Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Frank and Ollie On Natural Cartoon Story Procedures - part 1

Too Funny for Words: Disney's Greatest Sight Gags

Frank and Ollie wrote a book to explain the importance of visual story telling in cartoons, and detailed Disney writing procedures and their philosophy of cartoon storytelling.
I'm not a big fan of Disney stories, but I'm in complete agreement with the methods they used to write them. These methods evolved naturally. If you put a bunch of cartoonists together and tell them to start making cartoons, they will by their very nature, start drawing up gags and pitching them to each other.

I've worked in every imaginable cartoon system. I worked from scripts written by non-cartoonists. I've written scripts and collaborated with other cartoonists on scripts. This worked much better than working from non-artist scripts, but was still clunky. On Mighty Mouse we went from artist-collaborated scripts to drawing tiny storyboards - pre-printed a few panels per page.

When I finally got to do everything my way on Ren and Stimpy, we eventually started drawing storyboards on larger individual panels because we could easily change the order of scenes and insert new ideas and continuity and basically sculpt the stories into shape with the input of other good story artists and the reactions from pitch meetings. This method was the most fruitful and we discovered this directly through experience and trial and error. Just like all the classic cartoon studios did.

We learned by natural progress the most logical and efficient way to make our cartoons.

Certain procedures tend to create themselves for certain fields - naturally, like convergent evolution.

There may be many different styles and creative approaches to classical music, but all composers use the same language to write their very different pieces. They use musical bar sheets and musical notation. It makes sense. It would not make sense to try to write music in prose descriptions. Only a non-musician could find any sense in this. You might like Beethoven better than Tchaikovsky, but you wouldn't argue about the medium they used to write their music.

That's the same way storyboards and ex sheets arose in animation. They evolved through utility. They made sense and gave the artists much more creative control and creative choices for our medium.

Many animators and studios and directors create different types of cartoons and humor and stories, but they are pretty much all in agreement in the working tools that give us the most creative control over our cartoons.

Frank and Ollie are very analytic and clearly explain not only their working methods and principles of entertainment, but also their philosophy of entertainment in cartoons. They did it with their 12 principles of animation in The Illusion of Life, and they did it for story in "Too Funny For Words".

Stories start with a handful of drawings.
Entertainment more important than continuity.
It's better to have many people pitch ideas in story meetings than to have one person write alone. Stories grew and were molded and changed along the way by a group with a leader, rather than to have one person alone make all the creative decisions by himself in a non-visual language and then hand them over to the guys who'd actually have to make it work.
"Animals are better cartoon characters than people, because we aren't good enough to animate people convincingly."

This holds true to this very day. The animated humans in cartoon features are always awkward, cardboard and stiff, mere shadows of their live-action counterparts. The closer you try to mimic reality, the harsher we are critically when we view it. Why aim for an inferior imitation of another medium when we can create something no one else can match?

"Walt was never interested in structure"

It would be hard to find animators today who don't long to go back to the creative system that produced the films that inspired them to draw in the first place.

Lots more insight from Frank and Ollie into the Disney story philosophy and procedures to come...