Saturday, April 19, 2008

The problem with Vilification... you learn, 99 times out of a hundred, that once you start actually talking to someone, they don't turn out to be villificatable (not a word, I know.)

Stephen and I finally connected today.    As you know, part of the reason I want to do the "script that classic" contest is to find that middle ground - prove that words can paint pictures, show that there's a place in animation for scripts.

We talked for about a half an hour - I know this because my Iphone counts upwards - and it was a good chat about animation, cartoons, process, what works and what doesn't.

And while we CLEARLY have different viewpoints, I think that Stephen's world and mine are not as far apart as the internet might make it seem.   So... here's where we're at with this.

Stephen's the judge on this.    That's always been the goal:  Get the guy who is the historian at the ASIFA archive to judge a contest based on words.

I'm the filter - you send the script to me, I "anonymize it" and send it to him.  But I am the moat between submission and judgment.  Which is, as I've said, seasoned to taste.

I know what I'm looking for, so does he.    And you guys know the process.  As of right now, the number of scripts received is... well... LOW.    There are still 12 days left to get me the script so they can be judged.

We now interrupt the update with a side note.


Interesting point of conversation:

While I believe history is important, I also understand that people are inspired by what they know.  Ren and Stimpy inspired people.  So, quite frankly, did Fairly Oddparents.  Different people from different sides of the isle, to get involved with different sides of the same industry.  Everybody's going to have an opinion as to what's better.

Lets use John K as an example:  I think there are a couple of Ren and Stimpy's that are classics - that work, that are funny.  And then, there was the new Ren and Stimpy, which I could not watch.   There's the ranger smith cartoon which left me feeling icky (sorry, but if we're being honest, that's where I am.)  Then there's spongebob, or Power Puff girls, or more recently, El Tigre  (picking stuff we talked about) that most of the time, I leave laughing.  And impressed.  And maybe even jealous that I could not have done that.

I think most of the time, writers who post are more interested in "There's two ways to do it, and they're both right" more than the artists who post are.  But script writers aren't trying to cut artists out of the picture - their opinion is that the words drive the art.  Which relegates the board and art to a place where it serves the word and script.

Artists that believe scripts have no place in animation want to relegate writers to serving cofee, or at the very least, punch up.

I defend the Family Guy and South Park's of the world as "pop" - they are cartoons of the moment.  And they are as strong if not stronger, to me, than some of the classic sitcoms I enjoyed growing up and SOME of the board shows I see now.  

They are - on an entertainment level - STRONGER to me than some of the stuff that he holds up as classics.

I will let him discuss this.

His point is interesting and intellectually valid:  The sitcoms I like have actors interpreting the words.  And then, there was a moment where I realized - a good board artist / story person  is the person who takes the words in a script and turns that cartoon character into an actor, the same way Woody Harrelson did on Cheers, or Kramer on Seinfeld.

I hadn't really thought of it that way, honestly.  And, to be fair, I don't know that I care too much about that while I'm laughing my ass off at the cartoons I like.   Moreso, I don't know how you make an adult, prime-time, sitcom style cartoon with those goals, or if that even matters.

There are scripted shows I don't like, and board-driven shows I do.  And vice versa.  It's all about personal taste.  What I don't like is anyone telling writers their contributions are invalid, or unimportant.

So now, we're having dialogue.  Which I think is important.

So, the contest continues.  The criteria is admittedly arbitrary.  But the goals are concrete.

Me?  I'm looking for a script that best shows "Falling Hare" in script form.  So is he.   And as long as words are used to do that, we're all on the same page.

Tomorrow:  I'm going to talk about my view point about the difference between "Animation" and "A cartoon."  They can be, in my mind, two different things.  They have different criteria.    And neither are wrong.

Glad to be back.

   - Steve

P.S.  Taking down the moderation now.


Stephen Worth said...

Sorry, it's a busy weekend and I have to talk fast. I'll come back and read the post this coming week when things aren't so harried. But I want to make a couple of quick points.

I'm available from 1pm to 9pm Tuesday through Friday at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive by phone, AIM-iChat, and email. So far, no one has taken me up on my offer to outline what the judging criteria is going to be.

