Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Writing for Animation

I received an email from someone asking about writing for animation. For the sake of background information, I started as an animator at a studio in LA, at some point that evolved into working in the story department as a story artist. The story artist is a person that writes an animated film in visual form by drawing images. Today, studios are changing. The art of the story artist is being lost. This is one of those mandates by the pathetic executives that are taking over our beloved industry without a clue of what made it so successful in the first place.

Almost all of the studios these days don’t even bring in the story artist until the treatment or sometimes script is completed by a writer. That means someone sits down at a typewriter and knocks out the story before a pencil is lifted. These studios don’t even want to see a story artist until they have greenlit the screenplay. It saves them money and they don’t feel like they are losing anything by doing this. However, they are removing the piece of the puzzle that has been so successful in the past. Executives see the story artist as a waste of space, after all, animated films are just movies, why can’t they follow the same rules as a regular live action film?

To the person who wrote the question to me via email: If you are an artist and wish to work in story (as a story artist), then you should go to a school such as CalArts. But, be warned that your creative future is not what it would of been a few years back. If you are not an artist but wish to work as a writer for animation. You are in luck, it seems like everyone is embracing that as the preferred method of animated film development. If you aren’t employed at a major studio, your best bet is to do some writing, take that to some agents, and try to get represented. The bigger agents won’t even look at you unless you have done film or television work already, so you are in a catch-22. Start with the smaller agents and work your way up. I suggest going to wordplayer.com and get some information from the writers there.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure to what extent the demise of the story artist is a recent trend. I was under the impression that the story artist had been mostly eliminated ever since the (roughly) 7-minute format of Looney Tunes etc. faded away. The structures of those cartoons were loose - a simple setup followed by gags of varying lengths. When longer formats and limited animation took over, writing for animation became necessary as a starting point for an episode.

Story artists still had and have their niche, which tends to be work on feature films (even if they start with a script - which I think is necessary to lay down the structure - they still go through the process of having story artists invent and shape sequences), experimental films, advertising etc. Also, I wonder to what extent shows like Dexter's Lab and Samurai Jack are scripted - it seems to me hardly at all sometimes - those shows do look and feel like they originated with story artists.

I stumbled on this blog a few days ago, wondering what was out there in terms of film/animation blogs. I don't have much time now, but I'm going to get a Blogger account and will be back soon on a more regular basis and with a proper nickname. I've been in the animation industry (in Europe) for about fifteen years now, from slightly different angles (mostly in production & writing).

The subject you touch on here is particularly interesting to me, since I am trying to figure out what the optimal method of development for features and series is. For features, it seems to me that a screenplay subsequently worked over by a team of artists in the sweatbox method is about right - isn't that how Pixar more or less does it these days? I don't see much room for improvement there - unfortunately it does require a certain luxury re. budget and time.

Where it gets trickier is with series animation, where the 'studio without walls' has not done the quality of animation many favors; an animation writer sends off his script, it is passed on to a storyboard artist whose storyboard is then commented on, but under the pressure of a series pipeline, those comments tend to focus on simple (often technical) matters of getting the film language right.

Back soon.

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