The Story Bible: Setting the parameters.
No story bible would be complete with a description of both the style of animation, and the technique used. In my experience, this is a list of things that are inadvisable or impossible for a writer to propose. I have yet to see a story bible that sets no parameters.
Our story bible for Igam Ogam, for example, will list the possible locations to be used, and the characters. Since new sets and stop-motion models are extremely expensive, the writers need to construct stories using these characters and locations. New characters do emerge, but they tend to be simply made, using leftover materials. In Igam Ogam, a furry caterpillar called Wriggle Wiggle made an appearance in a story, and became a fixture. In Fireman Sam, it was a pet sheep called Wooly. Both of these were made with a simple piece of wire and some fluffy material.
Similarly, we had one set that could be constantly re-dressed, so as long as a new location didn’t involve buildings or large landmarks, there was some flexibility with locations.
In a bible for a stop-motion series, you are likely to find restrictions on moving the camera, which may need a costly motion control rig, or on characters or objects leaving the ground, which also require a rig and some touching up in post. There are often other restrictions limiting what a character can do. For some reason, stop motion characters never have arms long enough to reach the top of their heads, and often have very short legs.
You will find similar restrictions in other media. I am currently writing scripts for an international coproduction made in computer generated animation. The bible is very detailed, and comes with a large section about what is possible technically, and what should be avoided. It explains the limitations of the software they are using, and of the budget. Another type of limitation could be, of course, that of the skills of the animators.
2D shows usually are more flexible technically, but often will include restrictions on the amount of distortion that is possible, usually for artistic, rather than technical reasons. We have discussed this in a previous chapter. Cartoony animation is not always appropriate, and there may be instructions not to bend bodies out of shape, detach hair, eyes, etc for expressive effect. More usual would be a limitation in the number of people in a scene, or on water effects, explosions, etc.
Animation production for television is an industrial process, and it is important that the scriptwriters understand what is needed to make that process work. At the same time, a good story bible will not heap so many restrictions on the writer that he or she has no room for manoeuvre.
More interestingly, in this section you would include some creative parameters. These often have to do with genre. In an action adventure series, are you allowed to crack jokes? Are you allowed to engage with serious issues in a sitcom like the Simpsons? Can you have a romantic storyline in a science fiction series? Writers like to push the envelope of the genre they are working in, and it is important that the bible is clear about how far they can go.
A producer colleague once showed me a bible for a boy’s action show that had very clear rules about how much aggression there could be without transgressing compliancing restrictions. Cynically, he had come up with a set of suggestions which injected violence into the show, but in an oblique way, i.e. nobody ever hit anyone else. The show was a big hit.
Any cultural parameters would also be explained here. Some shows avoid Christmas episodes because they are concerned about sales to the Middle East. Other shows, championing multi-culturalism, might encourage episodes that relate to festive occasions.
In this section there might also be a discussion about taste. I’m sure that the bible for South Park will have insisted on a level of tastelessness that needs to be sustained throughout the series.
Next - The Story Bible: Storylines