Who Writes Cartoons? Who Writes Cartoons?

Who Writes Cartoons?

If there’s one thing the animation blogging community guarantees, it’s plenty of controversy. The latest squabble that has evolved is about who wrote animated shorts and features during the Golden Age of animation. In one corner is Steve Worth of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, who claimed that artists drew storyboards and that “THERE WERE NO CARTOON SCRIPTWRITERS prior to 1960.” (his emphasis). On the other side is historian Michael Barrier, who offers evidence that Bill Cottrell was one example of a scriptwriter at Disney in the 1930s. Then there were artists like Bill Peet who did both screenwriting and storyboarding on a film like 101 Dalmatians.

In a recent Variety interview, director Brad Bird offered some comments, which while not specifically addressing this argument, seem to be quite appropriate. Bird said, “The whole question of writing for animation is skewed. There isn’t a giant difference between animation and live action. You need characters, stories, themes. It’s called good storytelling…I write scripts first, before the work gets to the storyboarding stage. But I write with the knowledge of what animation can do.” His comments make perfect sense, but with the caveat that the animation world rarely attracts storytellers the caliber of Brad Bird and Bill Peet, which is why animation suffers today and why engaging storytelling is the exception instead of the rule. A sidenote: the Variety link above is also worth checking out to hear about some of Bird’s favorite film writers.

  • I would venture a guess that “why engaging storytelling is the exception instead of the rule” has more to do with the fact that there are just not that many people DOING animation as there are live action. The apparatus for animation is just so small and so new (even though it is as old as live action, it would seem that less films means less experimentation means less maturation) that we haven’t come to the point yet where big-budget animation has the breadth of content and concept that you, Amid, and many who visit this blog are looking for. Well, let’s go out and make it folks!

  • This isn’t just my opinion. Check out Walt Disney’s comment on the subject (one of many of examples, both on TV and in print). And here is Walter Lantz’s. And The Disney Training Manual.

    The main confusion here is terminology. There were written outlines used in the creation of stories. These were assembled from notes of the initial gag session (sometimes called the “no no session”) by stenographers, and they can appear to non-animators to be the same as a script. But the real story work was done in thumbnail drawing form. Scripts certainly were transcribed from the boards for the convenience of dialogue recording and for departments that needed quick reference for continuity.

    The stories in the golden age were written in pictures. All of us who have done research on the subject know that. You know that Amid, and Jerry knows it too.

    As for the personal attacks, I’m not going to respond to them directly, because I think there is something more than just a simple disagreement going on here. I don’t want to add to anyone’s troubles.

  • Joe

    Does it matter what came 1st the chicken or the egg? What matters is how it’s done now and how we can change it. Saying how something was done and how much better it was doesn’t change the mess we are in today.

  • H. Yousmann

    The percentage of bad storyboard artists and bad writers is probably very similar.

  • Nelson

    I worked at a studio on a childrens show where all the writers were supposedly graduates from Harvard.

    Because of this I have the impression that people don’t want writers unless they’e from ivy league schools.

    Meanwhile these kids fresh out of some prestigious college have zero life experience and they get to write shows that are for our kids. Not only that but they have little to zero respect for animation.

    It just happened to be the first job they got out of school.

    I’m really sick and tired of idiots from live action, and a ton of other non-artistic work backgrounds, getting into animation and then telling the animators what to do like they give a crap.

    It’s a shame that we get all the live action rejects who can’t make the cut anywhere else- working on our cartoons.

    I’d love to see a cartoon made by a studio where every single person, even the producers come from an animation background, or something related to it, and have the utmost respect for the craft.

  • Floyd Norman

    Certainly, visual story telling was the method used at the Disney studio. Stories by and large were developed on the storyboard.

    There were, on occasion a few writers pecking out their scripts on a typewriter. You can’t tell me this didn’t happen. I was there.

