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How Long Should It Take To Draw A Storyboard Panel?

Plenty of educational material about how to create animation is posted online nowadays, yet there is surprisingly little discussion about the nuts-and-bolts of industry production.

For example, here’s a basic question: How long should it take for an industry artist to draw a storyboard panel for a TV production? Good luck finding an intelligent answer to that one.

Until now, that is. A 25-year veteran of the TV animation industry recently sat down to figure out the average amount of time it takes to draw a board panel. The number he/she came up with was an average of 20 minutes, based on a script with equal parts action and acting, and importantly, no revisions. The artist shared the math in a detailed post on the Animation Guild blog with all sorts of adjustments for different styles and types of boards.

The storyboard artist explained that drawing a storyboard for a TV series doesn’t mean just pumping out a series of quick sketches to describe the action. A fully cleaned-up panel of a storyboard must consist of the following elements:

  1. Suggested background
  2. An on-model character – either a) establishing and/or b) acting / expressing story point
  3. Scene description, and camera action. Special effects description.
  4. Initial rough timing/animatic set-up (for ToonBoom Storyboard Pro)

The artist went on to break down each storyboard panel into a three-step process, comprised of planning, drawing, and description, with a detailed explanation of each.

So, why is it so important that young artists understand how long it should take to draw a single board panel? The key reason is that many TV producers have begun shortening production schedules so that they can cut budgets on boarding.

The average length of time an industry artist used to have to create a board for an 11-minute TV episode was six weeks. In recent years, deadlines have dropped to five weeks, and on more current productions, artists are being squeezed to create the same amount of work in four. When the numbers are crunched (and the storyboard artist who started the discussion on the Animation Guild’s blog does crunch the numbers), the four-week schedule begins to look excessively rushed.

With shortened schedules, corners must be cut and the quality of episodes suffers, while artists must work longer hours – often without pay – to meet the unreasonable demands of their bosses.

It’s important to note that the Animation Guild’s blog post reflects the experiences of a single artist, and obviously not every artist works at the same speed. To extend the discussion, if you’re a storyboard artist working in the TV industry, please share your experiences in our comments regarding boarding deadlines and whether your studio allows a reasonable amount of time to produce boards.

  • Elephant in the room

    “With shortened schedules, corners must be cut and the quality of episodes suffers, while artists must work longer hours – often without pay – to meet the unreasonable demands of their bosses.”

    Nailed it.

  • Jams

    This is depressing!

  • Another Slow Board Artist

    These calculations are incredibly helpful. That said, how would one factor in the number of characters per scene? Moderate sound design? Sophistication of model?

    I work on a show that:
    a) is script-driven (22-minute episodes, 28-30 pages);
    b) has three board artists per team (8-10 pages per artist, which breaks down to about 4/5 sequences);
    c) demands animatics that include dialogue, moderate/sophisticated sound design (they often use the same exact design we put in TBSP file) and temp music;
    d) virtually every sequence has between three to nine characters, the average being 5/6 characters;
    e) has at least two action sequences in each episode, and the action as well as the comedy/general acting is treated realistically;
    f) has human characters that are treated realistically (for the most part);
    g) often requires reworking whole sequences from scratch.

    We only get 2.5 weeks for thumbs/roughs, and 2.5 weeks to clean up the sequence – 5 weeks total.

    I do not mind the actual requirements of the job; in fact, I actually really enjoy the control of creating my own animatics. 5 weeks is very tight, though, and all us board artists struggle with something, whether its missing deadlines, creating passable boards, or working long hours.

    • CG Animator

      I believe I know exactly what show you’re referring to… And yeah the schedules are nuts. Speaking from personal experience on said show hehe.

  • SpongeBorg

    Part of this discussion needs to address the fact that not only are the schedules getting shorter but software is allowing some productions to require the board artists to do the 1st (at least) timing pass synced to the voice acting.

    • Gizzy Lerms

      That’s actually a good point – the software was supposed to make these jobs easier, but instead it’s just enabled clients to demand more of workers in less time… and often for less money… :(

  • Schadenfreude

    What is art? Should animation artists even be called artists if they have to crank a drawing every 20 mins? You think this guy spends 20 mins on a drawing?

    • Gizzy Lerms

      “You think this guy spends 20 mins on a drawing?”
      I don’t know if that guy spends 20 minutes on a drawing.
      I personally don’t spend 20 minutes on each drawing. Some drawings take four minutes and others take four hours, and before that it took a lifetime of experience to get to this level.
      Why do you care if he does?

      ” Should animation artists even be called artists if they have to crank a drawing every 20 mins? ”
      I figure they should, because they are artists who do art work, but maybe you have a better suggestion. We tried ‘story accountants’ for a while but sorting the applications we got for those positions were a nightmare for the recruiting department. We went back to “storyboard artist” and that seems to work better.

