Back to School Wisdom and A Few Labeling Tips

      8 Comments on Back to School Wisdom and A Few Labeling Tips

Before I get to the meat of this post I just want to point you to two great posts from Christine Kane.

No, she’s not an animator or anything. She’s a blogger and a musician and all around creative person and pretty cool woman.

I don’t know her or anything, but I read her blog. She’s a great inspiration for the creative type who wants to follow their passion. Sound like you?

Since a lot of you may be going back to school or just starting college, I thought these two posts would be a good read. They totally fit in with pursuing an animation or film making career, being an artist and more.

Give them a read (after you read me of course).

Creating College: 5 Things I Wish I Knew as an Undergrad (part 1)

Creating College: 5 Things I Wish I Knew as an Undergrad (part 2)


Well, this is the fourth and final post from the series What’s Wrong With Your Storyboards. The fourth point I mentioned is bad labeling. I wrote:

If you numbered the scenes wrong. Wrote ineffective action notes. Have lots of spelling mistakes. Put the wrong name on some dialogue. All that kind of stuff.

Now labeling would be quite a long and detailed read if I covered everything. So I’m not going to cover everything. Because as a post subject, it’ll probably bore you to tears.

But I am working on putting together a nice guide about the whole labeling thing. So if you want that information, you’ll be able to get it.

Then I won’t be boring you to tears against your will.

So I’ll just touch on a few things here to help you out. And I’ll try to be entertaining.


Everybody get out your fabulous and free storyboard templates to follow along, shall we?

BTW, Is anyone else having problems downloading the Thumbnail Template? Let me know in the comments. Thanks a bunch.

Now, today I’m only going to talk about the areas I highlighted in yellow. Which are the Dialogue and Action Note boxes. Because besides the actual drawings, these are pretty important.

First, a few general pointers:

  1. PRINT YOUR NOTES. Do not write in long hand. Your writing may be hard to read and look like chicken scratch. Don’t make people decipher your crappy chicken scratches. It’ll tick them off. Print. Neatly.
  2. LABEL IN CHUNKS. Labeling and writing out the notes can be a drag. And tedious. If you save them all till the end, you’ll start to go buggy and make more mistakes. Label in nice little chunks. I usually label what I did that day. 20 to 25 pages at a time is nice. Save your sanity and your hand by NOT saving it all till the board is complete.
  3. DO ONE THING AT A TIME. While labeling your nice little chunk, do all the numbering, then do the dialogue, then do the action notes for the whole section. Don’t do everything for one page, then everything for the next page and so on. More chances of screw ups. Concentrate on one area at a time, then move to the next area. Like an assembly line. Henry Ford was on to something. (Google ‘Henry Ford assembly line’ if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about).

Now onto the specifics.


All you write in the dialogue box is the character’s name who is speaking and what they are saying. Like this:


That is my name and this is what I’m actually saying.

Nothing more. Don’t write what the character is thinking. The audience doesn’t get to read these notes so that’s useless. The drawings and acting should show us what they’re thinking, remember?

Just the dialogue from the script and that’s it. You can sometimes add some emotion to help the dialogue by putting it in brackets under the name. Like this:



This is some really boring dialogue. Who wrote this crap?

If you’re working from a printed script, you can either write them by hand or cut it out and tape it down right from (a copy of) the script. I like doing that because it cuts down the possibility of making a spelling mistake or forgetting a word.

Get the idea? Not much else to say about dialogue.


The action notes should not tell the story. The pictures should tell the story.

The action notes should tell us what’s in the picture. And to label any camera movement and all that. So answer these questions when writing your notes:

  • WHAT is the shot? Close-up, wide shot, over-the-shoulder?
  • WHO is in the shot? Use character names, not just ‘he’ or ‘she’.
  • WHERE are they? Give the location and if it’s day, night, dusk etc.
  • WHAT is/are the character(s) doing? Not thinking…DOING. Describe it briefly using simple language. No slang. The guy in China might not know what ‘freaks out’ means exactly.
  • ANY CAMERA MOVEMENT. If there is a Trunk-In or Pan, it must be mentioned in the notes and labeled properly. I’m not going to get into that now though. (Sorry, too long).

It really doesn’t have to be long and complicated. Here’s what I would write for this image.

Ext. Backyard – Morning

Wide shot on Fido approaching tree.

No big deal, huh? It really doesn’t need much else. Let’s try another.

Ext. Backyard – Morning

Close-up on Fido smiling in relief.

You don’t need to write a book.

Just the facts ma’am.

Like the other posts in this series, this is *far* from a complete labeling guide (it’ll come though!). But I hope I helped with one of the more important parts of labeling…the notes.

