Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Too Funny For Words 2 - more wisdom from Frank and Ollie

Hey I got a nice note from famous animator Ken Duncan:

Hey John,

I’ve been enjoying reading your blog. All your notes about story, and storyboarding are right on. The animation “business” has been overrun by those who don’t understand visual storytelling/entertainment….

How the hell can I get you to come by the studio for lunch, or a drink? Should I send a car to pick you up?…..

It’d be interesting to discuss some way of doing some cartoony animation, having fun with the medium. ...

Take it easy,

Ken D.

Now here are some more pearls from the greats!

Audiences identify with getting their butts stuck to flypaper

Walt and his staff were convinced that the way to write cartoons was through drawings and pitches (performing) and collaboration. They obviously didn't believe in having a guy who didn't draw sit away in a room somewhere and on his own craft a story from beginning to end - then hand it over to the artists like some verbose tinpot dictatorial despot. Instead, they drew and performed their stories and sculpted them into entertainment together.

Did typewriters exist in the classic period of cartoons? Sure. Did they use them to write up notes from story meetings? Or dialogue scripts? Outlines and treatments? Of course. We all do that. Even artists use words on occasion.

Did a non artist ever write a script from beginning to end? Possibly, but no classic cartoon directors or storyman goes out of his way to admit it. Just the opposite; they stress over and over again that cartoon stories differ from live action and must be written with drawings, not scripts. Maybe an exception or two may show up one day after some serious archaeological digs and cross-checking. After all, there are 2 egg-laying mammals out of 4600 or so. But you'd have to be dishonest or crazy to suggest that mammals are egg-layers based on 2 exceptions out of thousands of mammal species.

Performance tells better stories than words
Live performances are more instructive than sitting in a room and writing
I learned myself by experience that when I tried to write dialogue on a typewriter, it had a tendency to sound stilted and writerly, as opposed to natural and spontaneous, like the way people actually talk. So, while I might make some structural notes on the computer to decide the meaning of what a character is going to say, I then get up and walk around the room acting out the scene and saying the dialogue as I feel a real character would say it. That gets a much more natural and funny read, so I then sit down and copy what I performed.

When I pitch it to other people, I refine the dialogue and gags further as I see the reactions of my live audiences. All this story procedure happened naturally by trial and error, and it turned out to be the same procedure used at the classic cartoon studios. Because it works well.

Drawings and live performances are the most natural and efficient tools of a cartoon "writer". You don't write a performance. You can act or draw one, though.

What a cartoon-"scriptwriter" from the 1940s might look like


lastangelman said...

1.)Very educational and fun - love the hedgehog at the end!
2.)Happy 79th Birthday to Popeye The Sailor!

flashfilmchen.de said...

hello john(or should i say "dear teacher"),
i've made my first handdrawn flash animation. i know it ain't perfect, so if you like you can rip it to shreds on your blog. you can find it here(its about online-banking):


i think i would learn a lot(and maybe cry bitter tears).

best regards,

Bitter Animator said...

Completely off topic but does anyone know if that Hanna Barbera Treasury book is any good?

Nick R said...

> love the hedgehog at the end!

It's an echidna - a reference to his point about 1940s scriptwriters being as rare as egg-laying mammals. :-)

boootooons ltd. said...

even comedians who LIVE by what's scripted need the audience.

the monty python team only approved of written sketches when they were read out and performed in some way.

may be why their stuff is so cartoony.

also, they never asked terry gilliam to explain what he was animating. they understood it was not something that translated well into words, and so, just let him get on with it.

- trevor.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Wow, John... that letter from Ken seems to hint at some amazing possibilities! Take him up on his offer and go "do lunch"! I can't even imagine what might happen if you two and perhaps some other talented animators banded together now, the way Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith did eighty years ago.

Those film pioneers created United Artists break out of the developing "studio system" that was forming and to have more control over their futures. Sure, today UA is just another corporate run studio like any other, but for many years, it was an oasis in the world of cost-cutting corporate-controlled film-making. I'm just saying...

Eshniner Forest said...

Super Cool!!

Ryan Cole said...

Y'all can skip this, it's a bit lengthy >_>

Writing is really a different medium all its own, natch. To communicate in a modern language, it helps to know that the way people talk today is incredibly...well, bastardized. Nothing's Elizabethan anymore, and writing a flawless perfect line of dialog can sound out of place if spoken by anyone who wasn't a clean-cut 30 year old with a bright future and no problems in the world.

I'm not a writer, I'd much rather draw. But I love to communicate to others in writing. Sort of a perp to coming from the internet generation. A lot of people barely write real words online. They just use limited typing and, for reasons I can't explain, all caps to get their message across. They always came off as sounding mentally handicapped when I tried reading them out loud.

