Chris Sanders Explained Problems With the Industry in 1989

Big Bear Aircraft Company

Brew reader “Test Pilot” was looking through his copy of The Illusion of Life when he stumbled onto some Xeroxes circa 1989 tucked inside of the book. The story and artwork, posted in its entirety on this blog is by Chris Sanders, director of Lilo & Stitch and How To Train Your Dragon. It’s called The Big Bear Aircraft Company, and of course, the drawings ooze with typical Sanders appeal.

But this isn’t any normal story concept. The sub-title is “A Book for the Big Retreat.” And the story is an allegorical tale about the animation industry. The message is loud and clear: a management-heavy, writer-driven animation studio will be doomed to produce safe and unoriginal animated films. His devastating takedown of writers is notable; he doesn’t even bother extending a metaphor to them and bluntly depicts their uselessness in his story’s setting, which is an aircraft factory:

The writer likes airplanes; he saw one on TV once. He has actually never worked on one before, and couldn’t tell you for sure what makes one fly. But now he’s got the idea, and is hammering away at an incredible rate. . . . Without the visual engineer’s guidance, the writer is guaranteed of making the same mistake every time. He will make his airplane look like every one he’s seen before, and he will power it with a plot and dialogue engine, the biggest and heaviest he can find.

The document raises a number of fascinating questions that perhaps Chris or someone else familiar with the document’s origin can answer. For example, what retreat was this created for, who saw the document originally, have Chris’s views changed or evolved in the past couple decades, and most importantly, did anybody listen to Chris’s passionate plea to trust the artists?

UPDATE: Chris Sanders wrote two detailed comments about the purpose of the book, what he hoped to accomplish with it, and the role of writers in animation. Click HERE to read Chris’s thoughts.


  • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

    Another question would be: How embarrassed/pissed would Chris Sanders be to have something written 20 years ago for private consumption, dragged into the present day public spotlight?

    • http://popyea.deviantart.com/ nick

      private consumption?
      yeah, he wrote it just so he could curl up under his desk and read it every time a writer was giving him the shits.

      • Gene

        this was handed out at a Disney offsite–and it’s made the public rounds before long ago. I’ve had a copy forever, and know dozens of people that have it as well.

    • Inkan1969

      Did “Test Pilot” ask Sanders for permission to post? If not, has Sanders objected?

    • Jason

      Lol private consumption? This sort of information is exactly what all companies and people should see. I see that you’re a fan of Big Bear.

  • Peter Wassink

    i love the pretty things painted on the side of this (rather awful) metaphor.

    • Bud

      If anyone owns the copyright, it’s the Walt Disney Company, not sanders.

      • Jason

        An excellent example of why our copyright system is broken.

  • Matt

    Something like this being told in the form of a picture book with some not too subtle subtext and just a bit of strategically replaced wording. I think it’s a great document that needs to be seen and certainly not anything Chris Sanders needs to be “embarrassed/pissed” about.

    You seem to be a fellow with some strange notions there Mr Schnier.

    • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

      “strange notions” – Damned right. That’s what makes me a great writer.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I’ve enjoyed it quite well, a very important lesson that needs to be learned.

  • Michael

    Without writers you would have no story. That’s all there is to it.

    • Sardonic Tuba

      *Ahem* I’d like to take this moment to say… Bull$#!t.

      • Just-a-fan

        Part of the problem is that the words “writer” and “writing” can mean different things in different contexts. Creating animation is usually a work of storytelling. Ultimately, a work of visual storytelling. Getting it to that final point may require written storytelling, storyboards or other media – audio storytelling while you record people talking about the idea, anything. But a large part of animation can’t adequately be expressed by writing alone, you have to see it, have some visual structure to get things across.

        Writers can write, and many write damn well, but if it’s something to be animated, at some point you have to stop the written storytelling, and switch to visual mode.

        The ideal situation is having someone who can visualize animation as well as write well. The bad situation is having someone with little or no grounding in animation at all: “Here’s what I’ve written – Now go animate it.” It usually means their ability to communicate the story is limited. The might be a great writer – but an animator might have to throw out or change whole swaths of things to make it work visually.

        And this isn’t limited to animation, look at Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of The Rings; whole parts of the book got tossed out because it just wasn’t feasible. A line in the script that briefly mentioned the characters running down some stairs, got seized on by visual storytellers and turned into the long sequence with the collapsing staircase in the mines of Moria.

        “Writer” is often shorthand for “storyteller”. It’s not a bad word or a bad thing to be. Understanding plot structure, how to echo parts of the story throughout the work, having engaging characters, conflicts, these are useful skills. But if your Hollywood job position is “Writer” and you’re called in to write a paper script for an animated feature (or worse still, change things mid-way through production) – if you don’t understand the nuances and power of telling a story visually, then it generates bad blood between the two disciplines. Text-writers and animators should know where their strengths lie, work together, and allow the creative process to shift to the right people as the storytelling demands. Now if only producers and execs could see things that way.

    • http://n/a somcol

      Thats not exactly “True”Re: In Animation. Do some homework when ever your not “Writing”?

  • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

    Regarding this whole “writers have no place in animation” thing.

    Take out the word “writers”. Substitute the word (Blacks, Jews, Gays, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, Students, Old Timers – take your choice. Did I miss anyone?) and it puts it into an interesting perspective.

    Yeah. “Writers” have no place in animation.

    • Aaron

      Isn’t it more equivalent to subtituting another JOB, like “doctors have no place in animation” or “politicians have no place in animation”?

      • amid

        No Aaron, the point Steve is making is that if you don’t like writers throughout the animation process, then you’re a racist, antisemitic, ageist, homophobe.

      • Matt

        This’ll be the most useless comment here but…

        HA!

        Amid gets a genuine laugh in my book with that quip. Thumbs up!

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        Actually Amid, that is the point that I’m making. Is one prejudice ‘better’ than another?

        I remember my first week in the Sheridan College Animation program, circa 1978. The instructor told our female classmates that they were wasting their time – there was no place in the animation industry for women… except for the Ink and Paint department, of course.

      • G. Melissa Graziano

        Personally, I don’t see the racist/mysogonist connection. Sorry. Becoming a writer is a profession, a choice. None of that other stuff has to do with choice. There’s definitely prejudice against writers in this industry, but I wouldn’t say it was comparable with bigotry.

        I’m going to take a wild shot in the dark and say that what Sanders meant by “writers” was “writers who don’t understand animation” or possibly “people who think they are writers but aren’t (i.e. most producers)”. I’m a writer and an animator, and generally have a much easier time working with people in the business who know how to write than those who don’t. I don’t think writers should be the be-all end-all or should be making major decisions about a show (unless it was THEIR show), but they’re definitely important.

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        As a writer who created (wrote, produced and directed) his own series, I can assure you that the old saying is true – If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.

