One Artist’s Process: The Board and The Critique

Before I begin I just want to mention this is my 100th post! Hurrah! *throws confetti*

We’ve been following Aidan Casserly along his little journey of creating a storyboard for his portfolio. We saw the introduction post here and his brainstorming and thumbnailing process here.

Now we get to the good stuff.

The first pass of his storyboard and what I had to say about it in a Mini Critique.

But before we get to that, here’s his storyboard as it was sent to me. And yes, it is quite clean for a ‘first pass’. Which is fine and dandy.

But you can be much rougher at this stage of the game with your own boards.

(Click on the images to enlarge and get a better look.)





Nice, huh?

Now here’s what I had to say about it all. Keep in mind he told me to “go all out”. So I’m holding it up to professional standards and being all nit-picky and stuff.

In a Mini Critique I scribble over your board in red and then tell you what it all means. And I usually prefer to do it in audio because I think I explain myself better that way.

But we thought print was better for…you know…reading and stuff.

(Again, click on the images to enlarge and get a better look at my scribbles.)



  • What you really have to make clear right off the bat, is that we are at a prison. How can you drive this home visually? Try a pan in the first shot (some perspective issues here). Maybe have a far off guard looking down at the yards. Pan down to the entrance…make it more prison-y. Even a sign could help, but don’t rely on it.
  • Second panel, start close on the video screens, to again drive home the fact we are in a prison. SHOW us what’s on the screens. All those bars will give us a much clearer picture of WHERE WE ARE. Simple, but important thing to establish. Then pull back to reveal the guard.
  • Third panel. Is there a reason for the down shot? If it is to show the shadow of the janitor walking through the background, then great. But we must really see that shadow clearly on the floor. We aren’t now. If it’s not for this reason, I may just make this a regular medium shot on the guard. Could show us he’s bored…yawn etc.
  • Fourth panel. Lower horizon line for perspective to work. Can add an arrow on the legs walking. (Unless you don’t want arrows for the portfolio. Your choice, but it could use some in places.)
  • Fifth panel. You need a start pose for the guard so he hooks up to previous scene. This is where it’s too much like a comic book. You are telling a story with pictures, but you’re not making a film properly (if you know what I mean). Main thing you’re missing is start poses, hook-ups and enough panels to show the action.
  • Sixth panel could add a little truck-in to give the camera a little movement and the scene a little “false drama”. The board is lacking any camera movement. Again, that “comic book thing”. You don’t want to over-do them, but some well placed camera moves will work wonders and help tell the story and set the mood.



  • Panel one needs a second pose to get him back to reading his magazine. Needs to hook up with panel two. Panel one and two have the guard way too similar in size and position. This creates a jump cut and should be avoided. I’d shrink him in the second panel.
  • Second panel maybe have the janitor whistling, all casual-like. In the third panel, I’d dump the nose pick (till later) so it doesn’t distract our eyes from the approaching janitor. This is who we should be watching.
  • Fourth panel doesn’t hook up with previous. You can start the scene just with a color card (for a split second screen time) and have him rise up FAST into the scene with mop overhead. Fast, funny and hook-up problem is solved.
  • Fifth panel needs a start pose. This panel can work in a comic, but animators need to know what the very FIRST drawing they draw should look like. And this isn’t it. We need that split second before he gets whacked in the head. This could be your nose-picking pose to add a little humor to the humor.
  • Sixth pose needs to hook up. He can’t be getting whacked in the head and lying on the floor at the same time. We gotta GET him to the floor. Three panels. First one is the ground. Second one, he falls IN. Third one, janitor walks IN from behind.



  • The first panel could be a continuation from the last scene. Janitor walks in, diagonal pan UP to his face. Takes off the props, pulls off the mask as you have done.
  • NOTE: Watch out for adjusting the sizes of your characters within panels of the same scene. You kind of shrunk him in the fourth panel to accommodate the pose. Don’t do that. Either start wide enough to fit it in or you need some camera adjustment. If nothing has changed, the character size MUST stay consistent throughout a scene.
  • Dump the scene in panel six and just continue the previous scene with Scapula tossing the mask and walking OUT. Don’t need this scene.



