Springboard - Fast Digital Storyboarding on a Budget

Storyboarding an animation is one of my least favorite parts of the creative process and yet it's also one of the most important after writing the script. It's where the planning of the visual representation of the script takes place.

The Problem....

I've struggled with storyboarding because I knew there had to be a better way than drawing tiny thumbnails on a sheet of paper with script and camera direction notes crammed underneath - an example of which can be found in my post for my music video animation, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. This method isn't exactly client friendly as my handwriting scrawls can become unreadable even to me over time.

The other technique I employed was using the storyboarding features of Celtx Script Writing Software. Celtx allows you to import your scanned thumbnails (or any digital image) into its storyboard where you can add text and camera direction into scrollable text boxes below each image - and never run out of room. I employed this technique for my business clients. You can see an example in the blog post I wrote about the animation I created for My Network One.

The trouble with Celtx is, if you hand draw the thumbnails, whether on actual paper or in a graphics software program it introduces an additional step of importing the images into the software. Celtx also doesn't have any way to export storyboards either. Thus I had to resort to taking screen grabs - rendering those scrollable text boxes useless if they needed to be scrolled to read their full contents.

What I wanted was software that would let you draw directly into the storyboard panels (using my graphics tablet - or you could use your mouse), let you enter any amount of text and then let you export it all into a easily viewed presentation for clients.

Toon Boom Storyboard Pro... Overkill!

I knew the makers of industry standard Toon Boom Studio had a solution with their Toon Boom Storyboard Pro Software but that costs US$899.00 (even the basic version is US$199.00). It's also a fairly complex program with advanced drawing tools. In short overkill for my modest needs.

Springboard... Easy, Cheap and Powerful

I started Googling for an alternative and what I found was Springboard, a free to try digital storyboarding tool that I decided to pay up the US$39.95 for within hours of installing and trying out. However, if you wish to try it longer, the free trial lasts for 30 days.

Springboad 1.03 screen shot.
Springboard is suitable for both large and small film and animation projects. It can break up larger projects into sections so that you're not saving the entire project every time you make a small change here and there.

The screen shot above right pretty much shows you everything you need to see when it comes to using the software.

Program Layout and Features...

On the far left you have the Story Tree where you can sort everything into Acts, Chapters, Scenes, Sequences or Shots. Below that you have the properties for the selected item in the story tree.

To the right of the Story Tree you have some basic bitmap and vector drawing tools. It's not the most sophisticated drawing program you'll ever use but it does support layers and transparency. If you have a Wacom tablet it'll also support some basic functions of that such as turning the pen around and using the eraser.

The drawing tools palette includes some additional storyboard specific tools like arrows for adding directional information such as camera movements. There is even a camera tool that you can use to actually simulate camera movements when you come to compile your board into an animatic.

If you do have a favorite drawing program then there is some support to link it directly to this program so you can edit a drawing externally and have it automatically updated inside Springboard. Something you might do if you're creating high quality presentation storyboards for a film pitch to a client or studio.

The main part of the screen is filled with the storyboard panels themselves. You can adjust the resolution of these before you begin depending on what kind of quality you need and how big your project is. I set mine to size of 640 x 360 pixels (16:9) ratio. Not only can you draw directly onto the panels you can also import images into them, like a logo for example to include as part of your drawing.

The nice thing is that you can edit a story board panel at any time, whether you're zoomed into it or not, making it easy to work across two or three panels at once. Shifting panels around is as easy as dragging and dropping them within the storyboard tree.

Across the bottom of the screen is the text box for the selected panel. You can enter as much text as you need here as the program will format your text neatly next to your panel should you need to export your boards for any reason. Currently you can export just the images to various image file formats or the entire storyboard, including text to a customizable but neatly formatted HTML web page (perfect for uploading to a website host and showing online clients or you can format the pages for printing from your browser).

Just above the text box (not shown in the screen shot) is where the controls and timeline pop up when it comes time to edit, record and preview your animatic.

Animatics with Sound...

Animatics can not only include camera movements but also you can import audio as uncompressed .wav files. You can even record sound directly into the program with your microphone. Springboard will let you export just the audio track as a .wav file, so you could use Springboard as a way to develop a master audio track for projects too.

Free to Visualize...

I've found that Springboard takes the monotony out of creating storyboards. I can simply divide my script across however many frames I think I'll need then start drawing. I can draw just the frames I have ideas for or add in extra frames if I need them without destroying the flow of the page. Trying to cram in text under each frame is no longer an issue. I'm completely free to just concentrate on visualizing my story.

Unfortunately it's not all great. I did manage to crash this program, losing a number of panels in the process. I'm not sure how I did it and haven't managed to repeat the problem. As a result I'd recommend saving your work often.

That aside this software is excellent value, easy to learn and ideal for short film or animation projects. To see an over view of the software the video below by Youtuber drawtips runs you through most features. Note that he's a little slow to get started but stick with it as it's a really good overview.



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