        Think about your favorite TV show or movie – live or animated. Why is it your favorite? Is it the story? The characters? Is it funny? Scary?

        Whatever it is – someone wrote that. It doesn’t just happen. Someone chose the best words for the actors to say. Someone chose the best words to describe the action and scene in the script.

      • Conor

        So tell me, what writer came up with all of Buster Keaton’s prat falls and double takes? Who wrote the scowl Bea Arthur made whenever Betty White said something stupid on Golden Girls?

        You can convey a great deal more with visuals with words, and animation, being a visual medium, should take advantage of that fact, but it won’t be able to if it’s in the hands of writers trying to convey in words what an artist could convey on a storyboard much more effectively.

      • Bud

        And the first people both Bea Arthur and most great actors will say is they couldn’t have done it without great writing. I won’t defend ALL writers, there’s plenty of bad ones. But the single most successful screenWRITER was a woman who started in the silent film era and continued writing through the mid 1950′s–Francis Marion. Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin worshiped her (as did Buster Keaton). Walt Disney employed a bunch of writers from Snow White on.

        The actors/animators bring things to life, but without a script, all you’ve got is a lifeless corpse.

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        @Conor – Who wrote the lines that Betty White said – which cued Bea Arthur’s reaction.

        Hmm…? Could it have been… a writer?

      • Conor

        Pick apart my examples if you must, but my broader point remains the same. The entire concept of language was created as a means by which to convey ideas, images, and sensations that couldn’t otherwise be immediately or directly experienced by the person being addressed (i.e. if every human shared all the same experiences, there would be no reason to talk), be they historical recollections or pulled from the imagination. Language, by it’s very nature is an imperfect abstraction, used only because there’s no other method by which to express a specific idea, so for the visual storyteller (at least one who has as much control over the end product as an animator), it seems like writing would just be a largely unnecessary middleman (barring occasions where characters themselves make use of language, obviously), when once could simply let the contents of their imaginations flow out in their natural state onto a storyboard.

        Yes you need a script for the actors to read off of, you need to start with a rough outline to figure out the over-arching story structure and sequence of scenes, but when creating an animated film it’s always better for the story to be developed by an artist with a storyboard than a writer with a screenplay.

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        Conor, I have to strongly disagree. Screenwriting involves plotting out a cohesive story involving plot, character development, complications, etc.

        It isn’t merely a bunch of smart lines – and directions moving the characters from point A to B.

        I’m not for one second saying that the actor or the animator doesn’t make a huge contribution to the process. But it has to start somewhere – and what better place than with a TERRIFIC story.

      • Conor

        Who’s to say that a terrific story can’t come from an artist making a storyboard? How many painters start out with detailed written descriptions? I’d wager not many, but a painting can tell a story all the same, but it tells it with physicality, with expressions, with posture, with how the characters react to each other. What is animation if not moving paintings? It takes an artist with a sense of story, but an artist still. That’s what an animator is, those are the people who get into animation, and those are the people who started animation: People with a strong affinity for both storytelling and visual arts, traditional artists with a passion for filmmaking.

        You seem to be claiming that writers have exclusive claim to storytelling, but that’s just not true.

      • http://4eyedanimation.com JoeCorrao

        a storyboard is still written..if only in the mind before pen hits paper…even an animator who just animates writes the story out in his head if not on paper…its the story thats important…show me a good animation that doesn’t have a script to follow.

      • Was My Face Red

        Good writing happens on boards – in scripts – and in peoples heads as Joe says. Don’t mistake writing for typing. In screenwriting it’s the manipulation of many elements in time to evoke, communicate, excite, educate or move people – and there’s lots of way to get that onto the screen.

        Conor, if you give examples you have to accept that others may challenge them and have a point.

    • Conor

      Yes, hypothetical situations presented by mad men typically result in “interesting perspective(s)”.

      Animation is a visual medium, writers can have a place, but they certainly shouldn’t be the driving force, a piece of animation should be, ideally, be conceived through visual ideas, not written word, or at the very least, by someone who has an idea of the logistics of the process of animation.

      • http://n/a somcol

        I Concur….VERY WELL Said Conor!!

      • Bud

        Baloney. It’s not “either/or.” It’s “AND.” All film is a VISUAL MEDIUM. Animation is no different. And most begin with a script of some sort or another. As it’s always been.

      • Conor

        Wrong, the almost every major studio in the golden age of animation conceived projects with storyboards, which is why the opening credits just about every Looney Tune lists the credit “Story By” as opposed to “Screenplay By” or “Written By”. Think of animation like ballet, you can’t choreograph if you can’t dance, so why should people who can’t draw dictate the work of the animator?

        As far as live action goes, the major difference is that there’s no implied necessity of artists to begin with, and each project is started without a specific space or cast in mind, whereas with animation those aspects are created specifically to meet the needs of the story. What’s more, in live action, you’re working with a point of reference. We all know what a person looks like, but animation should be able to do things that writing can’t really do justice to.

    • Robert

      A person isn’t born a writer. A person is born Black, Gay, White, Asian, etc.

      • A.C. the actor

        This. I was writing a long comment in response, but it’s really not worth it.

        I’m just really baffled, as a writer, that someone’s calling “discrimination and prejudice!!” It’s really quite surreal.

    • Luke

      What the heck is your point?

    • Tim Drage

      Sorry I don’t get what you’re saying here; do you think you could maybe try using a more shrill, absurd and heavy handed metaphor?

    • http://kandjcomic.com/ John S

      I don’t say this often, but Steve’s comment is reaaaaalllyy dumb. Equating the dislike of incompetent writers with racism or any kind of discrimination is insulting and moronic.

    • http://4eyedanimation.com JoeCorrao

      yup even if its just pantomime its still “written”…its storytelling. But an animation project with artists partitioned off from writers is a bad idea.

  • http://thisisonlya.blogspot.com robcat2075

    “Trust the artists” can’t be the whole solution or every one of those films the Nine Old Men made would have been fabulous.

    • oodelally

      I only remember good movies made by the nine old men. sure some movies didnt make as much money, or some films like sleeping beauty are better than say, melody time, but not one of them is bad. so “trust the artist” sounds to be a very good thing to me.

      • Paul N

        You must not have seen “The Aristocats”…

      • Bud

        Good one—Aristocats and most that followed. The 9 old men craved strong writing and direction, but their egos got in the way and their films from Jungle Book on became stale, repetitive, ugly, and dull. The later Disney films had writers–just bad ones. And just look at bluth films–none had writers, and it certainly shows.

      • Mark Sheldon

        Bluth us the seminal example of visual story telling run a muck. I also think his animation is a little heavily referenced but now I’m getting off topic.