Then on the other hand, we got people who type paragraphs of unflawed text with big words and all that noise. They sound sarcastic and condescending, when read out loud.

People who can't help but be visual give us smilies and emoticons at every chance they get. ^_^ It's cute! Even if you can't really say it out loud.

There's tons more for example, and whether they actually talk the way they write isn't important. What's relevant is that the writing has a crazy amount of personality. Before the internet, we didn't have this (or as much of it). We had books that weren't recommended by critics or even get published if any one misspelling was noticed, or if sentences were too fragmented. Today we have imperfection; something very human. Bastardized writing for a bastardized language, yeah?

And yeah, most of that lol rofl omg bullshit online is still crap (to me, anyway), but the alternative is what we see in television today. And quite frankly, it's an equal measure of crap. I'd rather read a script that speaks in a retarded, sarcastic, condescending or cute language.

Adam said...

>I'd rather read a script that speaks in a retarded, sarcastic, condescending or cute language.

Sarcasm in scripts needs to go away. Sarcasm is so easy to do, and it's not entertaining.

Most TV shows nowadays consist of lawyers, doctors, or cops talking in lingo real fast and making fun of their coworkers. That stuff is so depressing to watch.

I get the impression that today's Hollywood writers are introverted weaklings, so when somebody upsets them they store all their clever comebacks they were to afraid to say in person and write them into their 'House M.D.' and 'CSI' scripts. Blechhhh! Can that stuff!

Bring back fun and entertainment!

John A said...

That was avery nice letter from Ken. You see what happens when you say something POSITIVE about an animator?

ted said...

My God...its like you're reading my brain. I am working in the animation "business" right now, and I have just passed my one year anniversary mark. I have never felt more frustrated and unnecessary in my life. When I read these posts about how it used to be done, it makes me want to cry. I look around the studio and see rows and rows of talented people, slaves to the holy script from the infallible writers, and it makes me want to scream. These totally non-visual people slap together a movie parody, jam a crapload of stilted dialogue into it and call it an "animation" script.
Any deviation from the script (ie. CREATIVITY!) is seen as an afront to the precious writer and quickly squashed.
How do you do it John? What kept your head above water during the crappy Saturday morning cartoon schlock-fests? Seriously, if you have some advice for someone who loves animation, but sees how it is being DESTROYED from the inside out, I would love to hear it. Thanks for all the great posts. Your insights are always very thought-provoking!

Bitter Animator said...

>>I have never felt more frustrated and unnecessary in my life.<<

Ah, welcome to animation, Ted. At the one year mark and already beginning to lose it. You'll be bitter and twisted before you know it.

You know though, this blog is in ways both a safe haven from that world and maybe the beginning of better things. On and linked from this place, I've seen work that is beginning to get me enthusiastic about the craft again and I have been about as bitter as they come, losing all interest, convincing myself that drawing and animation doesn't matter a damn and letting what I had stagnate and die (doesn't seem to bother producers, which says a lot).

But there is some serious talent around here. And I looked at your portfolio blog and your stuff is really excellent. In all seriousness, try not to let it kill you. Keep working on your own stuff and doing stuff that interests you and that is you and maybe John K will get his school going, there will be a whole generation of people who care about the craft and people might start making great shows.

Besides, it looks like this writer's strike will go on indefinitely so you'll have nobody to answer to.

Elliot Cowan said...

1)"Ah, welcome to animation, Ted. At the one year mark and already beginning to lose it. You'll be bitter and twisted before you know it."

I've worked in animation for nearly 13 years and have had a very jolly time indeed and have worked on piles of great stuff.

2) The animal at the bottom is an echidna and I used to have one that lived in my back yard.

patchwork said...

these last 2 posts have been great! It makes perfect sense. It seems a much more enjoyable process for everyone.

deadmanswill said...

About the hedge-hog writer at the end of the post - I think those pins are not sticking OUT of his body but were rather stuck IN by animators. Poor fellow! lol

The post was very interesting. Could you elaborate more on those seven gags. Do they need to be categorized? I think maybe naming and defining things is what really takes the fizz and fun out of things and next generation simply follows those as the only golden principles.


John K.

I like your blog, and have been reading it for a couple of years. I also read Disney: The Illusion of life, and I feel your blog is a great contemporary continuation of my 2D education.

I just graduated with Communication Design and Applied Computer Graphics under my belt. 2D is my focus. I just met George Evelyn at Wild Brain in SF; he liked my demo reel. Would you be so brave as to meet me in LA one day and take a look at it?

Jeff Read said...

I's hear you are comparin' cartoon scriptwriters to echidnas.

If you's continue talkin' dirty about the echidnas then I's will be forced to send my associate, Knuckles, over for a little visit, see?

Knuckles has a way of eliciting cooperation and good will, see?