Getting the J-O-B Part 2: Building a Storyboard Portfolio


Hell Week is over. I’m in recovery and I’ve promised this post, so here it is. Finally.

So far I’ve talked about Training for getting a job storyboarding professionally. Now it’s on to the portfolio.

What do you need for a storyboard portfolio?


Sorry to sound so obvious, but you’d be surprised how some people expect to get a job storyboarding without any good samples. This is especially true when they’re trying to break into the animation industry. “But I can draw, see?” Um, sorry but that’s not enough.


Students tend to put a little bit of everything into their first portfolio. Animation, character designs, layout, life drawing, backgrounds, storyboards and maybe a few other things.

On one hand it could be good to show all you can do. But on the other, it can also look like you don’t know what you want. And that can hurt you. The person trying to fill a position might pass you by because they just don’t know how to classify you. So you could be doing yourself more harm than good by including everything.

So if you’re doing your first portfolio out of school, figure out what you’re good at. Then figure out what you like to do. If they’re the same thing…yee-ha! Why in that order? Because to get your foot in the door, being good at something will get you the job faster. Then you can explore another position on the next contract if you didn’t like that job so much. It’s the first one that’s the hardest to get, so use your talents.



Now onto building a portfolio for storyboarding specifically because…well…that’s what this blog is about. But something to have in every portfolio is:

Life DrawingThis one comes up again and again for every position in animation. It’s the foundation and important to building and improving your skills. Now here I go again with the “do as I say, not as I do” thing; I don’t enjoy life drawing. I don’t like drawing the human figure. I prefer to draw animals and cartoony stuff.

There. I said it.

But I have done much life drawing in my life…not that anyone’s asked to see them in a long time (and yes, these are my drawings). And I do believe it builds a strong foundation…especially for animation. And if you want to storyboard for film, there’s lots of people to draw…so go take some classes!

If funds are tight, some good practice is drawing the hands and feet of your friends (since I doubt they’d pose naked for you..but hey, you never know) . Sit in the park and draw kids playing. Lots of good, fast action there…perfect for storyboarding. There’s lots of ‘almost naked’ bodies at the beach or pool too. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: overweight people are more fun to draw! Sketch your pet too. Look around and you’ll find plenty of low cost opportunities to improve.


Once you’ve built a respectable storyboard portfolio, you may not need to include life drawings. The client will just want to see your storyboarding talent. But if you need to beef it up, add them.


If you’re just starting out, you’re going to need to create some storyboard samples. If you did some in school, use them. If you’re not happy with them, fix them and make them better. Otherwise, make up some short stories. Keep them simple and with one to three characters.

When I say simple I mean: one character showing another how to cook an egg (or whatever), someone getting bad (or good) news on the phone, a person having strong reactions while watching TV or the Internet, three kids fighting over the last cookie…stuff like that. You’re not making ‘Lord of the Rings’ here. Use your imagination, have interesting characters and keep it simple.

Even though these examples are simple, I don’t mean for you to do boring storyboards. If you want to work in animation you need gags. It should be fun and entertaining…go wild! So think; simple situation, really strong characters and funny stuff going on. If you can’t set up a good gag, you won’t be as valuable. Your ability to do that can save a weak script and it’s an important skill. Show me the funny!

Some Guidelines for Your Own Animation Storyboard Samples:

  • They should focus on acting, action, composition and storytelling. Don’t depend on dialogue to tell the story by just having a bunch of ‘talking heads’ (as in too many close ups). The less dialogue the better…show what they’re saying.
  • Have some variety in style. Cartoony, action-hero, animals, pre-school etc. If you’re going to make up your own stories, use your own characters. If you use well known characters, they might think you’re trying to pass off having worked on that show. Don’t let them think that.
  • Keep the sequences to about 6-15 pages. Any shorter and it’s not enough. Any longer and they might not look at them all. If you’ve worked on an actual show, pick out short, complete sequences that make sense on their own. The most interesting ones. Again, a bunch of close-ups are not interesting.
  • Don’t use live action storyboards if you want to work in animation. Both industries can have a little ‘tunnel vision’. If they don’t see their style of work in your portfolio, they probably won’t hire you. The opposite goes for film storyboard portfolios. You won’t get a live-action gig if you only have animation storyboards. Weird but true. If you have both samples in your whole portfolio, only submit the samples for that industry.
  • No color. No shading. No cross hatching. They should photocopy clear and clean…think; coloring book (without the color). I’m focusing more on TV storyboards here. They may use those things in features, but if you’re new, you’ll probably start in television.