      • oodelally

        bud- are you talking about the list of movies that goes The Aristocats, Robin Hood, Winnie the pooh, The rescuers, Fox and the hound? Because i see a lot of good movies on that list. and those movies are oscar calibur if compared to chicken little and home on the range

        but yes the visual looks of the movies did decline abit but please dont think for one minute that had anything to do with walt dying and the 9 old very different men had lost the one man that joined them and kept them together…..

      • Paul N

        Aristocats is nearly unwatchable – story is derivative of 101 Dalmatians. Characters are ill-defined. About the only good thing in the show is the “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” sequence. Beyond that…

  • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ mick

    This is about right and entertaining enough. It is true we are under appreciated, I am myself something of a genius in funny pictures and possess a golden imagination festooned with emerald bonus. As a lover I am second to none. It’s about time someone coughed up the readies.

    (insert the words ‘dyke’ ‘pillowcase’ ‘brown hatter’ and ‘corporate wang doodle’ in the above statement and then you’ll see that butchers have no place in animation)

    • Matt

      @Mick
      Firstly, I love your simple cartoony flash work, designs and silly loony loopy cartoons. So please correct me if I’m wrong, but are you stating a dislike for Sanders as a director? Are you being ironic? Are you simply being brutally honest and open about yourself and your own abilities? Or is it all three?

      Either way I’m sitting here laughing at this comment.

      If I had the means to I’d gladly help fund & animate any project of yours.

      All the best, Cheers!

      • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ mick

        Well that is awfully decent of you to say.
        In answer to your questions I would add: I imagine Chris Sanders is a good stick and his work is excellent. I am not smart enough to be ironic? My mind is an open leaflet and my own abilities mock me at every turn.

        I think what I was trying to say is… By Thor’s mighty spanner we will defeat, without exception, the fetid beast of mediocruddy, safe paddling, middle of the roadery, and stamp into dust those self appointed graspers whom drown all that which is meant to beguile and enchant

        Tally ho!

  • Trevor Keen

    I remember a trend a while back in indie animation for all the characters to talk in gibberish. Perhaps the animators were motivated by a desire to have their films enjoyed around the world without language barriers…or else just so they wouldn’t have to get someone to write dialogue.

    • Matt

      Writing is far more than just dialogue.
      Even books are a “visual” medium when you take into account the readers own minds eye. So when you’ve got a medium that can apparently realise and represent things beyond reality, why would you ever have your characters talking incessantly, or have an external monologue going the whole damn time?

      Here, learn something.

  • John Tebbel

    Writers work for producers. They’re no more in charge of things than editors or composers or people who can draw. And producers all want to make profitable films which leads (human nature) to a regression towards a mean (these days: strong story, memorable dialog, star casting, modern marketing, and, lately, established brands).

  • Scarabim

    A good writer should be able to adapt his or her work to any medium, in my opinion.

    The trouble with cartoon writers is that there are so many BAD ones, and they keep getting work.

    • snip2346

      “Bad”, meaning what people commonly consider cartoon writing to be. The general idea is that if it’s for a cartoon, it needs to be immature, have bad puns, tons of plot holes, potty humor, crude violence, and dumb characters. If we’re going for “good” cartoon writing, it should virtually be exactly the same as you would treat a script for live-action, or develop a story or way of writing that can only work in animation.

  • Gene

    Sanders co- directed those films with director Dean DuBlois. Dean held both those cartoons together.

  • John A

    He was obviously drawing parallels to the Ron Miller years, and the competition was Don Bluth. History now shows that he wasn’t the threat he might have been perceived as in 1989, and the new group that came in an pulled the studio out of the doldrums and into its most profitable and critically celebrated period would fall into the same script reliant, formulaic pattern that nearly sunk the animation industry over 20 years ago.

    But what a breath of fresh air those pictures are! It’s a shame it took the studio another ten years to let him do a film in his style.

  • http://MrFun'sBlog Floyd Norman

    There were many off sites and retreats like this one back in the day. I remember a few at Pixar as well.

    Anyway, what Sanders says is true. Why do you suppose Disney crashed and burned after a string of hits in the early nineties? Once management had the artists marginalized, the end was clearly in sight. This is no knock against writers because there are many good ones. However, I remember more than a few who sucked at writing for animation.

    • http://www.segaltoons.com Steve Segal

      I think the failure of Disney after the 90′s Renaissance was at least partially due to the death of Frank Wells which led to the forced departure of Jeffery Katzenberg.

  • http://soundcloud.com/the-tiny-orchestra/sets/time-wounds-all-heels John Halfpenny

    We’ve actually come full circle since this document was created. The depressing state of the business in the eighties gave way to a creative boom in the nineties. The resulting financial success brought a desire to understand what was working.

    The critical judgement club was formed. Each department was tasked with identifying best practices for how they worked. These practices became codified and gradually more arcane. That’s how we began closing down new areas of exploration before there was any chance to develop creative critical mass. All of these amazing technological changes weren’t being harnessed. If it didn’t fit the known profile, it must be a bad idea or impossible to do.

    Good ideas can never thrive in this sort of environment. They need to be nurtured with emotional commitment not sandbagged by petty naysayers. Of course an idea doesn’t need a writer to exist. But it does need a workable process to evolve.

    To suggest that executives and writers were the only ones who caught this disease is missing the point. Many “artists” played the same game, protecting their fiefdoms with the same shopworn “expertise”. The system rewarded the calculators not the instigators.

    It’s this system that needs change. Let’s quit blaming each other, roll up our sleeves and get at it.

    If your budget is too low, find a new way to tell your story. Wall-to-wall bad animation is never a solution to anything. Appropriate dynamics entice a viewer. Mystery engages the imagination even in a comedy setting. Design reinforces goals. Novelty without purpose is alienating but freshness is exciting.

    Support good work when you find it. Ignore bad work. Don’t beat yourself up about your guilty pleasures though. They have succeeded on a level that defies intellectual probing.

    The next golden age is right around the corner if we can just change our tone.

  • Ben

    I loved the way this was put together. One; I would like to know what retreat this was for also, and two; I want to know what competition he felt was (at the time) at Disney’s heels ready to overtake it. Maybe he was referring to Don Bluth’s stuff, like An American Tail, and The Land Before Time? Those two did actually do well at the time.

    The one problem I have with it, is that it’s not really about the writers. You need writers. Yes, some are bad, but there are bad writers in every industry. How many awful live-action films get greenlit with horrible writing? I don’t think the animation industry’s problem is with the writers. If they are given good direction, they can compliment the artists. I think the problem lies with “Bear”, and the other executives who have no clue how to create art. Personally, I think Chris Sanders was just frustrated at bad writers, but I think it’s unfair to blame them completely and paint them to be know-nothings who just want to make the same thing over, and over again. Maybe that was his experience, but it’s not universal.