  • Make panel two your first panel. He left the previous scene, so he can be anywhere now. So show that wide shot of him at the control panel. We see where the guard is…all is good. We know where we are.
  • NOW put your first panel second. He approached the control panel, now we SEE what he’s doing in this shot. Great.
  • Now on to panel three as is. You could repeat what the screens look like in new panel one, then that they are turning off here. Keep panel four as is.
  • Lower horizon line in panel five for this to work better.
  • Panel six – bag issue. Where did it come from? Where was it before? Don’t let the audience have this question in their heads. A quick close shot of him picking it up by the door between panel four and five could help. Like he had it waiting outside for him. Don’t leave unanswered questions like this floating around because you don’t want to deal with it. You have to.


Well, because I’m just so darned long winded with this critique, we’ll pause here and continue it next week, okay? (Like how I’m milking this baby?)

Let’s thank Aidan again for being brave enough to put his stuff ‘out there’ and for me to pick it apart.

Thanks Aidan!


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30 thoughts on “One Artist’s Process: The Board and The Critique

  1. Brian

    Solid drawing skills, Aidan! Touching them up digitally helped too. I might explore techniques for cleaning up my own stuff in the near future.

    These critiques remind me of my last storyboarding class, which is great. It means I have someone to remind me when I forget certain principles, and bring up new ones.

  2. Aidan Casserly

    Awwww…I is flattered, I is! (and thank you too, Brian).

    Honestly, critiques are never that enjoyable, but they really aren’t so bad either. I remember being a student and DREADING critiques because I took them pretty hard, as I think a lot of us do when we’re starting off.

    DO NOT TAKE CRITIQUES PERSONALLY. A lot of students are afraid to ask for critiques because they are scared they will be judged as awful human beings for any mistakes they make. They’ve worked hard on their little masterpieces and don’t want them hurt by the outside world. The scenario feels a lot like this one:

    “A pregnant woman is rushed to the infirmary and, after a long, arduous ordeal, gives birth to a beautiful, healthy baby. The doctors allow the proud mother to hold her child closely and look upon the wonderful creation she has just made. Suddenly, Dr. Mengele bursts into the room, retrieves the baby from the mothers arms, looks the little toddler over, then dissects it alive on a cold operating table. Finished butchering, he returns to the mother and states, ‘His eyes were the wrong color’.”

    …okay, maybe not THAT bad, but that fear of being critiqued can sometimes feel pretty intense. I know, because I was a student once. But honestly, truthfully, the only way to get over the fear of being picked apart is to get your work critiqued as often as possible, to the point where you realize that it’s all just input, not insults.

    Remember: If it’s an art director and you’re getting paid by a studio to do their work, you just take the input and do it. It isn’t so bad. If it’s a personal project, like this one, you decide for yourself what advice you’ll use and what you believe doesn’t work for your project.

    Anyway, Karen is the perfect choice for critiquing your work because she treats this like business, but also treats you like a human being with a passion to learn. We’re not finished yet, but I am glad I sought her advice and recommend others give it a try.

  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Brian – I told Aidan some nice things too. (I just didn’t have room in this post for them.) And his drawing skills were one of them! They *are* very nice, expressive drawings.

    Nice to hear your storyboarding class picked you apart. I hear a lot of them don’t. Getting picked apart is how you learn. πŸ™‚

    @ Aidan – OK, that baby thing was kinda gross. But I get it. πŸ˜‰

    Very true that this is the kind of thing you just have to deal with in a studio. (And then you gotta fix it!) May as well start getting picked apart from a friendly chick, right? (Thanks for the kudos!)

    @ Ivan – You are very welcome!! Hope you can apply some of this advice to your own work. πŸ™‚

  4. Chris Kawagiwa

    Really great to see this! It’s fascinating to see how specific animation boards are, namely with the increased amount of frames. When i took a class, i remember much of it was an exercise in perspective drawing. I dig the questions asked here about pacing and clarity. Little things like directing the viewers attention by moving the nosepick gag really make sense :]

    Since I’m a comicbook fan, it’s very interesting to take note of the differences with storyboards. The part where a comic reader would be urged to fill in the space in time in their head is much more laid out, with redrawn frames when necessary. I think i have to fight off laziness when it comes to that~

    @Aidan– jeez that was a violent analogy~ πŸ˜› great drawings and again, love the expressions on the characters for both shock and boredom. Thanks for sharing your work like this!

  5. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Brett – You’re very welcome! Glad you’re digging it. : )

    @ Chris – I think the comic book thing is a big issue for a lot of artists. I try to explain there is a big difference between the two but I don’t think some people get it. Hopefully this sheds a bit of light and helps SHOW how a storyboard is not the same as a comic.

