If you’re writing a script for animation, typically you’ve got one column for the script, and another for the visual suggestions. You might feel a certain pressure to write Pixar-level visual ideas – but there’s often a disconnect between what writers (and clients) want, and what’s feasible with the animator’s budget, timeline… and mental health.
How do you strike a good balance? To find out, we posed a question to animators: “what do you wish scriptwriters knew before filling in the visual suggestions column?” Here’s what we found out:
It starts with a chat
The first thing we learned – it’s super important to chat with the animator who’s going to be working on your script.
“If you know animation and/or VFX is going to be a big part of the project then try to speak to an animator as early as possible,” says Freelance Motion Designer, Michael Tierney, “a good animator will be able to contribute to the feel of the scene and really elevate your work if you give them the freedom to have input.”
I’ve personally found this helps clarify any project constraints, and I always walk away with creative ideas from the animator.
Ditch the camera angles
You may be tempted to add a series of shots to your script – a close-up, followed by a wide-shot, followed by an over-the-shoulder. But, “when drawing frame by frame,” says NY-based animator Ronlee Nemeth, “it’s much harder to create crazy camera movements.”
This one was a tough lesson since I’m a huge fan of over-the-shoulder shots. OTS of PERSON in MID-30s pours a bag of BURNT POPCORN into a TUPPERWARE BOWL.
Instead: A person in their 30s pours popcorn into a bowl.
And if you’re tempted to have your character move through different settings, here’s a trick I learned: Change out the background instead. For example, Main Character stands in the center, while the background changes to a city, then to a bank, then to a quaint pond in the Adirondacks.
Get clever to create busy frames
Say you’re writing a scene that takes place in a park with lots of people, or at an event where a person is speaking to a crowd. These may seem like easy tasks – but nope! Nemeth adds “the animators need to design and animate each character or element separately.”
Yup, there’s no insert crowd button. But there are workarounds…
For example, if I’m writing a scene in a science lab, I’ll ask myself, do I really need 5 researchers in the scene? Or could it be just as effective with two? Maybe adding in some audio of a busy lab could help drive it home?
Or, if you’re writing a visual suggestion where a person addresses a crowd. Try a close-up shot of the person standing at a podium on a stage, talking into a microphone. This visual cue might be enough to inform the audience they’re speaking to a crowd.
Set up animators for greatness
Even if you have an upfront conversation with the animator, simply passing off a design-ready script can lead to miscommunications… and work that’s not as great as it could be.
“You will get a much more consistent feel for a big project if the animator has a clear understanding of the context,” says Tierney.
He recommends making sure the animator understands “the concept, audience, and purpose of the scene and how it relates to other parts of a wider project.”
A simple way to do this would be to review the creative brief and show how the insights have led to your script. This shows your process and thinking, and helps the project feel like one connected thread, rather than siloed parts in an assembly line.
But shouldn’t pigs fly?
When it comes to suggesting visuals for an animator, keep communication open, and find simple alternatives to those bigger, more complex visuals. Of course, if the script legit talks about a flying pig… you just might have to push for that visual. We can’t *not* see it.
(Thanks to Michael Burrows and Daniel Novykov (Unsplash) for these visuals)