3D Animation Storyboard: The Ultimate Guide

3d animation storyboard

If you’ve ever been captivated by the stunning visuals and seamless motion of animated films, chances are you’ve witnessed the magic of 3D animation. Behind every captivating animated scene lies a meticulously crafted blueprint that guides the entire process – the 3D animation storyboard. 

In this ultimate guide, we’ll delve into the world of 3D animation storyboards, exploring their significance, creation process, and how they contribute to the mesmerizing animations we adore.

Understanding 3D Animation Storyboards

A 3D animation storyboard is essentially a visual script that breaks down the entire animation into a series of panels. 

Each panel represents a key moment in the animation and helps the creative team envision how the final product will unfold. It serves as a bridge between the script and the actual animation, allowing for effective planning and coordination.

If you are still unable to understand let’s assume that you have written a story and now you want to present it in the form of pictures. Those sketches that are a kind of cartoonish representation of the written story are basically storyboards. 

Just have a look at the picture below to get a better idea of storyboarding. 

understanding 3d animation storyboard through sketches

You can see that each picture is presenting a different scene and also gives animators the idea what the animator should look like. 

Why Do You Need a 3D Animation Storyboard? 

Storyboarding is not just about sketching scenes; it’s about crafting the soul of the animation. It helps creators align their vision, synchronize actions, and experiment with different shots before investing significant resources into production. 

Storyboards act as a reference point for everyone involved, from animators and modellers to sound designers and directors. 

Here are some benefits of using storyboarding for your 3D animation. 

1. Visualizing the Narrative

The storyboard provides a visual representation of the story. It can help you identify the shortcomings in the animation. Instead of doing all the corrections during the animation process, it is easy to do the same on paper. 

2. Time and Cost Efficiency

Storyboard helps you identify any problem early and can help you save time and resources by redoing the process on paper instead of in animation. Especially when you are making a 3D animation, it is time-consuming and costly and constantly changing the animation can be expensive. Storyboarding saves you from that process.

3. Guidance for Animators

Animators can see the basic movement, time and camera angles in the storyboard and thus it becomes easier for them to identify shortcomings. They can also take ideas for the future and animation becomes easier for them.  

How to Make a 3D Animation Storyboard? 

Before you move forward to the storyboarding process it is compulsory to complete the written story. Because storyboarding needs to get as close as possible to the final animation, the story has to be completed. 

After you have done that there are certain steps which need to be followed. 

  1. Understand the Script or Idea
  2. Break Down the Scenes
  3. Create Thumbnail Sketches
  4. Establish Shot Flow and Pacing
  5. Add Basic Annotations
  6. Refine the Sketches
  7. Review and Revise
  8. Finalize the Storyboard

1. Understand the Script or Idea

The journey begins with brainstorming concepts, characters, and settings. You need to study the script thoroughly and understand the characters, and ideas. 

Without understanding the script and the basic idea behind the animation it would be very hard to storyboard it in an effective way. So, the first step is first read and understand the script. 

2. Break Down the Scenes

Now to make things easier for yourself, break the entire script into short scenes and then arrange them in a proper order. This will help you understand the sequence of the scenes and you can also focus on one thing at a time. 

3. Create Thumbnail Sketches

These sketches are rough and small drawings of each scene which can give you a quick visual representation of each scene. Thumbnail sketches do not have much detail they just give you the basic idea of composition, character positions, and camera angles. They are more like a visual outline. 

4. Establish Shot Flow and Pacing

Once you are done with the thumbnails arrange them in the order you want them to appear in the animation. This will create a proper flow of different shots and the transition from one scene to another would be much easier. 

5. Add Basic Annotations

It would be very hard to understand the story by just looking at the sketches. To make things easier add annotation with each sketch telling what the scene is about and what the characters are doing. This can include actions, dialogue, and camera movements as well. 

6. Refine the Sketches

Slightly refine the sketches to make the characters and shots understandable. You do not have to make them too realistic just small refinements for better understanding would be enough. 

refine the sketches for 3d animation storyboard

7. Review and Revise

Review and revise the storyboard once you are done drafting the basic version. The revision would help you identify the shortcomings and can also help you with the improvements. It is a good idea to revise the storyboard instead of doing the same in the animation process. 

8. Finalize the Storyboard

This is the final stage of the storyboard, once you are done with the revision and reviews you can present the storyboard to the animators so that they can finally transform it into a proper animation. 

Different Types of Storyboard

Depending on the scale of the project and the number of experts involved the types of storyboards can also vary. But there are three main types that remain the same. Those types are

  1. Traditional storyboard
  2. Thumbnail storyboards
  3. Digital storyboard

1. Traditional storyboard

From the word traditional it becomes obvious that this is an old method of storyboarding. In traditional storyboarding simple pencil-made sketches are used to visualize the story for everyone to understand. 

2. Thumbnail Storyboard

Thumbnail storyboards are a preliminary form of visual planning used in the early stages of animation production. They involve creating small, quick, and rough sketches to map out the basic composition, camera angles, and essential elements of each shot or scene. 

These sketches are called “thumbnails” because they are usually small, simple, and lack detailed artwork.

3. Digital Storyboard 

Digital storyboard is the modern method of visual representation. Normally, software is used for this purpose. 

Instead of using physical paper and pencils, digital storyboards leverage digital drawing software, graphic design programs, or specialized storyboard software to create visual representations of scenes, shots, and sequences.

Storyboarding Tools and Software

Advancements in technology have given rise to a plethora of storyboard tools and software. From traditional sketching to digital platforms, these tools aid in translating ideas into visually appealing panels.

If you want to try these software here is a list of some of the best software used for storyboarding. 

Storyboarder by Wonder Unit(Free)
Toon Boom Storyboard Pro($60/mo or $999 one-time fee)
Plot$10/month (14 days Free Trial Available)
FrameForge Storyboard Studio $498.95 one-time fee or $12.99/month
Studiobinder$29/month (Indie); $49/month (Professional); $99/month (Studio)
makeStoryboardFree; $12/month (Professional); $36/month (Team)

Future of 3D Animation and Storyboarding

As technology advances, so does the art of 3D animation. The integration of virtual reality, AI-assisted storyboarding, and real-time collaboration tools will shape the future of animation production.

It is very likely that in the upcoming years, AI will take over the traditional methods of storyboarding. However, the concept as a whole is very unlikely to be replaced by any other method. 

Storyboarding is the most efficient way of creating catchy and well-organised animation and the future of this technique seems promising. 


In the mesmerizing world of 3D animation, storyboarding stands as the unsung hero, guiding the transformation of ideas into captivating visuals. Its significance in streamlining production, fostering collaboration, and enhancing creativity cannot be overstated.


How do you storyboard a 3D animation?

Storyboarding a 3D animation involves creating a sequence of visual panels to outline the key scenes and shots, guiding the animation process. It helps plan camera angles, character actions, and overall flow.

What is 3D storyboarding?

3D storyboarding involves planning the narrative, camera movements, and scene transitions in a three-dimensional space. It helps visualize how elements will interact and move in the final animation.

How to make a 3D animation step by step?

  1. Conceptualize the idea.
  2. Write a script or outline.
  3. Create a storyboard.
  4. Build 3D models and environments.
  5. Add textures and materials.
  6. Rig characters for movement.
  7. Animate keyframes and motions.
  8. Set up lighting and cameras.
  9. Render the frames.
  10. Edit and assemble in post-production software.

Do animators use storyboards?

Yes, animators commonly use storyboards as a crucial tool. Storyboards help them plan the animation sequence, camera angles, and transitions, ensuring a coherent and visually engaging final product.