    P.S.: Yay for your new site! Congrats! πŸ™‚

  6. Angela

    @ Aidan – thanks for sharing your critique with us. Your artwork is great and it’s cool to see a real storyboard get picked apart.

    @ Karen – thanks for the advice. I always thought of storyboards like comic books, so I am glad you mentioned how different the two actually are and gave tips for camera angles.

    Looking forward to the second half. Thanks again to you both for sharing your insight.

  7. Lorin Wood

    Looks familiar. Been through this process many a time. I have mixed feelings; complicated, as I love storyboarding…this also demonstrates the legitimacy of previsualization animation. In my experience, my mentor/supervisor loves both processes. Depends on the project and needs of the story (and the studio execs ability to use their right brains).

    Thanks for posting this. It’s nice to see the the dirty and evolutionary steps it takes to get a story moving forward. Most people see a semi-polished board and figure “that’s it.” Nope.

    Good stuff.

  8. Aidan Casserly

    It seems like an apology is necessary for the ‘baby’ analogy. It was stupid and disgusting and Dr. Mengele was a great big jerkwad (although he was played in a movie by Gregory Peck, which is pretty cool).

    Apo-polly-logies, all.

  9. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Angela – You’re very welcome! I think a lot of people think they are very similar. This is a great way to explain a few differences visually.

    @ Lorin – You’re talking about for 3D and live action, right? For 2D this is all the pre-vis we get (well except for animatics and layouts etc. πŸ™‚ ).

    Yeah, you can tweak a board and a story for a very long time. It’s just that most production schedules don’t allow for too much. You have to get the best out as fast as possible.

    That’s why getting feedback on the ‘low pressure’ stuff can be a good idea.

    @ Aidan – It’s cool. Lots of animation-types here. Therefore: sick and twisted minds! You sick puppy, you. πŸ˜‰


  10. Friar

    Wow! Karen, you’re a harsh editor! I would have thought Aiden’s stuff was close to perfect.

    But then again, I dont’ have the trained eye, and you’ve pointed out some stuff that makes sense. that make could make these already- excellent drawings even BETTER.

    Hm. You obviously know your stuff.

    Gonna have to hire you to scribble on my kids’ book illustrations like you did here. (Whenever I get off my ass and finish them up!)

  11. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Harsh? Me? Nahhh. Sweet as pie, I am.

    Just that ‘trained eye thing’ you said. And knowing how cartoons work and how storyboards transfer to the screen.

    The final cartoon that viewers see on TV or in the theatre have been revised and re-worked too. You just don’t see that part. πŸ™‚

    (Yeah…get off your ass!)

  12. Skull Dixon

    Love everything you do here..

    Being a student, i had one question: What is a color card? I have never run across this term before in any of the books i have on Story boarding.

  13. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Skull Dixon and welcome!

    A color card is not so much a ‘storyboarding thing’ as it is an ‘animation thing’ I guess.

    Simply, it’s just a background that’s a solid color or has some blur or texture to it. So it’s not really a ‘real background’ that would be in the model pack of the cartoon.

    But as the board artist you have to indicate it to the layout and animation people to know you don’t want a ‘real background’ in there (to match the surrounding locations), but just the color card.

    You would do this in a production board by just writing “color card” right on the storyboard panel B/G and circling it. And you’d only probably use it for close-ups and medium shots. It can add a little fun and mood to a reaction shot or fast action shot.

    The are a ‘garnish’ kind of thing. You don’t want to over-use them. πŸ™‚

    Hope that makes sense!

  14. Kasana

    One Indian Tale. God and teacher both are standing in front of a student. And student is in dilemma that in front of whom he should bow his head first. He finally bows his head to the teacher cause he taught him the way how to reach to the God and bridged the gap between God and him.
    My situation is more complicated.
    Here My teacher is Karen but Aidan bridged the gap. πŸ™‚
    But as Karen said I must thank Aidan for being brave enough to put his stuff β€˜out there’. Means Aidan is like Teacher.
    Then Karen is Who ? πŸ˜‰

  15. Kasana

    I liked it ?
    You’ve any doubt ? This 3 post series was so informative and helpful..especially yours corrections. To the point.
    Thanks a ton.

  16. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Kasana – You’re very welcome. The rest of it is up sooner than you think!

    And I don’t know why the avatar didn’t change. I cleared my cache to see and it’s still the same. Hmm. Dunno.

    @ Aidan – Pimp! πŸ˜‰

  17. Franko

    Hi Karen (& Aidan).

