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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

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  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz
Wednesday
Jun152011

What I Do With My iPad Part 1: Storyboarding

There’s an iPad stylus review buried in here. But first, some background on why I’m so excited to be storyboarding on a tablet.

As I detailed in The DV Rebel’s Guide, storyboards don’t have to be immaculately drawn to be effective. Which is lucky for me, because I have let wither whatever drawing ability I once had. To me, the boarding process is about flow. I need a tool that allows me to bang out my ideas as they come. For as long as I can remember, that’s been printed storyboard templates and a mechanical pencil. That’s how I whip up my “thumbnail boards,” which are usually stick figures, arrows, and incomprehensible squiggles.

This process is then followed by a rather ugly chore of scanning, cleaning up, and cropping in Photoshop.

To speed the process and avoid the manual labor, I’ve tried using various storyboarding systems and software, including ClipSketch and Storyboards on the iPad and SketchUp on my laptop, but I always come back to the simple, expressive basics of hand-drawn boards. They may be simple, but they’re my simple, and the camera angles I draw are never limited by what clip art I had on hand.

In the early days of the iPad, one of the first apps I bought was Penultimate by Cocoa Box Design. Penultimate was designed to be your digital Moleskine notebook, a simple and elegant blank page on which to doodle, sketch, or write. Whether it was the elegance of the app or the fluidity of the pseudo-pressure-sensitive drawing, Penultimate earned a permanent place on the front screen of my iPad.

I approached the developer, Ben Zotto, about my desire to use Penultimate for storyboarding. The app then offered a selection of three paper styles; plain, lined, and graph. Rather than myopically suggesting he add storyboarding templates, a rather niche use case, I suggested that it might be of general interest to his users to allow custom papers. I must not have been the only one thinking this, because just this May, Ben released Penultimate 3.0 with exactly that feature. He even used a film storyboard as his example.

Why is Penultimate, a simple, general-purpose notebook app, the best iPad storyboarding tool? Turns out there’s a critical mass of features that add up to awesome: 

  • Custom templates (papers)
  • Delete, re-order, and duplicate pages in a lovely thumbnail view
  • The best “feel” of any iPad drawing app (especially with a stylus, see below)
  • Just the right number of ink colors (almost, see below)
  • Easy PDF export of all or just some of your pages

The DV Rebel often repurposes tools from other disciplines. Penultimate is a great example of filmmaking software that isn’t just for filmmaking. I’m so fired up about my new storyboarding workflow that I’m sharing my Prolost storyboarding templates.

There are templates for HD aspect ratio and ‘scope, portrait and landscape. The landscape ones come in variations featuring a rule-of-thirds grid and a “blackout” look. Tap these links on your iPad and they’ll open in Penultimate.

Prolost Scope

Prolost Scope Grid

Prolost Scope Blackout

Prolost Scope Verbose

Prolost Scope Triple

Prolost HD

Prolost HD Grid

Prolost HD Blackout

Prolost HD Verbose

Prolost HD Double

Some tips:

  • You can change papers anytime as you’re working. So, for example, you could switch the thirds grid on and off as needed.
  • Most of the HD templates have a corresponding layout in the ‘scope aspect, so you can see how your shots will look framed for either format by switching papers.
  • You can choose whether the paper pattern is exported with the drawings or not.
  • You can choose which pages get exported when saving/sharing a PDF.
  • Landscape mode is not as slick as it should be when re-ordering pages or exporting. On the Mac, you can use Preview to rotate your pages to the correct orientation and re-save the PDF.
  • To make your own template, make a black-on-white PNG file at 718 by 865 pixels, and save it to your iPad’s Photo Library. You can then import it in the Papers popover menu.

Aside from better landscape support, what’s missing from Penultimate? Not much. The app allows single frames to be saved and shared as JPEGs, but only allows multi-page export as PDF. For my workflow, I’d occasionally like to export a series of JPEGs. I’d also like just one more pen color: a barely-there gray for roughing-in a drawing before refining it in black or dark gray.

The Boxwave Capacitive Stylus and the Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad

If you’re going to be drawing on your iPad, you’re going to want a stylus. I’ve owned three, the PogoSketch, the BoxWave, and Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus for iPad.