  • robiscus

    i think this issue has been brought to the forefront because of the writers guild strike and the deals they currently have(and are striking over) that include juicy residuals. storyboard artists contribute just as much(and sometimes more or all) of the story in a cartoon. even if a script is signed off on and the animatic process completely retools the ENTIRE thing, by contract writers still get credit for the story, residuals from is broadcasts, and credit if it turns out very nice.

    all of this mounts up to a very unequal set of circumstances for storyboard artists. the ‘dirty end of the stick’ one would say. that of course does not mean that its the writers guild fault that this situation exists. they deserve the deal they negotiate. if anything it is the animation union that has battled to address the issue for years without hammering out any equality. they should. storyboard artists deserve that.

    when i direct a show, the first thing i do with a writer’s script is “treat” it with drawings all over the pages before it even gets to the storyboard artists. drawings that clarify the descriptions and add visual gags throughout that many writers miss because they would be either too ambiguous to type into words or too belabored to describe. then storyboard artists do that even more – there is a big process that a script undergoes before its words become drawings. often new drawings are preferable to much of the written word.

    basically there is an essential step in the animation process that is part cinematographer, part actor, but recieves no credit or residuals like either of those positions garner. its name is the storyboard artist.

    some teams of storyboard artists are bad and some are so good the writer is superfluous. one thing is certain, if their input is totally ignored, the cartoon is flat, without timing, without vision, and utterly pedestrian.

  • Billy Bob

    It is true that the main process of story was done via the storyboard before 1960. I think this is general knowledge. As for which is the best method, to me it depends on what sort of story you wish to tell. There was a lot going on visually and character wise in the best of the golden age shorts but they have very simple stories. In fact, Disney stories were quite simple as well. I think if you want to be more complex in terms of plot, especially if you want to tell a dramatic story, you should use a script.

  • Firoz

    Any writer who works in animation must have some appreciation for the visual possibilities in the medium and work this into their writing or story. Obviously, there are a great many writers who don’t understand this which is why we get animation with so much dialogue (where even the humour is largely verbal rather than visual). The most obvious recent example is Bee Movie.

  • Steve

    Charles Shows wrote many a script for early Hanna-Barbera, Lantz and Bozo the Clown cartoons. How essential was such a writer? Shows appears in the opening day ‘good luck’ photos alongside Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, and he wasn’t delivering flowers.

  • Thomas

    But to assume a storyboarder or an animator can tell a good story is the same. Some people rave that because animators know animation they’d make better cartoons. But if you have now got plot lines and story ideas and dialogue it is abunch of gags that eventually gets repetitive. Not every writer is an artist, and not every artist is a writer. You just gotta enjoy what you do. Or do it yourself.

  • Ceaser

    I don’t understand why animation spends so much time condescending to live action. Writing is writing is writing is writing. Brad Bird’s pretty on the nose, you just have to imagine what will be on the screen, whether you’re writing a toon or live action.

    The best toons of the past 10 years have been both, storyboarded and scripted. Whatever makes a good toon is the good path. Both South Park and Foster’s Home are good toons, done in different ways. You can write anything badly with a script, just like you can write it well.

  • Mr. Semaj

    This has been discussed many times, to the point of exasperation, and I’m beginning to find the cartoonists’ argument a little biased.

    Haven’t most of Disney’s animated films been based from books and novels which, up until their film adaptions, used little or no illustrations?

    Even if you use the storyboard process, it’s still not a guaranteed success. We talk all the time about how lame or boring different cartoons from the Golden Age were.

    Today, we see the same problems where, regardless of a cartoon’s commercial success, the script writers write repetitive and unimaginative stories that eliminates a character’s appeal or hinders numerous story possibilities for their shows.

    To assume that ALL cartoon script writing is “unprofessional” is about as biased as the script writers who assume that animators are all about the fart jokes. Some of the scripted cartoons we got from the 1990’s, Paul Germain’s Rugrats episodes, and the Bill Oakley-Josh Weinstein episodes of The Simpsons, are some of the best cartoon writing we’ve had in modern times.

    But hey, if this WGA strike goes on long enough, nothing is stopping the animators perpetuating this argument from taking over and putting their words into action.

