Ten Tips for Tackling a Storyboard Test

      7 Comments on Ten Tips for Tackling a Storyboard Test


There’s a test?

Nobody said anything about there being a test!

Yup. It could happen.

And most likely, it will.

At some point or another in your career, you may be asked to do a storyboard test. (Or animation test, or design test or clean-up test…but I’m dealing with storyboards here, so that’s what I’ll stick with.)

What is a storyboard test exactly?

It’s usually given to inexperienced artists or those applying for an intern position. But there are times when studios even ask experienced artists to take a test.

You are usually given design materials, some sort of storyline/script and a deadline.

Then you ‘have at it’.

You draw up an original storyboard and hand it in either with your portfolio or after they have already seen your work and want to see more of what you can do.

Why do you have to do a test anyway?

Can’t they just judge your skills by looking at your portfolio? Yes and no.

They may want to know if you are a good fit for that studio or even for a particular show. No one knows how long it took you to draw all that stuff in your portfolio.

Or even if you really drew it all yourself. (Note: You better have!)

A test puts all applicants on more of an even playing field. They can look at a bunch of tests and see whose stands out. Who’s ‘got the goods’.

And most of all, they want to see if you can tell a story!

So let’s look at ten tips to tackle a storyboard test.

1. Look over all the materials.

Have you been given character designs? Any backgrounds? Is there a script or a story outline?

Here is an example of a storyboard test that is given for a story intern position at Blue Sky: Blue Sky story intern test. (The deadline was April 17th so don’t get excited.) But look it over, because it’s good practice.

It’s just some characters and a simple story outline. Some studios give out more.  Either way, the materials are there to be used.

Use them.

2. Respect the deadline.

You are sometimes given a storyboard test after your portfolio has been viewed. They are interested and want to see more.

And they want to see if you can make a deadline. That’s part of the test!

Because if you can’t pull off 25-50 panels in 2 or 3 weeks, you won’t look too good. In real life, you have to pull off 10 to 20 pages per day to make your deadlines.

So make the deadline!

3. Be true to the characters.

The test could just be generic like the Blue Sky example or it could be for a new show.

Or it could be for an established show already on the air.

If it’s for an established show, do your homework. Check out the show. You wouldn’t storyboard the same way for a pre-school show as you would for South Park. They don’t violently kill a kid every week in a pre-school show, okay? (As cool as that would be.)

If the characters aren’t established already and you aren’t given any information on them, make some characteristics up.

Those characters must have ‘character’, if you know what I mean.

4. Stay on model.

They give you the designs for a reason. For you to follow them!

In animation production (especially television) you have to draw the characters in the style of the show.

Not your way.

Try to stay ‘on model’ as best you can. It shows you can adapt.

5. Follow the script.

If you are given a very simple outline, do what they are asking for. Then embellish the hell out of it.

If you are given a more detailed outline, follow it fairly close. Then embellish the hell out it.

If you are given a detailed script, follow it.

But then…

6. Don’t follow the script.


By ‘follow the script’, I mean follow the general story and keep any dialogue they give you. But you can change action to make it better. You can add dialogue if need be.

Because here’s the thing. They want you to follow what they give you BUT they want to see what else you’ve got.

What can you add to this story? How will you take it and make it your own? Why should they pick yours over someone else’s?

Embellish does not mean go on a ‘tangent’ and add a bunch of useless crap. It means to enhance and make better.

That is what they’re really looking for.

7. Be funny.

You are probably doing this test for a television show or for a feature film studio. And they usually are going to want ‘funny’.

Good gag structure is an art. Learn it. Work at it. Make it funny.

You can never go wrong with funny.

8. Act your ass off.

Make these characters ‘real’. Even goofy, funny characters have to be believable.

Good posing. Enough posing. Clear facial expressions.

Let’s ‘see’ them think. What are their motivations? Why are they doing what they’re doing?

Every studio wants to see good, strong, clear acting in their characters.

9. Show a little bit of everything.

Can you show how well you can do camera movements? Are you putting truck-ins in the right place? Is there a good opportunity for a well placed transition?

Are you using a nice variety of shots?

Only add these things if they serve the story. Don’t put them in for the sake of putting them in.

But if you can show you have a good grasp of a wide variety of visual storytelling tools, it’s great.

Just don’t over-do it. Story first.

10. Tell a damn story.

Give it a beginning, a middle and an end. Every scene in a script has a beginning, a middle and an end.

And a purpose. What is the purpose of this scene?

Think about this stuff.

In the stress of just trying to get a damn job, you may forget what they are really looking for. And that is good storytelling ability.


So tell them a story, okay?

It could be good to do that Blue Sky test (but don’t use it for another studio!) or make up your own characters and practice.

Then it’s never a bad idea to show it to someone before handing it in. Feedback, baby!

You know I DO THAT, right?

A mini-critique could make all the difference in helping to knock it out of the park.

Now it’s done with audio too! Did you know about the audio? It’s like your own personal Podcast.

Me. Babbling. About your storyboard.

It rocks. Really.

Check it out here.


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7 thoughts on “Ten Tips for Tackling a Storyboard Test

  1. Jonathan Wondrusch

    *steps up to podium* The feedback helps people. Even if you’re a student, cut back and pony up. It helped me tremendously with my shortfilm in my last semester of college. Worth EVERY PENNY!

  2. R.J. Pena

    Sweet post! It always helps us jobless recent grads to see stuff like this. I was reading the part where you were talking about camera moves, tough, and realized that I didn’t know the standard ways to indicate such camera moves. That would be a pretty sweet post, too, I think. And to everyone else, I agree with Jon up there….DO THE CRITIQUE!!! She really helped me out of a bind with my senior film. Totally worth it.

  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    You guys rock. Really. *blows kisses*

    Yeah, all that technical camera mumbo jumbo may turn into an eBook/audio course thingy. Once I get my ass in gear and DO IT already!!

    Thanks for the kudos guys (and no, I didn’t ask them to come here and say all that). 🙂

  4. Brian

    geeeeeeeeee thhhhhhhaaaannnks… *sigh* i guess this is better late (and free!) than never.

    better luck next time…what are the odds that you’d specifically bring up the blue sky test lol?

  5. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Well gee Brian, I’ll try to keep my mind reading skills a little sharper in the future, OK? 🙂

    And it may not be last test you take so what the heck, eh?

    Well, did you at least DO some of the stuff I said? Huh? Didya?

  6. Brian

    HAHA! Well, i’ll try to tell my self at least i did the dance once so maybe I’ll be stronger/more organized next time. The bright side is knowing that as a student i was able to kill 52 decent panels in a week AND photoshop them all together.

    I got lucky on some of this stuff, but the big, memorable headache was getting those letters of recommendation. Between myself and my teachers that didn’t go too well. I gotta give myself a CHUNK of time for that specifically next time.

    still, great post!i could use all the help i can find.

  7. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    OK, I’m not saying this to devalue how much work you put into those 52 panels you did in a week (because I KNOW you did…right on!), but to give a reality check to everyone else reading.

    As a professional, you’ll have to produce 30 to 50 panels A DAY to get the job done. So imagine what that’s like!

    This is why we become overworked and bitter.
    You’ve been warned. 🙂

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