Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Animation Writing

My friend John posted a comment/question on my post from a few days ago about the "writers' room" where I spend far too little of my work day.

Here's my rehashed halfway version of his question because I'm too lazy to copy and paste it: "Most features don't have writing rooms. Are animation features written differently?"

Very good question, John/Josh. Please, please, please, do not take my word as gospel on this, and in fact I'd love to hear from someone who has more direct experience than I do...but in my very narrow and specific experience, yes and no. From what I've seen, animation features do have a credited writer or writers, same as live action features. Sometimes scripts come into our office "complete." Sometimes, an executive really latches onto a concept and will hire a writer to pen a draft. Either way, before any kind of production begins, there is a "finished" script.

Where animation differs, from what I've seen, is that there is a Story Department with Story Artists who sort of pitch ideas and "write" with the credited writers. I imagine this process as somewhat similar to a TV writing room. It's a bunch of people who are all thinking about the story and pitching ideas to make the movie structure work. These people in Story are not credited as writers and have no WGA rights or protection. They are not paid as writers. They receive no residuals. What they have instead, the studio argument goes, are benefits and job security. Credited writers, in contrast, are freelancers who work under a contract for a specific time period and agreed upon monetary compensation.

(As a side note, and feel free to check me on this, it's a bit pointless to say that people in Story aren't protected by the WGA, because from everything I've been told, animation itself is not covered by the WGA. If you write The Lion King or Shrek or Dora the Explorer, the Guild could give a rat's ass.)

Once the credited writer and the Story Department come up with something that's to everyone's liking, it goes to Storyboard Artists. In theory they're just creating panels for the already-completed story/script, but I'm sure that things change and evolve while the storyboards are being made. While this is going on, often dialogue is being recorded at the same time. Once again, I'm positive that when this happens, things get "rewritten." Now, some of this isn't so different from live action features, as I'm sure actors always put their own spin on lines and in the process of creating the movie, better (sometimes) ideas emerge that alter the original script. The difference is that in animation it's happening every step of the way.

Once there's a finished boarded version of the movie, it screens for executives. If they don't like it, the story is rewritten. But lets pretend they do like it. The movie then moves on to the actual animation stages where hundreds of individual artists model characters and locations and begin to animate actual sequences. Again (say it with me, now), while being animated, rewriting happens. Jokes are added and taken away. Certain things that worked on paper don't seem to work when animated. And so on and so forth.

(Note: At least so far, the production I work on seems to be a bit different, as the writers are writer/directors. They have brought in a writer friend to work with them to shape the story, and at times I've heard that they bring in other writer friends and pitch story ideas and jokes to each other, much like a TV sitcom room. They have not, however, had any people from Story in on the actual writing or plotting of the script.)

Anyway, that's the way it works as I've seen it, but like I said, I'd love to hear from anyone who has more direct experience than I do.


John Reha said...

That's pretty awesome. Thank you for explaining it!

Since I have nothing actually relevant to say, I just want to mention that Call of Duty 4 was originally going to be subtitled "Warricane" or "Warnado."

That is all.

Josh said...

That I did not know.