In this book, we will be creating a very simple animation that won't be using a script. However, once you have finished learning the basics of Anime Studio and it's time to move on to your own works, you will need to know the proper procedures in constructing a blueprint for your productions, especially when it comes to more complicated animations.
You may have an idea of what you want to do, and that's great. But it's important to form a more structured plan before getting started with production. This can be overwhelming, especially if you're not used to writing or expressing ideas on paper.
This chapter will help get you started and become comfortable with this process. You wouldn't build a house without a blueprint and the same applies to animation and film. Jotting down notes, mapping an outline, drafting a screenplay, and finally sketching a storyboard is the key to a well-planned and successful animation.
When starting out, most animators usually have a basic idea of how they want to tackle their cartoon. This idea or premise is what drives the urge to animate in the first place. But what happens if you have no ideas? Maybe you have one idea but not enough content to base a substantial story off of it. Or maybe you want to create a series of episodes and you can't think of worthwhile concepts after a certain episode or point. This can be a real struggle for people starting off with animation.
Writing what you know is a good way to approach a story as it will allow you to create a rich environment for your cartoon to thrive. It will make your cartoon believable, allowing viewers to invest themselves into your narrative.
The following is a figure of Mr. Binek's Class, a cartoon that takes place in a school and is loosely based on real events and characters:
Let's face it; write what you know can be misleading. As an example, let's say you want to create a cartoon about a solider during World War II. Maybe you want this animation to take place from a certain perspective, or in a different country that you've never visited. It's safe to assume that most people reading this were not involved in World War II, which can make writing difficult. So how do you write what you know in this case? Simple; you make it your point to know! Research is the key. Learning as much as you can about a time, event, location, and so on will help build credibility towards the universe you want to conceptualize and mold. Even better, if possible, interview people who lived to experience these incidents. The same goes for traveling to the places you want to include in your story. Any information you gather will help shape the credibility and believability of your animated universe.
Not all cartoons have to contain humor. However, most modern animations, especially on the Internet, are meant to invoke a laugh or two from their audiences. I'm sure you've stumbled across many cartoons you've found to be funny. There may also be videos that others love that you can't understand the humor behind. So, the big question is, what is funny? How can you be sure what you're writing is funny, and more importantly, it is going to stir up laughs from other individuals and gather positive feedback? The best advice I found on this subject comes from an older, but valued source, Mark Clarkson's Flash 5 Cartooning. If you think it's funny, it's funny. You cannot please everyone, but there's a good chance others will find humor in your creation. So stick with what makes you laugh and believe in your animation. If you do that, you'll at least make one person laugh.
It's safe to assume that you have some ideas for your own works even before you picked up this book. Maybe you have a handful of ideas that you would love to see be applied to your future cartoon. This is great; the problem sometimes is that ideas can come so fast that we lose track of them; or maybe the idea had occurred to you months before, and you're having a hard time remembering the finer details. This can happen a lot and keeping track of great ideas is something that must be practiced. The advice you will hear a lot is to carry a notebook with you at all times. Understandably, this can be a bit of a pain, even with ample pocket room. However, we live in an age where cell phones and tablets can be used for note keeping. This may be more convenient, depending on your preferences and hardware.
One recommendation is a piece of software called Evernote, as it allows you to sync notes from your phone, tablet, and PC with ease. It will install on almost any OS, including iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Windows Phone, and Android. You can download the desktop version at www.evernote.com. You will find the mobile versions on whichever app delivery service your device uses. The following are a few tips to keep in mind if you decide to try out Evernote:
Be sure to make an account (which is free) so that you can access your notes on multiple devices.
Notebooks act like folders. If you find you are accumulating a lot of notes, be sure to create notebooks for organization.
If Evernote doesn't do it for you, there are similar tools or services such as Google Docs or SkyDrive. However, if you prefer, go retro and wield the instruments our ancestors used: a piece of paper and pencil. Some people just prefer the traditional method of note taking. The bottom line is that even if an idea seems pointless or out of place, find a way to write it down. It may surprise you how relevant that seemingly insignificant idea can become as concepts evolve.
