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!!!


http://www.newswriting.net/animation.htm


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:

"WIDE ON PAPA YELLOW NAPE, AND PICKLES

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:

" PAPA YELLOW NAPE

That statue's pointing to the light

ahead.

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.

PICKLES

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.

WIDER ON STATUES

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

STATUES

(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.

PICKLES

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!!

"CLOSER ON THICK FLOCK OF GREEN PARROTS FORMING A MAGIC CARPET

WITH THEIR UNDULATING, FLAPPING FEATHERS

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.

WIDER ON PICKLES and FLEDGLING

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!

67 comments:

ZSL said...

cringeworthy!

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

Holy crap!!!
I had some examples but ehy pale in comparison to these pages. Diabolical!
I wonder how that weasle over at animationwriters will spin this one.

Kali Fontecchio said...

AHHHH!!! Scary!!!


"I've yet to meet a non artist who could write believable, entertaining characters."

I barely know any artists who can even do that let alone a non-artist. Yeesh.

Sketch said...

Yeah, my lady and I are "writing" a cartoon kind of using the "retroscripting" method like how they use on Aqua Teen Hunger Force...but with better animation techniques though.

Gabriel said...

i always believed what you said, john, but i never thought it was that bad, i'm flabbergasted...

Justin said...

Is it worth the price to hire hit men to have these kind of people eliminated?

The answer is yes.

Mebbo said...

Horror stories: Disneytoons division writers were PERMANENTLY guilty of over-complicating their screenplays.

Lion King 1.5 - a re-shoot of Simba's annointing, from a different pov. From pride rock, we see EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THAT CROWD OF ANIMALS BOWING IN A WAVE. WHILE PANNING.
You don't want to KNOW how thick that scene folder was. Needed a trolley to carry it.

Lady & Tramp II - Fourth of July turn-of-the-century picnic. Crowds of people in huge hats, ornate outfits and wearing stripey pennants, scarves, sashes and balloons. Add in a massive carriage drawn by 4 Clydesdales ALSO wearing stripey decorations as well as their saddlery = just one of many reasons why I hated working on that movie.

The Disneytoons sequels had a nasty habit of swapping directors half-way through, mostly because executives probably didn't think enough fancy camerawork was being used. All of a sudden, half-way through Jungle Book 2, every second shot had camera moves added and a shitload of footage had to have singles added or the layout changed. ARGH!

paul etcheverry said...

The writer in the example appears to have gotten lost in external trappings and completely forgotten his/her objective. What does all this crap with the settings and birds have to do with furthering the story?

Of course, it's possible to harken back to the old days and find tons of examples similar to this - and in many cases from films guided by gifted animators. The phenomenon of "let's just make tons of characters, elaborate colorful backgrounds/foregrounds and crowd scenes" was particularly rampant in the 30's, especially in the "Silly Symphony wannabee" cartoons.

To cite the opposite extreme, I find what Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin and Chuck Jones did with two character scenes (too many cogent examples to list) and soliloquys (BOOK REVUE, DUCK AMUCK, etc.), often with just a bright color for a background, inspiring.

JohnK said...

Hi Paul

Disney was definitely guilty of the more and harder equals quality syndrome and he had to spend a fortune and a ton of time to deliver it.

But what would anyone rather watch, a Sissy Symphony, or a Bugs Bunny?

JohnK said...

...plus both approaches were completely planned out by artists on storyboards, so they knew what they were getting themselves into.

Anonymous said...

I read the illusion of life and its true what you say about Frank and Ollie disparaging anything "cartoony", For them the goal seems to be recreating reality and all sorts of physics and ultra technical junk. Cartoons are supposed to be more than reality not a pale imitation of it. I remember trying to do a diabolical expression once (eyebrow raised, sinister smile) as a joke and it didnt really work, then I realized id need to be a cartoon character to pull it off.

Tommy said...

I worked as a writer on various animated projects and yes, I was told to write in that way with endless descriptions of backgrounds and hordes of characters to animate. At the end of the day I would just see papers filled with meaningless, lifeless black letters. It really sucked a lot of the fun out of cartoons for me.

I remember thinking, "Do the artists REALLY have to draw ALL of this?"

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

This is a subject close to my heart since I've "boarded for the wastebasket", i.e., boarded overly long scripts where much of the board had to be thrown away for time, on many projects.

Writers simply will not write to a proper length. I know why they do it, it's because it takes longer to write a tight short script than it does to write a long script. Editing takes time and they simply don't want to be bothered with it.