      “What is art? ”
      One of life’s great mysteries, but not the topic at hand.

      • Patrick C

        I agree, some drawings take ages, some you can rattle off. Plus, none of my boards are from TV shows, so it’s an apple and oranges comparison. And besides, I’ve lost jobs because of how I draw so I shouldn’t ever be held up as some sort of example.

      • white vader

        Note that his/her handle is “Schadenfreude”…

    • i doubt he spends more than 20 on most of those drawings. Many are probably done in less.

  • Mr. James

    It’s not just the animation industry. We just went through a similar analysis of how long certain activities took to accomplish in the creative team I manage and it was surprising to bring those findings to our marketing and sales teams. The problem with the analysis was that although the other departments were sympathetic and wished they could give us more time they were being pushed by our customers or unrealistic deadlines as well from other internal departments. Unfortunately it all seems to trickle down and be the nature and necessary evil of doing business in the U.S. More options, same or better quality with less time and less people. The only way to make the system itself change is to show the benefits to those that make decisions of how a solution can be financially lucrative or help them get to market with an idea first. Seems that’s been my experience anyways.

    • Gizzy Lerms

      Meanwhile, the cost of living goes *up* instead of down.

      What a glorious system, this capitalism thing.

  • Marco_Sensei

    Here in France, I was asked once to do a full 20 minute TV episode in… 4 weeks. I’ve turned down the offer but some young guns did take it. When you’re a Junior Boarder, is often hard to understand than this type of deadline is just crazy. u_u’

  • Mister_Munchie

    I don’t think board artists should have to juggle animatic editing/creating on a TV series or movie. It might work if its a small project like a commercial or other short form project, AND the board artist happens to have the talent and timing chops to add it efficiently to their work flow. But any semi-civilized production should keep the artists drawing and the editors/directors assembling those drawings into a cut.

  • Yikes, and here I rarely spend more than 3-4 minutes on a panel…..

    • A. Fox

      Are they really bad panels with little to no thought on film language and innovating visual storytelling methods? Because while some boards I do spend less time on, I generally do try to spend time to make sure there is thought put into how best to present a story and that does average out to 20-30 minutes per board.

  • Please value your artists!!

    My drawing arm was destroyed working on a 4 week TV schedule. I’be been on leave for almost two years because of it!! Maybe they got their episode in on time and under budget. But they have jeopardized my entire career in the process. Producers need to value their artists over their deadlines!

  • Pedro Nakama

    Today storyboard artists are creating complete animatics for the show. They are also slugging the voices for characters not yet recorded. An animator isn’t handed an x-sheet with timing but rather a quicktime movie they have to follow.
    They’ve taken several jobs and combined them into one.

    • Mashed Potato


      Very often the client has already provided a guidetrack and it’s also on the storyboarder’s shoulders to nip and tuck and make it fit into the format (heard a 20min track for a 11 min show, so much filtration had to be done). So much more is demanded of storyboarders these days.

    • Joe G

      So true the job of one board guy is equivalent to several jobs that of a revisionist,background designer,props designer,character designer,animator,layout artist,timer,and editor.But the bottom line is all those jobs streamlined into one and you only get one paycheck.Somehow I blame the software manufacturers for creating such monster software.

  • rezz

    The other important topic is the no paid over time. With out OT, there is no way that management can know if they are doing a good job and impossible to have them become accountable for their poor decisions. I only choose jobs that do pay OT or I know the production won’t be a nightmare but those jobs are quickly vanishing. Once you pass your 20’s, everyone is wondering if this career is sustainable in the long run.

  • shulett

    I’ve worked at the Animation Guild for twenty-six years, and storyboard schedules have been causing arguments and brawls since the day I arrived.

    In 1993 board artists at Disney TVA had a meeting at the Guild that disintegrated into a debate over how many weeks for a half-hour show was “enough.” Newbies thought the schedules were crushing. Veterans thought the new-comers were cry-babies and the schedules (then mostly six weeks) were fine. Nothing was resolved. No consensus was reached.

    Uncompensated overtime has also been an issue for the past twenty-six years. Some artists work extra hours for free to hit their schedules, other artists don’t and resent (also fear) the artists who do. Often they start doing free work themselves, the better to compete with the people taking work home on their thumb drives. The union rep (me) visits studios to police the contract but it’s often like playing “whack a mole”: knock down a problem in one place, and another pops up in another place.

    So people know: The Animation Guild will enforce the contract anytime, any place, anywhere. I’ll file grievances, I will jawbone Human Resources. But when I walk into a studio at 9:20 at night (as I did just this week) and artists tell me they’re being paid overtime … even though I’m reasonably sure such is not the case, that’s as far as the Guild’s potential grievance goes.