This is not a creative writing exercise. I won't be looking for the most beautifully described action or the most accurate transcription from the screen. What I will be looking for is a reverse engineered scenario that would fulfill the requirements of what the storyboard artist needs to be able to do his job.

If you are entering this contest and you've never worked with a storyboard artist before, you had better get on the stick and find some online to pump for information. Or just contact me. Each step in the animation process should serve the next step in the production line. That means being totally aware of how a storyboard artist works and what he needs from the person preparing the story.

I'm in the process of writing a series of articles on story at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. Unfortunately, the digitizing and formatting of all the material is taking a great deal of time, so I am only two posts in on a series that will probably be six posts.

Falling Hare was written using a specific process. If it had been written using a different process, a different cartoon would have resulted. If you choose to enter this contest, you need to be aware of how this cartoon was made, and how the material you are submitting fits into the process. That is what the contest is all about, not just writing flowery descriptions or precisely describing camera angles.

Do you know what a storyboard artist needs?

See ya

Steve said...

The above, by the way, is part of this exercise.

I didn't pick a Family Guy or a South Park, I picked a Bugs Bunny - a cartoon that's a gag driven show to backwards engineer a script.

These two goals are not mutually exclusive. They shouldn't be - here, or in the business.

Now get writing!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

>>their (writers) opinion is that the words drive the art.

character and story drive the art. end of story.

>>Artists that believe scripts have no place in animation want to relegate writers to serving cofee, or at the very least, punch up.

No, we are not all bitter. But we do aspire to have our work seen and read by voice actors so they can understand the art to. And we aspire to writer-direct those voices as well. Then invite our writer-artist colleagues to help us do it. The rest about form and structure and using Microsoft Word is just semantics.

Stephen Worth said...

Someone asked, so I'm sharing my answer here so everyone can have the same info to work from... I'm copy pasting, so please forgive any line break problems.

"I've been reading your posts on the ASIFA blog, but I was wondering if you could share your advice on what an artist would be looking for in a script. It would be a great help. Thanks!"

Glad you asked!

Classic cartoons are the way they are because of how they were created. The process is part and parcel of what makes them what they are. For a vivid example of this, see the documentary "The Unknown Chaplin". It outlines how a pantomime silent feature was made, and Chaplin's writing process is very similar to the way classic animated cartoons were written.

The idea of this project is to reverse engineer "Falling Hare". In order to do that, you need to understand how a cartoon like this was originally produced. If you aren't familiar with the way cartoons used to be written, a good reference is Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston's book "Too Funny For Words". I can't imagine that there is a cartoon writer who doesn't own this book. It is to cartoon writing what "Illusion of Life" is to animation.

It's good that you've read the first two articles on story that I've posted to the archive blog. In this contest, you find yourself as the story man at the end of the second article. You have a stack of doodles and notes done by the artists riffing on the premise. You need to work these into a continuity for the storyboard artist and organize the notes into a format that he can work from.

Normally, you would be working under a director, who would be running the whole process of creation, but for the purposes of this contest, think of the cartoon itself as the clear direction of what is
wanted, and reverse engineer the notes a story man would do for the artist who would be responsible for creating that.

The most important thing that a storyboard artist
needs is STRUCTURE. He needs to know the beginning, middle and end of the story. When he goes to board, he's probably not going to work in chronological order. It's easier for an artist to do the payoffs first, because you can create funnier and stronger setups when you know exactly where you're going to end up.

This means that the storyboard artist needs to be able to easily find the divisions in the sequences and the breaks between each gag setup and payoff (referred to at Warner Bros as a "blackout"). He will likely take your notes and cut them up with scissors and use it to pin up on his board as a placeholder for the areas he hasn't drawn out yet, so make it easy on him. No big dense blocks of text... just modular quick descriptions with headings dividing the sequences.

The second thing that a storyboard artist needs is CONTINUITY. He needs to understand the basic flow and the logical order that the action occurs in. But remember, the board artist will also be getting all of the doodles from the "no no session" along with your notes, so you don't need to do extensive descriptions of action. All you need to do is describe the basic continuity of where each gag goes in the timeline of the cartoon.

