We all know what storyboards are (sort of), and why they’re important (because we’ve watched Mad Men). Standard fare for ad campaigns, commercials, and big presentations, storyboards are used to pre-visualize animations, motion graphics, and even live action videos. Surprisingly, storyboards are also used in a wide range of industries you wouldn’t expect.

Modern storyboarding can be traced back to the early days of motion picture animation at Walt Disney Studios. Diane Disney Miller claims that the first modern storyboards were created for The Three Little Pigs in 1933 by Webb Smith.

By the advertising boom of the 1960s, storyboarding was already standard practice at advertising agencies like Sterling & Cooper. Remember Peggy’s “bean ballet” pitch on the season 5 premiere of Mad Men? Perfect example of how to use a storyboard in a presentation.

Without some sort of visual aid it would be impossible for creatives, executives, and stakeholders to know how to proceed with an idea for a video production, and that’s why storyboards are so effective. They’re essentially visual PowerPoint presentations, where each “frame” of a storyboard corresponds with a key moment in the projected video. Arrows indicate simple camera movements, while captions similar to stage directions in a screenplay are used for complex instructions.


Some storyboards are even “animated” to give a better sense of flow. This can be as simple as basic pans and zooms on still frames, or as involved as the production of a semi real-time slideshow with voiceover, called an “animatic” or “photomatic” (you’ve probably seen this in the “extra features” of a director’s cut DVD). Many directors will produce animatics after a storyboard is complete in order to get a better sense of the final project and edit ahead of time.

Interestingly, storyboards have found their way into industries you wouldn’t expect to make use of them. Theatre companies, for example, often draw simple storyboards to visualize stage directions. Multimedia journalists use storyboards as news pitches. Software companies visualize the flow of their product or platform with storyboards, and accountants storyboard to illustrate how money is spent and where it’s going.

In short, storyboards are adaptable all-purpose tools for business ventures because visualization is powerful. In the realm of video production storyboarding is practically indispensable, but it finds uses in other fields because it helps project managers stay organized, on task, and on budget.