Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seven Writer's Rules for Survival in Animation

 great friend, talented screenwriter and filmmaker, Marcio Paes sent me the following text. It`s from ROB EDWARDS. You can share it or go to the direct link.

Seven Writer's Rules for Survival in Animation 


On my first day at Disney, I was escorted to the editing bay, shown the animatic of the film I was about to start working on and then walked to the conference room where the directors told me they would need sequences 7, 14 and 28 revised by the end of the week. When I pointed to the lines that I thought were the problem I was told that I couldn’t change them because they’d been animated already. Oh, and some of the actors were currently on Broadway and unavailable to record their lines before the next screening so it would be great if I could rewrite the lines of the supporting cast and leave the leads alone. And, by the way, what would I like for lunch? It was an inauspicious start to say the least.
Since that day I’ve worked with Ron Clements and John Musker on two movies and John Lasseter on one and I’ve had the time of my life. This Friday our second collaboration, The Princess and the Frog, opens nationwide so I thought I’d share with you my SEVEN WRITER’S RULES FOR SURVIVAL IN ANIMATION.

Every three months or so the film is “put up on reels”. Storyboards and animatics are edited together along with temporary “scratch” dialog and music to give everyone the best look at the pace and feel the film will have once it’s completed. It’s the equivalent to getting to test a movie before it’s even made and it’s a fantastic creative tool.
After this, everyone gathers in the screening room to watch the film and then give notes. When I say “give notes”, I mean the every time you walk through the hall or stop in the men’s room, somebody’s going to use the time to tell you how you’re ruining a perfectly good movie. Embrace this part of the process.
Andrew Stanton says the goal is to be wrong as early as possible. Take your lumps, lick your wounds, digest the spirit of what people are trying to tell you and then roll up your sleeves and fix the story. Then take heart in the knowledge that none of those tragically flawed versions will ever see the light of day.

On your first day of work, you’ll probably be escorted to an office in the middle of the “Story Department”. A bunch of guys with china marker stains on their hands and faces will glare out from their offices at you and you’ll soon discover that those guys will consistently be bailing your butt out of trouble for the next three years. Storyboard Artists take the pages you’ve written and draw them into panels. They’re largely responsible for the dramatic staging, the “acting” (matching the facial expression to the lines), and the overall mood of the scene. If you’re in sync with them, they can make your writing sing and have your friends thinking you’re a genius, if they don’t get what you’re doing it can go the other way. This is the single most maddening part of the process. It’s also the most glorious.
Story Artists are often talented writers themselves and many go on to become directors. It’s a good idea to find out where their offices are, talk out your sequence with them, and be ready to make changes to address their concerns. Also, be ready to fight for what you believe in. You’re all trying to solve the same problems and plus the movie. Fight it out and let the best idea win but embrace the spirit of collaboration and enjoy the fact that you’re not alone.

Animated features are usually divided into about 30 3-5 minute sequences. Each Story Artist is “cast” to do various sequences according to their abilities with action, comedy or dramatic moments. If you’ve followed Rule #2, you’ll quickly figure out how to write to the strength of the particular artists. If she’s great with physical comedy, take it as a challenge to create dynamic physical gags. If he’s good with drama, go for it and allow the tone of the film to change a bit. It will help give the film a variety and pace that will ultimately add to its overall entertainment.

The current state of special effects is so advanced that it’s become increasingly difficult to impress even the least theatrically experienced 8-year-old. But take heart, there are still things animation can do that can’t be matched by the most skilled effects wizards in the world. The key is to know what those things are and use them as tools to make your story as fun as possible.
Good animation looks for an “animation hook” – essentially a reason why the movie is being animated in the first place: Toys coming to life after you leave the room is a hook that bursts with possibilities. The ascension of a rat to the pinnacle of Parisian gastronomy would probably lose a bit of its charm in live action, but Ratatouille stands out as one of my favorite animated films of all time. The key is to squeeze as much mileage out of that hook as you can.
Which leads me to…

Animators will regularly spend months researching the world of the film. They’ll practically live at the zoo watching exotic animals prance around looking for the idiosyncrasies and personalities of various animals… it wouldn’t kill you to do the same.
On The Princess and the Frog, I was looking for a series of unique ways to show conflict and contrast between the fun-loving Prince Naveen and the hard-working Tiana. I ended up spending a lot of time – don’t laugh – pretending to be a frog. I finally came to the conclusion that Naveen, a world traveler and a man open to new experiences, would immediately enjoy his new frog body. He’d have no problem at all eating flies and hopping around in the swamp. Tiana, who wanted no part of this, would try to walk upright (which would lend itself to physical comedy given the fact that it’s virtually impossible for a frog to stand on two feet), she’d resist eating flies and try to retain her dignity through the experience. In the end, her inherent resourcefulness would bail them out of a jam or two and she’d slowly warm to her new circumstances. This comes to a peak when the two waltz in the middle of the film. The dance is filled with acrobatic jumps and underwater moves that only two frogs could do and it adds to the uniqueness and magic of the movie.

When I worked on situation comedies like “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “Roc”, we would write stuff like “He enters and sits on couch” followed by five pages of witty dialogue. Conversely, there’s nothing more boring in animation than two characters sitting around and talking. Keep your characters moving. Don’t let them talk about what they’re going to do, put them in action. And, when they speak, keep in mind that some poor animator is going to have to sit over a light table or a computer screen for two weeks bringing the sentence you’ve just written to life. Keep it short and make what’s there fun to play with.

Animation is a collaborative medium. An actor, (sometimes a singer) and a team of animators create a character. A team of background artists give the characters places to go. Dozens of sound engineers and composers work around the clock to create an auditory reality out of thin air. The process is as different from live action as the laws of nature allow. But, at its heart, good story telling is good story telling. The more outrageous and remarkable the world of your film is, the more it needs to be anchored with an emotional reality. Find the truth in the incredible, give your characters a beating heart, tell your stories as entertainingly as possible and have a ball doing it.

I can’t wait to see the films you make and I hope you’ll all enjoy mine this weekend!

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