Home > Uncategorized > You Asked For It: Structure and Format in Animation Writing

You Asked For It: Structure and Format in Animation Writing

We received a comment asking about script format and structure for a children’s animated TV series. Check out the links below for some insight into format and some examples of scripts. Here is some additional info.

An animated series or film has its own unique structure.

Structure: Depending on the length of the show, a script might have one, two, or three acts, sometimes with a short teaser off the top of the show and/or a tag at the end.  The creators of a series usually develop their own narrative formula that supports the kind of stories they want to tell. To learn what your options are, record and analyze other animated shows.  Look at the number and length of scenes and the pacing for the different age groups. In addition to the main plot (the A story) there may be a secondary plot (B story) and even a C and D story. Observe whether they stand alone or intersect. Are they related thematically?  For longer shows, note where the act breaks fall. On networks that run commercials, it’ll be pretty obvious. If a show is broadcast without commercials, it probably still has dips to black to mark act breaks in case the series is later sold to a network that does run ads.

Length: currently, most episodes for preschool (2 – 5 years) and children (6 – 9 years) are 11 minutes long, commonly with two episodes shown together in a half-hour block.  Shows aimed at older kids and tweens (9 – 12 years) are usually 22 minutes.

Script Format: the format for an animation script is the same as the standard live action screenplay format. That said, when you put a live action and an animated script side by side, you’ll notice they look a little different…

 

ACTION:

In an animation script, the action is described in far more detail.  You’ve heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, the process is reversed for animation writers. We use thousands of words to help the artists come up with the pictures. So that means clearly describing action sequences, sight gags, facial expressions, props and locations. That’s in addition to writing the dialogue and indicating any special sound effects and music the episode needs.

In live action writing, you usually leave camera angles and shots up to the director.  But in an animated script, you have more freedom to suggest dramatic or cartoony visuals.  Say a phone rings. You might call for a SLOW ZOOM or SMASH CUT to it. Maybe the receiver JIGGLES as the phone RINGS.  Or a loud ring might JOLT the receiver RIGHT OFF THE HOOK.  Maybe to get someone’s attention, it might BONK him/her repeatedly over the head.  Note that animation writers often CAPITALIZE camera moves and important images, sound effects and music cues, and use lots of exclamation marks to show the level of excitement the final product is going to have: eg.

A GIANT FLYING ROBOT zooms across the sky!  It EXPLODES!  KA-BOOOOOM!!!  DRAMATIC STING.

DIALOGUE:

In live action writing, you are discouraged from giving parenthetical “line reads” in the dialogue. Live action directors and actors tend to like to work that out for themselves. But in animation, nobody gets (too) mad if you let them know if a line should be shouted or whispered, or what the character’s attitude is, especially if the line can be interpreted more than one way.

Compare this:

                                              ACTOR

                                (scathing sarcasm)

Thanks for the line read. You’re the best writer ever!

 To this:

ACTOR

            (humble gratitude)

Thanks for the line read. You’re the best writer ever!

Ahhh. Much better!

FYI:

Details about format settings for animation scripts and a sample page:

http://www.awn.com/mag/issue4.04/4.04pages/williamsonscript.php3

 

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  1. March 29, 2010 at 5:37 am

    This is awesome! Thanks for the links :).

  2. Lisa
    March 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks for this. Could you also address the question of script length? I’ve heard wildly different things about page count for an animation script. Some say it should be double the length of a live action script (which clocks at about a page a minute). But others say that’s just making the animators do extra work that never makes it to the screen. Can Canimation weigh in?

    Thanks!

    • D. W.
      March 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      You’ve got good reason to be confused about script length. There are wildly varying lengths for animation scripts. South Park scripts can weigh in at a hefty 38 pages. (Here’s a sample South Park script.) Simpsons scripts (formatted more closely to a classic sitcom) can be upwards of 60 pages.

      But that’s insane.

      Generally speaking, 11 minute scripts are about 14 to 18 pages long. 22 minute scripts come in at about 24 to 28 pages. For a pilot or comedy, you could push your 22 minutes up to 30 or 31 pages if it’s absolutely necessary. But it better be amazing. And anything over that will raise eyebrows.

      (And once you go to production you may be given a totally different requirement, including the maximum number of dialog lines.)

      Also, in reference to the above, there is a great formatting software called CeltX. The best thing is it’s free. I’ve never seen it used professionally, but you can spring for Final Draft once your show is picked up.

  3. Lisa
    March 31, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you so much. This is a big help.

  4. Qnique
    August 5, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you! This is helpful.

  5. Desperado
    February 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you. This is indeed helpful.

  6. May 29, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Working on short form animations. Used to writing stories, not scripts. I wasn’t certain how detailed to be in my script re:direction and staging. This is a great help, and I’m sure the links will be as well.

  1. May 15, 2016 at 4:23 pm
  2. May 22, 2016 at 5:57 pm
  3. February 7, 2017 at 11:29 am

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