Animation Story Format
Thanks for joining the 3rd part of our discussion on formats, with animation rounding out the topic.
A favourite for videos that need to explain complex ideas, animation is a vast and wonderful domain, but I would be cautious about recommending it to a client without there being specific visual references in play. Everything from Steamboat Willy’s 2D character animation to Stan Brakhage’s hand–painted camera–less abstractions count as animation, so it is very easy to have a huge misunderstanding with your client. I’ve heard people dismiss animation as “childish”, and can only assume that they are fixated on a Dora The Explorer treatment for some reason, which is an appropriate treatment for its audience but hardly defines the category. So I will always present references at the treatment stage before the script is even written to make sure that this is in fact a viable scenario.
If the budget is a concern, you should definitely get some advice from an animator to determine which specific looks and techniques are viable. A bit of stop–frame animation using objects rather than puppets could be very easy to execute, but sophisticated character animation where an anthropomorphic figure is walking, gesturing, blinking and talking all at the same moment may require an experienced cell animator to draw and the various production positions to support its completion. Or, if you are manipulating drawings or photographs, an experienced compositor may be able to use photo-manipulation techniques to achieve a comparable effect in a much quicker way. But the looks are extremely different, so tread carefully.
A major subset of animation is motion graphics, typified by primetime news graphics packages and eloquently executed in infographics. These are commonly misperceived as quick and easy to execute, when in fact they require a keen design eye and the requisite aesthetic planning and organisation of objects in space. This is a set of skills that falls under animation but is not endemic to all animators, so it is a good idea to have the correct team lined up before getting too far into your concept, and to know the difference between the main specialists:
Cell Animators are animation–focused artists who can draw characters frame by frame, and the people we traditionally think of as animators.
Stop Motion Animators are also trained animation artists but focus on the movement of real objects as opposed to drawings. A stop motion animator would control a rigged puppet or move people or objects in space over time.
3D Animators are adept at creating things that can be viewed from any perspective, usually for photo–realistic effect. Most animators will have a piece of software in which they specialise, so some will have more capability to do effects like water easier than others, so it’s best to discuss in detail what the job entails.
Compositors are digital visual effects artists who specialise in manipulating imagery over time, like a video equivalent of a photo retoucher. This is the person who can stabilise a shaky shot, remove a green screen background or have a gun flare appear when a fake movie gun is supposed to fire.
Motion Graphics Artists are the people who can create show graphics, like sports or news opens, extrude a logo and make it spin, make a graph adjust itself, or other completely computer–generated abstract magic.
There are extensive specialties within animation, such as 3D texture artists or people who focus on tracking, and someone who does one of these jobs may not have skill in the other, so it’s best to have the discussion.
Motion graphics can be a life-saver to act as explanatory b-roll that both clarifies what an interviewee is saying and removes the synchronous picture so that you can cut the audio as required. These elements can also be easily written into a script, and like everything else work out best when not an afterthought.