Some Guidelines for Live-Action Film Storyboards:

  • Strong focus on storytelling, composition, action and more cinematic in style. Acting might be less in the forefront for film boards, but still include it. Same as for animation, don’t depend on dialogue to tell the story.
  • Have some variety in film genres…action, comedy, horror, fantasy etc.
  • Like I said above, don’t use animation storyboards if you want to work in film. Film studios want film boards. The odd thing is that if you have worked in animation, it can help you get in the union. That counts as TV credit. But once you’re in the union and looking for work, dump the animation boards.
  • I have my opinions about working for free, but if you’re just starting out, try the film schools and independent filmmakers to build up a portfolio. They could be very open to the help. It’s much better to use original scripts and it’s a real credit on the resume. Just don’t do it forever.
  • Mostly work in black and white. Production storyboards will be reproduced too, but clean shading is more acceptable for film boards. You can have some color samples if you’re interested in concept work too. (I’ll be having a guest poster in the near future…Adrien will be my ‘live-action go-to-guy’…yay.)

You can find free scripts online.

Here’s a few links to try: Simply Scripts, Drew’s Script-O-Rama and Scriptcrawler. I would advise picking scripts that you may have heard of, but where you haven’t seen the movie. This is closer to how you would really have to work; with no prior reference. More challenging. That’s good. You could use these scripts for an animation sample too…make up some characters and use a fun sequence from a live-action script…why not?

I would like to think this goes without saying, but don’t COPY storyboards from DVD’s, books, other artists (or anywhere) and put them in your portfolio!

Kiss of death my friends. And Karma is a bitch. Someone will find you out, trust me.

Now having said that; watching, studying and sketching from these materials can teach you about visual storytelling. By all means use them and learn from them. See the shot choices, the cutting, the continuity and all that. But don’t use them for anything else. My advice to you.

So a quick wrap-up for a storyboard portfolio.

If you have some experience (or are sure this is just what you want to do) include:

  • Life drawings (best are 30 sec. to 2 min. poses)
  • Storyboard samples (3 to 8 different ones)

If you’re fresh out of school and want to focus on storyboards but have other interests, you can also add:

  • Character designs (and/or)
  • Some color concepts (and/or)
  • Background designs (and/or)
  • Some comic book samples

Just include your best stuff. Quality over quantity. Like I said above, if your portfolio has everything, it could work against you. You can’t be amazing at everything, so if you want to animate, focus on that. And go find a good blog about animating (but still come back!). Here’s a cool one.

This post was more about the content for a storyboard portfolio. In a future post I may address presentation, resumes and online portfolio advice. And I do plan on posting up some of my work (I know you’re curious!). It’s just that it’s a time consuming process and time is limited while I’m working right now. It will happen though :).

The next post in this series will be about Professionalism.

Subscribe to the RSS feed or by email if you don’t want to miss it.

UPDATE: Here are the other posts in this series.
Getting the J-O-B Part 1: Five Key Things You Need to Storyboard Professionally
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Training
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

41 thoughts on “Getting the J-O-B Part 2: Building a Storyboard Portfolio

  1. Ivan Gozali

    This is an awesome post. Definitely gives me a sense of direction in putting a portfolio rather than trying to compile “cool” stuffs. Thanks a billion.


  2. KJL

    You’re welcome Ivan. 🙂

    I hope it gives some of you a plan to put some work together. I can’t say everything in one post, but I’m glad this is a start.