    A cartoon is the product of the writer/artist’s IMAGINATION, not process.

  • HULK

    Hey Nelson- “I’d love to see a cartoon made by a studio where every single person, even the producers come from an animation background, or something related to it, and have the utmost respect for the craft.”

    I agree and I have good news for you, it’s called Pixar.

    BTW have any of you ever heard of familypants.com? I think they covered him on this site a while back. It’s work by an indy cartoon animator in New Jersey. His stuff is really great and in discussing his method he mentions that he WRITES a script before he draws anything…then he goes on to say that a lot of animators consider that sacreligious. I think most of you have it correct. It’s not the fact that scripts are being written that’s the problem. It’s who is writing them and how qualified they are to write for animation or not. Them’s my 2 cents.

  • robiscus

    Thats strange, because the last fart jokes i remember in a big animated release was from the distinctly scripted Shrek movies.

  • The question could take on more significance if the writer’s strike drags on.

    I would think the two old news reel documrntaries about the Fleischer and Walter Lantz studios would more than prove the arguement against formal scripting.

  • Many of animations best directors were also terrific scriptwriters-
    Art Davis directed some of the all-time great Looney Tunes shorts, but wrote Birdman, Mightor, Arabian Knights, Rocket Robin Hood, the Impossibles and many others! Remember, too, Art Davis is the most credited man in animation history.

  • Aaron

    Damn, that Variety article about Bird refers to animation as a “genre.” He can’t be too happy about that. :)

  • the cartoon is a visual medium. i’d rather watch funny animation and drawings and cartoons than LISTEN to lame lines from a script. the story is only a vehicle for the funny visual things to take place. anything else is basically undermining the artform. what if a novelist’s job was to take illustrated sequences from talented artists and then write about them and describe them in his book. It doesn’t translate.

  • Scott Teresi

    I think a lot of people have missed the main point of this discussion. Look at any classic Tex Avery or Bob Clampett short, and think to yourself, how would that be WRITTEN?


    THE WOLF opens door to find DROOPY, waiting.

    Exciting, Isn’t it?

    The Wolf looks at the door as he does a double take with his eyes bulging & popping out of their sockets! He SCREAMS hysterically flying into the air!! A manic chase ensues!!

    Not too funny to read, is it? Cartoons are all about the DRAWINGS… which is why stories and ideas need to be DRAWN. Didn’t Richard Williams talk about this in his book… saying that the actual animation is the most important factor in an animated picture… trumping even story and character development?

    I think he is right.

    When cartoons start on the page, we get Family Guy and that is a shame.

  • Fnord

    “I worked at a studio on a childrens show where all the writers were supposedly graduates from Harvard.

    Because of this I have the impression that people don’t want writers unless they’e from ivy league schools.

    Meanwhile these kids fresh out of some prestigious college have zero life experience and they get to write shows that are for our kids. Not only that but they have little to zero respect for animation.

    It just happened to be the first job they got out of school.”

    Nelson– I have a hunch I know the studio you’re referring to. I was brought on to do some freelance writing for them, and was astounded by the way the company isolated the writers (or they isolated themselves–it was never clear which). While the writers were unquestionably, smart, and often very funny, they took very little interest in any part of the process once their scripts were turned in. I was particularly bugged by this because I was happy to get a paid writing gig of any kind, and they seemed to regard it as a chore.

    It was partially a result of the corporate culture there– the company wasn’t real interested in quality as much as they were in crankin’ out deliveries to the networks– but it made for a pretty lousy collaborative environment.

    I don’t come from an animation background. I’m an English major/comedy geek. But I understand that in any collaborative enterprise, you have to you know, actually COLLABORATE. I was mystified, and a little upset that this didn’t seem to be the case at um…. “blanimation bollective.”

    Anyway, just wanted you to know we weren’t all elitist Harvard snobs there in the writers room.

