Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Cartoon Story Process

This Huff Post pice hits the nail squarely.

A story strand that didn't make it to the final picture.

... Animated filmmaking is a much different beast than traditional live-action. ... With animation, it ... often starts with the concept. ...

[A]nimated stories will always start with the visuals and concepts first. The screenplay is often drastically changed, more so than in live-action script development. ...

Well, yes and no. ...

Earlier animated features (Pinocchio, Dumbo, etc.) were visual and conceptual because they lived and died via storyboards.

In the beginning, there was an animated feature roiling around inside Walt Disney's head; that story was made real via the visual art of storyboarding. That made them visual in ways that live-action films (and we're talking live-action films with sound) never were, because those movies started with descriptive narrative and dialogue on a white sheet of paper, not visual presentations pinned to a cork board.

The "early Disney" style of story construction held sway until live-action oriented execs named Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over Disney Feature Animation and the written word began to dominate. ("I don't get storyboards," Michael Eisner said in his first years at Disney. "I relate to scripts.")

In the years since, storyboard artists have pulled animated features back toward their roots, but I still see feature board artists at their Cintiqs "waiting for new script pages." John Lasseter, of course, came out of the visual side of animation, so it stands to reason that concepts and visuals are important with Disney and Pixar animated features *.

* The above refers to theatrical animated features. In television, scripted half hours have dominated for decades, though even in television, a number of series are "board driven", with artists given a premise or outline, and then writing aid visualizing the show on tv production boards.


Unknown said...

Not exactly true. Disney ALWAYS had screenwriters. The difference being they worked in tandem with the visual creation process. And Live Action screenplays go through a LOT more changes than animation--always have. It's just before production begins where costs can be saved while ironing out things. Live Action often changes yet again, in unexpected ways, during the editing process. Screenplays are still first and foremost both at Disney and Pixar. But like the early Disney process (and even, eventually the process under Katzenburg and Eisner), although the script always comes first, the story reels are where the films are made.

A lot of early sound (and silent) live action films started out this way, too. Designers like William Cameron Menzies, Anton Grot, Dan Sayre Grosbeak, and Lyle Wheeler would lavishly illustrate ideas for films both with treatments and screenplays. Menzies storyboarded the entirety of Gone With The Wind in tandem with multiple screenwriters over several years. In color. In 1937.

Screenplays are very important, but only as a part of the storytelling process--not the end all be all--the problem most studios new to animation never seem to quite get!

Steve Hulett said...

Re "Gone With the Wind", Ben Hecht rewrote the screenplay turned in by Sidney Howard in seven days of furious work after director Victor Fleming told Selznick: "You fcking script is no fcking good." Production was shut down for two weeks while the first half of the script was rewritten by Hecht. Naturally enough, Selznick claimed major credit for the final screenplay.

Yup, Disney features always had treatments, outlines, sequence scripts, but storyboard artists had wide leeway. Bill Peet constructed "101 Dalmations" from Dodie Smith's book by himself, which it pretty closely follows. "Fox and the Hound" and "Basil of Baker Street" (two I know something about) were visually driven, sequence by sequence. Script was done in bits and pieces in collaboration with board artists.

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