Showing posts with label Dialogue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dialogue. Show all posts

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Dialogue Wisdom

Sometimes bad cartoon writers (who write cartoons with scripts rather than drawing them on storyboards) justify their silly procedure by pretending to be above cartoons and aiming more at live action procedures.

I found this next passage about writing dialogue from a screenwriting book for live action movies and television.

I have found this equally true in animation. Hardly anyone is good at writing natural and entertaining dialogue, let alone writing it in character. Most animation writers resort to catch phrases and off the cuff pop culture references that could be said by any character.

Some things you just have to have a talent for - like writing dialogue, or writing melodies. There are all kinds of good musicians, but very few among them can invent catchy melodies. The ones that did are immortal. Character design in cartoons is like this. You just have to have a knack for it. I don't think it can be taught.


I've mentioned before that I have found this to be the case for myself. When I try to write dialogue at the keyboard, it comes out stiff and stilted. Once I know the context and meaning of a scene, I do much better by walking around the room and improvising the dialogue while acting the scene out more spontaneously. Speech must use a different part of the brain than writing.

I think to be naturally good at something like dialogue, you have to have not only the natural gift, but a keen interest and fascination with how people speak. You have to be constantly aware of how different people express themselves and be able to pick out who is entertaining, how and why they are and then how to edit out the boring parts.
By Wolf Rilla

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cartoon Voices

The philosophy of voice acting for cartoons has completely reversed itself.

Can you tell whose voices these are by just listening to them?

My Book





Can you tell whose these are by the sound alone? Can you even understand what they are saying?


we can use that



To me (and of course I'm wrong) a good cartoon voice actor has to have 2 main attributes:

1) An obvious unique and pleasant vocal sound.

The greats like Daws Butler, Don Messick, Mel Blanc and more all have a naturally unique distinct sound-even when they are not doing a cartoon voice.

It's like having a quality instrument as opposed to a rusty old out of tune one.

This is why many oldtime cartoon voices came from radio, where the quality of the voice is so important.

Daws Butler

Movie stars are known more for their faces than their voices (especially today) and when you replace their faces with a cartoon character's face, you lose the movie star's value, because the audience can't tell who is doing the voice - and don't care. They just want to believe in the characters themselves.

2) Specialized acting ability.

Clear Diction: You have to be able to clearly understand what the actor is saying (unless he is purposely mumbling for some story or character reason)

For example, listen to Ranger Smith's line at the top. Esp. the second half "Maybe I can do something.. before the commissioner..."

Try to read that line yourself as fast as Don Messick does and still make it all sound so clear and perfectly inflected. It's not easy. Don was a real pro.

A wide range of inflection - and the ability to control it and tailor it to the meaning of the dialogue and character.

If you read everything in a flat monotone, you aren't adding anything to the character.

Vocal acting is even more important in cartoons than in live action, because cartoon visual acting is not as easily controlled as a live actor's visual acting.

A colorful unique and rich voice adds a lot of personality to an animated character, whether you have a huge or tiny budget. It's instant personality.

That coupled with a good design gets you half way there.

Bill and Joe may have made super cheap cartoons, but they had the good sense to use really unique and appealing character designs and combine them with distinct and super qualified voice talent. At least in the beginning.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Good Movie

Kali dragged me to this movie on the weekend and I'm glad she did.

This is an actual "no-filler" movie. It's funny from beginning to end! I didn't spot a single executive theory in it.

The writing is funny (both plot and dialogue), the acting is funny and the direction is funny. Even the music is funny. And it's really clever. It's absolutely full of inventive custom touches in the actions, editing, actors' expressions and gestures. I couldn't believe it.

Seriously, whoever wrote the dialogue is a genius. This is real writing with skill, observation and a point of view.

The lead actor, Michael Jai White is perfect. He plays it straight but in a very funny way and has lots of other talents besides acting - which the producers are smart enough to show off to us.

It's eerie. I got all nostalgic for the 70s - which I hated living through. This felt even more like the 70s than the actual 70s and made fun of all the right stuff.

It also bravely brought back ethnic humor - which has been banned by white liberals for decades. It gets away with stuff no one else could today, making fun of white people, blacks and Asians all - oh and it's sexist too. In short, it's honest and made for real life humans - not focus groups and pseudo-psychologists.

Violence, some grossness but not for the sake of making you sick. It even makes fun or orphans which I didn't think anyone could do. The most amazing thing is that it breaks open a pile of modern taboos, and does it in a completely upbeat happy way.

