So you want to build a story for animation and film
We all have ideas and concepts that we want to turn into a reality, but sometimes, we don't know where to start. In this blog, we'll cover the basics to get you started to build your story for animation and film! Starting with tips to construct an outline, a logline, and then onward to understanding how to put your world and story together.
To start off, you want to have something simple to help keep you focused throughout your creativity. That simple something is a logline or best known as an "elevator pitch."
Imagine a moment where your friend or someone you know had a great idea and wanted to tell you all about it. You might have recalled that excitement turned into a 5-minute dialog that hasn't even hit its climax yet, and they're still going on about it. You might look over to a clock and notice the time is passing by so slowly, and you just want it to be done. Well, this is basically what producers, investors, and so on would feel when you pitch your ideas. So to make it more digestible, you have to create a logline or "elevator pitch" to get right to the point. If your pitch is powerful and exciting, then everything else will follow, and you're off to a good start.
What is a logline?
A logline is usually a one-sentence (sometimes two) pitch of your story. Think about going on to Netflix or any other streaming service to watch any show or movie. Clicking on whatever you choose, you'll find a quick synopsis or summary that works basically like a logline to catch your attention. Your goal is to do the same thing using this basic formula.
Inciting Moment + Protagonist + Action + Antagonist
Let's break it down further! An "inciting moment" is like an event that happens to get your character and story moving forward. Maybe be as simple as desperately wanting to get an "A" to please a family member or something as drastic as an apocalyptic event. Whatever you come up with will be the baseline of your story.
A protagonist is usually associated with heroic characters, but that's not always the case. A protagonist is a character that moves with the story. Embarking on the journey that will change them in some way. Which is the total opposite of an antagonist character, which is a character that opposes or resists the story. This again is usually tied to a villain, but you can easily swap the roles to make it exciting.
Lastly is action, which is what the protagonist needs to do in the "inciting moment." This is where things can get spicy and compelling, depending on how you want to put everything together. Going back to our first idea of getting an, "A" the student would have to pair up with a bully known for getting high grades in all of his classes. So right off the bat, you have something that sparks interest in your audience because you have an action that needs to happen to achieve the goal. A little bit of irony doesn't hurt.
Again this is a bare-bones formula for a logline but still just as effective when used correctly. What's critical is to use this as your guide throughout the entire project; so you don't stray away from the main path.
Linear vs Non-linear storytelling
Okay, so you have your logline ready, and you've done a few practices runs with your friends and family already. The next step is figuring out what type of story structure you want that best fits your style.
The most straightforward and most used style is linear storytelling, which literally goes from point A to point B to point C, and your story is done. There's nothing wrong with this style, especially when it's done effectively but just keep in mind. Not enough substance can easily make your story fall completely flat and makes it totally predictable. A perfect example of this is superhero movies, where the good guy fights the bad guy because of whatever and saves the day. Done, you got yourself an award-winning superhero movie.
Non-linear storytelling is incredibly tricky, stylish, and can be confusing at first glance. Your story can start at point D to point A to point C to point B and end on point E. Basically, it's all over the place but, when done correctly, it can easily make you stand out amongst the crowd of storytellers and be incredibly effective for different moments. Due to its bizarre structure, you can lose your audience just as fast, and before you know it, your movie hits rock bottom because no one understands what just happened. A great example of successful non-linear storytelling is Pulp Fiction. I could explain why but it's best to take the time to go watch it and appreciate the craft.
Starting an Outline - the backbone of your story
I'll cover this section briefly for a couple of reasons, the first being this is where you'll let your creativity run a little wild by setting up events for your characters. So how you place specific moments will be different from someone else. The second is that it's a basic structure, as seen below, known as the Hero's Journey. I would recommend looking at the Hero's Journey and putting bullet points for key moments that would happen at each of those stages that are more in-depth to help you build a clear path for your story. Of course, to be successful in this task, you need to know what each part means. So take a moment and click the image to get your in-depth breakdown.
