Incorporating a three-dimensional property like depth into a two-dimensional plane (a storyboard for example) can be difficult, but there are some tips and tricks to help create the illusion of depth.

Depth is always illusory in a 2-D space (photos, drawings), which are flat. Our brains are built for 3-D environments though. They take cues from lighting, shadows size, and angles in order to interpret our distance to objects, and we can apply these tricks to a 2-D medium with perspective, thereby tricking our brains into seeing distance and depth in a storyboard.

3-D = Width x Length x Depth (or Height x Width x Length)

2-D = Length x Width

Create Depth by Manipulating Size

When looking at our surroundings, optics cause objects in the distance to appear smaller, while those which are closer in the foreground to appear larger. Our brains use context to distinguish between objects that are small, and objects that are far away. Similarly, objects that are very close take up a large portion of our vision, but we don’t usually mistake them for being extra large.

Making items huge and cropping them implies that the camera/viewer is right next to them. Look at the catcher in the example below.

The line of sight is the intended eye level in a piece of work, and is an important element of composition. It helps determine perspective and distance through lines of sight that converge at a vanishing point. In practice, an object above the line of sight will be smaller the further away they are from the line. Conversely, items below the line will appear larger the further they are from the line.

As you can see, the baseball players are smaller in proportion to their distance above the red line, while the baseball player below the line is substantially larger.

Create Depth with Color

If you’ve ever looked across a long distance, at a mountain range, ocean, or winding road, you’ve probably noticed that distant objects appear lighter and more blurred. This effect is called atmospheric perspective, and it is caused by the quantity of air between the viewer and the viewed object. Pretty cool, right?

Using this information, you can give the appearance of distance by coloring objects meant to appear far away with lighter tones and faded hues.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Create Depth with Detail

Standard human vision is pretty good at capturing detail, but regardless of how keen your eyes are, it is impossible to see every minute detail. Things that are farther away appear to have less detail, while those that are close are crisp and clear.

This allows a storyboarder to portray distance by using more detailed characters and objects in the foreground of scenes, and using silhouettes or simpler objects in the background.

See how using silhouettes make the kids fall into the background, and brings out the character in the front? This is also useful when trying to show focus in a scene.

Although these tips are each good on their own, the best results will be achieved by combining all three. Try them out to add a little extra dimension to your storyboards!

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