The Animation Production Process, Part 1 – Preproduction: You’re never writing alone
Television and Film Production is a collaborative medium. On a given film set you are likely to run into just every level of that production: director, actors, writer, camera, lighting or sound crew, wardrobe and make-up, set and prop designers and builders and even the occasional harried looking producer trying to keep it all together. Animation is also a collaborative medium but it is far more compartmentalized.
As a writer you may chat with the story editor and see some notes from a director but never set eyes or ears on the rest of the team. That makes it easy to forget that your script is just the first stage of a process. Everyone that follows will be using what you write a guide. That’s why it’s tremendously important to understand all the steps a typical animated production goes through before it appears in its finished form on your television screen. If you understand and adapt your approach to those needs, you’ll see fewer changes to your work once it’s out of your hands.
Generally, the steps run like this.
A show is created through a combination of DESIGN (developing the look of the show’s world, establishing the characters’ visual design to make them appealing and believability as an animated character) and WRITING (Creating a SHOW BIBLE that: establishes the rules of the world, the character’s place it, their goals and desires, sets the structure of the show, short story premises, sample scripts and outlines and answering the all-important question — what drives the stories week in and week out?)
Once a show is green lit for production DESIGN and WRITING are off and running.
DESIGN begins to create the main environments, costumes and props a show will use over and over (the hero’s home, school or workplace and their family car or their cool rocket cycle, etc.)
Meanwhile, the EXECUTIVE STORY EDITOR/WRITERS are scrambling to pitch and develop plots, outlines and scripts to feed the beast on time and on budget.
Once a script is finished, it is handed off to DESIGN and STORYBOARD.
DESIGN searches the script for all the new locations, costumes and props they will have to create for that episode. Perhaps the characters go a roller rink. That means roller blades; helmets and the rink itself will have to be designed. And possibly the snack bar they have a conversation at along with the food they order as they chat. These initial designs, called a FUN PACK, are sent to the COLOURISTS and the STORYBOARD for reference.
COLOURISTS choose the colours for the roller rink, keeping in mind to fit it into the general look of the series so it looks like it exists in the same world as the original designs. This palette will be added when the final designs are prepared for the animation process.
With the script and the fun pack as references, the STORYBOARD ARTISTS then begin to work out how the show will fit together. They are simultaneously writing, directing, editing, pacing out the dialogue and posing the characters to maximize their performance. They are also timing out and placing music and sound effects to create a visual guide for the whole episode.
A STORYBOARD is not a comic book, though it resembles in some ways. It is more accurately described as a VISUAL MAP of PRODUCTION. It show exactly how all the elements will combine to create the finished product: timing, posing, camera angle, sound, music sfx, and cutting.
From the moment the storyboard is delivered, every level of production that follows will use it as their guide. The storyboard literally guarantees that the entire team (which may be in various locales across the globe) is all on the same page, working toward the same cohesive vision.
Next time, we’ll follow the various tracks of production after the storyboard is complete.