The notes from your brainstorm sessions will more than likely end up as a pile of ideas without much cohesion or flow. This is normal because the note taking phase is meant to get standalone ideas formulated and written. You will want to organize these notes into an outline once your brain has spat the ideas out. How you outline will depend on your own comprehension skills. For instance, some people prefer bullet lists; others may want to get a mind-mapping software and organize everything that way. A software such as Scrivener allows you to create sections that can be easily rearranged, making it a prime choice for screenwriters and novelists. However, if you decide to do it, an outline is an important step in creating an animated cartoon.
The goal of the outline is to take your notes and organize them into a roughly structured narrative. Making the pieces fit is the key. Sticking to the main ideas is usually suggested when writing an outline, as other details such as character actions and dialog come later on during screenwriting. If a piece of a dialog that you must include comes to mind, include it. While your narrative flow may change over the course of the creative process, the outline will set up the building blocks to creating a cohesive blueprint for you to follow, as shown in the following screenshot:
Screenwriting is where you'll want to write the story in full detail. This includes scene details, character actions, dialog, and so forth. Think of the process as if you watched your unfinished movie and are repeating every detail verbatim to a friend.
Your scene headings, in caps, describe the scene setting
Characters are also capitalized
Dialog is written underneath the characters in an almost center-justified format
The following is an example of a page from a screenplay; note how things are formatted:
When it's time to write your screenplay, you will want to download a piece of software that can put your words into the proper format. This not only makes the document more readable, but puts a professional spin on your creation, especially if you want to sell the draft to a production company.
My first recommendation would be Celtx (http://www.celtx.com). This free piece of software (with an optional premium version to access cloud-based and collaborative features) is streamlined, yet powerful enough, to draft up even your most ambitious screenplays. The software comes with a storyboarding template which allows you to order images, apply scene descriptions, text, and more.
You can download it for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. On top of that, as of this writing, you can purchase a Celtx app for any of your iOS mobile devices, which allows you to write screenplays on the go.
If you want to use the same software that many of the professionals do, investing in Final Draft (http://www.finaldraft.com) may be up for consideration. The software contains many advanced features that may help with the creative process. Plus, as I said, it's widely regarded as a pro's choice type of software. Just be prepared to pay upwards of $200 for the fully-featured standard edition.
Whatever software you decide to use, the following are some basic rules to follow as you begin writing your first screenplay:
Writing actions or descriptions is really no different from that of a novel. You want to be as descriptive as you can to paint a picture in the mind of the reader. Unless you are writing the script for yourself, you will want to avoid descriptions that would fall under the category of direction (camera movements, transitions, and so on). Also, it's proper to always write in the present tense.
When in doubt, use the special commands that your software provides. You shouldn't have to think much about the formatting with the aid of the software.
As you are discovering over the course of this chapter, your concepts, ideas, outline, and screenplay will continually be evolving up until you begin production. This can even continue after you start animating. Don't worry, this is normal. It may seem like most popular writers, whether they are novelists or screenwriters, are gifted with the hand of God. They can sit down and whip up several pages of a novel or screenplay in no time. The truth of the matter is, more often than not, a successful writer can sometimes draft a piece of literature up to three or more times. Your first draft is rarely your last.
When you first draft your screenplay, you shouldn't be concerned about more than just getting your ideas down as they come to you. Once this process is complete, you may want to step away from the script for a few days. If you have a friend or colleague who does similar work, such as writing, filmmaking, or cartooning, let them see the script. I can't tell you how many times I've struggled with a screenplay and a second pair of eyes discovers elements I had not considered. When becoming occupied in an activity or piece of work, especially a screenplay, it's almost as if you develop a tunnel vision. Flaws in character actions, dialog, and the narrative flow can go unnoticed.
When it's time to do your second draft, the goal should be to critically analyze the flow of events and strengthen them if possible. Other elements you may want to consider are tightening your writing structure and correcting any grammar or spelling mistakes.