I should mention that writers are always freelancing on other projects and they have a self-imposed time limit on the amount of time they're willing to devote to their day job.

Writers will say that they need long scripts in order to play out subplots and tie up loose ends. It never seems to occur to them that the subplots shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Writers will plead that they have no choice given the number of characters in the series but who put the characters there? Writers! They often pitch the show, they write the story bibles!

There's more to say but that'll do for a start.

crsP said...

I bet you'd like to ride her 'carpet of toucans'. Get your mind out of the gutter. Sick-o.

Anonymous said...

What in the world!? who is this crazy lady? is she legit? i wonder if she's just a quak selling books online.

Mike said...

When I was in high school we animated for the california farm bureau four to five minute shorts based on one page stories not written for animation. No one was trying to stretch the running time!

Gavin Freitas said...

Yeah this sounds familiar to me. A client approached me for some animation she needed once and she had a list of detail similiar to your post here. I sent her a quote and she flipped her lid. She was like, "What are you talking about?" "Animators should be able to finish this in just a few days of work". This is kind of silly but I'm just figuring out that corperate people have NO idea how to animate, or how it even works. She eventually told me that she would go over seas for the job instead. Ok lady, good luck trying to get some poor kid to animate a complex scene that runs about 5 minutes in length done in 2 days! If your an animator who can do this let me know.. I would like to shake your hand. Good post, sorry about ranting. That one has been in me for a couple of months........

Peggy said...

"There's no director in animation who will put in the camera angles on your script or other directions. No one will stage your action other than you."

I was going to say something snarky about this but, um, everything says itself.

Also this person is blathering on about putting your LIFE STORY into things. Which is all well and good but they seem to have had a life consisting of (1) parrots and (2) watching bad movies.

come to think of it, there was a proposal I came close to being involved in tarting up at one point that consisted of (1) the author's cats and (2) a bunch of cliches out of every crappy cartoon and bad movie.

also, the page gets deeper and deeper into kook territory as you scroll down - check out the giant image with text about "I am a dramaturg" with a weird interlude of cats on textiles! And a book about CATS ON A SPACE STATION.

I really hope this lady's never actually written any animation scripts that were foisted upon unsuspecting cartoonists. Not without plenty of money to buy whiskey to ease the pain.

anibator said...

Dear god in heaven how I wish this weren't all entirely true.

Hector Cortez said...

mebbo,

Can you please tell Disney to stop making crappy sequels to their classics?

Thanks. ;-)

FLAMINGPINECONE said...

By the time that person wrote the script, an artist could've just drawn the damn background and it turn out alot better.

I'm far from professional but when i've written, it's mainly to bang out dialog and to have my ideas centered for a storyboard.

Ugh, it's so stupid.

Anonymous said...

what are s curves?

Anonymous said...

what do you think of don hertzfeldt?

paul etcheverry said...

Disney started that "more complex, more difficult and more realistic equals quality" trend pretty early, when the Silly Symphonies transitioned to color in 1932.

Disney, Harman and Ising were probably the worst offenders, but, as almost every studio in the industry tried to follow suit, you even see it in the lower budget cartoon producers. Tex Avery and the Termite Terrace bunch deserve a lot of credit for challenging the conventional wisdom.

I'd take a pre-1955 Bugs Bunny over just about anything, including the better Silly Symphonies and many ambitious animated features. Bugs Bunny cartoons, especially the 1940's ones, have amazing two character sequences (Tex Avery's HECKLING HARE is especially good, and truly jam-packed with Bob McKimson and Rod Scribner goodness). And I find lots of surreal and strange cartoons from Fleischer and the even less chi-chi B-studios way more interesting than the weaker Silly Symphonies.

Must confess that in the early 90's, I submitted a script for a poorly written Saturday morning series a friend was working on. In retrospect, I'm glad the series was given to a different studio (and cancelled soon afterwards) shortly after I finished writing. . . I may well have ended up becoming one of those folks posters here would have dearly loved to push in front of a firing squad sans cigarette and blindfold.

My experience convinced me that a written script, in itself, cannot create anything remotely resembling a decent cartoon. It was absolutely clear that a script could never substitute for storyboards. Now as a most skeletal framework, a springboard for spirited and unfettered brainstorming, a free-flowing jam session of capucchino-fueled animators, artists, directors and other assorted crazy people - resulting in a PORKY THE WRESTLER-DAFFY DOC-ization of the various sequences and excellent, damn funny storyboards - perhaps a script could be a useful starting point.

