Summary of Introduction and Chapter 1 of “Animated Storytelling” by Liz Blazer
Good animations, both character driven films and motion graphics, require planning. According to Liz Blazer, author of “Animated Storytelling” there are three major considerations before you even begin work:
I. What is it? Or Concept Development. There are two basic reasons you might want to use animation to communicate an idea. You have something to “tell”, the storytelling inherently has meaning and value to the audience, or you have something to “sell”. You are attempting to convince the audience to accept an idea or take an action. This concept development stage is the part of the project where you clarify the client (maybe you are your own client) aims and objectives. It is critical to write a creative brief, one that answers basic questions about the project and includes details like the specifications of the piece (how long, size, formats etc.), who is the target audience, deadline, production schedule, timeline, resources, participants, desired outcome or goals.
A few examples of the type of questions that should be included in an animation creative brief can be found here:
Once you have answered your basic “getting started” questions, you can then begin exploring the concept. Blazer recommends using a Kaban board approach and write down everything you know and feel about the idea and post them somewhere. It is important to be totally honest, be personal, both with yourself and audience. This is just discovery and you may find some things you may need to overcome in order to communicate or tell your story well. The emotions that motivate you will touch others as well.
Circle or highlight the items that are most compelling as they will shape your narrative. Blazer explains “allow your mind time to put together a narrative that works for you…your brain wants to make connections between characters and it loves to resolve conflicts”. This is where time management becomes key. Good storytelling takes time as the concept is refined. Allow the project time to develop in these early stages.
When the story comes to you or your team, it then becomes necessary to synthesize it into its core message. Develop a tagline, something like 5 words that captures and summarizes the whole story into a phrase. For example the movie Jaws had the tagline “Don’t go in the water.” Setting Tone, Theme and Tagline forces the team to understand the project intimately and lays the foundation for a branding process.
II. What does it look like? Or Previsualization. Now that we have all this content ready in the form of words, copy or possibly a complete script. It is time to finally beginning designing! Put together some simple sketches and experiment with composition, colors and techniques. It is OK to be influenced. I once went to a PIXAR exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and I was blown away by the amount of traditional artwork that went into character development for their films. Everything from clay sculptures to watercolor paintings were generated during the concept development process, well before storyboards. It was amazing to see how characters could have looked like (and possibly do in alternate universes). Check out the full catalog from the show here.
During this stage you are enriching your preliminary work, so it is possible that you may need to go back and change some of the earlier work, the tone, theme and tagline to match.
III. What is it made of? Or Asset Development. Now the fun part begins. Asset development is bringing your characters to life. You will gather all the elements of your piece in one place. Backgrounds, character or logo files, fonts, props. Everything that you will need to begin production.
Making sure you have gone through this preparation process will ensure a successful outcome. It will also keep you on track if your project grows or encounters unexpected challenges one you are in the production, review and approval stages.
Shawn is an Information Technology manager in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at Quinnipiac University pursuing his masters in Interactive Media and Communications.
Blazer, L. (2016). Animated storytelling : simple steps for creating animation & motion graphics. San Francisco, CA: Peachpit Press.
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