    Good luck and keep me updated!

  3. Debi

    Great info as always! Some notes have been taken.

    And not that I don’t love your posts, but I’m really looking forward to hear from Adrien too. I’ve seen his stuff before…very impressive. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s worked on most of my favorite shows and with my fav tv directors (David Nutter and I think Kim Manners too(?)). Should I start a fan club for both of you? 😉

    I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work too. 😀

    Thanks for the info!

  4. KJL Post author

    Thanks Debi. And you’re welcome for the link. 🙂

    Adrie doesn’t really have time for a blog (at least not right now) but is interested in contributing here…so it’s a win-win for both of us. He has quite the impressive filmography. Looking forward to it!

    I’ll try to get some of my work up in the near future…lots of stuff to scan since most of my portfolio is in banker boxes! But I might be able to get some of the Flash boards up quicker.

  5. Todd Jacobsen

    Hi Karen,

    I came over here from SynchroLux and have to say, your blog is one of the best animation-related I’ve seen so far.

    For those of us in the Los Angeles animation scene, storyboarding is an almost necessary skill to possess (we all gotta keep food on the table somehow!) and I’m going to start using your tips to strengthen that section of my portfolio. You can bet I’ll be looking forward to all your future posts. So hurry and write more, willya?

    Wishing you continued success!

  6. KJL Post author

    Wow…thanks Todd. I’m truly flattered. 🙂

    Coming from someone with quite the impressive resume, that means a lot. Great stuff…’Cats Don’t Dance’…woo hoo! Don’t think enough people have seen that one.

    I will be writing much more…so tell all your friends in LA about the storyboard chick in Canada…lol.

    You made my day.

  7. Koni

    You never disappoint Sensei!! Great, great reads!
    I take your advice to heart Karen…..I believe it will help me find my way back to my ‘’.
    Can’t thank you enough! Awesome blog! TYSVM!

  8. KJL Post author

    Hey Koni!

    Thanks…hope it’s helping you to get started. One step at a time girl. 🙂
    Really appreciate the comments. Makes me feel I’m on the right track with this blog.
    More to come!

  9. Sang Han

    Thank you so much, Karen.

    Trying to find a demo portfolio or how to put a portfolio together has been so rough. I have been fumbling in the dark trying to get a portfolio together and trying to reach entry level standards. You have cleared so much of many questions that I had.

    I do get help from my teachers, but its more on the actual pieces themselves and not the portfolio as a whole. I don’t know how much you just saved this student in time and anxiety. Thank you so much.


  10. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    HI Sang and welcome!

    I’m so happy you found this information so useful. That makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. 🙂

    If you ever have any questions or want me to take a peek at some of your stuff just head to the contact page and drop me a line.

  11. Charley

    Hi Karen,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a while…you are AWESOME. I prostrate in front of your AWESOMENESS.

    Quick question. When you say pages, do you mean 15 maximum pages for your whole portfolio (including life drawing, animal drawings, sketches, etc.) or 15 pages per story project?


  12. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Charley! Aww shucks, thanks.

    You’re awesome too. 🙂

    I did mean just the storyboard sequences. And that was MAXIMUM 15 pages. It’ll depend on the sequence. It’s just that one or two pages of a board just isn’t enough to see your staging and acting too well.

    By a page, I mean a series of 3 panels.

    You can always arrange just the images themselves on a page and get 6 on there. But I will group the sequences in their own little folder/binder (the full board pages with notes and everything) sometimes if the interview is in person.

    Hope this helps.

  13. Marvin Estropia

    Dear Karen,
    Thanks for not charging me for your awesomeness! I’m an instant fan of your awesome Blog.:)

  14. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Thanks so much Marvin!

    I’m still figuring out a way to charge you for *some* stuff…hmmm. 😉

    But don’t worry, the blog will always be free!

    Thanks for being one awesome fan.