In addition, back then, Saturday morning series were under fairly severe and inexplicable restrictions, which seemed diametrically opposed to creating something funny. If you made a PORKY THE WRESTLER or THE DAFFY DOC, it would be scrapped as "too violent" or "inappropriate for children". But that's another story and I'm sure plenty of you have anecdotes to share about that.

abwinegar said...

Multiple choice question:

After the head writer read the script to the animators, that had to animate this script. They...

(A) They all said, "Boy, It sure sounds good on paper, don't it. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Seriously, where's the script."

(B) They all took turns beating the crap out of him.

(C) Many of the animators jumped to their deaths, like lemmings.

(D) They took the script and now the head writer walks funny.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently an animation student, and even if I'm not out in the industry yet I'm having problems with these people.

It's incredibly worrisome when people much like this woman are TEACHING STORYBOARDING CLASSES.

I'm still in awe that my "storyboarding" class was taken up nearly entirely by script writing. We didn't actually get to the drawing part until the last two weeks of the class. What we learned that animation is created by writing long, convoluted scripts then trying to work them into a two-minute short. By the time the professor was done with ideas that, if taken from premise and outline straight to drawing would had been fun shorts, were rather 7-10 page scripts that had lost all of their character through extra lard that adds absolutely nothing to the ending piece. Then again, this woman was using Shrek as an example of good animation and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle script from the 80's as a prime example of how to write for animation.

The character design book that she assigned to us makes things from the Fairly Oddparents look like Chuck Jones by comparison. Which doesn't make any sense, since it lays out and explains staging and construction and lines of action - then proceeds to show tacky, unappealing, pointlessly angular designs with nearly no siloettes or LOA as examples.

Pretty much all of the animation students who were under her hated her and the class. I still feel like I've wasted my money on her.

There is good news to this, however: this lady was fired after the semester I was in. Her replacement, as I've heard through friends in his class, is excellent and puts heavy emphasis on drawing and storyboarding your ideas rather than writing it out, and is having the students study classic animation from the Golden Age. I like to think of this as a small victory.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't come close to the example you posted but here's a memorable horror story from freelancing on a show circa 1990:

The writer was also the producer,and tho i never met him he was clearly out of his mind. this was a TV TINY TOONS wannabe (imagine wanting that) that featured a retarded big dog and a smug little kitten (a bad rehash of Chuck Jones' FEED THE KITTY duo).

To make it "edgy" they gave the dog the voice and personality of Dustin Hoffman in RAIN MAN, so the script was full of Dustin Hoffman jokes. I repeat: Dustin Hoffman jokes. The first gag called for the dog to leap out of an airplane and "runs down the beach a la Ratso Rizzo in his Miami fantasy in MIDNIGHT COWBOY."

I stared at the page in total disbelief. How on earth is this funny? And to who? No kid (nor most of their parents) would even know the source of the reference (and i hate reference humor enough already) and even if they did what makes the scene he referenced funny in the movie is the CONTEXT: in MIDNIGHT COWBOY the Ratso character is a sleazy homeless cripple and in his fantasy he sees himself as suave, athletic and desirable. Simply mimicking the scenes with a cartoon dog was a waste of paper, time and energy.

On page two the duo meet their villain: "a burly fur trapper who sounds oddly like Ross Perot." Oh Margaret, stop youre killing me...

I won't bore you with the rest. The director was a friend so i somehow got through it but I wanted to vomit the whole time. I never saw the cartoon but a few stifling moments from the series scorched my senses a few years later and it was as rotten as I could have imagined.

Anonymous said...

even though the designs and colours suck you still have to admit that the level of technical skill involved in movies like space jam is far beyond that of guys like jones and clampett

Mr. Semaj said...

Multiple choice question:

After the head writer read the script to the animators, that had to animate this script. They...

(A) They all said, "Boy, It sure sounds good on paper, don't it. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Seriously, where's the script."

(B) They all took turns beating the crap out of him.

(C) Many of the animators jumped to their deaths, like lemmings.

(D) They took the script and now the head writer walks funny.


If it wered allowed, I'd go for choice B. LOL

I could read the passage that John posted 10 times, and still wouldn't know what the **** is going on.

