Summary of Chapter 2 and 3 of “Animated Storytelling” by Liz Blazer
In our previous summary, we talked a little about how to begin your animation project with a plan. It seemed like we would never get to the “fun” part, probably the motivation behind the whole motion project itself. Well, put on your seatbelts creatives, because it about to get real (or cartoony, whatever makes you feel more comfortable). We are going to jump right into storytelling and storyboarding: Crafting the message you want to communicate or the story you want to tell.
The scariest thing about this stage is that it is limitless. A writer stares at a blank page and the choices are overwhelming. Suddenly the grim reaper of productivity walks through the door also known as the “writers block” it can be overwhelming to have absolute freedom. But never fear, we have some tools to help us with our storytelling and you can wipe that sweat off your brow and tell the reaper: “I got this”. Liz Blazer explains “the great challenge in creating meaningful animated stories is less about letting your imagination fly free. The great challenge is about disciplining yourself to reel it in and be intentional about your storytelling choices.”
Luckily, there are storytelling structures that permeate all of our media and culture to choose from. Think of them as templates or a sculptors cast. Something that we can use to give form to our thoughts and distill the all of our ideas into the very essential and best parts of the whole. Like a meal, a great animated is story made of good ingredients that we develop from a script and a board. Once you have started and your vision takes shape, you can chip off the cast and discard the template.
Story structures fall into two basic categories: Linear and Non-linear. Both require that you and your team identify the “beats” or actions, events or moments that move your story forward toward conclusion. You don’t have to have a whole story, be loose and just jot them down save the beats on a kanban board for when you decide on a structure.
The most commonly used linear structure we have at our disposal is the three-act structure. Blazer spends a significant part of the chapter illuminating how the three part structure is ubiquitous. From knock knock jokes to Shakespeare, humans love the three act play.
Act 1: Identify the characters and the problem. Act 2: Attempt to solve it. Act 3: Resolution. Done and done. You can even start with a linear story as an exercise and then convert to non-linear if you find it suits the message better.
Now, “nonlinear” does not mean “non-structured”. Non-linear stories have as much structure as linear ones, possibly even more complex and demanding. In non-linear structures, it is critical to identify your inspiration as the theme will most likely serve as the glue that brings understanding and clarity to the viewer who is trying to follow your message.
You can create your own or here are a few examples of non-linear structures:
- Book Ending: Begin at the end, end at the end.
- The Countdown: Just keep building or escalating to the end (think of action movies)
- The Puzzle: Reveal information slowly until all becomes clear.
- The Beaded Necklace: Use a mechanism (sound, graphic element, phrase) to hold all what seems like chaotic elements together until your message is communicated.
Now that you have your structure and story fleshed out, how is it going to look? Start with very rough thumbnails. Think of all the details you need shown in each shot to effectively tell the story. Once you have them in a sequence that makes sense, then you can begin putting together a more precise storyboard.
This is it. This is the bones of your animation! I can’t believe we are this close to production, it is very exciting! Your vision is coming to life during this process. Here are a couple of tips for good storyboards:
- Don’t leave any important scenes out, you don’t want to get to the editing room and realize you have an establishing shot missing. It has to make sense.
- Vary your shots, think of each board as a fine photograph, well composed and rich with detail. Think about your camera angles to keep the eyes of your audience interested and engaged.
- Staging: Block elements to create conceptual hierarchy
- You created the world, follow the physical rules of that world keep spatial continuity.
- Make sure your story timing works in the time you have allotted. If the piece is 30 seconds long, the animations can last 45 seconds to tell the story.
- Use an animatic if that helps further develop the vision and inform the structure of the story.
As you work on your project, let the “theme”, the core message that you want to send the audience. influence every aspect of the story, For example, if the theme is positive or happy, you may choose bright colors and upbeat music, if it is dramatic, you may opt for darker tones and slow movements with sad music. Using these proven methods will help you save time and produce solid work without relying on external lightning bolts of creativity and eureka moments. All of that power is already within you, this will help you harness it.
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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