Saturday, October 21, 2006

Animated Series

I heard a story that a lady at a party asked some guy what he did for a living. He said he wrote the scripts for the Bugs Bunny series. She said "Bugs Bunny doesn't need a scriptwriter, he's funny enough himself".
I met Chuck Jones at a party and asked him if this story was true. He hadn't heard of it but said it was quite possible, and related a similar case.

I mention this because over the years I have been sent a number of ideas for Animated TV series by students and animators who feel that TV Studios are on the lookout for new material; they rarely are. There is a feeling that once you have a character as a design, it has a life of its own, and the scriptwriter simply has to record it!!!
My advice to those attempting to do ideas for animated TV series is to look at how many of the past series started as this will show how the characters and storyline have been developed.

The Pink Panther started as a film title, and The Care Bears started as toys. Thomas the Tank engine was born as a book character, and Popeye as a comic. The Muppet Cartoon started as live-action puppets, while the Super Mario Brothers came into being as a computer game. Some familiarity with all of these markets is necessary if you want to write for animation.

There are several others sources for animated series but the common element in the above examples is that these characters were established before being made into a series. It is not hard to pitch an idea when you start from this basis.

Another advantage is to have your own studio and be able to use spare time to produce a pilot for an idea. If the pilot is accepted then it is usually not too difficult to get production money.
A third situation is to be the producer of someone elses series, and come up with your own idea which can be based on your knowledge of the market, as well as having the facilities to test out your idea. Needless to say, few people are in such favourable positions of being able to set up a series.

But there are a couple of ways that offer hope; the first is to become a contributor to someone elses series; and secondly to get your work published in some other medium such as a book/comic etc. It is not enough to understand about animation, you also need to understand 'Markets' because that is what pitching is about. Unfortunately this is a subject rarely included in Animation Courses.

Friday, October 20, 2006

In the early 1960s I was on holiday in Ibiza; at that time totally off the tourist track and having lots of artists doing their thing. One of them - who was not in the film world - said to me that he had a brilliant idea. As underground trains had a series of windows that were like film frames, you might be able to have pictures along the tunnel so that they appeared to be moving as you passed them.

I explained that you needed a 'gate ' so you only saw the image for a fraction of a second, and that the train would need to have a steady speed from start to finish, apart from the fact that lighting varied along the track, etc. But the idea was not lost on the Advertising people who saw the unused walls of the underground as potential space.

A few years later I noted that Sony had come up with a system showing moving pictures in the tunnel, but I never saw anything indicating it had been used or how it was done, so last night when by chance I switched on 'The Gadget Show' and saw that such a system was now working in the USA I was particularly interested.
Apparantly it requires images to be flashed on the walls rather than fixed on the walls, and the flashes synchronised with the train speed. In effect, the train was acting as some form of projector.

The idea of projecting onto unusual screens is common enough; the same Gadget show had ladies parading around with screens built into their clothes. I have seen films projected onto waterfalls, blocks of ice, through mist, onto people, and two movies projected onto a single screen; and I seem to remember that someone tried projecting onto clouds, and the idea of using all your walls and ceilings as screens is just around the corner. One day you will wake up to the sounds of the dawn chorus, and see the sky above and the forest around you, while laying in the comfort of your bed.

The screen I'm waiting for does exist, but is not cheap; It's the 'Head-up-display' used by pilots, where the screen is their visor which is rather like Virtual reality helmets . I would like to be able to put on a pair of glasses and see movies in a way comparable to using an Ipod. I'm prepared to bet that something like that will be around in a year or two.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Popular cartoon characters are not just funny drawings, they encapsulate the attributes of certain types of people; in fact, you can guess a great deal about someone by knowing their favourite cartoon. So it was with some interest I checked out my own character at a site 'Which Cartoon Character Are You? which claims to find your cartoon alta ego when you have answered a questionaire. I was surprised to find I was matched with Pepe le Pew - a rather lovable skunk. Well!!!

Having worked as an Animation scriptwriter for many years, I am always on the lookout for postures, gestures, and attitudes that can be used visually to sum up a character. In fact I get animators to act out the storyboard before animating it.
But there is another way of looking at characters. Sherlock Holmes almost certainly suffered from Aspergers Syndrome ; which typically comes out as a clever organised person who finds it difficult to make social contacts. Hercule Poirot was probably this way inclined as well.