I'm so used to modern entertainment going straight for the ugliest feelings possible, but I have to say this really lifted my spirits. I hope it makes a pot of money and wakes up Hollywood. I wish cartoons were allowed to be this inventive and whimsical. I'm super jealous.
But it does have some funny animation by my friends at 6 Point Harness.

Not for kids, unfortunately. Go see it and tell me what you think. Support non-filler entertainment! We're gonna go see it again and bring all our curmudgeonly pals.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Layout breakdowns - Dialogue mouths

these 2 frames will barely register; they are just there to connect George's pose from the last scene into his main pose in the new scene. It's a hook up that by today's regulations doesn't hook up. But in motion and cuts it works.

Here's the key pose that's based on the storyboard pose. Below are some breakdowns of main mouth positions created in layout. They all work within the emotion of the key pose but accent and color the dialogue.

In most cartoons the same few mouth shapes are used over and over again. This looks robotic to me-even in fully animated features there is an obvious formula for lip synch.

I like to design every dialogue scene based on who the character is, and how he feels at that moment. I listen to the track, close my eyes and imagine the character. Then I draw the appropriate mouths. It's a lot of fun to custom design mouths.

What I do before I design mouth shapes is write out the dialogue and figure out where the accents are. The accents are usually vowels and that is where the biggest open mouths will be.

Since this is limited animation, I plan to reuse certain mouth shapes in different orders for different words. That's why I write out the dialogue. Above the dialogue I assign which mouth shape I'm gonna use. Each mouth shape has a letter or 2 that phonetically describes the sound.This is not your normal "O" mouth, obviously. I just thought I would do something related to the key mouth shape.
"OO" mouths work best when preceded by an "O" mouth. The O provides a quick accent that helps you notice the "OO".

"I" mouths are long and tall, just like the letter itself.

"T" 's can be used for "N", "G" and some other letters.

"M" can also be used for "B" and "P", although you can make a separate mouth for each that build in intensity.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Big Thank You to March Contributors- And How To Write Dialogue

Read this out loud and see if you can make it sound natural.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the blog as of Mar 30 08...

Benjamin Hernandez

John Faso

Blorch! Studios

Tim Maloney

Matthew Glenn Nunnery

Anthony Rizzo

I took all your cash and bought my sick chihuahua a warm sweater, so Killer thanks you too!

I found an old page of notes (from 1994) with tips to my storyboard artists on how to write natural sounding dialogue. It's your reward for contributing. I hope it's helpful:


The first thing a dialogue writer needs to know is that people do not speak the way a writer writes. Especially a cartoon writer.

Dialogue should sound natural, off the cuff, spontaneous.

It should be structured but it shouldn't sound structured, or deliberate.

It should be poetic, not in a rhyming sense, but in a lyrical, flowing sense.

Know your characters.

This doesn't mean that certain characters always say certain things; don't substitute catch phrases for personality.

Be aware of context - how the characters feel at this moment.

Suggested approaches:

(There is no right way to write dialogue.)

1. Structured Approach:

Figure out what a character needs to say in the story context, structure it for the story's purpose, then rewrite it in the character's words.

2. Empathic Approach

Be the characters: put yourself in the scene. Turn the lights out except for a desk lamp.

Know who the characters are and how they express themselves. Know the situation that the characters are in. Know their specific motivations and feelings at this moment in the story.

Now act. Live the scene. Spontaneously, free-form; just act the scene out loud.
Walk around the room, loosen up.

Improvise the dialogue. Just say your character's feelings as they gush out of you.
Have an assistant take notes.

Don't worry if all your lines don't connect perfectly or smoothly.

You are looking for inspirations.

*This is a good method for artists too.

If you are a S.B. or L.O. artist, Director or comic artist, act it out a few times to get used to it.

After you finish, have an assistant type up notes, categorize your ideas and directions, give them headings.

You edit, arrange, and smooth out, fill in gaps, connect ideas, and write your scene.
This is the better method for writing dialogue. You will find more surprises. Your dialogue will sound more natural and spontaneous.

*There is no perfect, calculated way to write good dialogue. Of all the elements of writing for the screen, writing, dialogue is the one that most closely resembles art.

This requires feeling as well as skill.

Good dialogue does more than just tell the story, it sounds good, it is aesthetically pleasing just for what it is.