  • http://animationinventory.blogspot.com/ teodor

    I am more interested in industry problem of 2011

    • Louis

      Then go start your own webaite.

      • Ryoku

        Then give him a link or some more advice on that.

      • Anoniguy
      • http://animationinventory.blogspot.com/ teodor

        My comments are always short because of differences in language.
        This comment is a result of the title of this topic,
        Chris Sanders beautifully presented universal problems of ‘aircraft’ industry /end of the story is great/ but

        the present production has a new problem-who acommissioned, approved projects even who watches them?
        In conversation with friends concludes that all these new projects /mostly for tv/ are unlikable and have no appeal…must be honest-they are all right.

        It is interesting to know that someone thinks that I am part of some global problems.
        My place and I are far away from any industry and never will be.

  • http://houseofcartooning.blogspot.com/ T Will

    Well, if you read the whole story, he does say that the team still needs one writer. He just doesn’t let the writer have complete control of the story, they have to work with their small team, and must be willing to give and take ideas.
    Sounds like Chris doesn’t hate writers, he just doesn’t like when they control the whole story and disregard ideas from the visual department.

    • Rick R.

      Exactly! What I got out of it is, if you write a piece heavy on dialogue and plot, or if you keep making the same film over and over.. then you can’t have the flights of fancy (pun intended) that make for truly memorable and fresh animation. No killing or writers or hate crimes against bards required.

      And the book was prescient of what would happen in the 90s.. how many times in Disney films would it be that a comely and somehow “independent, feminist” female with a cute animal sidekick would have to fall in love with some schlub before the moon was full or the clock struck 13 or the universe would end? Cinderella became The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Tarzan and a few others. It really was just the same old plane with fresh paint.

      • Was My Face Red

        It was when Vogler’s book ‘The Writers Journey’ was adopted as the blue print for every single Disney film rather than, as Vogler suggested, just a tool to help creatives come up with more ideas. Whenever a Disney hero or heroine climbs a hill at the end of act one to sing a ‘somewhere out there, there must be a better life’ song that’s the also the sound of Vogler being run into the ground mercilessly.

  • Andrew

    Yeesh- what a clumsy, poorly-worded metaphor. That document could have used a writer.

  • Clint H

    I thought this was awesome! Despite the metaphor not being so subtle, the designs were really beautiful to look at.

  • Pat

    I think what Sanders was implying was that there needs to be cooperation between writers and the engineers of animation, charcater animators, layout, color and well everyone.

    Animators are working under very strict deadlines and a set of rules. And most seem to think it’s the way things are supposed to work.

    Maybe we really do need to just wait for these films to crash and burn until we get our next shot, wouldn’t that just be sad.

  • Inkan1969

    Maybe not the most elegant metaphor ever written, but still a fun story. This has been a constant theme of this website and the old magazine that used to go with the website. I’ve read this theme as well in the old “Wild Cartoon Kingdom” magazine as well as in anything written by John Kricfalusi.: Suits without direct experience in the creative process will not be able to judge quality work on their own. Animation is a visual medium, and so artists are the most knowledgeable people in knowing how to use that medium. Writers may be talented, but they might not have the appropriate sensibilities for the medium. When people who don’t understand the medium make all the decisions, disaster follows. It’s not that those people are evil; they just don’t know what they’re doing.

    And kudos to Sanders’s artistic style. Some of the most appealing art around. “Lilo and Stitch” was a breath of fresh air after so many films with harsh and angular characters.

  • http://www.brettharder.com Brett

    I think Hayao Miyazaki knows what he’s doing with his approach. He storyboards the film and writes in the dialogue (I believe there’s not even a formal script?) as is comes. He has enough faith in his intuition (both as an artist and writer) that he begins film production with uncompleted storyboards! This approach allows for the visual and story related aspects of the film to grow organically as they feed off one another. It isn’t always the best approach but there’s something appealing about films that are the product of a single vision.

    • Bud

      And a lot of his films show this (especially the horrible Princess Mononoke). I like the charm of some of his films, but his approach has yielded just as much crap as it has gems.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com Frank Panucci

    Bears are funny!

  • http://www.spitandspite.com Final Word…

    Yeah, yeah, I agree. Bears are funny… still, I’d like to get some market testing before I make a final decision.

    • http://www.animehell.org danno

      Our research shows that Cats are very popular, so if you could change the bear to a cat…

  • Skeptical

    It’s interesting that people seem to thing Chris is referring to some Bluth films as the ‘competition’ who finally got it right. In the booklet, the bear is wistfully trying to remake the plane design that is labelled ’1989,’ which would seem to indicate that Disney management wanted to do another ‘Little Mermaid.’ What competition was ‘getting it right’ after 1989, at a time when Disney was starting to get sclerotic in their development? My guess is Pixar and ‘Toy Story’ is what he’s referring to. If this was done in, say 1996-1997, then Toy Story would have been the big non-Disney hit, at a time when Disney was making and developing bombastic musical clunkers like Pocahontas and Hunchback and Hercules.

    It seems that the booklet had it’s intended effect, because if this timeline is correct, then it means that Chris would have headed to Florida and started developing the atypical and smallish ‘Lilo and Stitch’ soon after.

    • Skeptical

      In other words, Amid has misread the illustration with ’1989′ in the background, and by referring to it as “circa 1989″ led to many people’s confusion. It has to be circa 1995-1996. Sander’s first Disney credit is in 1990, and his credits before that were all in TV (Garfield, Muppet Babies). This is written after Sanders had experienced the changes that happened at Disney after ‘The Little Mermaid,’ but before he became a director, and he’s clearly frustrated by those changes.

      I think there’s a lot of misplaced speculation about what writer’s he was referring to. We all know that during this new golden age at Disney, scripts became the new standard, and outside writers with reputations built from live-action films were suddenly inserted into the formerly artist driven development process. Eisner and Katzenberg are well know to have preferred scripts to storyboards during this time. This was also a time when ‘the hero’s journey’ writing template became an iron-clad boilerplate in animation, and analysts like Chris Vogler were seen as geniuses by management.

      If it’s true that Pixar was the competing company who was showing the new way, I think it might be time for someone to write/draw a similar document for JL and the management in Emeryville.

      • http://ryuuseipro.blogspot.com/ John Paul Cassidy

        Yeah, but how could that document be any better than Sanders’?

        I think Sanders’ THE BIG BEAR AIRCRAFT COMPANY holds true to this very day. Once upon a time, in the field of Disney, the “Big Bear” represented Michael Eisner or maybe David Stainton. Today, Big Bear could represent Robert Iger or John Lasseter (who was once an innovator himself, now must practice what he has preached, considering his own follies). The story could take place at any time, and the point of it is (and it can apply to any animation studio, or filmmakers in general), can we do something EVEN BETTER than the best thing we did?