Storyboarding - Visual Planning
Typically you want to start your storyboarding once you have a final draft of your script so you can plan out the visual stages. It's important for different reasons, but we'll focus on what you put in the shot/scenes. This is an opportunity to put items into the scene to help elevate or emphasize your character's personality and back story. Thinking outside the scene, and how you angle each shot will help tell the story, whether it's a conversation between two people or a closeup on a particular item that plays a critical part in the story. One thing to note is that you don't have to be fantastic at drawing to do your storyboarding. It can be just as simple as stick figures in a square box with some notes underneath. What matters is that everyone understands what's in the scene and how it needs to be shot.
Balance of world-building
First off, there are two types of world-building, they are Soft World-Building and Hard World-Building. Before diving into these, I just want everyone to remember that it's not so much one or the other. It's more of a balancing act between the two, and it's more apparent in series, whether that's multiple films like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or episodes like Avatar: The Last Air Bender. With that being said, let's dive into it!
Soft World-Building is focused on subtle hints in conversations or actual visuals that tell you about the world around the main character's journey. A popular animated movie that is well known for mastering this is Spirited Away, and you can see this in other films that are usually one-off. Studio Ghibli is quite successful in the way they build their world. As the main character travels from one point to another, they run into strange animals, odd magical beings, and fantastic structures that are just there. No explanation is needed to explain why an airplane has more than 1 pair of flapping wings, we as an audience just accept that as part of their world, and that's okay! Those hints are just another way of building the world around your character, and we don't need to know the "why" to everything.
Hard World-Building is the opposite, so you'll do quite a bit of explaining for your world. This is more commonly seen in movies with sequels or prequels and episodic series. A series has time on their side to explain moments that could relate to the world's history, research, and whatever else that may need an explanation. So using Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings is a great example of explaining a lot of what goes on in their world. Doing so makes some sense of the world for the audience as they grow with the protagonist. Although if you're not cautious, you can run into an issue of over-explaining and making your project flat.
Your approach to this part of the project is based on your creativity. Like I mentioned before, it's more of a balancing act between the two to make the most of your story.
theme and style
Let's go ahead and start with the theme of your story, which means "what's the point of your story?" What will your protagonist learn when the journey is completed? The main theme can be simple, like learning to share with your friends or even the power of friendship. Whatever you decide will be critical for your character's development and how to add side characters to help emphasize this.
As for style, this is literally up to you how you want to put your mark on your project. This is can come from a variety of choices ranging from the use of colors, lighting, shapes, environments, props, clothes, makeup, animation, and so much more. Even though you have a lot of room to play around with designs and unique styles, it's also important not to overdo it to the point where it doesn't make any sense to the story. Remember to use these different elements to elevate your characters as they grow from the challenges they face and emphasize the mood of certain events in the journey.
All of this info can be overwhelming, and even more so when you have to actually put it to practice. This is why we have teams of individuals with unique and specific skill sets to tackle the different tasks involved in putting the project together. This also means being very methodical about choosing your team members because their work will represent you, and importantly they will need to work well together in stressful times.
Look at the trailers below to see examples of styles for film and animation.
The Importance of Contrast
One final thought before you go out and create your own story to wow the world with your creativity. That's the importance of contrast, but what does that mean exactly? It means that you have two or three elements, whether that's colors, characters, environments, props, and so on, that have a distinct difference between them. This can easily be reflected through lighting and colors but is also important when putting your characters together. One character can be severely strict, while the other can be completely carefree, and that would be your contrast to make your story dynamic and even relatable. You can see examples of this in movies and shows, making the possibilities completely endless. The whole point is to use contrast to emphasize these elements of your story and play specific roles when they are presented.
Final Word of Advice
Putting together a world for your story to live in is a delicate process, so take your time with it. Present it to your friends and family, then to people who are outside your circles to make sure you're getting excellent feedback. This is all surface-level information to get you started, and there are so many resources to help you if you get lost. So don't overthink it; relax, and enjoy the process. Also, look for others who are in the same boat as you are. You would be surprised what you can learn from one another when coming up with ideas.