  • first of all if you’re going to make a claim that says “no one ever” people are going to be on you. we’ve got enough going on with that and the [unequal time] debates.

    but the fact remains that there’s 2 different formats at play here, so differing styles in writing make sense. the majority of script writing examples fall under disney FEATURES. warner brothers shorts tend to be exalted as those written without scripts.

    well when you look at budget, speed of production, the role of the director, and work flow, there’s 2 horses of 2 very different colors standing right there.

    why are we even arguing this point?

    it’s very easy to believe that warners didn’t have scriptwriters for a lot of their cartoons, it makes no sense for the format and would just slow things down. but in a later jones cartoon i can totally see the need for a script, especially when it’s all wordplay and barely any motion.

    in a feature of course you need a script, if only to keep things organized.

    but i’d be willing to bet the funniest gag cartoons ever made were drawn and not “written”

    [high five to nelson]

    you can put a jazz piece in front of a classical pianist and he’ll play it. but it won’t come out jazz.

    you can have a great actor do a voiceover in a cartoon and it comes out crap.

    same with animation. you can get a skilled “writer” who’s never worked with animation before, and it just doesn’t gel.

    animation isn’t a catchall it’s an art in and of itself. i don’t give a crap if you’re typing or drawing tiny pictures but you need to know what you’re doing. likewise, if you want things to be funny and actually animated, you’ll probably be doing a lot of drawing. writing a full on script for a short outside of an outline or notes on funny ideas seems backward and redundant to me.

    if someone is able to express and describe a visual gag in a competent way past “SLIPS ON BANANA PEEL FUNNY, FALLS IN FUNNY WAY” then maybe writing can work. but otherwise, i don’t see a point in attempting to write visual gags.

    a lot goes into animation. there needs to be communication. if you’re working with a paper writer and they want to generate a funny visual gag, the need to talk to an artist and have it be drawn. you can’t write poses.

    all i’m saying is. visual input = visual output. word heavy writing = talking heads animators have to figure out a way to “keep alive”.

    i don’t really care when what started or who never did what. but if we care at all about making something of quality we have to pull our heads out of our asses and work together…or just quit and make our own films *cough*…

  • robiscus

    well Fnord, from all accounts thats the way things are handled on both coasts in minor and (mostly) major studios. everyone is compartmentalized, obsessively handled, and manipulated.the writers are over here and the artists are over here and never the two shall meet. because management wants to keep tabs on who is directly responsible for which specific success… even if that divide and conquer tactic scuttles all success.
    god forbid management and executives work at creating a TEAM that works together and invests in storytelling(written or drawn), because there is strength in numbers and they don’t want to give any strength to the people beneath them. its sad.

  • I think maybe the question is: if an animated work has a written script before it goes on to the storyboard phase and then on to the rest of the production does that therefore mean it’ll be a bad piece of animation? Is the underlying message here that written scripts should never be used in animation because animation is all about the visuals?

  • Well I for one tend to enjoy the visual cartoons over the written ones, kinda like how I like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and AC/DC over MCR, Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5. But there’s one main reason why I like the drawings over the writing. In most written show (like Family Guy and Futurama) they tend to force you too have seen an earlier episode in order to get the joke.

    I remember one episode of Family Guy were Brian throws a rock at Peter’s head, and his reasoning for it was because Peter rolled up the window on the General Lee when Brian tried to jump in it in one episode (and no flashback clip was given to help you see this taking place). Now if you have never seen that episode before, you would have no F’ing idea what the hell he was talking about and it leaves the joke completely pointless… and it just wasn’t a funny joke to begin with.

    This seems to happen way to much in written cartoons. You had to have seen the older episode to get the unfunny joke. I just don’t find this kind of joke telling funny… that’s just me though.

    Also written cartoons seem to enjoy one liners as there only means of getting a laugh out of the audience. Have people forgotten that there is more then one way to tell a joke? Are we in a One Liner Era? It bugs the crap out of me.

    If cartoon writers can find a way to eliminate these forced trends, mabey I would enjoy them more. Mabey if more originality is put into these cartoons, they might be better.

    And, most cartoon writers with a blog say they understand that the visuals are the most important part of the cartoon, and they also say they love Avery and Jones….. So why do the visuals in there shows look like crap? I would like an answer to this please.