But to be honest, I've been doing fanfiction for a long time, and have tried writing stories with both sketches and scripts. Both often took weeks, but what a load of crap I went thru with the scripting process; when came the day I started using ONLY scripts, for more than mere outlines, I came up with stories that were MUCH longer than they were supposed to be; my last attempt had nearly 30 pages of nothing but WORDS! In comparision, using sketches gave me a more coherent story with no more than 10 pages of words. Many of my sketched stories came from weeks, sometimes months, drawing sequences before finally putting them into words.

Before I get yelled at, remember this IS fanfiction! It's still more preferable drawing sketches, because you're doing with copyrighted characters stuff that they'd NEVER allow on the actual show.

Mebbo said...

Can you please tell Disney to stop making crappy sequels to their classics?


Okay, I'll keep this as short as possible because I detect a very strong anti-Disney whiff around here sometimes and I'd rather keep my head down.
Not all the sequels sucked. I worked on plenty of them and some of them I am very proud of and think they came out very well (the Lion King sequels, Return to Neverland, Bambi II - even Cinderella 3 is actually very good for what it probably cost). I'm not gonna start ranting about the purists who say all sequels are crap on general principle without ever seeing one, because I know I'll never win.

But to answer your question - as far as I know, there'll be no more sequels after Mermaid III. I COULD be proven wrong, though.
Right now, they're concentrating on the Disney Fairies.

Gabriel said...

even though the designs and colours suck you still have to admit that the level of technical skill involved in movies like space jam is far beyond that of guys like jones and clampett

go see a doctor! Seriously, it's just that roger rabbit shadows tricking you. Pay attention to the right stuff!

John A said...

"even though the designs and colours suck you still have to admit that the level of technical skill involved in movies like space jam is far beyond that of guys like jones and clampett"

What the FUCK are you talking about? First of all, animation is all about the drawing, if the colors and the designs suck, you've already got 2 major strikes against you. What technical skill are you referring to? The fact that all of the weightless and unfunny characters are covered in photoshop goo? What good is any of that shadow and highlight crap if it fails to define the form? Ideally in animation you want the weight and volume defined by the way the object moves, not by some arbitrary light source chosen by a live action director. An animated figure should have 2 dimensional clarity, which is why the most successful characters have the simplest color schemes-to eliminate any thing that would be distracting to the viewer. After Roger Rabbit this stupid practice started creeping into theatrical cartoons that didn't combine live action and animation as well. In most cases, all this additional shadowing ruins good animation and makes bad animation with no clarity even worse. Jones and Clampett drew cartoons with clearly defined personalities that were expressed with good solid drawing principles and movement that reinforced the characters personality and thought process. They understood TIMING-how to create the illusion that a character is occupying a space and moving through that space in a believable (not necessarily realistic)way within an intuitively arrived at parameter of time. Space Jam was nice if your dream was to watch a bunch of cartoon characters play basketball just like a living breathing athlete.To those of us who actually like to watch Looney Tunes, that film was like having a red hot poker shoved into our eyes.

To those of you operating under the delusion that shadows automatically equal good, Jones did a few cartoons early in his career that had lots of shadows, and they are the dreariest things you'll ever want to suffer through.when he stopped obsessing over unimportant things, he directed all his attention on making the characters funny, in their attitudes, their poses, their thought process (very important!!)and their actions.

BTW- most of the character art in Space Jam was crap- in an attempt the make Bugs look more 3-D, they drew him overly round,making him a very bloated bunny in most of his scenes.The shadows just made him look like he had been dipped in oil.For all the technical goo they slopped on him, he still looked flat and unappealing.

Anonymous said...

what all you simpletons dont understand is that its not that pop culture references in themselves are funny, its the Postmodern genius of juxtaposing highbrow references to oscar winning movies with something as trivial as a cartoon that makes them funny

Barx said...

I've worked on 6 1/2 minute shows were the board artists were getting 16 page scripts!
After a few months on the project the writing team were finally convinced to drop the number of pages.
We got 12 pages......done in a smaller font.

John A said...

"... its the Postmodern genius of juxtaposing highbrow references to oscar winning movies with something as trivial as a cartoon that makes them funny"

But when the reference is an R-rated film that, one would hope, is beyond the frame of reference of the target audience, why bother doing it at all? That said, I don't see anything wrong with a writer being "inspired" by a scene from a film and using it in away that serves the story rather than attempt to copy it outright and claim it's a parody like they do with the "Scary Movie" series or "Family Guy". Write for your characters, make them more interesting than your lame attempts at parody.

