Showing posts with label animation writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label animation writers. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


When you talk to some animation writers you think they're viewing you the same way you view them, but that's a mistake. Every species sees the world through different eyes and that makes a difference.

Animation writers don't have compound eyes (yet) but the difference in vision is just as drastic. They also hear things differently.

You no doubt see yourself as reasonable and practical. I hate to say it, but that's not the way you are viewed.

When you start to speak the image degrades to something like the one above. This artist might be saying something like "There's not enough jokes in this script! If it's boring to draw then what makes you think the audience will want to see it!?" The writer hears only gibberish.

You might ask the writer, "Why are there so many characters in this show? Do they all have to be on screen at the same time? Why do I see the same characters in every series: the inventor, the minority computer whiz and the girl who can out think and outfight any boy? Why all the cliches?" The writer hears only, "Whine, whine! Grumble, grumble!"

The problem is that some writers can't write anything but that type of story. Take that away from them and they'd be out of a job. Another type of writer can can do better but they simply chose not to. They're freelancing on two other shows and cliches are easier to write quickly. These types are definitely not interested in listening to complaints by artists.
The artist says, "Why can't cartoonists write some of these shows? We know what draws well, you guys are just guessing! At least let the show have a real artist/director who can hire his own writers." The writer hears only gibberish again.

The artist says, "These scripts are way, way too long! I have to work overtime for free to do pages that'll just be thrown in the wastebasket for length. Gimmie a break will ya?" The writer hears, "I'm too lazy to do these extra pages, which I admit are fine examples of the writer's art. Can I use your couch?"

The frustrated cartoonist storms out of the writer's office believing that the primal image of his manly, angry back will compel the writer to have remorse. That's not what the writer sees.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


[NOTE: Blogger (or is it YouTube?) doesn't support archived YouTube videos that are more than a year or so old. This post relies on video reference and suffers from the loss. Even so, the text is still worth reading and the subject is an important one.]

I like a good story, even in short TV cartoons (this page is about TV shorts), but I sometimes have to remind myself that story comes at a price, sometimes a very high price.

It's a case of losing something to gain something. With story-emphasis you lose or drastically reduce the likelihood of humor, good music, memorable performance, innovation, atmosphere, funny cartooning and funny animation. What do you get in return? So far as I can tell...momentum. You're less likely to get up to get a cheese sandwich if you're wondering whether Scooby Doo and his friends will discover that corrupt real-estate dealers are behind the so-called haunted house. Is the price worth it? Watch the story-light cartoons on this page and judge for yourself.

One of the greatest casualties of today's extreme story emphasis has been music. Can any story that animation writers are likely to come up with match the entertainment value of Cab Calloway's band in the "Snow White" film above (topmost)? Nowadays studio musicians are given a cartoon after it's already been written and animated. Musicians are almost an afterthought when budgets are figured out. Does that make sense? Isn't music the most fundamental of all the arts?

And what about atmosphere and texture? How do you like the atmosphere in "Mysterious Mose" (second film from the top, above)? Would a cartoon with story emphasis have had time to play out the rich atmosphere and gags in Betty's bedroom? Would the story that replaced the atmosphere likely have been as memorable or as funny? Would "Bimbo's Initiation" (above) have been improved with the addition of more story?

[Chuck Jones came up with a memorable story for "Scaredy Cat" (later remade as "Claws for Alarm") but that was more a situation than a story. Arguably situations fit short subjects a lot better than stories.]

Another casualty of story has been performance. Great cartoon performances need time to play out. Story-emphasis cartoons are always racing ahead to the next plot point. What's the rush? We have to remind ourselves that stories exist to justify and give context to great performances. Audiences crave great performances, that's why we have the Oscars every year.

Friday, April 06, 2007


I love writers, real writers, but our industry doesn't seem to have attracted many of them.
Visit an animation artist's site and you're likely to see samples of what the guy did recently, paintings by favorite artists, and the like. Visit an animation writers site and you're likely to see gripes about not getting residuals, nostalgia for super-fast writers of the past, shop talk about who's hiring and the like. No celebration of beautiful words, no discussion of clever plots. If you're a fan of good writing, which I am, it's disappointing.

