Book – Ideas For The Animated Short (2008)

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I found this book particularly helpful for defining what it means to be simple. Simple doesn’t mean boring or bland but sometimes I tend towards complexity thinking that it will make a piece of work more interesting. I also found the descriptions of the different types of conflict to be useful.

These are some notes I took for quick revision of some of the ideas presented in Ideas for the Animated Short (2008):

The Visual Development phase is key, no matter what the size of the film is, as it must co-exist with the story in a highly compatible way for the film to work.
There are many reasons to tell stories, but all of them have really one purpose: to show us something about ourselves. Stories are about people.

Screenwriter Karl Iglesias has a very simple and clear definition of story: “A story has someone who wants something badly and is having trouble getting it.” [1]

1. Character. This is whom the story is about and through whose eyes the story is told. 2. Goal. This is the physical object the character wants to obtain: the princess, the treasure, the girl, the boon, the bounty, the recognition, and so on. 3. Conflict. Conflict is what is between the character and his goal. There are three forms of conflict: • Character vs. Character • Character vs. Environment • Character vs. Self

Originality in story:
Observing how someone else reacts to problems, different from how we, as an audience member might, is concurrently educational and compelling. It gives us a reason to watch.
Conflict in a story can be about desire versus need.
“Example: Shrek wants (desire) to be left alone, but what he needs to learn is that he needs others, and he deserves others. Manfred just wants to be left alone, but he finds he needs a herd. Howl wants to be left alone, but finds he needs his heart (and thus others).”

Beyond the obvious differences in running time, scope, complexity, budget and resources, the animated short requires a directness, clarity, simplicity, and economy of structure, plot, and assets not found in feature films.

By starting simple, you allow yourself and your idea room to expand naturally, which is a MUCH more enviable place than committing to a large and convoluted idea which you may ultimately be forced to slice and dice for one reason or another. (Money, time, resources.) Better to start simple and build!

1. Story is king
…there are times when an audience (not an employer) will forgive poor technique, but they will never forgive a poor story.
2. Keep it simple
Remember, one concept or theme, one conflict, two characters, two locations, and only the props that are needed to tell the story. What types of stories work for the short? • Simple single situations • One conflict that intensifies, a single memorable moment, slices of life, demonstrations of personality.

“What types of stories don’t work for the short? • Hero’s Journeys • Epic Tales • Uncharted Territories or Complicated Concepts • You will spend all of your time in exposition, explaining where we are or how it works. • Little-Known Facts • You may know that penguins rub oil from a gland to make their feathers waterproof and windproof, but if your story conflict is that a penguin has run out of oil, most people will never get it.
3. Know your concept or theme
The concept statement is one sentence. For the short, that sentence needs to be simple and clear. It needs to have a viewpoint. There is little time in the short to present an unbiased and balanced commentary. The concept statement is the one non-negotiable element of your story. Everything else is swappable—characters, locations, plots. However, what you want to say, your theme, is your foundation. Write it down. Print it out. Read it.
4. Avoid Cliché Avoid using chatacters, plots and symbols that have been overused.
5. Create a memorable character – “There is “something” about their design and their personality that makes us want to know more about them and makes us empathize with their plight. This is called appeal.” A good character for your story is one which is irreplacable – a character who can be replaced by any other character becomes flat – you need to create a character that is stictched into the fabric of the story.
6. Emotion drives action – “As Ed Hooks reminds us, a character will play an action until something happens to make him or her play another action. A story is defined by the character. More specifically, it is defined by how the character reacts to the situation he is in.”
7. Show, don’t tell – As an animator, you need to consider not only what the character does, but the extremes of the action to communicate believably the emotionally through pantomime.
When someone asks you why you are using animation to create a film – with the time and expense involved – there needs to be a good reason. There needs to be something in the design and storyline of your piece that requires animation.
You need to consider, from the initial idea, what we are going to see. It is never too soon to begin to make your piece visual. It is often the visual that sells the idea.
8. Create Conflict …often an initial pitch will include wonderful characters that are moving through events, but it is all exposition. There is no conflict and, consequently, there is no ending because there is nothing to resolve.
Conflict = Drama – character vs. Character, character vs. Environment, character vs. Self
Conflict is not a sword fight, a war, a car chase, or a competition. These are the results of the character in opposition.
9. Know your ending – endings must transform the character, the audience or both.
10. Entertain your audience – “audiences are entertained when they are visually, emotionally and intellectually engaged.
The best shorts are the ones that have some adventure, some sorrow, some tenderness, and some laughter. They are the ones that hold a few surprises and the ones that you continue to think about after you see them. How will your audience feel and what will they remember after watching your film?
11. Use humour – When looking for ideas, consider how you might make your audience laugh. This doesn’t mean your piece has to be funny. Laughter comes from recognition, appeal, and reaction. It is an important consideration, since laughter is an expectation of the animated film.
12. Do something you like

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