So go through your storyboards, ask those questions and check those notes people!

Until next time. 🙂

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8 thoughts on “Back to School Wisdom and A Few Labeling Tips

  1. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    I bow to you for being the only person to comment on this boring ass (yet informative…right? RIGHT??) post.

    You’re a doll. 🙂
    (and Ms. Kane did indeed have some great advice!)

  2. GirlPie

    Just found your site Karen; I, know your world quite well, from the other side, and you really must be a huge help to those coming up in boards.

    Can you help me understand a ‘rule’ that keeps popping up (for screenwriters) but that makes no sense to me or any other feature talent I’ve asked about it?

    You echoed it in your bit on Dialogue (where I understand it in your context) and it often is warned like: show, don’t tell; don’t write what isn’t heard; the audience won’t read the pages so don’t write what the character is thinking; only write what can be shot; etc. You smartly went on to explain parentheticals, but some gurus say you can’t write that a character is blushing because that must be shown, not told… (If it’s not written, who tells the actor — ’cause it can certainly be acted!)

    And yet, in your last bit on the the CU of Fido’s face, you rightly state “Fido smiling in relief.” That relief is what Fido “is thinking.” And it is necessary (for comprehension, not to mention the cute joke.)

    The screenwriter is the first director; if the actor reads that “he’s embarrassed to have to race for the tree” it’s a very different action/acting than if it read “he races for the tree” and still more distinct from “he races for the tree in anger.” (Sorry we’re discussing a dog, whose trainer ain’t QUITE that good, but I think you understand me.)

    If the actor isn’t given something to play, he can’t play it and the audience can’t see it. Some great acting happens that way (we can impose our own emotions onto stoic faces, as audiences did in the 40s & 50s), but this rule about “can’t write anything that you can’t film” is insane. As soon as the actor feels it, the camera can film it, and the audience can see it.

    Can I get your thoughts on this? Thanks. (And keep up the good work, I’ve subbed and forwarded to our colleagues.)

  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi GirlPie and thanks so much for taking the time. 🙂

    Wow! I hope I do justice with my answer.

    I look at this from two point of views. First as a board artist for animation and second, from the live-action side but as an actor (because I have done some…but nothing major).

    For my little drawings on the post (that I really just whipped up for the post) I consider ‘Fido smiling in relief’ is not in fact what he is thinking but what he is doing. He’s smiling and it looks like relief.

    I can’t say for sure that he is thinking relief, but I (who is playing director) want him to look that way, so I give that note for the artists who have to work from my board.

    If I wrote what he was thinking I might have put ‘Ahh, he’s so relieved’. That is telling the story, not what he is doing. It’s a fine line, I know, but I hope it makes some sense.

    In animation there are no real actors (besides voice) so I am the actor. An animator who works from my storyboards just needs the facts. He isn’t always looking at the scenes in order or in context so I have to give them some clues of how I want the character to look or act (what he is doing). “Make him looked relieved animator guy!”

    Live action directors (and board artists for that matter) see the story in its full context. It’s not just a bunch of little scenes on their own. If the script is written well, we will see the thoughts behind the words and dialogue and find our way of telling that story.

    It’s not the screenwriter’s job (sorry screenwriters!) to direct it. It’s ours. Give us a good story, great characters and tell us what they are doing and we will see that story and make our choices of how to tell it. We don’t need to read inside the characters’ heads. If we do, they’re not doing their job effectively.

    As an actor I don’t want the writer to tell me to blush (though they could because I view that as a ‘doing’) or tell me what to think. It’s my choice what to think. The director may choose to point me in a certain direction (because that’s his vision) but I have many choices to make too. I can blush, I can look to the floor, I bring a tear to my eye or make a small smile. It’s my choice and the director’s choice in how we interpret that writing.

    So if the screenwriter is telling us all the right ‘doing’ stuff we will see all the thinking stuff. Don’t give it to us. Don’t look like a frustrated director or control freak that doesn’t want his story tampered with. It’ll get tampered with…that’s how it works. And we just hope to do your great words justice.

    I hope this took away some of the ‘insanity’ and makes some sense in my long-winded babble. Thanks for the great discussion! 🙂

  4. Tom

    We are putting together several public service DVDs for our local cable co. to play for us at schools, hospitals and on our local TV channel. I work with a great bunch of folks here at the fire department and the local Paramedic program.These videos will cover everything from what the teachers/public should do before we get there, to drowning prevention.etc.Just wanted to say thank you for the free templates and advice , I think it will really help us, thanks again, Tom

  5. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for letting me know the templates and advice were so helpful. I really appreciate it! I always love to hear the different kinds of projects people are using them for.

    You’re very welcome. 🙂


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