    But that’s just the way I feel. Am I wrong in feeling this way? I hope not. God I hope not.

    Oh, one last thing. BRAD BIRD ISN’T THE KING OF CARTOONS! Why does everyone want to be his bitch? Really? Do people love this guy that much? He’s good, but he’s not THAT good.

  • If we’re talking about funny cartoon shorts then in my opinion artists are more likely to write a good cartoon. The reason is simple: we’re more likely to know what draws funny.

    Writers frequently feel uncomfortable with visual humor. It’s hard to imagine a writer devoting much thinking time to funny, musical walks or to the way a character snores or slurps his soup.

    Writers like plot and dialogue…especially dialogue because it speeds up the writing process, and because it makes the page prettier and easier to read.

    Speed is important for writers, maybe because they’re addicted to freelance, a flaw shared by some artists. Or maybe writing for funny animation is distasteful to them and they just want to get it over with. In either case the audience loses.

    Oddly enough, this speed addiction results in overly long scripts, not short ones. They’re long because editing them down to proper length would take too much time. When the show is cut for time, any visual gags the script posesses are always the first to go, resulting in a dialogue heavy, unartistic show.

    We cartoonists want to draw funny drawings. That’s why we got into the business. It’s a sad fact that many writers have set themselves up in opposition to this. They write stories that contain trite, formulistic characters, they write overly long, dialogue-heavy scripts that preclude visual humor, and they don’t fight for the kind of artistic lattitude that artists need to do their best work. Why should they? They’re not artists.

    Now obviously we all know writers who don’t behave the way I’ve described above. Some of them are a pleasure to work with. But let’s be honest, we all know plenty of the other kind.

  • G. Brian Reynolds

    There seems to be a notion here that a writer writes dialogue and a cartoon storyperson draws action visual business. Has anyone ever seen an “I Love Lucy” script? Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr. WROTE all the physical business that Lucy did. She used to call it “the black stuff” because it was one, two, sometimes more pages of just what to do and how to do it. They tried everything out and no – it doesn’t “read funny” on the page like a one-liner, but Madelyn and Bob had worked with Lucy for years and knew what she could do and how what they wrote would turn out when filtered through her senses.

    So, my point is, that at least two live-action writers were able to “write” riotious physical humor, so why couldn’t a cartoon storyperson “write” from time to time and still get a good result?
    Why does everything have to be so absolute?

  • Detroiter

    Writers can’t write physical comedy? The big brother of animated cartoons, the comedy short subject, employed scores that did just that. Examples: Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Charley Chase, Felix Adler, Clyde Bruckman, Del Lord, Jack White, Albert Austin, James Parrott, Harry Langdon, Bob McGowan, Ewart Adamson, Lloyd Bacon, Lloyd Hamilton, Earl Montgomery, Nick Barrows, Jim Davis, Grover Jones, Roscoe Arbuckle, Leo McCarey, Ray McCarey, Jules White, Charley Rogers, Chuck Reisner, Fred Fishback, William Watson, Alf Goulding, Gil Pratt, Jean Havez, Arvid Gillstrom, and dozens upon dozens more. Also Walter Lantz, Pinto Colvig, and Frank Tashlin, all of whom worked for live action comedy studios and who would not have drawn out their gags and stories.

  • Hopefully, we’re not knocking writers because there are some darn good ones working in the business. It’s the writers that simply don’t understand the medium that can be a pain.

    I’ve thrown out half a script because of pointless dialogue. The writer never got the point that the story could still be told without the characters talking. Or, maybe he just couldn’t cut his “clever dialogue.”

    Finally, an old Disney guy once said, “drawing is writing.”

  • Jorge Garrido

    It’s not like Brad Bird is that good at writing dialogue. His strength is in directing and writing things that lends themselves to visuals.

    “When I write things, often at the moment I’m writing, I’m thinking of camera angles; it’s not a separate part of the process, it kind of comes out all at the same time. So I have really strong opinions about how things are presented, but at the same time I’m thinking about things that I want to present. It’s like when somebody speaks, they assemble words in a certain way, but it’s not always that conscious, it just comes out. That’s the way film is for me.”

