Getting the J-O-B: Five Key Things You Need to Storyboard Professionally


OK, this is probably the kind of post most people struggling to ‘get in’ want to read about.

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to not have to pound the pavement too much to land my next gig. So I don’t have all the answers. But I can give some advice from the observations I’ve made from working, teaching and knowing people in the industry. This will be a series of five posts with each one covering one of the topics listed below.

Here are the main things you will need to get work in the animation industry. And most of them are needed for the film industry as well (but there could be other factors…like union stuff…which I will give more information on in the near future):

  1. Training
  2. A strong portfolio
  3. Professionalism
  4. Contacts in the industry
  5. A good attitude

Not necessarily in that order. But I’ll begin with:


As I mentioned in my last post, the forum at AWN has a very long thread listing and comments on many animation and art schools at this link. So I’ll elaborate on that last post and tell you why training is valuable.

If you want to storyboard for animation, you need to understand animation. Knowing how much work is involved in the whole process from script to screen, is important when storyboarding. If you’re unfamiliar with the limits, possibilities and terminology of animation, you cannot storyboard for it effectively.

But if you’ve trained in all the stages of animation and even made your own short film from scratch, you’ll absorb everything and know how to think like an animator. I always try to storyboard from the perspective of the artists that will follow me in production. I ask, “Would I want to animate this?” when I tackle a challenging sequence. This cuts down on unnecessary, complicated animation when something simpler would work.

If you’re working on a feature film, that’s one thing, but in TV animation they don’t have the time or the budget to make complicated (as in expensive!) action sequences. A few creative ‘cheats’ can go a long way…if you know what you’re doing. Training can teach you that.

And it’s not about the grades or a degree. No one will ever ask for your transcript (not that I’ve ever heard) when applying for a job. They care about knowledge, talent and ability.

Can you learn all that technical stuff from books?

You sure can. And you should be reading as much as you can on the subject. But the one thing you can’t get from books that you can get from hands-on training is feedback. Getting your assignments looked at and critiqued from someone who works in the industry is where you can really learn something. You can’t get that from books.

Feedback is how you learn and grow. In a class and on the job. You only really learn storyboards by doing storyboards and getting feedback on them. This can be a real challenge if you just try to learn on your own.

The other valuable thing from going to school is getting your first contacts in the industry. Your instructors and fellow students can be your first foot in the door. When you try to get in the studios and nobody knows you or they don’t know someone who knows you, it’s tough. Not impossible. But tough.

I was a graphic designer with lots of experience under my belt when I went to animation school. Looking back, could I have become a storyboard artist without the training? Perhaps. With some film courses and more drawing classes I could have. But maybe for advertising. I really don’t think I would have progressed (and as quickly) to where I am in this industry without proper animation training.

Do your homework!

If you’re researching schools, make sure classes are taught by professionals who work or have worked in the industry. If it’s all software classes and no training in basic skills, you’re probably wasting your money. Software gets outdated and without solid drawing skills you’ll be out of luck in the long run.

There aren’t that many places to learn just storyboarding at this time. But with the Internet, that is changing (I have some bigger plans for this blog and hope to part of that change). So do some research before jumping into debt. Because let’s face it…animation school isn’t cheap.

I’ll never say you can’t be a storyboard artist without formal animation training. I’m just saying it will be harder. Even having the confidence proper training provides could make the difference in landing a job. But will training alone guarantee you work when it’s all said and done?

Of course not. It’s all up to you. You get out of it what you put into it.

In the end, it’s ability and knowledge that matters. In the next post of this series I’ll give you some portfolio tips.

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UPDATE: Here are the other posts in this series.
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Training
Getting the J-O-B Part 2: Building a Storyboard Portfolio
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Portfolios
Getting the J-O-B Part 3: Professionalism in Animation…or Anywhere
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Professionalism
Getting the J-O-B Part 4: Contacts in the Industry
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry-Part 2: Unions and Film Commissions
Getting the J-O-B Part 5: The Right Attitude
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on the Right Attitude

7 thoughts on “Getting the J-O-B: Five Key Things You Need to Storyboard Professionally

  1. Koni

    Wow! This is all great advice! You tell it like it is…what to expect…what to do. Hi, Karen, remember me? Yours truly is the “desperate dinosaur (sigh!)” who wrote to you and to whom you have generously given advice to. Told you I’d be dropping by often for the KJL Storyboarding 101! So, here I am, soaking it all in. I know it is going to be a rough ride for me…bumpy roads ahead but I’m willing to go for it. If in the end nothing happens, well, it would have been a great exercise! But I see the glass not half empty but rather half full, perhaps there’s still hope for me to make a comeback. We’ll see what happens next. I followed your advice…I’m re-tooling my studio to make sample storyboards ,which I’d be putting in “holding cells” for invitees to visit (party time!) . Thanks again for sharing the “wealth”.
    Keep ’em coming. I’ll be back! All the best!

  2. KJL

    Hey Koni!
    That’s awesome you’re taking action. It’s all that matters…just doing something. Then it starts the ball rolling. One step at a time and you ever know where it will lead…good stuff!
    Welcome and thanks for dropping by. It really means a lot when someone takes the time to leave a comment : ).

  3. Ivan Gozali

    I’m trying to look around online for storyboard for animation portfolio, and there’s not much or if anything very little samples of them.

    I was wondering if you have some link or some of your students’ samples (if they’re okay with that) to see what content they put in a portfolio.


  4. Ivan Gozali


    Thanks for hooking me up with the sites. I think Todd’s and Arna’s are in the vein I’m looking for. I heard the animation company/studio usually want to see a hard copy of portfolio instead of website. But I never have seen samples for storyboard. I’ve seen a lot for character design and layout. Let me know if that clears up.

  5. Pingback: Interview With A Recruiter – Part One | Karen J Lloyd's Storyboard Blog

  6. Narong Heng

    Hi, Karen
    I just found Your blog couple of months a go. Find that very interesting, very good articles here. I’m freelance’s 2D animator in Thailand. I had having a rough times to do storyboarding quite a few lately. Most of problems would be how to have a good idea to arrange the scenes, speed up working to finish it on time( You knew, dead line is DEAD line) After I ‘ve red a few articles of yours, it help me a lot. Thank you for the advice, suggestions, instructions and many things that you gave away to people like me. I don’t have time to read much, but I ‘ll keep coming back to read your blog as soon as I have time for. By the way, sorry about my English language, I’m not native English speaker.



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