Friday, 20 April 2012

Writing For Animation - 19

The Story Bible (Cont) 
When I worked in the theatre it was understood that you should Never work with animals or children. I suspect that the reason why children and animals feature so prominently in animation is that this is a medium where both can be kept under control.  Animation films have no need of a rider saying No animals were hurt in the making of this film.
Creating a world where animated animals are credible is not always easy.  Animal characters are used in animation for all sorts of different reasons.  Sometimes we come up with animal characters because children find them cute and endearing. Sometimes they take human roles; sometimes they retain some of their animal characteristics.  Sometimes there is humour to be had in the juxtaposition of human and animal characteristics.  Some films and series, like Watership Down or the Animals of Farthing Wood, are about real animals.  Sometimes, we use animal characters instead of humans to avoid censorship.  The behaviour of Fritz The Cat  might have been beyond the pale if he was human.  To be honest, his behaviour would be disgusting even for a cat!

In all these contexts, though, we are, to some extent, interpreting animal behaviour in one way or another, or using animals in a metaphorical way.  If we were not, we would be making a natural history documentary, and there would be no need for animation.  This means that animated animals will not be behaving exactly like the real thing, and, in order to make them credible, we need to carefully define what they can or cannot do.
If you are creating a world inhabited by animals, here are a few questions that might need to be addressed in the story bible:
Do they wear clothes?
Do they speak?
If they speak, who can understand them?
Where do they live?
Do they interact with human characters?
Do they move like animals, like humans, or a bit of both?
What do they eat?
Can they pick up things, and, if so, with what?
Are they driven by human emotions, or animal instinct?
Each series needs a consistent set of parameters, which should be stated clearly in the bible, so individual writers know what is possible and what is not.
If your characters are representing real animals, then they will probably not wear clothes, and will move more or less naturalistically.  As soon as you make them speak, though, you are introducing human characteristics, and inevitable inconsistencies.  A series like The Animals Of Farthing Wood is, on the surface, about a group of animals escaping from a disaster, and making a dangerous journey to a new home.  It really about how people need to work together to achieve their aim. It is about community, and self-sacrifice.   In this world, the carnivores do not eat their edible companions because of a human bond of solidarity.  In a series like this, the difficulties arise in the animals’ relationship with humans.  If the animals are speaking the same language as humans, can they understand each other?

In some series, animals are merely substitutes for human beings.  In Rupert, for example, the characters wear clothes, live in houses, walk on their hind legs, and can talk to animals and humans alike.  Rupert is not really a bear at all, but a very well educated little boy.  His world, though, is a world of magic, and the characters would not have the same charm if they were human.  In this sort of series attention needs to be paid to the mechanical aspects of the design.  I was the story editor for a series called Little Hippo, in which all the characters were animals, but behaved very much like humans.  Once I had to fly to Paris for a long discussion about whether hippos had hands.
You can have a lot of fun with characters who behave like humans, but retain some animal characteristics.  We made a series called Romuald, an animated sit-com about Santa’s reindeer.  Our reindeer wore clothes, talked to each other, to Santa and various elves, and lived in suburban houses.  At the same time they walked on four legs, used their antlers as hands, and could fly.  We could make this credible because of existing conventions about Santa and his reindeer.  Everyone accepted that Santa’s reindeer could fly, and could talk.  They laughed at Romuald’s mother knitting with her antlers.  Otherwise, the relationships were clear, and Romuald was clearly recognisable as a well-meaning, but slightly nerdy boy beset by challenges that our young audience could recognise.
The important thing is to be clear, and be consistent.  If your characters are able to do something in the 15th episode that they could not do in the first, then you will lose the confidence of your viewers.

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