The second draft may be similar to or may completely contradict the first draft. Once you are finished, remember that a second pair of eyes doesn't hurt. By the time you take a swing at a third draft, things should be easier. It's possible you could have a total upheaval, and revamp the entire script once again.
If the concept was strong to begin with, a third draft usually requires small tweaks here or there. Comparing the first draft to the third usually resembles significant changes, most of which involve a tightening of narrative structure and character development. More tweaks may be required, but just keep this in mind that terrible first drafts tend to lead to terrific third drafts. Of course, not everyone's path will be the same. You could find yourself with more than three drafts by the time the process is done.
After your screenplay is finalized, you may want to create a storyboard which will visually outline the scenes you will animate in your cartoon. Think of it as a comic book with multiple slides and written directions for the camera and character actions. This is helpful for when it's time to set up shots in your animation. It can be a visual guide as you or others dissect the written script. Storyboards don't have to be incredibly well designed. You will find artists who simply use stick figures to get a visual representation while others create more details for their drawings. South Park's storyboards sometimes look more detailed than the actual cartoon itself.
Storyboards can be sketched on paper or mapped in a computer software. In the end, it depends on how you intake information and approach material. Artists have been known to outline all of their scenes or slides on separate notecards and stick them on a wall. This allows them to view the entire sequence at once. Other people prefer the controlled structure a piece of software provides.
If you prefer using software to map out your storyboard, there are several options out there. Celtx, the same software that I recommended for screenwriting, has a storyboard template that allows for basic organization. You can dictate shot types and add descriptions, images, and sketches to create your storyboards in Celtx, as shown in the following screenshot:
If you've written a script that contains words spoken by characters, your next step will be to record the dialog. It's best to record these lines early on, once you are satisfied with the script. While animating, you will find that it can be difficult to match mouth or body movements to the dialog without actually having any audio present.
First, you will need a microphone. There are several to choose from. Obviously, a $10 mic will be inferior to a $200 one. Shop around, check out reviews on Amazon, and see what you can find within your budget. If possible, avoid using headsets as some seem to leave a clicking sound whenever there is a slight movement with the head or jaw.
Some suggestions for microphones are: Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone, Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone, and MXL USB 009 24 BIT/96 KHZ USB Condenser Mic. These range from around $60 to $200 and are all great choices. If your budget doesn't allow for expensive equipment, a pop filter is a great, fairly inexpensive buy to get the most out of your audio quality, even with a consumer-based microphone.
Next, you will need to download an audio recorder. Anime Studio has a built-in recorder, but it's not very user-friendly as you can't trim or edit the clips to any real extent. You may find basic audio recording software on your computer. Again, this can be a pain to use, given the limited tools involved. If you're looking for a solid, free audio recorder, check out Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/), shown in the following screenshot. It's available for both Windows and Mac and has a robust set of tools to utilize. Best of all, it's easy to move or trim segments of a clip, if you need to fine-tune a line.
If you're ambitious, you can record yourself and star in your very own production. However, if you have a lot of characters, it may be difficult to create different voices for each one. There are effects you can apply through Audacity to change the pitch of your voice, but it may not be enough, especially if you're a male trying to imitate a female, or vice versa. For a large cast of characters, you may want to consider bringing in some friends or family to fill in the gaps. Additionally, you can always hire actors to do the lines for you. One idea is to network with others on places such as YouTube. Not only will you gain voice actors, but you will also make connections with other people who can later help promote your work. You may have luck finding people through a service such as Elance (http://elance.com/). Just note that it's probably in your best interest to know the individual personally, especially if you plan to give them direction or re-use them later for another cartoon.
The best way to approach this is to record one line at a time. Trim any dead space and use the noise removal effect in Audacity if you have a lot of static in the background. Save the line as a
.aiff file. MP3s, while popular, tend to greatly compress the quality of the audio. If your voice actors are not in the same room as you, be sure to advise them of your guidelines so the lines you receive are as consistent as possible. This goes for microphone volume levels too. You don't want their voices to be quieter than yours or vice versa. While you can do some editing on your end to correct these issues, it's best to nail it right at the source.