The Pogo Sketch is affordable enough to buy just to decide if you like using a stylus with your iPad. It’s also available at most Apple retail stores, although you’ll have to ask for it — it’s not on display.

The BoxWave is almost as affordable as the Pogo, but I found it to be much better. It’s small, as these things seem pathologically intent on being, and light. But the rubber tip gives a great drawing feel on the iPad screen, and it features a clever tether with a plastic plug at the end that fits in your tablet’s headphone jack, which improves your chances of actually having the dang thing with you when inspiration strikes.

Wacom makes the wonderful and not inexpensive tablets and Cintiq pen displays, so leave it to them to come out with a premium capacitive stylus. Their Bamboo Stylus for iPad is the most expensive one I considered. It’s got a nice heft, it’s long enough for grown-ups, and it has the finest tip I’ve seen on an iPad stylus — which may or may not mean anything tangible, but it just seems to feel better in use.

Expensive things are expensive. But to me, a $10 stylus that I never use is more expensive than a $30 that I love and use often. The Bamboo is by far my favorite and worth every penny it cost, and every day I waited for it to arrive.

What do you do with all these drawings once they’re done? You might consider dropping them into Storyboard Composer (UPDATE: Now available for iPad as Storyboard Composer HD) or build an interactive presentation of them in Keynote or the excellent Portfolio (all of which would be much easier with multi-page JPEG output). You might bring them into After Effects or your favorite NLE to cut them into an animatic. Our you might just work with them as a PDF or a printout. Whatever you do, I think you’ll find that drawing storyboards on your iPad is finally ready to replace paper and pencil.

See also: What I Do With My iPad Part 2: Write With a Keyboard

Reader Comments (27)

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Stu. These templates are great, and your recommendation of Penultimate ends my quest for a sketching app for my iPad.
Thanks also for suggesting an option for styluses! I think I'll go for the Bamboo, just 'cause i trust Wacom's experience with stylus design.
Funny story: The last time I brought my iPad with me on the train to sketch, I was in a rush, forgot my stylus, and inadvertently came up with a DV Rebel option from my lunch box: a baby carrot. I kid you not, the "tip" felt natural and organic, and though I had to toss it by lunchtime, it gave me pretty decent control.

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterDan Alejandro

Awesome post. The best thing is that until now I wasn't interested in getting an iPad. But now... I REALLY WANT ONE so I can do storyboards!!!!

Great information Stu, thanks. And I'll be back to download all the templates when I get the iPad!!!!

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterJuan Falla

"early days of the iPad" :)

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterCraig Shields

Now you're going to make me get an iPad.

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Cha

Great info in this article!

I've been following and waiting (read: stalking) this company for a while now. Their storyboarding app looks great, but it's still not out:

http://www.sketchpad.ws/

There's a demo video on the site, but the damn thing hasn't been updated since February.

I'm going to check out Penultimate for now though.

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterArash Ayrom

Thanks for that link Arash. I remember seeing that "Coming Soon" page a while back and being excited by what I saw. If you look at @tikibone's recent tweets, you'll see a distinct pendulum swing between "almost there" and "oops, we're late." Apps are hard.

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterStu

Hi Stu,

Yeah, I'm just an over-excited kid waiting for Christmas!

Simultaneously, I'm a cranky old fart refusing to get on this Twitter thing...

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterArash Ayrom

PERFECT timing, Stu. All great info that'll really help me out on a project I was just getting ready to storyboard.

And the little details like your measurements of the paper to make HD and Scope swappable; nice touch.

Thanks again! Can't wait to see Part 2.

June 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterEvan Pease

You can also try out Bamboo Paper which is designed specifically for the stylus, at the minute it is free to EU customers on the app store, not sure about US but the regular price is still cheap anyway. here is the link for EU store.

http://bit.ly/jtVdFb

I'm sure someone can stick up a US link.

June 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterFat Elvis

Thanks Fat, here's Bamboo Paper on the US App Store.

I realize that some people see a huge difference between free and $2, but to me they are almost indistinguishable. I used to pay more than that for a blank floppy. There are some great free apps out there, but if there's a paid app that does more of what you need, my advice is to buy it with great joy in your heart that you are both supporting a developer who like what you like, and getting a screaming deal.