        It’s strongly possible. The people in charge need to be more brave about innovation, rather than stick with something safe and tired.

      • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John Sanford

        Skeptical: I know for a fact that the 1989 date is correct.

  • Was My Face Red

    I’m a screenwriter specialsing in animation (Booooo!) all kinds, from Oscar nominated indie to award winning commercial. I’m also a cartoonist, with my own newspaper strip when I was 15 and a life long love of animation. In a twenty year career, mainly scripting and show running, I’ve worked with brilliant producers and idiots with no understanding of how animation is made or good shows created – with great script editors and idiots with no direct experience of ever trying to tell a story who still have lots of ‘notes’ – with good writers and idiots who thought they were slumming it until a better job came along – with great board artists and idiots who thought they could get away with staging everything like a school play, then go home early – with great directors and idiots who thought they could throw away the carefully crafted structure of a story and replace it with a throwaway gag they’d thought up that morning becasue they were ‘auteurs’ – with great animators and people who act like the bad storyboard guys. See a theme emerging here folks? Some people are great to collaborate and when we work together its amazing Others are idiots. Please don’t dump on all writers because some are crap. Stupidity is an equal opportunites employer.

  • http://www.MicahWright.com Micah Wright

    It’s sad that anyone thinks that animation isn’t “written” whether by writers or by board artists.

    It’s also sad that we keep fighting these same tired old battles over and over and over again. Are there bad writers in animation? Of course there are. But who wins when writers and storyboard artists fight? Only management. Divide and Conquer, folks, that’s their game. While we fight amongst ourselves, the CEO of Viacom just gave himself a $75 million bonus… how many writers or artists at Nickelodeon got a bonus last year?

    • bonus?

      who cares about a bonus when they’ve finally wised up and started stocking lucky charms in the cereal dispensers! At this rate they will be competing with Lasster’s diabetes cereal factory. Give it time.

  • TheBeezKneez

    I’m pretty sure by “writers” we’re really talking about “people who call their selves writers but have no experience working in the animation medium to know it’s strengths, weaknesses and possibilities and think that writing for animation is the same as writing for live action” …and the people that hire these KINDS of writers to write for animation.

    Now, not every artist can write. Most artists I know can barely write their own names on their underwear, but the BEST writers for animation have by and large been PEOPLE WHO KNOW HOW TO ANIMATE OR WORK CLOSELY WITH ANIMATION ARTISTS. It’s not just about spitting out an idea or two (artists) or knowing formulas (which too many writers rely heavily on) but knowing how to engage the audience and playing up to the medium’s strengths to make it a worthwhile endeavor.

    Despite all the technological advances in entertainment, animation STILL isn’t cheap and STILL requires a crazy amount of man-hours to produce, yet the industry treats it like something that can just be crapped out over a weekend and hire writers who DO crap out scripts over a weekend. It’s simple math, get better writers who can and are willing to work with the artists or find artists who CAN write and have the passion and drive to actually care about what’s being made and you will get better product to match the absurdly large budgets and man-hours.

    like any profession, 80% of those involved will be incompetent, inadequately skilled or uncaring. This includes writers and artists and producers and directors and everyone on the chain. Stop bitching over who’s better than who and just recognize skill when you see it and maybe even nurture it.

    • Was My Face Red

      Exactly – and much better written them my own effort!

  • James Mason

    The key issue in the document’s metaphor of Disney Studios is that the “visual artist” who came up with the concept is handed to a studio writer who has little or no collaboration with the original concept artist.

    Also, it’s heavily implied that this writer is less of an artist and more of someone hired to include mainstream appeal to the story, culling concepts and situations from previous success to play it safe and appease the “bear”.

    And that problem is fixed with the more progressive approach of having the Bear “carefully assign teams of visual engineers to projects that best suit their talents. These teams are small, each consisting of a few visual artists and one writer.” So I hardly think that little metaphorical yarn was calling writers useless.

    Though I agree it is odd that the writer is still called a “writer” here. Wouldn’t “draftsman” be more appropriate?

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    as an aside, why do people write under pseudonyms on here? If you have an opinion, why not put your name to it?

    • anon

      with the lack of context of personality and tone of voice, why risk letting your real name be associated with anything but warm happy sunny B.S. online where it might come back to bite you? In real life be a Real person with real opinions, on the internet be a happy minion or an anonymous troll.

      • Louis

        Just because you’re using text doesn’t mean you lack propper context or tone.

        It’s cool to be anonymous.

  • Paul N

    This argument presumes that artists are somehow by their nature better storytellers for animation than writers. I’ve worked with plenty of very talented artists who were piss-poor storytellers. Yes, visual medium, blah blah blah… a bad storyteller is a bad storyteller, regardless of whether they use a pencil or a word processor.

  • Toonio

    After reading this one thing is for sure: The down spiral of the economy in general is not a coincidence.

  • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

    No writers = No scripts = No broadcaster approvals = No payments = No TV show = Out of work animation crew.

    The math is simple.

    • Skeptical

      Except this document is about feature animation. That’s a completely different world.

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        Same thing…

        No writers = No scripts = No distributor/financier approvals = No payments = No movie = Out of work animation crew.

        I wonder how many animators get laughed out of pitch meetings because they insist that they don’t need writers and that scripts are ‘bad’? Game over, baby.

      • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John Sanford

        No writers = No scripts
        This notion is laughable. I can write a script, Steve. I’ve written on nearly every movie I’ve ever worked on.
        The thing I object to is being treated like an adorable idiot because I’m an artist, an attitude YOU are perpetuating.
        I like writers. I like GOOD writers. There is a room full of super talented ones right down the hall from me.
        Back at Disney during the 90′s, I knew ONE good writer: David Reynolds.
        Chris’s book is about the fact that the writers would come in an totally IGNORE any contribution from the artists.
        I’m not anti-writer, neither is Chris.
        I am not fond of YOUR attitude toward artists nor am I fond of the notion that the title “writer” somehow makes you superior and automatically makes your opinion in a story meeting more valid than mine.

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        @John – You’ve totally missed my point. The animation process is a collaborative effort. At no point did I express a negative attitude towards artists. I was trained and worked as an animator for years before I started to write.

        And yes, you’re correct – a good story idea or opinion can come from any source; writers, artists, production or editorial. You take it where you find it.

        I was however, talking about the “Us and Them” attitude that prevails in the industry – the (and to quote you) “Back at Disney during the 90’s, I knew ONE good writer”, syndrome. “ONE good writer”? Out of how many? Everyone else sucked? Really?

        I wasn’t there, so I’ll have to take your word for it – but it seems really odd to an outside observer that an entire department at Disney sucked.

        I think the observer brings as much of him/herself – as the person being commented upon.