One thing that does abound in animation writers' sites is slick prose. The notes and memos these guys send to each other are beautiful. I don't mind saying that I'm envious. If any of these guys offers to teach memo writing I'm there. They're models of economy, euphony and wit. Verbs instead of adjectives, everything in the present tense; Stunk & White would be proud. Unfortunately for these guys there's no memo industry to absorb them. They had a skill with no place to go, so they bailed out into animation, which they dominate.

If I can digress for a minute.... did you know that at one time arists dominated the pulp sci-fi industry? Well, sort of. The editor of one one of the early science fiction magazines (Gernsback? Cambell? Amazing Stories? Astounding?) used to provoke his artists to come up with wild, imaginative covers then, when he got something he liked, he called in a writer to write a story that would justify it. Interesting, huh?

When I heard this the first time I felt sorry for the writers, who after all are entitled to dominate the industry that they created (Jules Verne, H.G. Wells), but I sometimes wonder if my sympathy was misplaced. Some writers like to call the post-pulp era the golden age of science fiction, but was it? You could argue that the writer-driven psychological stories that came to dominate sci-fi eventually killed it. Maybe the genre was healthier when it dealt with weird gadgets and monsters. Maybe but....hmmmm, I think I'll still come down on the writers side on this one. It just makes sense to me that writers should call the shots in their own writing industry.

And animators should call the shots in the animation industry! Why do writers fail to see the wisdom of that? Well, there's an obvious answer. Money. Animation writers are like kids in a candy store. There's gold in them thar hills! After the style and tone of a show is set the rest of the stories are easy to write and there's lots of time left over to write freelance stories for other projects. Animation writers are often loaded to the gills with freelance! They can't be bothered to edit a script to a proper length (it's faster to write a long script than a short one), or to figure out really clever plots and dialogue (Sigh!).

Well, I still like writers. Real writers, that is, writers who care about character, plot, humor and writing for performance. I'll end with that. There's more to say but this'll do for a start.

BTW, I know of a couple of writer sites that are all about classic comics and drawn media. I have nothing but sympathy and well wishes for these sites but they don't amount to a contradiction of what I said about animation writers not discussing words and plots with any frequency.

Also BTW, the pictures here are of Shakespeare, Hugo and Dickens.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


It won't come as a suprise to anyone that I'm on the storyboard side of that controversy, especially if we're talking about animated cartoon comedy. I've written in both script and storyboard formats, and the boarded stories always turn out funnier. That's because a board provides constant feedback on how the visuals are going. Some ideas just don't look funny when drawn and it's nice to be able to toss them in favor of something that draws better.

It's also because scripts are a form of book. They're a medium of their own and what feels good in the medium of print often doesn't feel good in animation. As an example, scripts tend to be dialogue-heavy, even when they're written by artists. That's because ddialogue driven scripts are leaner and easier to read. Dialogue comes in trim little columns surrounded by oceans of white space. It looks better on a page. You can read it faster. It's an amazing but true fact that dull, dialogue-heavy, talking head cartoons get made for the trivial reason that their kind of script is easier to read.

Here's an example. This is an excerpt from a first-draught script I wrote for Animaniacs. A witch's candy-covered house attracts the Animaniacs and she tries to eat them. They turn it around and harass the witch to distraction. The script reads OK whenever it depicts dialogue but watch how hard it becomes to read when it describes visual gags:
Which part would you rather read?

It's also true that stories that originate on storyboards tend to emphasize visual gags, the thing that animation is best at. When I'm drawing I naturally pay more attention to the way a character looks in clothes, the way he bends to pick things up, etc. Sometimes these details are so funny that I end up building a whole sequence around them. That feels right to me. Comedy is best when it's about little things. Scripts, on the other hand, favor the overview, the big things and the complex subplots.

Now that scripts dominate there are very few funny cartoons. Since scripts are uncongenial to visual comedy the powers that be have decided to eliminate visual comedy. This is the shocking price we've had to pay for our script addiction.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Animation acting isn't the same as live-action acting. Our medium requires that whatever action we draw also moves funny. That means the story has to be written with cartoon posing in mind.

In the action above, the story point might have been satisfied by having a nervous character point to the ground and say, "Here! Dig here!" In the drawings above I use twice as many words as that. Why? Because certain actions look good in cartooning and pointing is one of them. I just wanted to milk the drawing opportunity. The words are repeated simply as an excuse to have fun by drawing more pointing poses. Of course the story has to contain characters that would plausibly act like this. Stories written by writers rather than cartoonists seldom do.