The third thing that a storyboard artist needs is
INTENT. The cartoon has a purpose, which is stated
in the premise. The beginning, middle and end each have purposes as well. Each gag within each of those sections have purposes. It's not enough to just describe WHAT happens. You need to also quickly explain WHY. If an action in the beginning sets up some action later in the story, the storyboard artist needs to know that. He needs to know what each sequence is trying to put across.

When you sit down and analyze "Falling Hare", I
think you'll find that there's no arbitrary action or random water treading in this story- everything from macro down to micro serves the basic premise and the logical structure and progression of the story.

What you need to provide is a clear statement of the premise, an outline of the structure and intent, and a brief treatment in script form showing the basic continuity. Of these three documents, the treatment is the least important to the storyboard artist. He won't be working from that. The only purpose it serves is to explain the continuity to him so he can grasp it. This is a seven minute cartoon, so all three elements should be possible to do in two or three pages maximum.

Some caveats... You are working from a finished film, but keep in mind, you aren't just writing a transcription of the film in script form. Any monkey can look at a video and describe it. You are preparing the story for the storyboard artist to work from. That takes a writer who understands animation.

The storyboard artist is responsible for the visual storytelling- cutting, visual rhythm, staging, posing, etc. This can only be done in drawings, so don't tie his hands by calling shots, describing blocking or going into great detail on how the action plays out. The layout artist is responsible for the design and scenics, so don't tie his hand by overly describing the backgrounds. The animator is responsible for the performance, so don't tie his hands by telling him specifics of how to play the
character in the scene. None of these things are your job as a story man. Your job is to take the notes from the gag sessions and come up with the continuity, structure and intent. That's it.

We have a finished cartoon that we're working from, so you can include the dialogue that directly relates to the gags, but keep in mind that with a film like "Falling Hare" the dialogue would not be finalized until the storyboard was complete. You don't have to (and probably shouldn't) include all the dialogue in your material- just the dialogue needed to explain the gags. Feel free to paraphrase. (ie: "Bugs angrily tells the Gremlin to get lost") This will get across the intent better than just transcribing dialogue would.

One philosophical note... The animation process works when each step in the production line serves the next step in the process. The gag writers need to present their doodles and gag session notes in a way that the story man can use it. The story man needs to prepare his scenario in a format that serves the purposes of the storyboard artist. The storyboard artist needs to prepare his board to serve the layout department. And the layout department needs to keep in mind the needs of the animators. This means that you aren't writing something that will ever be seen *as writing*. It doesn't matter if you can spell. It doesn't matter if you can type quickly. It doesn't matter if you have a large vocabulary. All that matters is that you understand what a storyboard artist *needs* and you give him that.

It's an exercise in ANALYTICAL writing. You aren't describing a finished cartoon to someone in the hopes that they will be able to precisely draw it from your words. That's impossible. Besides, storyboard artists aren't ILLUSTRATORS OF SCRIPTS. They are VISUAL STORYTELLERS. Help them do their job.

Every board artist I've ever spoken to has horror stories about the scripts they've received that had none of the things they *need* to work from, and a lot of overly specific "writerly" things that would just tie their hands and prevent them from coming up with a visual way of presenting the basic continuity. The thing they usually do when they're faced with this situation is they throw out the script and create their own premise and outline and continuity and work from that. The lousy writers who cause these problems seem to either not be aware that this is happening, or they just don't care as long as they get their check on time. That sort of attitude doesn't make great cartoons.

I'll have a couple of storyboard artists with me when I judge, and I'll be listening to them about what they need and which entries give them that the best. That will be the winner.

Hope this helps. I'm going to post this to Steve's blog too so others can see it. I'll be in the archive after 2pm on Tuesday. Feel free to call me if you have any questions. The number is in the footer of the archive site.

Steve Worth
Animation Archive

Stephen Worth said...

By the way for those who haven't read the articles on the archive site yet...

Story: Writing Cartoons Pt 1- The Gag Session

Story: Writing Cartoons Pt 2- A Continuity Emerges

Anonymous said...

It is exactly as I feared.

Stephen Worth isn't looking for a script that best shows "Falling Hare" in typical modern script form, filling the needs that a typical modern script is expected to fill for typical modern board artists.