    “Everytime they run, you take a shot”

  • In my honest opinion, cartoons are best written by cartoonists. That is the way it should be. Only cartoonists can visualize not only how to exploit a funny gag to it’s full and extreme potential but also how it would fit in the execution of the cartoon itself. I honestly can not see a script writer doing this as effectively. Yes they could probably write cartoons with lots of gags and probably no dialogue at all. I severly doubt any of them do this, BTW. But even then, the animation would not be appear as inspired. Cartoon characters are constantly active. They do subtle things and they do wacky things. All the writer driven cartoons I have seen only have the characters really active when it’s absolutely essential for the story, not because it is natural. You never, ever, see specific acting in a writer cartoon. So there is no way a Clampett cartoon could be written with a script. Those characters constantly moving and making very specific facial expressions and gestures.

  • mawnck

    >>Didn’t Richard Williams talk about this in his book… saying that the actual animation is the most important factor in an animated picture… trumping even story and character development?

  • Mike

    Seems to me that different types of cartoons have different writing needs. A short may need no writing at all, while a half hour or feature would. I think except for Fantasia, all of Disney’s features were based on pre-existing written material, fairy tales, with plot and characters already established.

  • Jim

    Most executives do not think visually and they demand dialogue-topheavy cartoon scripts with a minimum of two jokes on every page. The original reason that scripts became standard operating procedure in animation production (during ‘The Flintstones’ at Hanna-Barbera in the early 1960s) was that network suits didn’t know how to read storyboards. It was also a bear for board artists of the day to fill an entire half hour when they were trained on doing theatrical shorts running an average of seven minutes. Then one day someone at the studio happened to send the network a formally written ‘Flintstones’ script rather than a board and ABC decreed ‘THIS is how we like it! In fact, we want it to be this way from now on.’ And it was. There are decent animation writers, hack animation writers who can’t cut it in live action, and then there are Harvard writers, largely in the business because of ‘The Simpsons’, the Ellis Island for hordes of ‘H-Bomb’ carrying denizens who’ve steadily populated this business since 1990, people who, for the most part, would be doing work closer to their spiritual cores by foreclosing factories in the rust belt. The animation business has bigger problems in 2008 than anointing one creative group over another. Some of the most successful animation feature directors are bailing to work on live action, and they’re just trying to beat the rats. Animation sorely needs a new paradigm.

  • robiscus

    for clarity’s sake, i’d like to note that the “writers” mentioned in two posts just above this one are also actors and directors. they perform what they have written. in animation though, writers do not fill that role. storyboard artists are the architects of all performances.

  • Enid

    “the cartoon is a visual medium.”

    ALL film is a “visual medium.”

    Some films utilize visuals better than others. “There Will Be Blood” is a perfect example of great visual storytelling.

  • Eddie says:

    “Speed is important for writers, maybe because they’re addicted to freelance, a flaw shared by some artists. Or maybe writing for funny animation is distasteful to them and they just want to get it over with. In either case the audience loses.”

    It’s a very good point. But the biggest reason (at least for me) is that a writer’s first draft – we call it an “A” draft – is literally the lightest pass on the script version of an outline. It’s not concrete. It’s barely the ingredients to concrete.

    It’s a road map, not a cartoon at this point.

    This is a draft that, in a perfect script based production, would be tweaked if it was good, plussed by the director, and tossed if it sucked. Kicked to the curb. Deleted. Not a single panel drawn.

    Production concerns sometimes dictate otherwise, but if we’re living in a perfect world, that script dies an early, undrawn death.

    “Oddly enough, this speed addiction results in overly long scripts, not short ones. They’re long because editing them down to proper length would take too much time. When the show is cut for time, any visual gags the script posesses are always the first to go, resulting in a dialogue heavy, unartistic show. ”

    Also, I completely agree. Writing is rewriting, and getting it down to length, and getting it down to the core of the story, is what makes the difference in a script, in my opinion.

