Character Trees RocketJump Film School

Character Trees (2015) RocketJump Film School

The following description prompts, starting from the feet up, could be a useful way for us to build a picture of our characters. The exercise is meant to help you figure out the psychology of your character which will impact what decisions the character makes within the story. The example below is from Video Game Highschool.

The following is FILM CRIT HULK’s outline of each part of the tree:


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Rocketjump Film School How to Write a Logline


  1. Who is your main character?
  2. What do they want?
  3. What’s in their way?
  4. How do they overcome it?
  5. Where does it take place?

Write down the surface details, e.g. profession, and personality details of your main character. Combine the key character descriptors, those that will drive the narrative, with the setting and conflict to make a 1 – 2 sentence logline.

Heather Kenyon: Pitch Bible

Creating an idea for a series which we love and which still adheres to the requirements of a particular broadcaster has been a recent shared challenge for me at Flickerpix. There is still a lot about writing character driven narrative which I’m trying to figure out. I see the broadcaster brief as less of a limitation and more of a challenge. How does writing for a 10 year old audience differ from an 8 or 14 year old audience? I would guess that looking at particular life events would be a good place to start but what about the language and types of characters? I usually categorise the books that I read a little more broadly into children, young adult fiction and other, usually depending on the age of the main characters if it’s a more modern book. Paying more attention to target audience in the bookshelves might be more helpful.

Trying to distill an idea into a short form while still maintaining the humour and demonstrating how the characters drive the narrative has been another challenge. The video link below has some useful tips.

How to Create a Pitch Bible with Heather Kenyon

  • Think about the competition. Is there something on air that is already similar to your idea? Have a good answer why it’s not that.
  • Think about where you see your show. Know the difference between networks and where you are able to sell. Don’t handicap yourself with a tiny niche.
  • Think about what relates to your target audience. What are in their lives?
  • Ask for feedback. What doesn’t make sense to them? Start soft pitching the idea. See where you stumble or are too convoluted.
  • Your bible is your presentation guide. Don’t read from it. Ask if people want a hardcopy or a pdf emailed to them.
  • Kidscreen, miptv, mipcom (bigger for animation).
  • Your bible should be around 10 pages, a fun easy read. Overview, character descriptions, episode examples.
  • Overview – tagline, start at the beginning, you need to start with the basic information! What are the rules, tone, genre, length of episodes, storylines? The overview is 1 – 2 pages describing the complete package. Give exact examples, be clear about the points. This is the stage.
  • Character descriptions. Adjectives don’t tell you much. Be creative about how you describe character. The look of the character can be a good opportunity to start with ‘the opposite’ statement. E.g. Mandy is disgusting. She uses her sweet looks to get her way. Show the conflict between what the character is and what the character wants to be.
  • Episode spring boards. This is the area that makes or breaks the bible. Show the beginning, middle and end. Give the examples that draw the overviews and characters together. What is it about the characters that motivate actions in the story line? Who is important in your show? Have you given them enough prickles in their personalities to drive the story off of each other?

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)

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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