Anonymous said...

Can we get back some drawing fundamentals? I think everyone get's your point - long scripts are bad and storyboards are good. You made that pont several posts ago.

Let's get back to color and line and form, the stuff we all love. Things that make us feel good, not helpless complainers. How about a hot chick drawing lesson? Or some anatomy. Even Gags. How do you get the guys going on a gag session? Are they just all nuts already?

This is a gold mine and I hope that lady doesn't sue you.

IRONY ALERT said...

My nose senses some tounge-in-cheek humor from anonymous sources on this board.

what all you simpletons dont understand is that its not that pop culture references in themselves are funny, its the Postmodern genius of juxtaposing highbrow references to oscar winning movies with something as trivial as a cartoon that makes them funny

Anonymous said...

John, you and your friends should make a 3 minute cartoon thats the best thing ever, let a 22 year old hipster type take credit for it, have him put it on youtube and when he gets a deal from cartoon network you can work as a puppetmaster

Anonymous said...

To the justly anonymous person who calls it "Postmodern genius" to arbitrarilly insert obscure scenes from Oscar winning movies into cartoons instead of actually thinking up original jokes, i can only pray that you are being ironic. Otherwise god help anyone who shares your sense of "humor."

Mr. Semaj said...

- as far as I know, there'll be no more sequels after Mermaid III.

If that's true, then that's all we want to know.

Anonymous said...

youre proud of those sequels mebbo?

David said...

The horror, the horror...

What a nightmare. How many neophyte wannabe writers will this person warp with this junk ? Some Googling around for "Anne Hart" finds her showing up on numerous self-published sites (vanity press and e-books) with a bio description like:

"Anne Hart – Writer / Producer
Author of 60 books, numerous plays and scripts."


Does anyone know if she's ever actually worked in animation or had other screenplays produced ? (I mean anyone can be the author of "numerous scripts"... all sitting on a shelf in the back of their closet, unproduced). Her published books appear to be mostly self-published. Nothing wrong with that ,but it hardly distinguishes her as someone who is qualified to be giving advice to people on how to write for animation.

Her ignorance and/or arrogance in statements such as :

"There's no director in animation who will put in the camera angles on your script or other directions. No one will stage your action other than you."

is just flabbergasting.

Who does she think all those other people are who work on those shows ?

The directors, storyboard artists, layout artists... all these people are the ones who should be visualizing the shots and setting the camera angles, to tell the story most effectively and to make sure the animator's job isn't over-complicated by extraneous characters or details that don't add any entertainment value.

I listened to her audio lecture on her site about Writing Screenplays For Animation and it sounds like all her references are from 15-to-20 years ago: she refers to shows such as Muppet Babies and "new children's shows" like Pee Wee's Playhouse, and she refers to studios like Marvel and Hanna-Barbera as if they still exist.

Anyone ever hear of an Anne Hart actually working in the industry back then ?

It doesn't really matter,whoever she is , because if the script she gives an example on her web site is any indication she is typical of the approach to animation that just about killed it off and still produces the worst examples of boring, talky, cheap looking animation.

Anonymous said...

anyone here have to deal with madeleine levesque over at teletoon?

JohnK said...

Sure. She was pretty good to me. Do you have stories?

Anonymous said...

<"what all you simpletons dont understand is that its not that pop culture references in themselves are funny, its the Postmodern genius of juxtaposing highbrow references to oscar winning movies with something as trivial as a cartoon that makes them funny">

A cartoon is only trivial when it depends on "juxtaposing" pop culture trivia for humor in the first place.This might have been "genius" the first time it was done (the 1940's or earlier), but you'd have to be living in wondernerdland to call people "simpletons" who are bored and disgusted by such lazy pseudo-entertainment. It's one thing for a FAMILY GUY, where the references will be broad and obvious enough for the intended "mature" audience to congratulate themselves for "getting", but when this sort of substitute humor plagues kids' cartoons it is purely masturbatory: in-jokes for the writers to tickle themselves with and leave kids scratching their heads. It is a waste of time for the studio, the artists who have to execute it and, most shamefully of all: the audience.

Peter said...

I thought you were making up the name "Papa Yellow Nape" until I went to that website. Rotten!

Anonymous said...

yeah, I watched old reruns of tiny toons and other shows and the jokes are just lame references to movies and pop culture that no child would understand and no adult would find clever meaning they were basicaly written for no one.

