Mistakes describing action.
We have already discussed how dialogue should be kept brief and how writers should try to avoid telling us what is happening but show us instead. A common mistake made by writers is
· Not writing enough action. If you are writing a movie script, you tend to allow a page for every minute on the screen. For animation scripts you usually need to allow a page and a half for every minute. This is because you need to write a lot more action and description. You don’t have a location manager to find the perfect castle, bungalow or hovel. You don’t have crew members who will rush around finding costumes or props. You may have an art director but you are primarily writing for a storyboard artist who is going to have to draw everything from scratch. You have to be able to give this artist a clear picture of what is happening. You don’t have to describe everything in the scene, but you need to write enough for the reader to get a clear picture in his mind.
· Don’t describe what people are feeling. Animation drawings and models, computer generated or tangible, have no feelings. However sophisticated they might be, they do not have the range of expression of a human being. Animation drawings may have dots for eyes, a single line for a mouth or hoofs instead of hands. Images don’t have sudden moments of inspiration, bouts of depression or moments of foolish passion, so it’s pointless to write this sort of instruction to a non-existent actor in your script. We find out what our animated characters are feeling from their actions and this is what you should be describing.
A great character with a very simply drawn face.
· Don’t write too many adjectives. This is an extension of the former point. For the reasons stated above there is little point in describing a character as disappointed, friendly or silly. You should try to use adjectives only when they are describing something visual. You can say someone is green, hairy or muscular but not that he is strong. There is no point in describing someone as strong unless he is to use his strength, in which case we should see him doing something that exhibits his strength. The English language has a wealth of very expressive verbs. Verbs are about action but can also be very descriptive. I find that it is easier to give the reader a picture of what is happening by using words like saunter, trudge, stomp, etc rather than simply walk. You need to find your own way of describing actions that express emotion and character but I would advise not to use an adjective if you can use an adverb, and not to use an adverb if you can use a verb.
· Don’t write anything that cannot be achieved. In animation anything can happen but every show has its own world. Even in animation it is rare for anything to fall upwards, though this may happen if we have already established that there is no gravity or that we are in a place where natural laws are reversed. Some writers get excited by the freedom that animation allows and come up with imaginative ideas that simply do not work in the world created for the series. In our series about football, for example, one writer wanted the Scottish manager’s face to turn tartan when he was angry. Within the naturalistic world of the series, this was totally inappropriate.
If you have a grasp of the world of the series and a clear visual picture of what you are writing you should never write anything that cannot be achieved within the series. When we were making SuperTed, the director was forever questioning me about action I had written. I don’t see how the girl can fall off the ledge and disappear into a cave halfway down the cliff. He was pointing out a lack of clarity in my writing. Because he worked in the same studio I could draw a crude drawing for him, including a sloping branch down which the girl slid into the cave. Most writers never meet the director. You need to make sure everything is written clearly and can be animated convincingly.
· Don’t write things that are too expensive. Writers cannot be expected to know about the technical aspects of animation and, for this reason, a good writer’s bible will include some pointers about the limits of the technique and the budget. Since every character needs to be drawn or manipulated separately writers should keep the numbers of characters on screen down to a minimum and avoid crowd scenes. If you watch animated series, you will notice devices used by writers and storyboard artists to give the impression of crowd activity – hats thrown into the air, close ups of feet running through shot or clashing swords, etc.
Traditionally you should avoid earthquakes, tidal waves, animals in any number with more than two legs and water.
Common mistakes with scene structure.
If you have an iPad check out my new iBook The Ten Commandments Of Pitching.
and my colleague Andrew's book about how to come up with visual ideas: