Thursday, March 01, 2007

You Can't Write a Drawing

Lately the question of whether writers can write animated cartoons -- always a hot and heated topic online -- has been coming up for discussion again. See Mike Barrier and Mark Mayerson for two examples.

One of the better posts taking the anti-script position is this Eddie Fitzgerald post. He points out what is true not only of animated cartoon scripts but all scripts: they tend to emphasize dialogue over everything else because dialogue is easier to read. As an example, he presents a couple of pages from an unproduced Animaniacs script he wrote.

Stage directions just aren't fun to read; they're flat descriptions of stuff that might happen in the show, whereas the dialogue is, literally, what's going to happen in the show. There's no doubt that there's an advantage to presenting the story in pictures instead of just words: you can actually give a real idea of what is going to happen onscreen, and make it enjoyable.

Incidentally, this is probably the reason why most of the writers who did get a lot of material accepted for Animaniacs were improv comics from the Groundlings and such. (On one of the DVDs, Tom Minton, one of the few writers on that show with an actual animation background, takes a sardonic dig at the invasion of the improv people: referring to himself and other animation people, he says: "We weren't hip, you see. We weren't the hip people.") Being a performer gives you an advantage in pitching a story because you can act out the visual stuff and make it sound funny. Artists are supposed to be able to do that by sketching out the story and presenting it that way, but that's not an option that's available to them in much TV animation, where you just submit a script to read.

Fitzgerald's comments section also includes the inevitable contributions from John Kricfalusi, who as always seems to assume that all animation writers are hacks and frauds because he worked on some bad shows at Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. He also seems convinced that because Fitzgerald is a cartoonist, his Animaniacs script is better than any of the regular writers' scripts, which, frankly, I don't see.

8 comments:

Stavner said...

Does an animation writer have to be able to draw? I can draw a little bit, but not all that well--my pictures always look like blocks.

Buzz said...

Here is how I "wrote" the TINY TOONS segment where Buster & co. delivered a piano to the tune of the Hungarian Rhapsody: I put an LP of the music on a turntable, played it at 45rpm instead of 33 1/3, and while it was playing narrated along to the music what was happening. This was then delivered to the storyboard and music departments, who proceeded to do their part of the process by listening to my narration.

John K. is a marvelous animator, but he is misinformed re how animation was created prior to TV. Certainly Disney, WB, and many other studios used storyboards from the ground up, but several other studios and directors (Tex Avery, f'r instance) employed actual bonafide writers like Heck Allen and Bill Danch to created scripts for the short cartoons.

As R. Kipling once wrote, there are nine and ninety ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right.

Dave Redl said...

Take a 3-Stooges episode. Watch it. Write it. It won't be funny to read. Funny to watch, but not read. Writing is the first step of the very long and detailed process of animation. To make judgements on a cartoon based on whether or not you laughed at a script is wrong.

Reading an animation script requires skill. You just don't read the words and evaluate what you've read. You actually have to imagine a finished cartoon, fully animated, with sound effects, in color in you head, then make judgement based on that image.

The previous blogger mentioned Tex Avery worked with real writers. Tex had that skilled tool, called imagination, to evaluate a script, not based on the words he read, but the finished cartoon, 20 steps away, in his head.

Many people in the animation industry as well as clients who hire you to animate for them, do not have this skill. Clearly if they did, they wouldn't hire you! Often times, they could be holding the greatist cartoon script in their hands and wouldn't know it.

This is why lots of cartoons today are "wordy". It requires no skill at all to read a funny piece of dialogue and say, "Hey, this is funny." But if you read a paragraph describing a funny physical gag, you may not see the humor in it.

You may argue why write at all? Writing is faster than drawing. I could write "100 monkeys dance" much faster than I can draw it. And I could correct it to "100 HIPPOS dance" faster than I can draw it. Unless I had a photographic memory, writing helps get the idea down quickly. A skilled individual, like Tex Avery, looks it over imagining the finished piece, makes some changes, then draws it.

Even without a script, I've found clients without the skill of imagination can't read a story board either. They look at panel 3 when you're talking about panel 1. They see the board as a comic strip, not a finished moving colorful cartoon with sound.

So, how do you hand feed the client or unimaginative individual your idea? You could film your story board, so the client can only see one panel at a time and in the pacing and tempo you set up. You can add sound effects, dialogue and even music to complete the picture. It's like "automatic animation" or "animation automated" or an "ANIMATIC"!

Scripts and story boards are very important to the process of animation but should only be seen and used internally by those who know how to use them.

While comic strips and novels are great things, (I'm a comic strip cartoonist at heart) they are only a small part of a bigger thing in animation.

D

Jorge Garrido said...

Heck Allen didn`t write full scripts, he contributed a few gags. He even admitted himself that he was noting and that Tex was a one-man show.

Mr. Semaj said...

Fitzgerald's comments section also includes the inevitable contributions from John Kricfalusi, who as always seems to assume that all animation writers are hacks and frauds because he worked on some bad shows at Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. He also seems convinced that because Fitzgerald is a cartoonist, his Animaniacs script is better than any of the regular writers' scripts, which, frankly, I don't see.


I brought up something like this before, only to get more "black-and-white" logic from Steve Worth.

Not all of your animation writers are untalented. As we've seen with Duckman, Classic Rugrats, The Simpsons (up until a few years ago), and Futurama, there are many writers out there who can't draw, but their hearts are in the right place.

And while there ARE a lot of scripted toons that are poor, like Rocket Power, you'll get an occasional instance where a storyboarded toon fails to entertain. We all remember how Ren & Stimpy Adult Party failed to meet our expectations.

What really matters is skills and taste. If you're creating an arguement where it simply HAS to be one or the other, of course the side you agree with is going to say the other is evil (and vice-versa), when in many cases, it isn't always true.

John Pannozzi said...

I have to say that I agree with what Jaime posted about script vs. storyboard back in 2004. In fact, I referenced it in response to post on John K.'s blog about this arguement.

PCUnfunny said...

In my opinion,the only really effective cartoon script is one that is drawn. You can write a descripton of a visual gag but why when a drawing is better ? A written cartoon script isn't entirely wrong but I feel it's a half-assed way of making a toon.

"We all remember how Ren & Stimpy Adult Party failed to meet our expectations."

Probably yours.The acting and animation in APC was top notch.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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