Instead Stephen is looking for a script that would have been written for "Falling Hare" in 1943; a script that doesn't describe action or characterization in detail, because it's merely a colorless, emotionless intermediate stage between drawings ("doodles from the 'no no session', [which] the board artist will also be getting... along with your notes") and more drawings (the board artist's own, in which he will stage everything).

Today's board artists don't exist in the world of that production system. We exist in a world where execs, however misguided, often expect a board artist to work from a written script alone, delivered without accompanying drawings.

I thought the challenge was to show that a script of that type, delivered on its own for production within that system, could still deliver the emotion, characterization, and vibrant insanity of Falling Hare in such a way that a board artist could create the cartoon, or something close to it, without any other documents to guide him/her.

Instead, we have a dichotomy: Steve Marmel, you ask us to show that a great story can be told via creative words alone ("I think there are writers who can write lyrically, visually and well enough that they can script out a classic"); then you, Stephen Worth, warn us not to put any creativity into our work ("THIS ISN'T AN EXERCISE IN CREATIVE WRITING"), because you know, the board artist _isn't_ going to get our words alone.

So what's it going to be? Steve wants to see how creative a script can be. Stephen wants to see how noncreative it can be, to show scriptwriters their true place as noncreatives.

I can deliver a script that matches Stephen's needs, but how would that script help a modern board artist in real life, who would receive it by itself?

I'd sure love to hear a board artist's firsthand take on this.

Steve said...

Well, I will say this:

Steve (me) believes that these scripts need to be in script form, and Steve (me again) believes that on a dialogue driven show, scrips should be longer, rather than shorter...

...and on a gag driven show - like the one we're working on here - that less is more.

Steve (referring to himself in third person) has written long scripts for Jonnny Bravo and Fairly Oddparents, and short scripts for Cow and Chicken and I.M. Weasel (Which Steve was less appropriate for.)

Steve (that's me) is also the gate between Steve and Stephen, and if Steve (me) gets an outline, not a script, then Steve (that's me) will think twice before moving the script on to Stephen.

Because this isn't "outline this classic."

I don't think Steve and Stephen's goals are mutually exclusive, and that is a big part of why I wanted to do this.

(Okay, enough "Royal We")

I could have picked a Simpsons or a Family Guy, or a South Park, but I didn't. I picked a classic cartoon that had verbal wordplay, with a classic, defined character.

I can deliver a script that matches Stephen's needs, but how would that script help a modern board artist in real life, who would receive it by itself?

I'd sure love to hear a board artist's firsthand take on this.

What will be interesting, and what I'm hoping to engage when the contest part is over, is a discussion with board artists and writers on the reality of that winning script - from both a creative level and a commercial level. Which is why the writer will remain anonymous unless he or she chooses to reveal his or herself.

I want EXACTLY the conversation you want.


Good lord, but it's late. Catch up with all the chaos in the AM.

- Steve (Yes, this Steve)

Stephen Worth said...

I'd sure love to hear a board artist's firsthand take on this.

I consulted with four board artists on this subject, and I have a call into a fifth. What you see is the distillation of their experience, and my experience as a storyboard supervisor and animation historian for the past couple of decades.

Classic pantomime driven cartoons are a product of the process used to create them. I think we can all agree that Bugs Bunny would never have been created in the upside down world where misguided execs decide how cartoons should be made. In this contest we're looking at the past for clues to how cartoons like this could be produced today.

From the very beginning, I've clearly stated that I am not qualified to judge an abstract creative writing exercise. However, I am qualified to judge the usefulness of materials used to produce animated cartoons. That's been my job for the past couple of decades.

Steve presented this contest to me as an opportunity to increase dialogue between writers and story artists about how we can make cartoons of the same type and calibre as classic cartoons. I am 100% behind that concept and I'm enthusiastic about engaging in that sort of discussion.

I've done a great deal of research into how classic cartoons were written, and I've presented that information to you as clearly as I know how. I've spent a great deal of time carefully defining how I will be judging the entries, so you know up front what I'll be expecting to see. I've even specifically described the document I am looking for. This isn't difficult unless you want to make it difficult. If you want to win, you should pay attention to the information I've prepared for you.

See ya

Stephen Worth said...

The third installment of Writing For Animation is up at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Blog...

Writing Cartoons Part Three: Structure