Liam’s been working on writing an animation script for a company in recent months, so I asked him if he had some tips for us – and he kindly agreed to write a guest blog post for us! So, without further ado, here’s 4 things that Liam has learned on the job about writing for animation…
THE SKY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE LIMIT
There’s a notion out there that you can write anything you want in animation; no idea is too small, and everything is doable. The epic sci-fi tale or gargantuan children’s adventure that would cost huge amounts to make in live action is a doddle in animation, and cheap as chips, too.
The reality is a lot different; in live-action movie-making, there are things that already exist before filming begins. People, locations, natural light. For animation, everything has to be made from scratch – actors, locations, sets, the whole world. And every single frame has to be animated. And that costs money. Lots of it.
Movement in particular is a budgetary concern. Walking. Animals. Rope. The more moving parts and actions there are on screen, the greater the detail and greater the cost. An epic animated space opera is probably doable on a small budget, so long as every character floats around one area and speaks only via flashing lights.
There’s a reason Disney reused so many animations in its early movies (watch the Screen Junkies Honest Trailer for The Jungle Book to see the comparison in action.) So keep it in mind before starting any animation script.
THE WORLD HAS TO MAKE SENSE, NO MATTER HOW CRAZY
Animation does allow for more out there concepts. Some – Adventure Time, Ren & Stimpy, Looney Tunes even – seem to have no rhyme or reason to their worlds whatsoever. In truth, as random as many animated worlds appear, a great deal of thought has gone into what can and can’t happen in them.
The internal logic of the world of an animation has to be clear, as that will dictate not just the stories that can be told but the style of animation, casting, even the kind of characters that can feasibly show up.
Even if the characters are multi-tentacled space-pirates in an alien candy-land, it has to be certain if the space pirates can swing from their tentacles or if the Cherry Soda Volcano can erupt or will always be dormant before frame one is drawn.
BE CLEAR IF YOU’RE MAKING A CARTOON OR A TOY ADVERT
We’ve all grown accustomed to the presence of animated toy adverts on our screens (the LEGO franchise alone makes up quite a portion of it nowadays) so the temptation to create animation concepts with a pure focus on merchandising is an enticing one.
It may come as a surprise, then, that certain broadcasters – in particular national broadcasters who have educational and on-screen advertising remits to fulfill – don’t want to hear what awesome toy prospects the movie or series being pitched to them might yield.
This is also partly because, unless the concept is based on an existing product, it’ll cost more money to get merchandise produced, and at the beginning any potential financial outlay is a potential turnoff.
As with live-action pitching, it’s best to put across the story first, and leave the marketing for later.
DON’T JUST KILL YOUR DARLINGS, KILL YOUR AQUAINTANCES
As is probably evident from the previous three points, animation has a lot of limits – budget, achievable story logic, broadcaster policies, among others – and working within those limits obviously has an effect on what goes into an animation script.
Killing your darlings is a standard element of all screenwriting; sometimes there are characters, scenes or jokes you’ll love that just have to be cut. But with animation, it goes deeper. The “acquaintances” – jokes, plots, settings that are perfectly workable on paper, but fall outside the limits of the medium or aren’t achievable for some other reason, – have to go as well. And even after that, further scenes will have to be cut.
The downside is a lot of hard work will go into making a script work that won’t even make it to a storyboard. But the upside is that, if all goes according to plan, what makes it on screen will be the absolute strongest, most fat-free story that can be produced.
Thanks, Liam! If you’d like to read more about animation, I can recommend the book “The Films of Pixar Animation Studio by Kamera Books. Read my review HERE.
Liam Kavanagh is a freelance screenwriter and comic writer based in Ireland. He has written blogs and features for a number of screenwriting and media sites, including Bang2Write and The-Arcade.ie. He is co-writer of the short film I’M SORRY, BUT, screening at this year’s LA Awareness Film Festival.
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