        Just sayin’…

      • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John Sanford

        The key phrase in your sentence is “I wasn’t there”. You weren’t. So you don’t know. You didn’t read the terrible scripts I was asked to board, or sit on story meeting with these jackoffs. Also, the writers.at Disney at this point were hardly a “whole department”. You make it sound like there was a “Writing dept.”. These writers were contract players, not full time employees, paid exorbitant fees to write hackneyed drivel, which was then handed to a story artist to “plus”. This meant throwing the pages in the garbage and re-writing as you drew. There were only 2 instances at Disney where I actually received GOOD pages to board and thus boarded them as written: BOTH times they were written by Chris Sanders.

      • http://kandjcomic.com/ John S

        I was gonna let this little nugget slide, but I can’t:
        “I think the observer brings as much of him/herself – as the person being commented upon.

        Just sayin’… ”

        Is this a chickensh&t way of calling me a hack or telling ME I suck?
        I’m not attacking YOUR work Steve, but I’d be more than happy to if you want to go that way.
        Tell you what, I’ll be at CTN this year. Come find me and tell me I suck.
        We’ll see how that goes.

  • Gray64

    Well, one would hope that for an animated film you’d get a scriptwriter who knows and is comfortable with writing for animation (though I know that’s not always the case).

    I recall that Richard Williams didn’t really consider story to be an important part of his films, either, and in The Thief and the Cobbler, it shows; one brilliantly impressive scene after the other, with very little to make them stick together cohesively.

    • Was My Face Red

      I’ve worked as a script consultant on several schemes that helped younger animators make their first shorts. and coming up with amazing images was never their problem. But connecting up those images so they took a wider audience on a meaningful journey often was.

    • Gene

      Richard Williams’ “mammoth ego trip.”

  • http://wingingitstudios.deviantart.com/ Alissa

    I’m probably wrong, but isn’t the point of the metaphor that you need the whole team to work together to achieve it’s goals? They still needed the writer, but he had to let the artist provide his input as well, or else each plane would be exactly the same as the one before it.

    It works in reverse too. The artist wanted to create a brand new plane. While exciting and possessing great potential; the writer could ensure that the new idea would still be functional and provide a profit. So can’t we dream of the day that artist and writer work as a team to create something truly awesome?

  • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ mick

    as is popular in comment sections, sides have been taken and are now being vehemently protected. let’s not forget that Chris’s story is obviously a reaction to something specific rather than ‘writers do not belong in animation’… an undeniably ridiculous statement. I have worked with crap writers, I have worked with crap artists. On that basis do neither belong in pictures? Perish the thought

    Shouts of ‘rascism’ ‘you don’t understand’ ‘no, actually it is you that doesn’t understand’ ‘no…you are’ etc while mildly amusing will never resolve this, to some HUGELY emotional chestnut. The real point here, which I think we have all missed is, how did these critters even manage to build a plane at all? By jingo, and here we are getting snippy with each other. Beasts building flying machines deserves a more fitting reaction than this squabbling

  • Chris Sanders

    Golly, I never thought I’d see that thing on the internet. I really wish I could re-do those drawings right about now.

    I read some of the comments earlier, and I think I can provide some perspective as to what I was up to, and what was happening at the time I wrote this.

    It was created for a Disney offsite. I wasn’t invited to the retreat, but anyone could write their thoughts down and submit them, and they would be copied and bound into a folder that would accompany the attendees. The hope being that all this stuff would be read carefully and thoughtfully and then discussed by the attendees at the retreat.

    I wanted to submit some thoughts of my own, but from the size of some of the notes being submitted by my fellow artists, I thought it was unlikely anyone would really read all that material. We’re talking dozens if not hundreds of pages of thoughts/complaints/suggestions in that folder.

    So I decided to submit mine in the form of this little picture book – so it might stand out. I’m not sure if it worked, but if someone found a copy of it twenty years later, at least one person must have read it.

    Anyone who read the story would see that I wasn’t a proponent of the removal of writers from the development process. But I was focusing on the quantity of writers, the quality of the writers, and the unwillingness of writers to partner with the artists they worked so near. And, I would say, the artists they needed to make their material work. In feature animation a great deal of the finished film, if not the bulk of it, is written by the story crew. And I mean entire scenes, not the occasional gag that is transcribed back into a script. As head of story on Mulan, I received a writing credit for that very reason.

    The other thing I was concerned about was the ever-growing complexity of our films, and what I saw as an emerging pattern they were all cut from. A lot of our films fell into a well-worn groove. Different characters, but similar roles. It didn’t seem like we could get away with that forever. I felt we could be more inventive. I felt that a film with a smaller crew and lower budget could be successful.

    While the story crew was debating how we would kill the villain at the end of Mulan, we began reflecting on how strange it was that we spent so much time trying to find fresh ways to kill characters in Disney films. In Mulan we (the story crew) came up with the idea that the villain could be blown to bits by fireworks, rather than falling to his death as was written in the script. A lot of those villains fall at the end of Disney films. Some get stabbed first, but a whole lot of them fall. There was almost always a death at the end of our movies. It was one of those patterns I worried about.

    That’s where Lilo and Stitch came from. At its base, Lilo and Stitch is a story about a villain who becomes a hero. A redemption story. A story that diverged from the pattern.

    At the time I wrote that document, the suggestion that Disney could be surpassed by another studio seemed outrageous. Impossible. But a studio or company that feels secure, is slow to innovate and has trouble with self-examination can certainly be surpassed by something fresh, small, and fast.

    Anyway, that’s where the little story book came from. To my surprise, it made the rounds. In the years that followed I got the occasional call from people at other companies that asked if they could use it for a presentation. I guess it was vague enough that it could apply in other places. Including Lockheed, to my surprise.

    • Chris Powell

      awesome notes

    • Chelsea

      Thanks for the insights into your thoughts and intentions on the book you created, and thanks especially for replying with humility and respect!

      The movies like Stitch that did things differently (with villains and many other things) have been paving a way for movies that have yet to be made that will not be bound so strictly by repetitive tradition or rigid formula. Even a movie like Cars 2 (love it or hate it, I think it’s important for people to recognize this) is a very complex film compared to a lot of films from the 90′s that were similarly popular and influential. My point is simply that I think many people get caught up in nostalgia and forget that animation is making incredible progress, and from my point of view writing in animation- or more accurately ‘storytelling’ in animation is receiving a good percentage of the innovations. Dinosaurs didn’t turn into birds in one night though. Great innovations take time and a lot of work and a lot of mistakes. So it’s wonderful to hear great artists working in animation who haven’t lost their desire to co-operate with others and try to find new ways to make greater stories happen.

