Issue 129 – Wide-Eyed Wonder

| July 7, 2009


Aidan Hickey on how to write engaging animation for children.

It’s one thing to tell a cute story to a child who’s lying snug in bed, attentive to your every word. It’s another thing entirely to write a children’s story that will please an irritable script editor, a hungover storyboard artist, an egomaniacal director, a penny-pinching producer and a co-production partner who’s still attending English classes – and suffering a total deficit in the humour department.

Alright. It’s not always that bad. But every animation writer is painfully conscious that his/her children’s story must be filtered through a team of adult colleagues before it reaches its real audience. And then, of course, there’s the fact that many TV episodes are animated in the Far East. So writers know that their carefully honed prose will be translated (quickly) into Korean or Cantonese. Therefore, colloquialisms are out.

There’s a story, probably apocryphal, of an Irish scriptwriter who wrote: ‘They fight. Freddy gives Bozo a belt!’ In Korea this resulted in a sartorial change for Bozo that persisted for the remainder of the series.

Co-production partners
Almost all animation is expected to be transcultural. The story should be funny in Boston, Beijing and Ballina. This would be an impossible challenge were it not for the fact that the medium is so visual. Slapstick is a universal language. However, even within the EU, stories designed to be acceptable in all language areas sometimes become bland ‘Euro-puddings’. Determined to avoid this outcome, one French producer ordered his writers to provide three different endings for episodes, an expensive (and never-to-be-repeated) method of satisfying his funding partners in England, Germany and France. Things have improved, but Europeans still struggle at times with telling one another stories and sharing jokes.

Working with the producer
Jeffrey Scott, a veteran of the American industry, suggests that producers will never praise a script. They’re afraid that if they do the writer will ask for more money! But the cost of realising the writer’s vision may give the producer an even bigger fright. Things like animated multitudes and water-effects can be very expensive. Hence the grief of obligatory rewrites that change a massacre on the high seas to a heated argument by the village well.

Leaving parsimony aside, a good producer can be a voice of reason in creative disputes. And, in the opinion of writers, a truly great producer is one that will always acknowledge the primacy of the script and be readily available to put the boot in to those prissy, opinionated illiterates who draw the pictures.

Working with the director
To state the obvious, a writer who wants to stay in the business must be capable of giving the director the material he/she needs to make an exciting film. So, an animation script must comply with all the conventions of good storytelling. The stories grow out of characters placed in extreme situations. They cope with conflict, tension, and mounting crises. Finally, they win through to a resolution. And, almost always, the final scenes re-establish the status quo, leaving the stage set for the next fun-filled episode.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 128.


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