Good dialogue must be easy to read. A director always knows if a line or passage of dialogue is not working when the voice actor repeatedly stumbles through the line. This has happened to me many times. A writer (including me) will write a line that is just too long and the actor can't get enough breath to get it out. Or the words just don't flow easily together;they aren't musical, so the actor keeps getting tongue-tied.

To write good dialogue, you should have some experience reading dialogue, so you have empathy for the actors.

This is what's wrong with today's cartoon writers; they have no experience doing any of the things they are demanding of the actual creative people, so what they write simply doesn't work and everyone wants to kill them.

So...test your dialogue before you hand it in. Read it out loud. Is it smooth?

Ask someone else to read it out loud.

Dialogue is perhaps the hardest part of the cartoon writing process. Writers with a natural feel for dialogue are rare. I've worked with lots of funny people, or people who are good with structure and story ideas, but usually end up rewriting much of the dialogue myself.

With that said, it is also the most creatively rewarding part of the process of putting words together. The characters' dialogue are the only words that the audience or reader will ever hear or read of the writer's work. These words can directly affect the audience, can make it believe that the story is really happening.

Again: The audience will never hear your descriptions of plot or action, so use as few words as possible there and be strictly matter of fact and instructional:

Ren does this.

Then Stimpy does that.

Then this happens.

Then Stimpy says (looking deep into his own soul with extreme sincerity, religious resolve):

"I know now what I must do! I must use my gift of save Ren"

Put your creativity into the dialogue. That will actually be heard.

And make it sound natural - even though it has dramatic purpose hidden under the faked spontaneity.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Writing For Cartoons 10: Real Dialogue versus Cartoon Writer Dialogue -On Dangerous Ground

Here's a scene that's typical of what happened at Filmation's cartoon studio all the time.

I had just read the script for "Disco Droopy" and someone tipped me off on where the scriptwriter was hiding out.
I chased him down and began to deliver God's justice upon him I beat him within an inch of his cheap life
I felt the foul meat of his face tear off on my fists
in a flash my older wiser supervisor stopped me in my murderous rage
His knuckles connected with my skull and loosened my enraged flesh

When my brains stopped rattling, I woke up to have the harsh modern world explained to me in the coldest meanest wordsI felt the nastiness of reality ooze over me like fish vomit coating a fresh babe

reality sunk in slowly; it produced a last rebellious and futile spasmic outcrythis is what artists face every day of their lives in the terrible icy world of animation scripts.

The scene starts out with the evil writer's whimper.


How about the dialogue in that scene?! When you have great words to say and really good actors to say them, and great direction, you can get intense performances like these!

I've seen these same actors in movies with lesser scripts and they can't do as much with them, despite their obvious talent.

Compare that dialogue with the kind of dialogue animators today get to work with:

What can you do with this kind of dialogue??? Only what Robert Ryan did.

Try reading the lines out loud and see if you don't turn beet red.

Now you could spend 30 bucks and learn how to write dialogue like this:

Or, you can read my articles on writing cartoons for free and aim for something like this:


By the way,Evan Oliver did this great restoration of that Sven Hoek clip. That is a sequence that Nickelodeon kept cutting up every year until there was almost nothing left of it.

I found a 3/4" tape of the rough cut, made before before Nickelodeon destroyed the master. I cut the missing scenes back in, but they had timecodes on it.

Evan Oliver and David Mackenzie took the finished cut and using digital magic, erased the timecodes:


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

writing for cartoons 9 - Dialogue

I was pleasantly suprised when my cartoons first hit the air and people I had just met would quote whole passages word for word to me. Passages that I had never memorized myself. Stuff I had never really even thought was that important at the time. People have asked me many times what the secret is for good dialogue. Is there a secret?

...I thought writing about dialogue would be easy, since I have done so much of it. It turns out that I don't think much about it when I write it. I just do what feels and more important sounds right... but that would be lousy advice to give someone else who wants to know the tools of good dialogue. I also know when I read bad or awkward dialogue -when I do it or anyone else does it.

The main tool and one that can't be acquired is an ear for words that sound good together, but not just random good wordplay, but character driven wordplay.

Dialogue has to sound good out loud and you don't know if your written dialogue works until you try to say it. Or maybe until the voice actor says it...or stumbles over it. I learned a lot from having to act out my own characters and I'm not much of an actor, but if I got into the recording studio and couldn't read a line right, I would change the line to something that read more naturally. I did the same for my other actors. If they couldn't get a line right, I blamed the writing, not the actor and would ask them to help me come up with something that had the same meaning but flowed off the tongue better.