      As many others here have said, it’s only a shame that so many people working in animation also refuse to see the need for everyone to work together and stop blaming ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘them’, ‘those’ for anything that isn’t doing well in the industry right now. No good story is ever a one-man show (and neither is any bad story, might I add). No writer writes alone (any who say they do are delusional) just as no artist creates alone. Everyone has influences, partners, muses… it’s important for us all to recognize that animated film-making can only get better if everyone decides to bring their best work to the table. We cannot simply work alongside each other. We have to work WITH each other, we have to challenge each other (note: challenge is not the same as antagonize). It’s the only way animation can continue to improve.

      Thanks again for your wonderful comment Mr. Sanders. :)

  • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

    It’s interesting to note how the writer is abhorred in animation industry, while at the same time celebrated in the comic book/graphic novel community.

    It must be the maturity of the art form.

    • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ mick

      Hell’s teeth Stevie old paint! Enough already

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        Well, it is a valid point…

      • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John Sanford

        Not really, Steve, because Writer/ artists Like Will Eisner, Scott Mccloud, Evan Dorkin, And Harvey Kurtzman are respected as much if not more than their peers who merely write. If you draw AND write in animation, you are treated like a dog who can catch a frisbee.

      • whippersnapper

        @Steve Schnier: While I can appreciate someone vehemently standing up for their craft, I think you’re missing Chris Sanders’ point. The “writers” he is referring to are the live-action vets that the Disney executives brought in around the time this little story was made, i.e. the writers that didn’t care about/understand great animation. If you watched Waking Sleeping beauty, Don Hahn talks about them- the people showing up in BMWs and swearing like sailors during story meetings; NOT the kind of writers who know the nuances of a story and can spin up the same kind of magic animators do. You need to take it in context.

        And for future reference, it is not wise to call the animation industry immature in a comment section populated almost entirely by animators. It’s like wearing a meatsuit to a bear fight.

      • http://pitchbibles.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

        Mmm… Meatsuit…

        Thanks for pointing out the differences in writers. I spoke with someone in the feature community earlier today and he explained your point. Quite valid from that perspective.

  • Mister Twister

    This is pure gold.

  • http://kandjcomic.com/ John S

    This document perfectly captures what was happening at Disney at the time and probably still happens there, as well as many other studios. Back in the late 80′s early 90′s, we dealt with creative execs and “writers” who not only knew NOTHING about animation but didn’t care to learn.
    Now, not ALL writers are bad, I’ve worked with some great ones, and in fact am currently working with some of the best in the biz.
    That wasn’t the case back then. Back then, if you had any drawing skill, they treated you like a child. “Oh, you have an idea? that’s cute! Go draw our script now”.
    This attitude has changed a lot at some studios. People like Chris, Dean, Andrew Stanton, Genndy Tartakovsky forced people to recognize that artist are indeed storytellers.
    This is what Chris was trying to make people understand with this story. He drew it for a specific retreat, and then was asked BY MANAGEMENT to re-present it at another retreat, the one that resulted in “Lilo and Stitch”.

  • Walt Disney

    People, people, people.

    You’re all equally useless to the process.

    • Mister Twister

      >implying you are a company and not a person

  • http://4eyedanimation.com JoeCorrao

    He-Man coulda used some better writers.

  • Pow.

    I got nothing, because the convo is embarassingly one sided, but Toy Story 3 was written by a screenwriter. Batman the Animated Series was written by writers, as was the brilliant Watchmen if we’re going to keep going visual mediums. Joss Whedon was on Toy Story. I don’t think anyone here really understands how hard it is to write a movie. There’s a reason the Pixar films get nominated every year for best screenplay while Disney falls down a story hole every few years. Screenwriters know what they’re doing. Aladdin was famously fixed by the two guys who wrote Pirates of the Caribbean. Those guys are great! But a lot of farting around on a message board proves nothing.

    Mainstream comics’ greatest heroes are Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Two people who know how to get visual, but only write their comics. A good writer is a good writer. If you’d like they could draw in the margins of the scripts. Sanders, while he’s a great animation writer himself, and actually on this board (love your flicks so much), assumes a lot of bad things about writers. A writer wrote Pan’s Labyrinth, Modern Times and Duck Soup.

    Before writing Toy Story, Andrew Stanton studied screenwriting hardcore. Brad Bird was on this very site mentioning how he write a script before he does his pictures. I feel like a lot of animators distrust screenwriters, but they don’t know what they do. There’s a lot more there than just filling up pages.

    • http://www.bobharper.net Bob Harper

      I think it’s interesting that you point out how Stanton and Bird studied the craft of writing. It would be nice if animation writers studied the craft of animation before writing for it.

      I don’t believe animators distrust writers or are ignorant of what they do. I feel they distrust THOSE writers who are ignorant of what WE do, and could care less, because once it’s written, it’s not their problem.

      Also if someone draws and writes, then they are a cartoonist and more great cartoons have been created by them than anybody.

      • http://ryuuseipro.blogspot.com/ John Paul Cassidy

        Cartoonists are storytellers. Because they can both write and draw, at least tell a story using drawings.

        And you’re right, Bob. Because if done by a cartoonist, the comics medium can be the most personal form of visual storytelling, or “extreme vision,” if you will. There are many great examples, usually found in graphic novels more than mainstream comics with misused 70+ year-old properties (mostly superheroes).

        Animation, on the other hand, is usually a team effort, and there can be creative compromise. Some are good, some are famously bad. But a strong leader guarantees that the work will be good, at least. Richard Williams, Hayao Miyazaki, Steven Lisberger, Brad Bird, etc.

      • pow!

        Again, a ton of assumptions about writers. Mainly that they don’t study animation, when that is definetly not the case. I don’t know how much the animator who spent his career studying movem ent and drawing knows so much about how to structure a movie. A lot of this arguement often revolves around six minute cartoons. While I admire their brilliance, its such a diffirent beast. I think the real argument here is.animators saying “I’d like to write my own cartoon, please and thank you.” And the executives questioning their ability to do so. Frankly, sometimes rightly so. It’s a kind of questioning which should be given to live action directors.sometimes too. In the end, no one questions Brad Bird scripting Ratatoullie before story boarding it nor Michael Ardnts involvement with Toy Story 3. I think the real discussion is about auteurs in the studio system and how much control they should have. Which is a completely diffirent discussion.

      • http://www.bobharper.net Bob Harper

        So you assume animators don’t know what writers do, and that’s okay. Yet I assume that writers don’t study the craft and that’s not okay?

        Let me clarify. Not one writer I have ever worked with studied the craft of animation. I have done the Robert McKee, Syd Field and Blake Snyder thing. Structured and written a few scripts. Non of my cohorts bother to read Illusion of Life, Preston Blair or Richard Williams, and never even tried animating a flipbook.

        I’m not anti writer. I just wish more were like this guy…
        http://www.denslow.com/articles/bscott.html

      • Pow.