    The problem is when a writer, or a production, considers a mediocre “A” draft to be a good “First” draft and then the story editor and/or Exec Producers push it through.

    It has to be loose enough that artists can plus it.

    AGAIN: This is a script based production. I am not saying this is the process on a board-driven cartoon.

    That being said, on a show like “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy” – nobody, all the way up to the EP’s and the network – wants the board artists plussing things. But these are animated sitcoms, not (I’m being intentionally cheeky) ” ‘toons. ”

    Just thinking.

  • robiscus

    “That being said, on a show like “The Simpsonsâ€? or “Family Guyâ€? – nobody, all the way up to the EP’s and the network – wants the board artists plussing things.”

    and therein lies the problem. now i say this with the knowledge that there are many storyboard artists who completely miss the dynamic and mood fo many scenes. i’m the first guy to shut down artists exaggerating everything, but to cut them out of the dialogue is where a show like Family Guy(and The Simpsons last 7 season) fails – and fails big.

    in a traditional feature an actor does the “plussing”. do you think the cene in the gas station of “No Country For Old Men” is as gripping on the printed page? no. Javier Bardem took the scene and augmented it with his performance. there are no performances in Family Guy. its like a sock puppet show.

    Now, i do understand, that is a tangled web to navigate when you have to figure out what can be augmented on the drawing side and what requires restraint, but thats the nature of the business. if its a pain to explain this to storyboard artists, then they aren’t very good at their job. likewise, if writers want storyboard artists to adhere to the script unconditionally and refuse any and all input from them, then those writers are complete fool who deserve to have their name on an animated piece that is mediocre at best.

  • Zep

    For the record, “Detroiter” should know that virtually ALL of the great physical comedians he names–Laurel & Hardy, Keaton, Chaplin, etc,etc.–did NOT devise most of their visual gags explicitly on paper at ALL.

    What *was* done, then?
    A very very broad reference would be indicated on the page: “They load the tree into the car”. “He ties the dog to the merry-go-round”. That sort of thing. There was a LOT of improvisation and rehearsal by Laurel, Lloyd, Keaton, Chaplin, Pickford, many others done ON THE SET. That’s one of the reasons these people were comic geniuses, but it was also simply part of their jobs. To execute a gag well(the old “not opening “a funny door” but “opening a door funny” idea), the director and performer had to be in that physical space and then begin to get inspiration, perfect the timing and little additions to a gag that were what made it not just okay, but great. Stan Laurel was no slave to any script(and he was in on the writing of them, btw) in terms of what he might do from one second to the next.

    The exact same thing happens(or should happen) in animation. No one, not even Brad Bird, thinks of every tiny visual detail using text alone on paper. A script is simply never an answer in itself for a visual medium-certainly not one where every frame is invented.

    A script is only as good as what it suggests or describes. Sometimes a good “script” is a poor “read”. They provide structure and can set down on paper some good dialogue, and in the case of someone who knows what they’re doing be great maps of the movie. But they can also be dispensed with when there are adept and focused people(director, story artists) who shouldn’t be hampered by an obsolete, untenable or simply not as good idea. They’re not “bad” or “good” in and of themselves. It’s a tool.

  • Attempting animation and comics, I pretty much do storyboards and scripts at the same time. To me, they should work hand-in-hand, which is why Brad Bird did it so well (not to mention him being one of my all-time favorites).

    It is VERY important to plan your story VISUALLY as well as in text. Cartoonist Scott McCloud is very good at this. When he wrote his scripts for SUPERMAN comics for DC Comics, he had a small storyboard on the side to give artists an idea of what he was envisioning, translating what the script was describing. At DragonCon, Dan Brereton taught me another neat trick: On a piece of paper, I do a quick drawing of how 2 spanned pages will look, before going into details.

