Friday, March 23, 2007

Writing for Cartoons 5a: animation: Keep it simple and short! Misconceptions of animation "writers"

Here are a couple of major misconceptions that animation scriptwriters have:

1) Animation scripts should be longer than live action scripts
This is from someone's webpage where she is trying to sell you a book on how to write cartoons.

"How to Write Animation Scripts

In writing animation scripts, there are two pages written for one minute of viewing time. This is done because you have to call the camera directions, angles, and scenes. In contrast, when writing cinematic scripts, you write one page of script for each minute.

That's why many cinematic scripts with live action run 90 pages in length for 90 minutes of viewing. With animation scripts, a 12 minute script runs about 24 pages in length." Yikes!!!

It's actually the complete opposite. Animation writing should be short, because you have artists to fill out the visual details. Animation scripts are always too long and storyboard artists have to draw hundreds of extra scenes just to have them all cut out by the studio when they figure out that the show is too long.

Sometimes the whole show gets animated before the producers figure out they have wasted a hundred thousand dollars animating 10 minutes that doesn't fit into the half hour. This happens all the time and it seems no one will tell the writers to write shorter scripts. (I've done it myself and learned my lesson now!)

Every script page equals about 2 minutes of screen time, the way animation writers write.

2) You can write tons of complicated actions and details into cartoons because it's easy for someone else to draw it

Complicated backgounds and scenery:


as they enter a brightly lighted room. There is a huge swimming pool surrounded by classical Roman and Greek statues. The pool

is rimmed by turquoise, blue and white mosaic tile. There are

tall, gothic windows. The white marble statues circle the large, kidney-shaped pool. The walls are tiled in the blue, white and turquoise fleur-de-lis mosaic tile. The pool has an open skylight

roof--an atrium where the sun's rays shine down into the pool

to show hazy beams of light."

Millions of characters to animate:


That statue's pointing to the light


The two scramble in the direction the statue is pointing.

They stumble upon a huge aviary filled with the eaglets

and other very rare birds, including blue macaws, green parrots, red cardinals, etc. The aviary is perched on a ledge high on the

stalagmites and under the stalagtites. Brainy climbs up on the

ledge and unlocks the birdcage door.


Okay eaglets and other birds.

You're free now, and big enough to fly away home.

All the BIRDS make an exit from the huge cage, except for the

eaglets. They look up sadly and vulnerable at PICKLES."


PICKLES takes the bracelet from Fledgling's outstretched wing and punches a white button on the bracelet. It lights up and pulsates for a moment. Then in an explosion of light, all the

statues are restored to life. The statues run free in all directions, cheering and shouting.


as all statues with the exception of TWO scatter to the light at the end of the cave.


(scattering wildly)

We're free at last,

after all these years."

Here's a real dandy scene to animate:

"Suddenly a travelling mound of black CROWS and toucans approach from the east. From the west a mountain of HAWKS approach the battle from the west, each aimed at a head-on collision with HAWK's flying dinosaur bird. These two humongous clouds of BIRDS both speed into shot at the same time with GARGAMEL caught in the middle as the two giant flocks of birds are headed for collision.


Look! Up in the sky.

It's every bird in the land.

PICKLES points to the tornado of birds, now turned into a cycloning whirlwind of two different flocks. Then that becomes four flocks, eight flocks. The entire sky fills with flocks of all different types of BIRDS."

This person needs to be locked in a room with a pencil for 3 years until she finishes animating this one scene.

Wait, she's not finished!!



Just before they hit the tops of the trees a thick flock of TOUCANS suddenly rise from the Parrotberry Treetops and berry bushes and rise up to the occasion forming a thick crazyquilt of colored, feather carpet that allows PICKLES and PAPA YELLOW NAPE to float on this magical carpet of TOUCAN'S wings. The TOUCANS carry Parrotberries in their beaks as they head for home.


as they ride the carpet of toucans slowly floating to land in front of their own home."

The responsible way to write for animation is to keep the average amount of characters down to 2 per scene. Especially in TV animation. More characters per scene equals less time to animate each character. This results in cheaper faster crappier animation and no personality animation at all.

Of course in order to write a cartoon about 2 characters, you'd have to understand how to write for personality, and I've yet to meet a non artist who could write believable, entertaining characters.

Hey, all you storyboard artists and animators, feel free to add your horror stories in the comments!