        That’s a good article. I might have come off condescending, and that’s wrong, I didn’t mean to. What I meant was its not like writers don’t understand what an animated cartoon can do, which is usually the assumption in these kinds of discussions (so I may have misread it), as if they’re just waiting to write a Hollywood flick about humans in animal suits. Of course professional writers don’t know as much about animation. Yet also, some have picked up some unique knowledge. Matt Groening developed and wrote on The Simpsons while at the same time using all of his cartooning skills to his advantage. MacFarlane, make what you will of him, uses timing impossible to do in live action well. Everyone has a different background. And you’re right. If a writer is hired to write animation, he should read up on every key book you can. Of course they won’t know as much as an animator. Its why everyone gotta work together!

        My favorite book on writing is Chuck Amuck. That guy really knew how to write characters, and how to write about characters.

    • Chris Sanders

      I’m glad this forum has generated such passion – it’s so nice to hear so many perspectives. The only thing I’d add at this point, is that I don’t assume anything about writers. All my experience with the writers I was referring to was first-hand.

      Again, I like writers. The good ones. The ones that aren’t just good at structure or inventive dialogue or the rhythm of a scene – but the ones that are also good in a room. The ones that are friendly, energetic and collaborative. The ones that can adapt quickly to a change and don’t have a problem editing their own pages. The ones that think visually, and understand when to let the characters shut up and let the score do the talking. And the ones that do their job without arrogance or ego. One thing I’ve learned – if someone tells you they are a great writer, they probably aren’t a great writer. At the very least they are a writer who’s better off mailing their pages in because you probably don’t want them around.

      When I talk about writers I’m talking about the ones I actually worked with. In development my room was right next to theirs. A whole slew of different writers passed through that room – none of them stuck around very long. Some were silly, some were lazy, some were arrogant, and some were just plain mean. One group yelled at our PA because their phone cord wasn’t long enough. Another set spent the entire day wadding up fresh pieces of typing paper and throwing them at a wastebasket till it was buried, then took a three hour lunch. They came back for an hour before they left for the day. One came into my room, complained about my drawings, then took a piece of paper from me and scribbled the most terrible little drawing. He gave it to me and said, “There, that’s how the villain should look.”

      Boy, I wish I kept that drawing. Once, while in a very tense meeting, our writer banged their head on a table, burst into tears, and ran out of the room.

      And I listened to them all day long. That’s why I wrote what I did about them. I actually heard the stories they were hatching. It was pure insanity. The Sound Of Music set underwater with Nazi sharks. I saw them watch a Goofy cartoon and one of them asked why Goofy was acting so dumb. They thought they could probably fix that, because, well, I guess they thought the way Goofy was acting must have been some sort of mistake.

      The ones I worked with, especially in development, didn’t belong there. They had no love for animation. In fact there was usually contempt for it. They wasted our time, money, and seriously stressed everyone out because we fretted that one of them might actually be assigned to one of our films and we’d have to carry them all the way through.

      We wondered where they all came from. When you bought a typewriter did a certificate fall out that said, “Congratulations! You are now a writer. Take this certificate to your nearest studio where you can redeem it for a job.”

      To the fellow who joked that I should have hired a writer for my story, I would say it already had one – me. I thought it up. I wrote it. And I drew it. It may not be perfect, but it exists solely because I made it. And it still seems to have some ability to start conversation, which is what I wanted it to do when it was written twenty years ago.

      The implication of course that a “real” writer could have done it better. But as usual, when I was making it, there weren’t any around. All the “real” ones had gone home at 4:00. So I did it. And it got done.

      One final note – I’ve written scripts and I’ve drawn story boards. I’ve even boarded my own pages. And when I board my own pages I change about the same amount of stuff I do when working from other writers pages. Even I can’t foresee all the adaptation a scene will need until I actually start drawing it. So if you’re writing for feature animation, don’t be too quick to feel upset if things get changed in boards. As soon as I sit down to board my own pages, I’ll think, “Well this doesn’t work.” Or, “I can dump half of this, what the hell was I thinking?”

      Boarding is physically more demanding than writing. It just is. Write a battle scene, then try boarding it. A single paragraph of a script can stretch into hundreds of drawings. Feature animation is ultimately written on the boards. Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, are all massive collaborations. Scenes are written, boarded, pitched… and then the real work begins. Those meetings can last days, and the story artists, directors, and writers are all in that room together. Writers return to their computers alone, but they are carrying all the material generated in those story meetings. So be careful not to imagine a pristine process where a writer sends pages along, and they simply get made into a movie.

      • Pow.

        This isn’t really adding much to the discussion, but Lilo and Stitch is one of the best written of the Disney animated features. Non traditional, with a relatable character on every level, from the deeply personal to the cosmic and metaphorical. A real writer is someone who writes with a passion. Of course that’s an opinion, but feh! Also, I think I get what you mean now. Maybe the best decision is just a close collaboration with the director leading the way.

      • The Gee

        Thanks for that. You made me laugh with that. Also, it makes my bad experiences with writers seem like thin gruel and not worth fussing over. Though it is tough to forget the worst ones…. and, their ideas!

        Like I mentioned to someone else, it sucks when writers believe you can’t tell a story. That somehow visual artists can’t do it right and somehow don’t have the imagination or ability to come up with their own stories. Hence, like Mars needs women, we NEED writers.

        But, while it is fair to say that not all animation artists are cartoonists and not all cartoonists are good cartoonists, there are formidable, competent, creative people out there. Fortunately, the ones in the industry do get a chance to work in story and hopefully on good productions.

        BTW, if you get a chance to see this, you may want to cut and paste it in the other post which is about your earlier comment. That way, people will be likely to see it. Though, I guess there’s a chance Amid, Jerry or someone will do the same.

  • Rufus

    Chris (Sanders), thanks for taking the time to clarify this story for those who didn’t seem to get it. I’ve rooted for you since Lilo & Stitch, the last original Disney film that I can recall. At the same time though, it seems that your desire to make things original instead of recycling (which is good in plastics and paper, not animation) halted American Dog. I hope more up and coming directors see things more the way you do. Bolt sucked ass.

    @Steve Schnier: Dude, I respect the fact you’re a writer, and you’ve work on a bunch of shows, but just because most people don’t remember your shows doesn’t mean people hate writers or have less respect for them. No need to overcompensate in this topic.

  • Ryoku

    “He will make his airplane look like every one he’s seen before, and he will power it with a plot and dialogue engine, the biggest and heaviest he can find.”

    That issue holds true now with regular films and animated films, last years films were hardly any different than this years, and we have ANOTHER penguin film!

  • Pow.

    In the end, those who don’t know how to work with writers, and those who don’t know how to work with animators or directors or even executives, how are giving you the money and not for you to shit all over them either, don’t work. They talk a big game, but they don’t work. And that’s all there is to it.