Wednesday, 13 April 2016

How To Write a Story

Titles: Love Me Love Me Love Me by Richard Williams
Our student animators here at Escape Studios aren't just creative artists, they are story tellers. Why? Because animation is about film-making, which is really just a kind of visual story telling.

So how do you write a great story? You can't make a great film without one, and yet one of the most common mistakes made by novice film-makers is to start making the film before the story is figured out.

In fact, it's not just novices who fall into this trap - Hollywood does it all the time. But with a little forethought and planning, you can start off your project with a great story. After all, story is the most important part of any film.

As Pixar's John Lasseter put, "the three most important ingredients in a Pixar film are: 1. Story, 2. Story, and 3. Story". So, how do you make sure you get it right?

Write it down! 
Step 1 - Write Down Your Idea
First of all, scribble down the idea on a piece of paper (or a napkin - great ideas often happen over food and wine) what your story is about.

Just a couple of lines that express the nature of the story; try to distill the very essence of it into one paragraph.

So, when someone in the pub says "So what's your film about?" you can tell them, in a few concise words. The idea is to make your summary brief, clear, and intriguing. Leave the listener (or reader) wanting to know more.

Step 2 - write an outline
An outline is a short document, ideally one page (but maybe two or three), that tells your story in brief. Your outline will have a beginning, a middle and an end. This document is vital because it forces you to set out the whole story in brief. It's at this stage that you usually figure out what the major problems are, and whether or not you really have a story at all. Outlines are generally kicked around and changed a lot before the project is done. Don't worry if this happens - it's completely normal. The most important thing about the outline is that it should be fun and easy to read. The reader should want to turn the page.

Celtx. Like Final Draft, but free.

Step 3 - write your script
Once your outline is working and agreed upon, write your script. Scripts are written in a standard format. The font is always Courier, and they always look the same. Download a copy of a sample script and follow the format exactly - professional screenwriters all use the exact same format - for good reasons. Don't try to re-invent the wheel. To get started, use CELTX, free software which will automatically format your script for you.

Step 4 - draw your story board
Start storyboarding. Your storyboard will start off as word-for-word drawn version of your script. However, animation is a visual medium, and you will likely find that things will change a bit as you start to board. Don't worry - this is quite normal. The script is not the holy grail - you can and will adjust it as create your storyboard. But your first pass should stick pretty close to the script. If it starts to head in a different direction altogether, go back to the script stage and re-write.

Traditionally, storyboards were done on paper, and then scanned and edited together. Nowadays most pro's use digital software like ToonBoom StoryBoard Pro - mainly because it's faster.

Premiere Pro - editing software
Step 5 - Film your animatic
Film your story board animatic. Cut your scanned storyboard panels together with sound effects, music, dialogue. and narration.  This is done in the editing suite (that's you and a copy of Premiere Pro, or Final Cut if you are using a Mac) and is where your film really takes shape.

At this point, you will likely find that your story will need adjusting and changing, to get the flow and the rhythm working. You may well need extra story panels; others will get cut. Again, it's quite normal - all part of the story process.


The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our new BA/MArt starting in September 2016, follow this link.

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