  15. LudO

    Hi Karen and everyone,

    You mention here that it’s best to stick to B&W storyboarding unless for concept work.
    I was talking to a freelance storyboard artist that seemingly works mostly for avertising agencies and he said that I could start finding work as a colorist.
    According to him, storyboard artists can seek colorists to help them out.
    What do you think?

  16. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi LudO

    Yes, for advertising they do a lot of boards in color. So I guess teaming up with another artist as a colorist would be a great idea.

    It keeps them free to keep doing what they do best and hand off that ‘busy work’ to someone else. Which is usually someone who would love that work anyway. So it’s a win-win.

    I just don’t work in advertising, so I don’t talk too much about it. But yes, go for it. 🙂

  17. Seych

    Hey ya Karen,

    Thanks heaps for this informative and helpful site. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find anyone willing to give such good advice on this subject in Western Australia….not to mention for free. ; )

    You’re a generous Artist, thank you. : ) -Seych

  18. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Seych,

    You are very welcome! It feels great to know I am filling a real need for people (Australian or otherwise 😉 ).

    Thanks for signing up to list too…I appreciate it!

  19. Pingback: Interview With A Recruiter: Portfolios | Karen J Lloyd's Storyboard Blog

  20. Terry

    Out of curiosity how many pages per scene should a portfolio contain? And how many different scenes do you include?

  21. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Terry,

    It’s really hard to give a number to that because it really all depends. A scene needs to be “as long as it needs to be” to explain the action. Though on average, a scene can run anywhere from one to three or four panels.

    You want a variety of scenes in any given sequence for a portfolio, but a specific number doesn’t really matter. For argument’s sake, let’s say 8 to 12 scenes maybe. A long as some variety is shown and the page count isn’t too high, you should be fine.

    Hope this helps a bit. 🙂

  22. reem salah

    i enjoy it so much as I’m fresh graduated and i don’t know how to start my career & your advices are very helpful so big thanks

  23. Dre

    I love you Karen!!!

    Your site is a goldmine of information. I have been trying to figure out where I fit in as a creative and it seems concept art and storyboarding may be it!

    I am (happily) busy on my portfolio as we speak and hope to start shopping it around in another month or two, as well as generating some industry contacts.

    Again, thank you for bucking the system and providing USEFUL information.

  24. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hey, thanks a lot Dre!

    I’m so happy you’re finding the blog helpful. Much luck building your portfolio and pursuing this. It’s great to hear.

    Rock on. 🙂

  25. Rochelle

    You’re amazing! Thank you so much for the website and all the fantastic tips. It’s just what I’ve been looking for!

  26. Diptarka

    Hi Karen,
    You are really amazing. Your blog is full of useful stuff. After go through your all posts I like to thank you for shearing your vast knowledge with us.
    I am a professional animator, working as a character animator in an international studio, but a part of that I like to do illustration for book and media as a freelancer. For my own animation stuff I did storyboarding and prepare animates. Your blog is my guide line I am a regular visitor.
    This is amazing I attach your blog link with my blog so every body get a excellent lesion from you.
    Thank again to share your vast and important experience with us. waiting for further excellent stuff from you.

  27. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Thanks so much Rochelle and Diptarka! 🙂

    I really appreciate the kind words and to hear the blog is really useful to you. It means a lot. I hope to get some new posts up soon. Thanks for your patience!


  28. KassiP

    you are very talented, not only in storyboarding but as an educator. took a lot from your post . thanks you 🙂

  29. Ben Laskey

    Thankyou very much!

    This is helpful for several of my modules.
    One being create a Portfolio.
    And another being do research into the requirements for your industry and sector.


  30. Reese

    Hi! This blog is too good!

    I went to art school and stuff, but my question is how to go about sending a portfolio to states I don’t live in. Do I have less of a chance for a position based on my location? Also, I’m in weird position because I was mainly a Fine Arts(PTDW) student, so my contacts are slim and wondered if there was a respectful/not annoying/random way to get critiques from professionals in the field that I’ve never met ha.