    If you’re both a writer and artist, these procedures for comics are completely relevant for animation. I think writers should be more like artists as well, otherwise, it’ll be very difficult to plan out a scene. I mean, I CANNOT describe, say, a fight scene in the slightest detail in text, I’d have to use a visual reference! That’s why Bruce Lee STORYBOARDED his fight scenes for GAME OF DEATH (using stick figures), so he can give Kareem Abdul-Jabbar an idea of what the hell to do!

    Yes, I’m doing a storyboard for a personal animated project. I have multiple storyboard panels on a piece of paper. The only downside is that it’s kinda’ hard to put all of the dialogue in there, that’s why I do a companion script to go with it. (In both cases, I have each shot numbered.)

  • Mr. Semaj

    Few more things:

    Animators boast the medium for accomplishing a lot of what can’t be done in live-action. So then why are a lot of what is accessible to live-action NOT allowed in cartoons?

    Animation extremists are trying to build a wall against live-action writers that go into animation. But nobody ever built a wall against the animators that went into live action (Walt Disney, Frank Tashlin, Gabor Csupo).

    And do live-action writers REALLY work on animated sitcoms for the reason that they can’t work in live-action? Animated sitcoms (Futurama) have been susceptible to the same unfair treatment as a lot of live-action sitcoms (Arrested Development, Jericho).

    What I can’t stand is this continuing ghettoization of the animation industry. A lot of what is allowed in live-action is “forbidden” in animation. People have been marveling at the sophistication of Seinfeld for a decade and a half. But Pixar has been accused of being “pretentious” just because their more-recent films (including Ratatouille) are slanting towards the adult crowd (not in the way that’s been familiarized by South Park).

    If animation is really going to survive, the worlds of scripts and storyboards are going to have to work together. Let the script writers worry about plot and dialogue and leave the gags and personality to the artists.

    This inability to work together is probably what the suits who don’t value cartoons are expecting, since they’ve already got a gridlock on mainstream animation.

  • Is “Special Delivery” by Eunice Macaulay
    John Weldon well scripted or well storyboarded?

  • There’s a commentary track on the DVD set of The Simpsons’ third season where David Silverman describes “practically falling out of my chair laughing” at a description from a script. THAT’s how it’s done, my friends- It’s a hard skill to accquire, and I doubt many writers have it, but if you can make your animators laugh out loud, you’ll get funny animation. Think of all the great novels that get some of their biggest laughs by putting an image in your head in the most outrageous way possible – “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” has some great examples of this.
    Most of my favorite cartoons were “boarded” in the classic method, but then again, some of my favorite bits of action and physical comedy in cartoons were on the Simpsons during the ’87-’97 period, and they just so happened to share space with some pretty daring, outrageous satire that blends beautifully with the visuals. It would be pretty hard to write something like The Simpsosn on a board, but then again, most cartoon “writers” are actually much WORSE at dialog than most storyboard artists. So really, the only thing keeping me interested in this debate is the matter of whether it may be possilbe for the modern writing process to work well in a cartoon again. But NOTHING seems to happen. It’s all stale. I can only conclude that Meyer, Swartzwelder, Oakley, Weinstein, Jean, Reiss, etc. were a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, a pack of guys who just so happened to have the perfect ingredients in their mids and in their collective sensibilities and sense of humour to write a good cartoon. Is there NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD capable of writing a script that doesn’t completely cripple the animators??? I sure hop so.

  • I hasten to add that Bird at his best is amazing – I would rate “Family Dog” and “The Incredibles” among the best, wittiest and most exciting cartoon features ever produced, and much of his brilliance is also on display on The Simpsons of yore. But even having not seen “Ratatouille”, I’m kind of disappointed – John K. tore the designs a new one on his blog awhile back, and as sad as I am to say this I agree with most of what he says about them. They’re certainly not in the same league as The Incredibles, who were quite individual and seemed real and funny even on posters and in promotional artwork. But his best character to date is probably the little girl in “Family Dog”. I don’t know why she’s so funny, but she just is. I can’t even describe her – she’s just….ALIVE. And kid-like, but in a witty sort of way. All I know is that I wanted to see more of her. And that’s the true test of a character as far as I’m concerned.