Id say that referencing the "you want the truth?" scene in a few good men, and using "thus spake zarusthura" as background music whenever something remotely epic happens are dead giveaways for hackwork

Anonymous said...

No hard feeling John, but I'd rather watch a "Sissy Symphony" than most Bugs Bunnys. True that many of the Symphonies recycled plots (for example the "smaller animal ganging up on bigger animal who tries to rape female smaller animal"), but there was more variety, and the animation was in general better (with the obvious exceptions of Bob Clampett's, and Tex Avery's. I despise Friz Freleng's cartoons and Chuck Jones pre-'48 cartoons, especially those ugly John McGrew ones where the backgrounds look really grayish, like in Conrad the Sailor and the Dover Boys.

GeeAitch said...

I think we all recognise exactly which show the anon. poster was talking about with the Dustin Hoffman dog. That whole show was full of referential humour that you sometimes had to be like *seventy* to get.
And nothing PoMo is ever genius. The whole *point* of PoMo is to either deny that any standard of quality exists, or to insist that whatever standard there is must be applied in reverse: the more derivative something is, the more original it is. Any wonder that people with no ideas call their work "PoMo"?

Anonymous said...

I agree most postmodern jokes are just hipster nihilism. Im fine with artists outright stealing though, like theres lots of times in classic (pre season 10) episodes of the simpsons where shots and scenes are lifted from movies like citizen kane.

Like if you need a shot of mr burns sitting alone in his mansion, why not steal Orson welles brooding inside xanadu.

Its the "homages" whose only value is making you smirk at getting some obscure reference that piss me off.

doogie said...

Dialogue is completely worthless, completely interchangeable, and best when written after the fact to fit the scene. But from my experience, I've learned that the plot and the visuals are built around the dialogue instead of vice versa.

if visual humor is allowed into the cartoon, it is then rushed through to make room for all the important one-liners, quips, and "jokey rants", at which point the cartoon comes to a grinding halt. As a board artist then you have to painstakingly build up some more steam until the next 2-3 minute "talk break".

this is contrary to the nature of life itself. As you begin your day, which do you focus on: "what am I going to do do today" or "what clever things am I going to say"? Do you then base your day around the clever things you have planned on saying? It's fucking lunacy.

PCUnfunny said...

I could imagine alot of these scenes being hell to an artist. Far fewer words and alot the of imagination of a real artist mind is all that is needed.


"even though the designs and colours suck you still have to admit that the level of technical skill involved in movies like space jam is far beyond that of guys like jones and clampett"

Your ignorance even shocks me more then this post.

A.M.Bush said...

Not to be the devil's advocate but Space Jam's got some pretty tight clean up work. I know that's pretty trivial in a sea of ass, but you know, I work for the devil.

Minini said...

Gosh I don't know if I should laugh or cry reading all this ^.^ Sure there is a lot of frustration around here. For myself, I think I've been lucky up to now. I've been working a with a writer who just can't hold a pencil, but who gives us total visual freedom.

But I must agree with the fact that an artist as a writer is a must.

I asked my storyboard teacher once what should I do if I wanted to board as a job (that's my goal) and he told me: first you gotta animate, then do layout job, then you can storyboard. So that's what I've been trying to do so far. I guess that if writer is the step before storyboard, it should be logical that the one writing has a solid idea of what everything down the chain implies.

Anonymous said...

So let me see if I have this right --

You post an unproduced script by a woman who has never actually written anythng for animation, and looking at her website seems to be a Jill of all trades (favorite title: The astronaut and the kitten), offering misguided advice on all sorts of topics and use this as an indictment against professional animation writers?

I feel like a lot of these criticisms were more valid in the DIC 80's where the volume of crap pumped out was such that the whole failed sitcom writer argument was pretty true. In the ensuing years though, my personal experience has been a lot less hacks are prowling the halls. Sure they're stll around, but I find that most people who want to write for animation now have a genuine passion for the medium. I've worked with writers on about 200 episodes of nicely budgeted animation over the last 15 or so years and my personal experience is, thanks to sites like yours and the overall focus on cartoons in recent years, even the kids come in knowing the basics of crowd scene problems and over wrought action description, and if they don't, that's a very early conversation in the process. I feel like some of your old warhorse criticisms agains writers are coming out of 20 year old experiences that don't necessarily apply across the board these days. Not that modern cartoon writers are perfect Maltese's, but the particular weaknesses you ascribe are not as common as they once were.