When I try to analyze all the considerations that have to be controlled when creating good dialogue, my list gets longer and longer.

Dialogue partly tells the story, but should not be the main storytelling tool.

Dialogue has to sound natural. It will never actually be natural, because that would be boring, but it should feel natural and that is a vague quality that is hard to define.

Dialogue should be appropriate to the characters. You have to have a feel for character if you are to write good personality dialogue.

Anyway, I'll try to backtrack to see what tools I have to either be aware of or instinctively apply when I write my dialogue scenes.


Be In Character- Good
Dialogue needs to be prompted, motivated and be in character-and hopefully be funny too! Ren and Stimpy say different kinds of things and say them in different ways. They use different combinations of words.

Boo Boo, Yogi and Ranger Smith are different characters and have to show their emotions in different ways.
When Boo Boo gets mad he has to say it in a way that sounds kinda sissy, because he is usually such a nice goody-two-shoes guy. You have to push him pretty far to get a cross word from him, and that was the whole story for Boo Boo Runs Wild. He has to have trouble getting his frustrations out.

Writerspeak - Bad:

A lot of characters in modern cartoons are simply mouthpieces for the writers. They speak in the writer's voice rather than the character's voice, tell the jokes that the writer and his writer friends think are funny, but are totally out-of-character for the character who is actually saying them. This common writer's flaw is known as "writerspeak".

"I'll bet that asteroid will burn out in the atmosphere and shrink to the size of a chihuahua's head". That's writerspeak. It's informational, a setup for a gag that is supposed to happen at the end of the cartoon. A gag that the audience will predict the second they hear the writerspeak setup and congratulate themselves when they find that they were duped into being right. A gag that the cartoonists are not allowed to actually make funny by drawing the payoff funny.

This is a line of dialogue that could be read by any character in the story. To the writer of a line like this, the characters are interchangable, just an assortment of extra mouths for the writer, whose mouth doesn't appear on screen.

The writerspeak writer avoids writing character specific dialogue by using catch phrases. If you just tack on "D-oh" at the end of the line, then you know who said it. You could change that to "Cowabunga" or whatever else and instantly define your characters.

Exposition - Bad.
Many writers use dialogue as exposition-they have the characters tell the audience what is going on in the story, instead of writing the characters as characters living out the story.

"I am really sad."

"I am going to walk to the door and open it."

Sometimes exposition can be funny, as in Tex Avery cartoons or in slapstick comedy. It's funny because it's so ignorant. In a way, funny by default.

Musical Rhythm- Good.
Dialogue has to be easy for the actor to read. It can't be clumsy. It should have natural flowing rhythm. It's best to write dialogue by actually speaking it out loud until it sounds good, then sitting down and typing it up after you know it works. If it's hard for you to read aloud, it will be even harder for the actor.

Listen to the word music in this scene from Baby Bottleneck:

I find that if the dialogue has a musical beat with the accents on the important points of the sentences, it makes the meaning of the sentence sink in harder. It's much more effective than just informational dialogue.

Role-Playing Dialogue:
Sometimes a character plays a role, besides just being himself. Daffy Duck in the beginning of The Great Piggy Bank Robbery is playing a little kid-or a big kid that hasn't grown up. He loves comics, and his emotions reading his newest comic are the same emotions that little kids have. His dialogue reflects it-as does the animation and Mel Blanc's great voice acting.

The dialogue also has great rhythm and music.

Here's a clip of George Liquor from Man's Best Friend. Most of the dialogue is character driven. There is a bit of exposition in the beginning and there is one line of "writerspeak" that I couldn't resist putting in the speech. It was a line that I thought was just funny and ironic by itself, but it's not really something George would say. I sinned.


Uploaded by chuckchillout8

Chris Reccardi wrote the line "Maybe I would take the car, but the goldfish took it." I laughed and put it in.

Here is a clip from Ren and Stimpy that is particularly dialogue heavy.

Uploaded by chuckchillout8

There were a lot of things I had to balance to make the dialogue work without competing with the ideas and gags.
Maybe I'll try to break it down in another post.

I will continue writing about writing cartoons and go into more detail on each of these writing tools, and give you step by step procedures of how we wrote our stories.

I'll also include premises and outlines from cartoons that I've had quoted back to me by fans.

I can't help you be creative or show you how to have original and funny ideas, but I might be able to help you make the most effective use of the ideas you do have.