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

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.

Monday, April 30, 2007


I know a lot of kids read this blog so here's something for them. It's a really sweet little story called "The Pokey Little Animation Writer." The story starts in a suburban bedroom where Billy's parents are roused out of their sleep by a knock on the bedroom door....

Knock! Knock! Knock! "Huuuh?" said Dad, waking suddenly. "Who...Wha...Wh...Who's there? For Pete's Sake, stop knocking!"

"Um...It's me Dad. I can't sleep! Er...I have urges I can't explain!"
"URGES!? Oh, Bashaw! What kind of urges could you have at your age?

"Well Dad, I know it's strange but I have an urge to find an animation artist and beat him up. I know it doesn't make sense but I get really mad at the thought of artists writing and directing their own stories. I guess that's silly isn't it? I mean, why should I get mad about what artists do?"
"Son, did you say... 'beat up?' Oh, Good Lord! I didn't realize you'd grown so fast! Um... Sit down , It's time you and I had a talk."
"Son, I'll just say it outright. Your mother and I are...are...outcasts...hated and shunned by all civilized people because of what we are...animation writers. And you son, you will grow up to be an animation writer too!"
"That's right," said Billy's mom, "that's why you get so mad when you think of low-life artists making their own cartoons!"
"But Dad...won't the artists feel bad if we take their medium away from them?"

"Naw," said Dad, "they don't have feelings like we do! If they had feelings they'd be writers like us. They just have...notochords!"

"Now get to sleep, Buckaroo! If you're good I'll take you out hunting tomorrow! If we find an artist directing a cartoon we'll trash him and you can break his pencils!"
And they did. And Billy and his family lived happily ever after.


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.