changes. This was a wole other nightmare in itself. The client didn't know what storyboards were and wouldn't know what to make of them. And the big boss guy, sadly, was on the same bus as the client.

It would piss me off something fierce when we got comments or changes that needed to be made. All these things the boss, client, and art director would want changed could have been made easily and early on had they knew what storyboards were meant for.

Myself and 2 other lads who had a good idea about storyboards all had to live this storyboard nightmare! Appreciate (and hug) those around you who know what the hell they are doing!

-The End

Thomas J. said...

I currently do some stop-motion animation for MadTV at a small studio, and some of the scripts we get in are just plain UNFUNNY and UNCREATIVE! Sometimes I just wonder what they're thinking?

...And then I realize that all the work I'm doing could almost be done in live action. But then again, we're not going for brilliance.

I miss storyboarding and creative storytelling.

David Germain said...

walt wanted to make money, sure. but he wanted to be proud of how he did it. his strategy was simple. make the best damn cartoons possible, and people will like them.

Actually, smo, it wasn't quite that simple. His strategy for making the best damn cartoons possible was to pump most of the profits back into the studio whilst he only took enough of that money to live a rather normal existence (no fancy pools, vintage cars, and all sorts of bling-bling like that). How many executives would be willing to do that today? ;)

Gabriel said...

but if you create everything on the storyboard, does it mean the person who does the board should also be the one who came up with the story? If not, how will you transmit it to the storyboard artist? Do you act everything out to him/her?

And how much of the story should you know before start drawing? Should you know how will it end?

Barx said...

I've been boarding TV series animation for a few years and I've definitely noticed scripts getting longer, more complicated and detailed,even though the show is still the same length.
Trying to make sense of all of this information and keep the story cohesive is quite a challenge in many cases and can be quite time consuming. This can leave much less time working on the important character stuff which is the essense of the story. Not to mention the fact that the layout department no longer exits in many studio's, and boards are required to be cleaner and tighter.
Then, on top of that, schedules seem to keep getting more and more condensed.
With scripts being crammed with too much action and meaniningless dialogue there is very little room for the characters to 'breathe'.
Anyone who has had the opportunity to work from a one page premise, or shorter script can attest to the sheer joy of being able to really dig into the character stuff and the gags, as opposed to weeding through page after page of convoluted action.
All that being said-I still love the storyboarding process-some projects are just much more gratifying than others.
Thanks for all the great information on this blog John.

Timothy Merks said...

Hey nice comment :: smo :: I feel your pain. I would love to work my way up as an inbetweener to.

Yeah visual gags dont write well and they come easier when you're just mad drawing.

I've have many problems with film funding in Australia with that they read the script first and if they dont like it they dont even check the supporting material. Mostly due to the amount of applications and also that they treat animation the same as live action. So it is next to impossible to get any money to make a slapstick animation but easy to make art/dramas.

I do think a problem comercial storyboading has is those crappy storyboarding templates everyone seems intent on using. They are so freaking tiny so the artist doesnt seem to even care about composition or even bother with the hassle of putting in a tracking shot. Lazy tv storboard artists >:(

I really enjoy storyboarding. It's probably the most fun process in animation. Lately I've started trying to do comics to try and get better at timing gags.

Nina said...

I storyboard for bad indie films all the time... One of my more recent jobs was a guy who wrote a rediculously gorey script and wanted them done in the style of Frank Miller in Sin City. x_X He put them together in order to pitch the project for money, but oy vey—I should've charged him more money for all the time I put into those!

(Not to mention that the script was not visually-oriented at all... lots of talking, 8 characters in a garage... oy)

NARTHAX said...

The lengthy lava eruption effects sequence in Disney's 1992 'Aladdin' feature took over six months to animate and fully theorize. All this work came from one line in the script: "All hell breaks loose."

Mr. Semaj said...

The new method of storyboarding sounds like the result of executives at one time interpreting boards and layouts as the same thing.

The new method is faulty especially if the execs STILL can't understand visual art.

Andrew Moore said...

It sounds like studios today don't really want storyboards, they want key drawings laid out in sequence so they can sit in a chair and look at them all at once.

I don't know how you folks put up with this industry. No wonder you're all looney!

Alex Whitington said...

This process of drawing animated films from the ground up has always fascinated me.
Do you think live-action movies should be made like this? I mean, it's still a visual medium, but there a bunch of movies that I can't imagine would have worked if they'd been drawn rather than written...

Travis H. said...

Hey John, thought you might like to know at the LA county museum of art this saturday (Feb 3rd at 5pm) they're playing 3 buster keaton movies for like $5 "Sherlock Jr." "The Playhouse" and "the Scarecrow". a triple feature! "You think gums* like this come CHEAP!?!?" -George Liquor. I guess they do.


Eric C. said...

I totally agree on the comset of Writting with Storyboards. I do it most of the time for my films, even if they're live action, I'll draw the guidelines of where the character whould be and their action.

It's a wonderful tool for artists, esspecially filmmakers. Even Jim Henson used the comset of storyboards and his company is as big as Disney. Now Disney owns his most famous creations.

That and contruction is 2 very importaint tools that I've learned work well with animation and the built characters.