June 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterStu

As always, great analysis, Stu!

Thanks for the templates. Any chance you could .zip up and post the original images so expedite the download and setup process?

June 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterBob Marquis

Thanks Bob! I could do that, but I don't think it would make the process any easier. With the links above, the papers open directly in Penultimate, already named. If I posted the PNG files, you'd have to unzip them, get them into your iPad photo library, import them one at a time in Penultimate, and name them yourself.

June 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterStu

We just posted a beginner tutorial on using Adobe After Effects to do basic storyboarding at http://vimeo.com/25010816 that might be of interest to some of your readers who want to learn about parenting nulls to cameras, very basic expressions, 3D camera rigs etc. in AE.

June 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterSolie Swan

A digital moleskin which can do storyboarding...who would-a thunk it! Thanks for your usual attention to yet another app I can't live without....stop making me spend money...stop it! (that was a joke in case you are one of the many Americans who don't get irony).

Wouldn't it be great if the shot you can make was an ipad icing on the cake?...

June 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterAlan Eddy

great post, have been working with penultimate for a while and never thought about storyboarding - works great. I have a "just Mobile" stylus and while it is expensive the feel and weight are worth it. great site ... jstv

June 17, 2011 | Registered Commenterjack schommer

Hey Stu

I'm trying to upload these templates to my IPad but for some reason they won't open. I have version 3.01 of penultimate. WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL thanks for your time.

June 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterJohn Hale

No need to upload anything. Just visit this page from your iPad and tap the links.

June 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterStu

Thanks for the great info Stu. I picked up the bamboo Stylus. wow that is a slick feeling pen. Having a blast with my storyboards!

June 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterNick K

Hey Stu

I just got my iPad last week, and bought the bamboo stylus after reading this. I am impressed!

I like penultimate, but also like Sketchbook Pro (as i have used this on the mac with a Wacom tablet). I might get some templates made for that and post links (although won't be able to do it today).

I looked into the portfolio app - but some reviews said it was buggy. I emailed the dev who confirmed this, but said he was addressing it the next update.

The big thing that struck me, is that maybe Red Giant could do a great tool for the iPad for portfolios / boards. something that plays nice with dropbox, PSD files, apps like penultimate and Sketchbook pro

I would buy that - it would be good to know a decent size company was behind a tool that directors, screenwriters, comic-book artists, etc could all use to help them give birth to projects that can later be excuted.

June 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Roberts

also - if you could refer any other articles that recommend uses for Ipad I would greatly appreciate that

I am looking forward to part 2!

I also found that it was easiest to get your HD templates, export them and send them into Sketchbook Pro. Looks exactly the same

June 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Roberts

Hello again

Here are some storyboard templates for Sketchbook pro on the iPad - http://d.pr/9zdH

Some of them are just trescaled versions of Stu's. One came off a guy on the Sketchbook community page at Get Satisfaction

http://getsatisfaction.com/sketchbook

June 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Roberts

Just picked up the Bamboo Pen (based on some other reviews) and Penultimate. I'm still switching between Penultimate and Sketchup to see if more options are worth it or not. I like the flow of Penultimate and the evernote/dropbox connection.

Do you use a screen protector on your iPad? Saw a small note about it effecting the way pen operates. Mines an anti-glare, but I'd be willing to give it up if it made that much of a difference.

March 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterLuke McFadden

I prefer ridin' dirty.

March 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

Hey,

I remember how excited I was when I first read this post, I knew that I was destined to one day buy an iPad and a stylus. I think this Christmas it will finally happen.

Have your thoughts changed any about the various stylii (styluses?) you mentioned? Is the Bamboo still the gold-standard?

Thanks

November 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterBlair Dobbs

Yes, I still love the Bamboo—but also the Cosmonaut. If the idea of a more marker-like experience appeals to you, check it out!

November 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

Thanks for the update! My iPad came today, and my Bamboo stylus tomorrow. Very excited :-)

November 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterBlair Dobbs

This is incredible. Your templates are exactly what I've been after since I stumbled across Penultimate. I didn't even know custom paper was possible. Can't thank you enough for sharing. p.s. To anyone else trying and failing to load them on an iPad in Chrome - Use Safari. Thanks again.

March 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterOliver Kember
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