I am a fan of the Soviet filmmaker, Tarkovsky, and particularly like his 1972 version of Solaris. This film starts with several minutes of a man (Donatas Banionis) standing, then walking beside a stream. As in many of Tarkovsky’s films, there are many shots that dwell on plants undulating in the water. With no music, but only the sounds of nature, Tarkovsky manages to create an atmosphere of sadness and yearning, which is finally broken after several minutes when a car arrives.
A riveting scene from Solaris
Don’t think you can do this in animation. You can’t. In the time it takes Tarkovsky to set the scene you should becoming to the end of the first act of your script.
Common mistakes in structure.
· Keep the scenes short. Animation writers and directors do not have the beauty of the natural world, the art of a top cinematographer or the moody charisma of Donatas Banionis to work with. They have a series of drawings or models, real or computer generated, which only come to life when they move. Animation is an illusion. A single image of an animation character is simply an image, a drawing or a photograph. Only when several of these are put together does the character come to life. You cannot hold the camera on a single image for any length of time.
You cannot create mood in the way that life action filmmakers like Tarkovsky can. No animator or computer programme can reproduce the beauty of a real sky or plants gently waving in a flowing stream. Mood is created with music or with movement. Don’t try and be lyrical, thinking that somehow the animator can create a landscape that will express what you need it to. You’re unlikely to have a Turner, Monet or Constable painting your backgrounds, so concentrate on what you can do best in animation: action and fantasy.
So don’t make the scenes too long. If I see a scene any longer than a page and a half (usually a minute) I start to get nervous. Is there really enough visual interest in it to keep the viewer hooked?
· Keep intros and setups to a minimum. Try to get into your scene at the last possible moment and get out at the first opportunity. In live action you often have scenes where characters sweep down long stairways, exchange looks before crossing crowded dance floors, or enter boardrooms, greeting bigwigs as they go. There are usually very good reasons for this. We might have a shot of an actress sweeping down the stairs simply so we can see how elegant and beautiful she looks.
We might be establishing a sexual chemistry with a look across a crowded dance floor. The meet and greet in the boardroom could be about characters sizing each other up, deciding who is the alpha male.
Female beauty is difficult to achieve in animation, and sexual chemistry is even harder. It’s going to be hard to show primates sizing each other up without full-blooded actors. So cut out shots of people travelling, opening doors, glancing meaningfully at each other, or walking into rooms and saying hello. Cut straight to the part of the scene that moves the plot forward. And once you made the point you need to make, there’s no need for people to walk off out of the door, say goodbye, etc. All this costs virtually nothing in live action, but a few seconds of somebody saying good-bye, turning and walking out of the door could take an animator several days. If it isn’t absolutely necessary, don’t do it.
Some writers take all this on board and deliver scripts that consist of one short scene after another. They need to
· Pace the scenes to suit the narrative. A good script needs to have a combination of longer scenes that develop a situation, suspense, etc., and also fast cutting scenes that are dramatic and full of action. I have talked elsewhere about how timing in animation seems to be faster than in live action, but that does not mean that every scene needs to be short. A well balanced script should have scenes of different lengths, none of them more than a page and a half in length. There are few things more boring than a script in which every scene is the same length.
How to avoid making mistakes:
· Communicate with your story editor.
· If possible, watch what happens in other episodes of the series.
· Revise your work.
· Keep writing. It’s like playing a musical instrument. You have to practice.
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