  31. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hey Reese,

    Well, if it’s for animation work, search the studios you want to apply to and find out their submission requirements. Not every studio is the same.

    If they don’t farm out freelance work, then you should be willing to move there. You can always send a quick email to find out if they use freelancers as to not waste your time.

    “…wondered if there was a respectful/not annoying/random way to get critiques from professionals in the field that I’ve never met…”
    PAY THEM. 😉


  32. Mack McHale

    Greetings Ms Karen, First of all I congratulate you on your clear, and perky discourse on one one the “Black Arts of Hollywood” in a manner that we mere mortals can grasp. My nane is Mack and I am not pursuing any kind of career or job market intrest. I am over 50 years old adiabled Vet and old film school student. I went to Brooks Insitute in the mid 70’s where everyone was trying to make the next “Jaws”. ( afew years later no one would give a shark a second thought…something about spaceships and wookies) Anyway I have a few problems that I have overcome. First I’m stuck in a wheelchair so location shoots are a thing of the past. second my powers of speech and hand motion have declined so I can’t draw as pretty as I used to. BUT, I can get my ideas out on paper so I can then translate them to 3D animation. I use Celtix screenwriting software that take imports from your storyboards to script to project without having to be a rocket scientist. My last statement is to all young folks who say “I have no talent…I can’t do this”. You’re right if only you believe it. Hey I can do it with half my brain tied behind my back.

    Kudos Ms Karen


  33. Karl James


    Thank you for an excellent write-up on storyboarding! Next month I will be meeting with a contact for a job opportunity at well-known animation studio in LA. I’m not a gifted drawer. My passion lies in directing and writing. However, I really need to work on my storyboarding skills. Do you know of any storyboarding courses offered for beginners in Burbank or the LA area? I’d like to have some experience before I go to this interview. Thanks for your time!

  34. Francesca

    Hello Karen,
    thanks for this great article and blog.
    I was one of your students at VFS in ca77 and I gotta say that you really made me love the subject.
    Right now I’ve discovered during the final project that, despite loving animation, storyboard is definitely for me the funniest and most creative part of the whole process.
    Thanks again for all the tips!
    Kind regards

  35. Mark Couple

    ?As a working storyboard artist who was a once a beginner myself, I have a few suggestions that I think will prove useful to anyone else that is just starting out. Most importantly, make sure that your illustration skills are up to speed. If they aren’t, get them there by practice, practice and more practice. If you plan on making storyboarding a career, being a competent illustrator is definitely a requirement. Also, you will need to read Film Directing Shot by Shot by Steven Katz. It is widely known as the “storyboarders bible.” It will give you plenty of understanding of the directing process with is required of any storyboard artist that works in the business. Once you have honed your illustration skills and you are familiar with the directing process, put together some samples from concepts that you came up with to build a portfolio. Once you have that together, start looking for projects on various filmmaker websites as well Most of the projects will be for little or no pay but that’s the price you pay for building a portfolio as well as gaining valuable experience. Once you have plenty of samples in your book backed up by plenty of experience, start shopping your book around to storyboard agents. It is possible to find work on your own, but I have found that paying a small percentage to agents that spend 8 hours a day trying to find you work is a good investment. Once you have all your ducks in a row, I might suggest submitting to a company like Frameworks Storyboards at know they are always accepting submissions from up and coming talent. Remember that storyboarding is very competitive and there are a lot of people out there trying to break into the business. Hard work and perseverance will be required if you want to be successful in this line of work… just like any other.?

  36. Melanie Barreto

    I was wondering if you posted a presentation guide for a storyboard portfolio. I am looking to find out if we should use 8.5×11 or 11×17 size paper.

    How many frames I should include on each sheet

    And if I should include the writing of (camera moves, dialogue, and transitions) or just the images.

    Thank You for any help you can give

  37. Ayan

    Thanks a lot Karen!!! Your site has a lot in store for me, which I hope to make good use of.

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