    I’m enjoying these critique posts. Reminds me a lot of being an animation student and thinking I had everything ruffed out with key poses, and then my teacher would come along (sometimes with a red pencil) and draw all over my work, adding more breakdowns and inbetween ruffs to make the movement ‘read’ more clearly.

    Probably not so surprising as we were taught that every movement is a micro-story. As such it needs it’s own clearly told storyboard.

    We talk the same language, just slightly different dialect.

  18. kasana

    Even I don’t know. πŸ˜‰ but doesn’t matter. You putting up there and giving us opportunity to see Karen’s tear apart game. See she is having fun, laughing on us. πŸ™

    Thanks. Ma notebook is ready. πŸ™‚
    And my Avatar…Why?…Why ? πŸ™

  19. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Franko! Nice to see you here.

    I think storyboard artists should always be thinking about the next person working from their boards. The layout people. The animators. What would make their life easier and help them take this work to the next level?

    Very important stuff. Give them all the information they need to do their job the best possible way. And that includes those start poses and hook-ups!

    (Yes, we teachers just love our red pencils, don’t we?) πŸ˜‰

    @ Kasana – I’m laughing WITH you. Not at you. πŸ˜‰

    Me knowth not why the avatar will not behave. Drat!


  20. Dmitry

    Wow, free information…and damn good stuff too…i remember paying for classes where they taught and critiqued in such a manner. Karen, this was a great ride!
    I have no doubts that Aidan will get that job…do tell us, it’s encouraging to hear that hard work actually pays off.

    I had a few technical questions, if anyone can answer or share their thoughts, that would excite me for the rest of the month! Aidan, did you use Photoshop for the board? (it looks awesome and oh so very clean) and if so, are you one to use Layers in order to move things around easier without having to redraw? Or perhaps you scanned everything in and just added tone and highlights!? Since boards do need revisions and sometimes even more revision, whats the best way to prepare your panels for a complete make-over? (like cropping/ resizing figures, changing background/scene/ perspective…etc)

    I also wondered if anyone out there has tried other software like Toonboon Storyboard or Sketchbook Pro for boards..and if they’re any better in preference. I’ll be quiet now, thank you all.

  21. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Dmitry – I’ll let Aidan answer most of these for now. (I’ve sent him over).

    But I do think Sketchbook Pro is a really nice drawing program and very easy to use. It’s just a digital way of drawing and isn’t a ‘storyboard program’, but it’s quite nice and affordable. The drawings can end up looking like you did them on paper. And it also works with layers.

    I’m still noodling with Storyboard Pro and want to try it with an actual job before I make a recommendation. It is becoming standard in some studios (not the ones I work for, yet). It’s a bigger program with a bigger price tag too. And some of the tools just won’t be used by the actual board artist, but by the studio itself. (Not that that’s a bad thing.)


  22. Aidan Casserly

    Hi Dmitry. Sorry for my late response (thank Karen the shepherd for shoving me over here). But here’s how it goes.

    All the actual drawings are pencil and paper (in particular, red Prismacolor pencils for the roughs, and standard 2B and 4B’s for the solid lines…the paper is arbitrary). These are scanned, put in Photoshop and given a layer for very light brush tones, which is something like a 20% black. Like a lot of artists I know, it’s very tempting to render the hell out of these drawings, but since boards are often disposable it’s not very time-wise to render them all out, UNLESS they’ve been approved (I’ve seen a lot of great storyboards that were fully rendered out, such as Simeon Wilkins’ HELLBOY boards, but I highly doubt they were first passes…Karen, some input?).

    Whether or not you draw with traditional tools or a Wacom tablet is really up to the individual artist to decide; likewise, whether you use Photoshop or Toonboom or Sketchbook Pro or Maya or Flash is up to you (unless you’re working for a studio which insists their artists use a certain program…in which case, be flexible).

    I hope that helps, although I’m sure Karen will have some insight (i.e. mocking me…jeez, Karen, let my wounds heal already!). I think the most important thing is that you have clear, understandable boards which can be read and understood by anyone.

  23. Dmitry

    That does help to know, and yes ive heard of others using red/blue prisma colors because most scanners don’t pick them them as they do with black pencil lines. You’re very right about every artist needing to find their own style and methods though…the end result is what matters.

    Thank you again, Aidan and Karen.

  24. Pingback: One Artist’s Process: The Revisions | Karen J Lloyd's Storyboard Blog

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