Animators rewrite filmmaking book

Thu Jan 7, 2010 1:32am EST
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By Thomas J. McLean

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Writing animated films requires patience, flexibility and an imagination larger than life.

"We started writing six years go -- and we finished writing during the mix," says Phil Lord, who co-wrote and co-directed "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" with Chris Miller.

"We always joke that you make an animated film backward: You start with editing the film, with the animatic (mock-ups); and then proceed to shoot it. That's the beauty of the animation process: It takes so long, you have so many chances to improve it."

Most animated features start life the way any movie does -- with an image, premise or character that eventually becomes a screenplay. But while a finished script entering production usually is the end game for a live-action movie, on animated features it's just a starting point for a highly collaborative process that hones the story until it become bulletproof enough to shoot.

Next, the story is broken down into 30-40 sequences for storyboarding. The boards are then scanned into the computer and edited with temp voices, effects and music into story reels that become, more than the written script, the blueprint for the final product.

"It's almost an extension of the scripting process," says Pete Docter, director/co-writer of "Up," which spent three years under the microscope before animation began. Docter says that process involved constant feedback for improving the story. "Most of the time it comes down to (the question of): Do I care about (the characters)," he says.

Docter, who previously directed "Monsters, Inc.," adds that one or two sequences usually come together very easily, while the most difficult ones will be revised dozens of times. On "Up," the easy scene was Carl's house taking off into the air; the most difficult was introducing nemesis Charles Muntz and his lair. "There were so many elements being introduced, it was really hard to balance," Docter says. "We reboarded it no less than 50 times."

Such constant reworking was nothing new to animation veterans Ron Clements and John Musker, who directed Disney's return to 2D animation with "The Princess and the Frog." The pair started work on the film in 2006. As former animators, they encouraged the storyboard artists and animators to contribute to the film at every opportunity.   Continued...