    • Daniel

      But what are solutions to this Steve? we need solutions not just enforcement.

      • shulett

        The solutions are simple: Refuse to do uncompensated overtime. Don’t falsify time-cards. Be professional and know that eight hours of work is eight hours of work — drawing, thinking, planning, focusing.

        These are the only things needed to solve the problem.

  • slowtiger

    Back in the 90’s when drawings were still done on paper I had the pleasure to watch several artists (one of them the late Andy Knight) doing storyboard panels at amazing speed. Something between 10 and 20 minutes was spent per panel. But they didn’t had to sync it up to a track or do any timing, that was somebody else’s job. And those were nicely shaded panels done in pencil in about postcard size.

  • Lizz Hickey

    This is a great read for everyone who has no idea the amount of work people go through in animation!

  • Swanit Ukidave

    Well, here we are talking about 4 weeks for an 11 min episode… have been working on a project,where we have to dish it out in 2 weeks…. that is 11 working days.. most of the studios have very little regard for quality. Also there is no yearly increment in the pay for an artist.. the result of this is that the next batch of preproduction artists is one takes up animation here..

  • Barrett

    If what you say is true (and I have no reason to doubt you), it seems like an exceedingly wasteful way to “run a railroad” on a TV animated series, even one with a comparatively big budget and good ratings.

    Why waste your story artist’s time and energy on entire sequences that are then thrown out? Why have them flesh out sequences that put your episode 10-15 minutes over time, should that have been largely worked out during the process of nailing down the script? A good director would be able to get a rough sense of how long a script would run on-screen, and would have already cut off production of stuff that was going to put you over time. I mean, I understand ending up with 2-3 minutes that have to be sacrificed, due to maybe wanting to flesh out another 15 seconds here and 10 seconds there on different sequences. There is always some additional dialogue recorded from the “final” script that has to get cut, but that’s usually a line or two here and there.

    To force your artists to produce that much “excess” work that then goes in the rubbish heap is a waste of resources, regardless of how much or little you care for their personal well-being or happiness. I had generally heard good things about the Gravity Falls team, it would be disappointing if such mismanagement and overwork were the case, and for nothing!

    • shulett

      One of my issues has been overlong scripts. It’s important that story editors and show runners cut the teleplay to the right length before a board artist gets it. This shouldn’t be complicated.

  • Gizzy Lerms

    Storyboards don’t have three or four panels.
    I think you’re in the wrong conversation, sweetie.

    • Gizzy Lerms Generally speaking, you are correct. But a lot of times, if the scene is mostly dialogue, I will do 3-4 panels per page rather that one to one. We each do things differently, and none of the people who pay me for this seem to be complaining.

  • Bored2death

    The thing in 2D productions is that a lot is expected from board artists to provide as much information as possible and as clean as possible to be re-used by outsourced studios oversea, that’s why flash (before) and toonboom (now) are favored to allow the files to be shared from a department to another.

    In feature there’s so much reworking, re-pitching and story development that cleaning up would be a waste of precious time, there’s layout and animation to flesh out those boards.
    There’s also the fact that boards would inform the necessary amount of art assets to be built accordingly, you sometimes wouldn’t always have enough references to use if you’re working alongside or before the concept artists. Each studio would have its dedicated pipeline I suppose, can’t speak for all of them.

    It really comes down to who’s checking up your work and what’s his appreciation of the medium, some clients would expect a near-finished look and have contempt for rough off model sketches (yet clear) while a seasoned director would get it and pass it on to the next stage to move on.

    People might provide better insight from the bigger studios.

  • Fluffydips

    So Alex is a hack like everyone says he is?

    • Tad Stones

      The opposite, kinda. He was attempting to do something really special. But if he was writing overly long scripts and the production isn’t adding time to allow for his artistic method – it was inexperience on his part and unfair on the part of the production.

      • Fluffydips

        I’m mad now that I know Gravity Falls didn’t reach it’s maximum potential.

        • Tad Stones

          I think it did. The point is he was allowed to push past normal ways of working. The downside was that production didn’t stretch to make it happen in a reasonable way. Artists put in all sorts of extra work to make it.

  • Mark

    Generally speaking most producers want working boards, they don’t need to be “art book” clean, just clear and well staged. Especially true for 3D animated shows. FLASH is a different story, they need to be tighter especially since they’re sent overseas and followed to the letter. I suggest when applying for a gig, tailor your samples to the gig. For TV which needs to be banged out don’t show highly detailed and clean feature boards otherwise that’s what they’ll expect. Avoid the projects expecting you to do an animatic unless compensated for it.

