What Makes a Hero?

Cassie Galloway posted this recap of the Hero’s Journey on Animation Belfast.I haven’t read about story craft in a while, and seeing how it’s the most important element (of every media?) it’s something I need to start reading about and practicing again.

“You leave your comfort zone, have an experience that transforms you and then you recover, and do it again.”

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Sound like life true enough.



These are some articles that I found on worldbuilding. They give some food for thought for our concept art/build a world project.

Chuck Wendig (2013) 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding:


Tad Williams (2013) Thoughtful Thursday: Tad Williams talks about world-building: (The importance of research and giving glimpses into something bigger).


Charlie Jane Anders (2013) 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding:


Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy

As well as having compositional problems, Alec also suggested that we needed to make the timing snappier and that we should have a look at Edgar Wright for some inspiration for creating comedy. I found this video from the ‘Every Frame a Painting’ (Tony Zhou’s) YouTube channel: Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy and it contains lots of points that we could consider.

  • Find humour in places that other people don’t look e.g. a character moving from point a to point b.
  • How can you creatively foreshadow an important/disastrous event that will happen later?
  • How can you creatively show how one character feels about another/reacts to another?
  • How can you take simple mundane scenes and find new ways to do them? Consider how a laugh can come from the staging alone. Things popping into and out of frame unexpectedly can create a laugh. A laugh can be created from zooming, a crane up and panning – all camera moves that can reveal something unexpected about the character’s situation or create comedic drama.
  • “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s not in the frame.” – Martin Scorsese

These are 8 things that filmmakers should try out to create visual comedy:

  1. Things entering the frame in funny ways.
  2. People leaving the frame in funny ways.
  3. There and back again – a character moving to direct your eyes to a situation and then returning to the original state.
  4. Matching scene transitions.
  5. The perfectly timed sound effect.
  6. Action sychronised to the music
  7. Super dramatic lighting cues.
  8. Fence gags
  9. bonus: Imaginary gun fights

Book – Ideas For The Animated Short (2008)

Screen Shot 11-07-15 at 11.51 PM

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

Pixar’s Storytelling Process

I watched this before I’d heard of The Hero’s Journey but it’s interesting to look back and see how similar the structure is. I’d also heard of this structure in Brian McDonald’s book Invisible Ink (2010) which I need to read again.

The structure:

  1. Once upon a time…(your protagonist)
  2. And every day…
  3. Until one day…
  4. And because of this…(events correlate/happen for a reason).
  5. And because of this…
  6. Until finally…
  7. And ever since that day…

The Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast #11: Billion Dollar Stories


Sometimes when I’m on the bus I like to take notes of podcasts that I listen to. These are some points I took from the Paul Briggs interview on the Bancroft Brothers podcast:

  • Students are competing with people who have 20+ years of experience so cut your teeth at smaller companies.
  • Find mentors to critique the test work you produce.
  • If you meet with someone always follow up with a thank you letter.
  • You’re a writer with your drawings. Pin up your sequences on a board and put post-it notes on all the story beats. Make the beats as tight as possible. Check out Bill Pete’s boards for Tarzan for a good example of this. Economy: capture a simple idea with as little sketches as possible.
  • Head of story wrangles the team. Ask: Why is story here? Why is sequence here? Why does this moment work? The head of story is a conduit between crew and director and should therefore work on boards too as well as supervise.
  • Why are you making this movie? What message are you trying to convey?
  • Choices are what define us. Talk to old people about their lives.

Channel 101: Story Structure

Oisin suggested that we research Dan Harmon’s essays on story structure as, although they’re based on Campbell’s and Vogler’s writing, Harmon has adapted his story structure to be used for creating short pilot episodes (for Channel 101).

These are my notes from Story Structure 104: The Juicy Details

Harmon vs. Campbell

The diagram above shows where Campbell’s Hero’s Journey relates to Harmon’s.


1. You (A character is in a zone of comfort): Establish a protagonist.

“the audience is floating freely like a ghost until you give them a place to land”. This imprinting is easier to achieve when you provide the audience with a character which they can relate to (especially someone you can feel sorry for).

2. Need (but they want something): Something ain’t quite right.

Show that something is off balance in the character’s universe. This could be something that the character wishes for within him/herself or something that is happening externally (a call to adventure). Refusal of the call is sometimes used as we can relate to being afraid of change.

3. Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation): Crossing the threshold.

Figure out what your ‘movie poster’ is. The threshold will set off events that will lead to the ‘unfamiliar world’ that you want to sell to your audience. Contrast between the ‘familiar world’ and the ‘unfamiliar world’ is important.

4. Search (adapt to it): The road of trials.

This is where the character is ‘put through the digestive track’ and broken down. “We are headed for the deepest level of the unconscious mind, and we cannot reach it encumbered by all that crap we used to think was important.”

5. Find: Meeting with the Goddess.

The road of trials is to prepare the protagonist for this point in the story. It’s considered a major pivot point and a time for great revelations and total vulnerability. From what I understand of Harmon’s essay this should be where you show a definable moment describing what your character has become as a result of the journey so far, a moment where the protagonist learns something about themselves and in doing so can actively decide to ascend to the next part of the story.

6. Take (pay it’s price): Meet your maker

This part of the journey has it’s own ‘road of trials’ in order to prepare you for returning to the ordinary world. This is where the protagonist will shed her/his last remnants of ego thus completing what Campbell calls “Atonement with the Father”. “In the first half of the circle, you were reacting to the forces of the universe, adapting, changing, seeking. Now you have BECOME the universe. You have become that which makes things happen. You have become a living God.”

7. Return (and go back to where they started): Bringing it home.

This can be as easy as a hug goodbye or it can be more difficult, what Campbell calls ‘The Magic Flight’.

8. Change (now capable of change): Master of Both Worlds

” …the protagonist, on whatever scale, is now a world-altering ninja. They have been to the strange place, they have adapted to it, they have discovered true power and now they are back where they started, forever changed and forever capable of creating change. In a love story, they are able to love. In a Kung Fu story, they’re able to Kung all of the Fu. In a slasher film, they can now slash the slasher.”