How many established writers have you colloborated with or even talked to in the past 10 years? I know you are to writers as Lou Dobbs is to illegal aliens, but maybe it's time to stop slinging the same old mud.

William said...

"yeah, I watched old reruns of tiny toons and other shows and the jokes are just lame references to movies and pop culture that no child would understand and no adult would find clever meaning they were basicaly written for no one." I disagree. Kids retain a lot, and when Tiny Toons was on, I was a kid and I caught a lot of the references. Like the one where they did the "who's on first base" bit with The Who at Woodstock? That was funny to me, when I was a kid I could see the pun. The problem was, I didn't know about Who's On First Base back then.

I agree that Thus Spoke Zarathustra etc. is total hackwork, but I think kids should be given more credit than they are. Kids are fucking smart and when expected or urged to, they have standards.

Problem is normalizing the concept of 'having standards'.

Anonymous said...

The reason you laughed at the "whos on first" routine reference is because that routine is funny in itself, you dont have to be aware that its an abbot and costello reference to appreciate it. Its the scenes that merely repeat unfunny iconic lines from old movies etc. that kids dont appreciate

Anonymous said...

The name could be a pseudonym for Janis Diamond.

Anonymous said...

One day I was at a sweatbox session with the director who worked at a big cartoon mega-corporation that doesn't like the workload that...animation causes. In this script that he wrote, the character was walking sadly towards a faraway door. In the next cut, he was closing the door behind him. We took the liberty of 'encapsulating' the script a little.
The director: how was he able to get to the door so quickly? One moment he's walking towards it, then he's all the way through it!"

Silence.

I finally opened my big piehole and said: "Abstract time?"

Director: "I'm not sure it works."

Silence. In our minds, we were all slitting our wrists with rusty Bic pens.

Monty said...

I've yet to meet a non artist who could write believable, entertaining characters.

Now, are you saying that applies just to cartoons, or to all media? Because it seems unlikely that, say, Neil Simon or Norman Lear necessarily needed to know how to draw in order to do their jobs.

JohnK said...

Obviously I am talking about cartoons. The best writers of character are the ones who wrote for classic sitcoms but we don't get people of that quality in animation.

All in the Family and The Honeymooners are huge influences on me.

I have reinterpreted those character archetypes for cartoon stories.

Dingleberry said...

I have a few comments to make in response to some of the responses left here.
I am a newbie screenwriter, and I'm getting into writing for animation. I may be surreounded by a bunch of 18-year-old, "let's ditch class and get pissed", "I copy John Schwartzwelder's comedy style when I write!" never-will-be's, but I have drive and I pay attention in class and pick brains until they bleed.
I have been invited to write a couple episodes for an upcoming Australian animation, off the strength of folio pieces I emailed in (none animation, all comedy, some puppetry).
Okay, so that was almost irrelevent to tell you; it's so you know where I'm coming from.

One bitch I'd like to have is flash. Flash is freaking brilliant, if done well, and if it suits the story and characters, which of course it does not always do. Look at Grossology--great show for kids, great writing, great animation, but the writing and the animation styles do not match up. The fact that flash is cheaper means that every small animation company has hopped on it. I can't find one Australian cartoon which isn't flash or poor 3D. My opinion is, wait til the techniques or technology gets better, THEN use 3D. If it can't be mastered and it looks like shit, leave it alone! All this computerised stuff is too impersonal anyhow... How I miss cell...

I agree that kids aren't stupid, and I'm detesting most current cartoons. I know, I'm in my 20's and not the market audience, but I watch these cartoons and know I'd have detested them as a child. I don't ever want to write for kids like they are missing or are in excess of a chromosome. In my younger years I couldn't stand Catdog (maybe because my mum and dad weren't brother and sister), but I loved Angry Beavers, and its use of spoofs, which I don't think were a waste of time and paper and money. I think the greatest shows always appeal to adults and kids on separate levels.

In regards to people slagging out animation writers for writing too long (and I'm aware of my comments length!), I think trust is a big issue. Writers don't know if they can trust directors and animators to make their ideas come to life right, so they try to control it.
I for one want to get in and see how animators and storyboarders do their work. I think it'll help me write better.
And I think it's important to have a visual-minded writer. They won't bog things down in dialogue and superfluous subplots. There are kids who want to see strong plot and action, and others who watch a show again and again to see the dynamics between characters, and I think they both need even weight. But maybe I'm saying all this from the point of view of the new generation screenwriter. I've seen how things have been written in the past, and for a lot of it, it's not good enough, or it's archaic now and we need to think with the times. I don't mean with trends--fuck trends. I'm talking about invention and re-invention. The Roadrunner was great once, and still is, but writing those kinds of plots these days is stale. We need new thinkers who think outside the box a little, and dare to be daring. Clever comedy and a hint of absurdism never go astray either! (Or in my case a good stiff dose of both!)
But then I look around at the hack-wads in my screenwriting course and mourn for the future of animation writing...

animally said...

