Do The Write Thing?

Tal­ents talk writ­ing vis­ually, the in­flu­ence of con­cept and character art, and how to han­dle ex­per­i­men­tal scenes.

Animation Magazine - - Tv -

So you’re break­ing into the car­toon-writ­ing racket. You prob­a­bly have some burn­ing ques­tions, like: why the heck did I get a den­tal-hy­gien­ist de­gree? And what do an­i­ma­tion writ­ing pros know that I don’t?

Well our own Claire Stenger posed some queries to some an­i­ma­tion up-and-com­ers who’ve joined Ba­boon’s team of skilled simi­ans: Emmy-win­ning duo Pamela Hickey and Den­nys McCoy, veteran Jymn Magon ( A Goofy Movie, Duck­Tales) and sto­ry­board master John Foun­tain ( Fairly Od­dPar­ents, Rick and Morty), all of whom stopped throw­ing poo long enough to an­swer the fol­low­ing. Read up, and note that this is part one of three!

Claire Stenger: How visual do you try to be when writ­ing an an­i­ma­tion script? Does it help or hin­der the project to write vis­ually?

Pamela Hickey and Den­nys McCoy: Be­ing visual is es­sen­tial to the process. While there are some “sets” given to you by the pro­duc­ers in an­i­ma­tion — lo­ca­tions we use of­ten — once you “leave” the set, you have to cre­ate the space. If you need a bath­room, you have to de­scribe the bath­room, and any­thing in that bath­room that needs to be used for the story, i.e., if somebody gets flushed into the sew­ers, you need to de­scribe a toi­let big enough to flush your hero. Then, of course, you have to de­cide whether it’s a low-flow toi­let so that it has enough wa­ter to flush your character. Th­ese are the im­por­tant ques­tions you need to an­swer if you want to write an­i­ma­tion!

Jymn Magon: Since we don’t have real ac­tors who can follow a di­rec­tor’s words, there’s a greater need to get the di­rect­ing down on pa­per. Of­ten the writer is also de­cid­ing the sup­port­ing cast, the lo­ca­tions, the cos­tumes, the ac­tion and the props. And be­cause of the meatier stage di­rec­tions needed for all this, while a live-ac­tion script usu­ally times out at one page per minute, an­i­ma­tion is more like 1.5 pages.

John Foun­tain:

Stenger: Does the character art or con­cept art in­flu­ence your writ­ing?

Hickey & McCoy: Ab­so­lutely. If you were writ­ing for Brad Pitt, you’d know how he sounds, how he moves and his common fa­cial ex­pres­sions. Sim­i­larly, when you do an an­i­ma­tion, you get model sheets for the char­ac­ters and set­tings. The character sheets will have turn­arounds and a se­ries of ex­pres­sions for the char­ac­ters’ faces — those are your ac­tors. Re­gard­ing con­cept art — es­pe­cially sets and back­grounds — those are im­por­tant to the mood of your script, the tone. The mood of an old, dark house is go­ing to be com­pletely dif­fer­ent from that of a sub­ur­ban ranch-style home. Th­ese moods can some­times dic­tate story as much as the char­ac­ters.

Magon: Ev­ery­thing in­flu­ences my writ­ing: The con­cept art, the ac­tors, the mu­sic, what I saw on TV last night. If you’re in a cre­ative business, then ev­ery­thing in your life goes into your writ­ing. The more I see and hear about a se­ries, the bet­ter I can write for it. So I love look­ing at art­work — even rough sketches.

Stenger: How does an an­i­ma­tion writer han­dle more vis­ually ex­per­i­men­tal scenes, or scenes set to mu­sic?

Hickey & McCoy: At our desk, we would have writ­ten Dumbo’s pink ele­phant scene step-by-step, to the point of lay­ing out spe­cific vi­su­als for spe­cific lyrics or dance steps. Our method of writ­ing dic­tates that vi­su­als are a part of our story.

Magon: In TV an­i­ma­tion, there’s less call for mu­si­cal num­bers. But A Goofy Movie, for ex­am­ple, was a dif­fer­ent story. In those cases, I try to call out as many moves as I can. My par­ents were chore­og­ra­phers, so maybe it’s a lit­tle eas­ier for me. I’ve found TV sto­ry­board artists re­ally open to sug­ges­tions when it comes to mu­si­cal num­bers. As for fea­tures, you should write it as you see it, but ul­ti­mately, that is almost al­ways han­dled by the sto­ry­board folks and the an­i­ma­tors. They are re­ally re­spon­si­ble for the flu­id­ity of those se­quences.

Foun­tain: There’s a semi-fa­mous ref­er­ence among board artists. Pre­sum­ably, the script for Gone with the Wind had a point where just two words were on the page: “At­lanta Burns.” Easy to write – re­ally tough to shoot. The an­swer to this ques­tion is, sadly, another ques­tion: How much do you trust your di­rec­tor and board artists? If the an­swer is “a lot,” then rest easy. If the an­swer is “not so much,” then spell out ev­ery de­tail in writ­ing.

Tune in next is­sue for more tips from the team! Ba­boon An­i­ma­tion is a U.S.-based col­lec­tive of Os­car-nom­i­nated, multi-Em­my­win­ning an­i­ma­tion writ­ers, with cred­its on dozens of the most iconic an­i­mated shows world­wide.

Den­nys McCoy and Pamela Hickey

John Foun­tain Jymn Magon

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