  • Mark

    yup, like most TV productions the deadlines not only squeeze the artist but also extract the joy from the work. I often produce boards for 22 min episodes in around 6-8 weeks with maybe 1-2 weeks for revisions. I am also an animator (2D) and lost my love of it from the tight deadlines meaning I could never produce a quality that I was able to enjoy, and now that’s happening with boards. Extreme deadlines and low pay have ruined my love of the industry and it’s heartbreaking, especially given the decades of my life I’ve dedicated to it. But sadly studios don’t care and will just pass that pain on to the next recent grad to squeeze dry, toss aside and the cycle continues. I once had to work with a dislocated finger, eventually having to pay another artist friend to help me finish out of my own pocket just to meet deadline and received no thanks. This industry is a disaster and it’s totally heart breaking.

  • “No display of storytelling skills” That’s a laugh. You must not have even looked in the comics section to come to that conclusion. Check out Ali’s World, or any other sequential pieces before you make any judgments on my skill level hmmm? (none of my boards are posted -non disclosure and all that) Storyboards are something I am fairly new to. (I am currently working on my fourth board project) I come from a comic illustration background, so while some of my skills are easily transferrable, other aspects present a steep learning curve. I’m not trolling, I was genuinely surprised because speed is something I THOUGHT I was lacking, and this article showed me I shouldn’t be so worried about it as I am considerably faster than what is considered industry standard. I’m sorry you felt insulted, that was not my intention.

    • hash

      I apologize for people hurling insults your way, but you have to remember that the expectations of storyboard artists vary heavily in the field. This problems in general pertains more to storyboard artists working in the television industry at big studios. Lots of people can draw loose storyboard panels within minutes, but I think it would be rare to find someone who can stay on model at that speed. Some productions ask for more draftsmanship than others, and it sounds like what you’re working on asks for something a lot more loose. Like a previous commenter said, I don’t think you’re in the right conversation.

  • Jsquared

    Complete backgrounds is definitely a lot to ask, going above and beyond. However, as someone who works in BG builds (2D) please do give us something to work with (more than just a horizon line). Even if it’s just a couple of elements that give an indication of where the characters are in the environment. Spending a half hour trying to figure out where everyone is in a scene, then trying to communicate that to your team, AND then repeating it for multiple scenes is mentally draining. After breaking down a board with little to no BG ref in it I am basically a zombie for the following day.

    • Harvey Rothman

      The layout departments for the pretty backgrounds. Storyboards, focussing on the storyboard, just need what’s important.

  • All so true. I hate Toon Boom, it’s just a way for the dept. that made animatics to loose their jobs and pile more work on the storyboard artist! If the board artist is expected to do all the extra work that Toon Boom requires they should be paid more and given more time! The way it is now the pay is the eway it was before Toon Boom.

    • It’s not Toon Boom’s fault that schedules are crunched and the process misunderstood.

  • “A 25-year veteran of the TV animation industry recently sat down to
    figure out the average amount of time it takes to draw a board panel.” If they are a 25 year veteran, they probably use outdated methods.

    • FM Hansen

      Please tell me you’re joking.

      • If they think wanna use a pencil and paper they are using outdated methods

        • Storyboarding is about communicating. You use whatever tools the job calls for. I work in Photoshop. Flash, and Toonboom. I find that a mixture drawing in pencil, adjusting in Photoshop or Preview and importing into Toonboom is currently the fastest and most expedient when I need the boards to also act as layout for the animators and I have a very tight deadline. I would suggust you don’t diss a tool just because you don’t use it.

          • ya I was just trying to start trouble

        • Karim

          Chris Sanders or Robert Valley would probably come across as outdated in your book…
          Don’t mistake “method” for “tool”.

  • AmidAmidi

    No more comments on Jon Hammond’s sub-thread will be approved. This is not a discussion about one random person’s skills; keep the discussion focused.

  • Carina Kim

    Pfft the storyboards we get from LA sometimes at my studio are so beyond lazy…sometimes just straight up scribbles or lack of information. Someone over there is seriously getting paid more than us to scribble…Well at least we get to punch up and make the animation better but yea..more work is more work. That said there are some storyboards who I feel are being taken advantage of and doing things waaay out of their job description. Just like how animators nowadays have to be character,tradition, layout and composite artists.

  • TKeen

    This is a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. There are rough panels, cleaned-up panels, and panels in line-art, colour, and greyscale. Panels for animated shows and also panels for live-action movies with lots of CGI. Also, let’s throw in the highly finished full-colour panels that are done for advertising agency pitches…nice lucrative work if you can get it.

  • Daniel

    Nothing will change unless everyone sticks their neck out and drops their pencils. Including those around the world. Even the union has their hands tied if the union members are unwilling to go to strike for it. Change won’t happen unless everyone demands for it.

  • sick of it

    I had to negotiate with the producer to get 6 weeks instead of 5… for a 22 minute show. Clearly we are getting screwed. I wonder how many weeks are in the budget.