Drawing & Composition for Visual Storytelling

Below is a step-by-step progression of a draw-over from an old storyboard assignment.

1. Original Panel From Student Sequence

old storyboard assignment #1

  • Conceptually it is good.
  • She has clearly established a screen relationship between the two characters (left and right).
  • Indicated an environment (the mountain range in the background).

My main note is to push it even further! Take the concept of this shot and push it to find a more interesting and compelling composition.


2. Draw your grids

old storyboard assignment #2
I started my redraw with a horizon line and laying down a grid.
Laying down your grids (on the ground, walls and sky) will help clarify the depth of your shot, and can also be used as a guide for incorporating mid/foreground elements (illustrated in step 5).


3. Push The Depth

old storyboard assignment #3In the original panel there is a lot of empty space around the characters, not particularly interesting or dynamic visually. I drew over the characters, using my grid as a guide, and tried to push the depth.

By pushing the depth, bringing one character closer and pushing one further away, you can create a much more engaging composition as well as utilizing the real estate of the panel more effectively.


4. Use The Background To Enhance The Composition

old storyboard assignment #4The important information in the panel is the characters, so everything else in the composition should support that. Keeping that in mind, we can use mountain ranges in the distance to help lead the eye to our character.


5. Populate The Mid-Ground

old storyboard assignment #5
Populating the mid-ground can help in a few ways:

  • Further help define the environment.
  • Help push the depth by incorporating visual depth cues such as over-lapping objects and size relativity (objects get smaller as they recede).

6. A Little Shading Goes A Long Way

old storyboard assignment #6In the original panel the shading wasn’t particularly adding anything to the composition. A simple way to approach shading is by thinking about it in terms of foreground, mid-ground and background.
I did a quick shade pass over the panel using each object’s relative position in the composition (how closer/far away it is from us) and shaded accordingly. We can also use shadows to help direct the eye, much like background elements, by having them point towards important information.


With storyboarding it is just a matter of getting sequences under your belt. The more you board, the better you get, plain and simple. It takes time for these principles to become second nature, don’t get discouraged if you don’t see them immediately taking effect. The important thing with these concepts is to be aware of them, how they work, and how they can affect your boards. Over time everything will fall into place.

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