Thanks again John,

_Eric ;)

JohnK said...

Hey Eric, use spell check for cryin' out loud! Especially if you are gonna talk about writing.

murrayb said...

the story you told us from the smurfs was priceless:
This producer told John "none of your funny stuff smart guy. follow the script exactly."
The script was:
Long Ago a bunch of giants taller than the tallest tree had these magical crowns, and they left them hidden deep in the forest where the smurfs find them.

stop and visualize that.

smurfs, three apples tall.

giants, taller then the tallest tree.

the crown has to fit the smurf right?
so john designed a huge hulking giant with a teeny tiny smurf sized noggin with a crown.

of course the producer blew up, but it did follow the script to the letter.

it's funny that the people who write and approve these scripts never catch the BSP(Broadcast Standards and Practice), until they see it drawn out. It could be clearly written "woody woodpecker flies thru windshield"
OF COURSE woody wasn't wearing his seat belt.
OF COURSE if you fly thru a windshield there will be broken glass.
and then you find a way to revise it, and then they send you a note the next day: "nix the whole car crash gag altogether."

B.S.P. sucks at making kids laugh.
To me, if I see someone fly through a windshield in a cartoon, I laugh, and subconciously remind myself to wear a seatbelt.

Steve said...

I followed the link someone posted showing how Fosters is written... and saw nothing but that: written words. I like Rodrigo's comment there:

> What the hell? I thought cartoons
> were supposed to be made with
> pictures.

John, any chance we could see more Ren and Stimpy boards? and yes please, tell us more about your early experience with HB!

Stephen Worth said...

For Ren & Stimpy boards, see the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive...

Stimpy's Invention Part One

Stimpy's Invention Part Two

Big House Blues One

Big House Blues Two

Big House Blues Three

There are lots of other boards on the ASIFA site too. Poke around in the Top Ten Reasons To Contribute to the A-HAA

Stephen Worth

Jamie said...

I'm not an animator, just a guy who loves cartoons.

But for years I've been trying to describe the process of storyboarding in web development. No one seems to get it, but this post is perfect.

Is the full text of Walt's article online somewhere?

Anibator said...

Storyboarding, especially nowadays when a storyboard has to pretty much be the finished cartoon minus a couple of in-betweens here and there, is positively the most back-breaking, laborious, soul-crushing post in the entire animation pipeline.
It requires artistic abilities that are off the radar and technical skills that would confound a Rhodes Scholar.
Storyboarding (that is to say, GOOD storyboarding) is really, really, really, really hard.

Toren Atkinson said...

As an illustrator and comic artist, I find the biggest problem is simply the writer trying to fit too much information into a single frame/panel. Luckily I just point out such problems and the best solution and they usually say "oh yeah - do that."

JoJo said...

I had to board from scripts for my storyboarding class. Everything had to be drawn on model and be cleaned up, because most studios nowadays don't spend time on layouts. It's no wonder modern cartoons look horribly flat when they're blown up from tiny panels. The whole process doesn't seem very friendly towards artists who want to make something really creative, but have to concentrate on a script and make things look cleaned up.

Oh, and reading the script was like reading fan fiction. I bet some of the people who write the scripts wrote fan fiction before they got into the business.

Anyway, your post is awesome, and I only wish these things could still be done at most studios.

Julianne said...

I had a freelance gig a while back where a school teacher wanted to take a story done by one of her students and have it animated. She had a limited budget but she seemed really cool so I took on her project.
The "script" was a block paragraph email. No too much of a horror story until my interpretation of the script need revisions over and over again because I wasn't reading her mind or something.
She sucked the fun out of the whole project for me, but it was a great learning experience!

Ryan said...

Do you know of any good resources to find a comedy writer?

The last couple pitches of mine to networks all ended the same way..."We love you idea, we love your characters, we love your design, you need to pair up with a comedy writer"

Are their any forums like coldhardflash but for writers? I need to find me one...as much as I like writing, it's tough to do it all

Chris Battle said...

I agree with JJ Hunsecker: "The whole town goes nuts" thing happens over and over again. The new twist on that one seems to be "Camera pulls back for a 360 degree helicopter view of the entire city as everyone goes nuts".

Hell for every single artist on the crew.

boootooons ltd. said...

the funny thing is, i write scripts for my own short films, and the one thing they tell us in film school that i actually agree with is to not make your directions in the script overly descriptive.

they tell you in film school that the art director, director of photography and the director will all be in charge of the look of it, so don't waste time describing long pan shots, actions that the characters make, etc.

the reason for this is that visuals are not immediately translatable to words, despite long bouts of description from the likes of writers such as anne rice. they do storyboards in film for this very reason ( unless you're a visionary like john cassavetes or woo and just 'wing it' when you get to the set ).

so, not only are these execs doing the wrong thing by writing scripts for cartoons in the first place, but when they write them, they're going about it all wrong!

two wrongs don't make a right. two rights make a left.

- trevor.

ps: btw john, any chance you can publish your interviews with friz or joe barbera?

Tommy said...

I once had to write, in script form, how a character fell down the stairs. It was funny in my head, but not in type.

Mattieshoe said...
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