Hi great article JK.
I direct, storyboard and animate in the UK. I look at the page numbers of a script or it's thickness, and proclaim it is too long, frequently.
Sometimes it gets tinkered with, other times I have to draw it and make an animatic to prove my point to producers, commissioners, 'directors',(some producers adopt this role too here), etc, as they invariably prefer 'words' and 'writers' and are suspicious of 'pictures' and 'artists'.
Some writers believe they are the sole creators and any deviation from their visual descriptions has ruined the work.
Often continuity, and staging isn't considered, and if the editor is allowed to cut the animatic or soundtrack in isolation,or with the producer/'director',often no time is given for action to place the characters appropiately, or fit a visual gag in. The inevitable wall to wall dialogue, is often over length too. Underlength is actually better as it gives room to add visuals, gags and make the timing work.
Agree about writing feature length, grandiose scenes on a small budget production too. I've had to animate those overhead craning perspective shots of animals galloping, suposedly only using a side on Flash body part library too,(of course I got out the Wacom and onion skinned it tradionally), still it was unnecessary, always when on footage rates too I note,"bah!"
Anyway, I could go on, but glad someone else has spoken out, I was beginning to think it was just me.
Visual creatives are fast becoming low down in the pecking order of productions, in what was supposed to be a collaberatve medium.
There are some good writers, when I started out everybody collaberated under one, (creative) director, who often owned the studio, and had the final say over clients, even, and was respected. Now producers and business people run the show,they keep each stage in isolation, and answerable to them, they often don't want to pay for a screenwriter and storyboard artist to meet together and discuss, they just pay for the work itself, and pass each stage along the production line, dismissing the ones before as their contribution is completed.
We may only ever meet at a wrap party and then only to moan about the situation.
Even the director/animation directors status and role is reduced, sometimes removed once the animation is complete, even kept away from voice recordings on occaisions.
Some productions have no director at all, being put together by producers and tv commissioners, with only a co-ordinator to hold everything together, and each respective freelancer effectively directing their own part insolation.
Animation is popular and 'sexy' these days so everybody is hungry to take the credit, producers and commissioners are no longer embarressed by their involvement in children's productions, or see it as a stepping stone to a live action career, but choose to shoe-horn themselves into the 'glamorous' roles of creative decision making, so they can be seen to be the sole 'autor' of the work, regardless of their 'qualifications' for the job. Their 'directing' techniques consist of, "Do it first and I'll tell you if I like it or not then, as I'm incapable of using my imagination and briefing you correctly, oh, and it may be on footage rate too, or working late on your own time to fit in with budget and schedule!"

Lamont Cranston said...

>>The writer was also the producer,and tho i never met him he was clearly out of his mind. this was a TV TINY TOONS wannabe (imagine wanting that) that featured a retarded big dog and a smug little kitten (a bad rehash of Chuck Jones' FEED THE KITTY duo).
That'd be the the Rita & Runt skits on Animaniacs.
I didn't know that though, I had to look it up on imdb checking the movie connections page for Rain Man to see what cartoons showed up because while I have clear memories of watching and enjoying the central characters except for Pinky & the Brain I have no or little memory of the supporting characters on that show.
They're like the Hanna-Barbara and DisneyToon shows, I know I must have watched them but have no memory or only the very vaguest of feelings.
...Except that the vague memories that are there are that the shows, titles of which I can't even remember, were boring or irritating or that the villain was always the second person they met.
Shows how enjoyable they must have been.

Josue said...

Can someone suggest then good books on writing? :_)

reversalmushroom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reversalmushroom said...

I disagree; whenever I come up with ideas for stories or gags, I always have several ideas for how everything should look and move, and if I don't put those details into the script, then that means my vision will be lost. Filling your script with visual details might make the script longer, but that won't necessarily make the episode any longer. And how can you complain about having too much to animate, and then turn around and complain that they don't put enough characters into scenes because they didn't feel like animating it? That seems hypocritical.