What is a Whiteboard Animation Storyboard?

If you’ve ever watched the special features on a DVD or Blu-Ray of a film you enjoyed, you may have been introduced to Hollywood storyboarding.  This tends to take the form of a series of single, hand-drawn frames, designed to give the filmmakers an early idea of what they want key scenes (or all scenes, depending on the film) to look like once they’re filmed.  It helps to put this visual on the wall because often, even the best of scripts can be difficult to ‘see’ the way a director or cinematographer would like.  Storyboards help with camera setup and shot scale, actors’ marks, and much more, saving time and providing clarity even before the scene is physically put together.

Whiteboard animation storyboarding is a little different, though many of its goals are identical.  Whiteboard storyboards are a sort of “script with more”, and they can offer a lot to the process of whiteboard video creation.  Let’s take a closer look.

Whiteboard storyboard documents are almost always split down the middle, with the voiced script text on the left and the right filled with visual cues that correspond to that text.  These cues can range widely from the highly specific (“show farmer on tractor here”) to the more general {“forest setting”).

Whiteboard storyboards are not as prescriptive as cinematic ones, in that they almost never include actual images or depict how a frame should be laid out.  They’re more a statement of intent, provided by the client to ensure that the artist knows what the client had in mind for particular segments of script.

Even with that understanding of the client’s wishes, there are a lot more ‘x’ factors with whiteboard storyboarding.  As mentioned, some provide more specific guidance than others, but furthermore, some clients are more dedicated to their storyboard than others who present one.  That is, sometimes the visual guidance offered are just ideas for the artist, and other storyboards provide visual guidance that the artist must replicate to the best of their abilities.

Often times, a whiteboard storyboard will have empty spaces on the right, indicating scripting areas that the client is leaving up to the artist entirely.  Other storyboards have text for each and every script segment (these tend to also correlate with storyboards that require some serious dedication to the ideas provided).

Which of these permutations are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ for the whiteboard production process?  And should you, in fact, pursue a storyboard at all?

Looking first at better and worse storyboards, one must take a look at the actual image requests themselves.  If they are clearly matching with script language and aimed at creating a one-to-one audio/visual synchronization, then chances are that an artist can and will be happy to follow them.  These are the kinds of requests that heighten engagement and raise retention rates, and that create truly successful videos that clients adore.

If, on the other hand, the visual requests on a storyboard are not reflected in the script—or worse, openly contradict in some major way—this can hinder a video’s effectiveness, and will almost certainly cause an artist to make some suggestions.  Artists will describe how the images might be adjusted to better serve the script and final video, and in these cases it’s helpful if the client is not fully dedicated to their requested imagery.  Certain images or metaphors might seem appropriate before they are drawn, but reveal themselves to whiteboard artists to be wholly distracting or otherwise unhelpful in the final product.

Again, this is the area where one hopes that client image requests are more suggestive than hardline, as this is where an artist can truly elevate and transform a project—all the way from potentially ineffective to outstanding.  Whiteboard artists excel at creating imagery that matches your script, and can develop great ideas even with scripts that might appear extremely difficult to visually translate.

The key understanding to reach here is that effective whiteboard video creation is not a skill that almost any client brings to the table.  It’s no slight to the client to say this.  The understanding of creating just the right images, in the right quantities, in the right parts of each frame, in the right order, to consistently and thoroughly cover every idea that makes up your message is an understanding that takes time and focus to develop. 

Of course, sometimes an organization has highly specific needs, and artists understand that some areas of a script absolutely must include the specified requests, as exactly as possible.  The whiteboard video is about the client’s needs, and artists understand that sometimes these needs supersede other considerations.  In those cases, artists know that the legal department, or compliance, or other reviewers, will not approve the project without them.

Remember, however, that there’s a difference between requirements and the storyboarded/proposed solution: requirements can be met by a variety of solutions, whereas storyboarded, rigid ideas are, well, rigid.  Put your trust in your artist in these situations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see them meet your requirements while creating a one-to-one synchronicity between your script and your visuals.  The result will be a truly effective video that not only meets your requirements but impresses your viewers.

The best whiteboard animation storyboards, then, might be the most flexible ones.  It’s great to give an artist a good understanding what you’d like to see, and this can absolutely help them to create the exact video you’re looking for.  Just be sure that you’re using your artist’s abilities to the fullest, in terms of finding solutions and maximizing the engagement/retention powers of your video.

Creativity and technical skill are not the only reasons that a whiteboard artist has the position they do.  Their ability to ideate from a script to develop just the right images to support your voiced script is a unique skill.  Don’t let your storyboard override this powerful asset.  Collaborate with your artist and let their ideas fill out your script (and storyboard, if you have one) to the best possible outcome.