My own Henry's Cat - who's favourite food is jellybean sandwiches - has an eating disorder. Miss Muffet suffered from fear of spiders, while Peter Pan feared growing up, and James Bond's charm is actually a cover up for his fear of commitment (quite common in men I'm told). If you are looking for some odd characteristics for your characters you might take a glance at Phobias. It is amazing what some people are afraid of.

It is also worth looking at Weird habits. I know a man who sticks his finger into his belly button when thinking; his jerseys have holes where he does this. Actors are always on the lookout for such habits. James Cagney used the trick of continually pulling up his trousers, for one gangster role. The coin-flipping gangster originated from a real gangster before becoming a cliche in the ganster movies. Humphry Bogart pulled his ear whenever he was thinking - in one role; and Harpo Marx based his odd outfit on a tramp he often saw.

One of the things I used to do was look at the questionnaires you find in magazines. Typically these might be 'Are you healthy', or 'Check your IQ', etc. Also the various internet questionnaires that ask a many questions to sort out your life-style. These questions give a good idea of the sort of compatible characteristic a someone might have, it is this compatibility that gives a character credibility.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Back to the Drawing Board

A couple of months ago I went to the Royal College of Art End of Year exhibition with some animation friends. We noted that there was much more traditional illustration and animation than in the previous years that had exploited new technology.
I wondered if 'Technology' has now been assimilated enough to the point where it is now taken for granted, and we could now get back to sweat and talent. I hope so because such work has more soul to it.
I was interested to note that this approach can still (and hopefully will continue) to be viable. The animated feature movie just released 'Romeo & Juliet - Sealed with a Kiss' is a full length feature animated by one man - Phil Nibblelink - made in 4 1/2 years using Flash animation. You can look it up at
There is a growing call for movie makers to make their own movies, particularly for presenting Social problems. One site at is looking for ideas to solve global warming. If you are interested, a good place to start is Global Warming

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Computer Games

The first computer game I played was 'Lunar Lander' on a Mainframe machine in the late 1960s; we didn't have screens; you typed in coordinates for speed and distance, and it calculated your descent and how much fuel you had, then printed out the answer. It was played so much some colleges banned it.
My first games addiction was the Purple People Eaters on the BBC Micro; Mice weren't available then, so I got Repetitive Strain Injury like most games players of the time. I moved on to Lemmings on the Amiga, but when my PC came along I had passed my games phase, and apart from Freecel and Spider Solitaire, never play games.
But I was invited along to the London Games Festival earlier this month to hear discussions on Artificial Intelligence in Computer Games; the next 'big thing'. I wasn't all that impressed by what I saw or heard.
Being a scriptwriter I find Computer games lacking in plot, but the main point of the discussions was how to put more 'Emotional attributes' into the Avatars.
I suggested that Games developers were going along the same learning curve as Film makers had done many years ago, and that though good design in games is essential, it is parallel to having celebrities rather than good actors in roles.
I left the show feeling that it will be some time before Avatars can put emotion into acting, but I was wrong. Take a look at:
Without doubt this is the beginning of a new era in Computer Graphics and Movie making generally. It is not difficult to see that this technology will end up on the desktop within a year or two.
The merging of Games and Movies really is one giant step for Avatars; it just needs Surround Screens, Holograms, and Virtual Reality to catch up now.
In the mean time look at:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Animation Data Banks

When I started in Animation around 1958 life was simple in the Animation World. Animation fell into just a few categories of drawn, cutout, and model/puppet -which covered just about anything in 3D. There were some experimental techniques, but generally speaking you could see how any technique worked just by looking at it. Apart from the techniques, anyone from cameraman to editor could go to any studio in the world and all the equipment would be more or less the same.

Not so today; in fact two animators doing exactly the same type of work might well be using entirely different computer programs to do it, and the time taken to learn such programs would often mean they are stuck with their choice of program. As many programs come and go, it is worth spending time finding out what is likely to be around for the future.

As I am constantly looking for trends in animation I spend much time checking out links to the various animation categories. It can be quite frustrating at times, so I was pleased to come across the site at which shows how Computer Animation can help out with visual search engines. The top image is an example of a visual data bank.

As far as I know, none have been applied to the 'World of Animation', but the potential is there, and if anyone gets around to doing it, much time and effort will be saved.

There are - of course - some good specialised Animation data banks. One of the best is: and a subsection at

The big problem is that search engines have difficulty in searching for specific images. If you want a particular Bugs Bunny movie you can check out Chuck Jones, but the vast majority of animated movies don't get listed in a way that is easy to categorise. Until they do the best that can be offered is Animation Database and Animation Databanks