Friday, 27 April 2012

Writing For Animation - 20

The Story Bible- the World (cont)
Animation is about illusion.  Typically, students learning the first steps of animation will be taught how to distort images using “squash and stretch”, and be set a series of exercises with bouncing balls, flapping flags, etc.   2D animation is all about visual tricks, which is why the German word for animation is Trickfilm.  We have already discussed how animation filmmakers like Tex Avery pushed the boundaries of what is possible in terms of timing and distortion.  This sort of animation is usually referred to nowadays as being cartoony.

I hope I have spent weeks, if not months, of blog encouraging writers to try their hand at animation because it has limitless possibilities for fantasy.  Unfortunately, in story bibles for most animated series you will find guidelines that severely limit these possibilities, as cartoon animation, and 2D in general, becomes less fashionable.  There are lots of reasons for this.  Cartoon animation demands a level of draughtsmanship and a sense of timing that is beyond the grasp of many animators.  Though computer generated animation is continually advancing technologically, it does not lend itself easily to the sort of excessive distortions created by people like Tex Avery.  Stop motion animation is even less responsive to a cartoony approach.  In this medium, the simple bouncing ball exercise practiced by animation beginners would normally be achieved by creating several different models of a ball, distorted in different way, which are replaced between exposures.

The demise of the cinema short has meant that animation is primarily made for children, and some of the extreme slapstick of shows like Tom and Jerry is deemed to be too violent. Many broadcasters, concerned both about political correctness, and about the need to keep their young viewers engaged, like to have characters on screen acting like the real children watchin.
For this reason, the story bible for a series will have a very detailed account of what is possible in the world that has been created, and what is not.  I am currently writing scripts for a series about a young Viking.  The series has an educational subtext, so we are not allowed anachronisms. This is not The Flintstones, or Jetsons, where fun was to be had by playing out a contemporary sitcom in the past or the future.  The Viking show needs to have Viking folk doing Viking things in a Nordic location.   All the same, it is not entirely naturalistic.  The characters are larger than life. Our young hero is able to train seals, and finds ways of extricating the Viking crew from the disasters they create with a series of inventions that might be inspired by Heath Robinson.
This particular bible also has an appendix, explaining in great detail the techniques being used, what they are best at, and what could be difficult.  It also has notes on what can be achieved within the budget.
All good story bibles will have these elements.  The point of the bible is to give the writer the most amount of information possible.  There is nothing more frustrating for him, or more time-consuming for the story editor, than to find that the script he has spent days writing either does not conform to the norms of the world that has been created, or is unachievable for one reason of another.
In our stop motion series, Igam Ogam, we supply the writers with a description of each set, duly photographed.  Though we have a couple of sets that can be constantly redressed to suggest different locations, we have no budget either for the building of new sets, or for the creation of new characters.  The metal skeleton, called an armature, for each new character would cost several thousand pounds without the mould for the silicon, clothing, etc. Stop motion, and often CG shows will have similar limitations for props.
Next week:  The Story Bible (cont)

I am going to Tallinn next week, so may not post again now for a fortnight. 
Also, I am taking down some of the early posts of this blog, enhanced versions of which should be available from the beginning of June as inexpensive i-books on the Apple store.  Look out for The Ten Commandments Of Pitching, and Ten Questions To Ask Yourself When Developing An Animated Series.

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