Join Andrew Gordon for an in-depth discussion in this video Story and Character Development for Animation - Film, part of Story and Character Development for Animation.
- [Voiceover] How would you stage it so that you see the guy for the first time that they've made like this guy? 'Cause that reveal would be really funny like-- - [Voiceover] Yeah. - [Voiceover] Like it's a form and it's super down the hallway, right? You use that corridor and then basically, you see this big hulk and, "You ain't gonna do nothing!" - [Voiceover] Right. - [Black-Haired Man] Yeah. That's cool. - [Brown-Haired Man] "Who are you?" - [Black-Haired Man] "Who are you?" - [Brown-Haired Man] And then it starts rolling. - [Black-Haired Man] Yeah. Right, right. I like that. (cheerful music) A lot of times, stuff that you're thinking about as a filmmaker will bubble up to the surface, whatever's going on in your life.
People talk about theme. What are you trying to say inside? Recently, I was pitching some stories and somebody said, "You realize that all those stories "have to do with hitting a glass ceiling, right?" And I was like, "Huh. "I didn't realize that." - You haven't thought of it until that person pointed it out, right? - Yeah, yeah. - Yep. Sometimes the story itself, it's the idea. It's the question.
What if this? What's the hook? What's the elevator pitch is what often that isn't said. But sometimes, it's a great character. I found in my years, at least in the movies I've made that most likely, the notes you're gonna get are about the character that we don't care who the character is or what they're going through. We don't understand what they want. Nine times out of ten, that is really what ends up driving the movie, and then everything else hopefully services that.
- [Black-Haired Man] Yeah, we like the ideas of this parrot. You have to set up and he heard a couple of things like from a crime drama, like a couple of lions. - Yeah, or he's just mimicking what he heard. - [Black-Haired Man] (imitates parrot laugh) And he does like a, (imitates high-pitched parrot laugh) You know? - [Brown-Haired Man] Well, the fun of that is that the bird's inside mimicking the voices. - [Black-Haired Man] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And then ultimately, you have to reveal like him like it's just a bird cage. - [Brown-Haired Man] Yeah. - [Black-Haired Man] And then he's like, takes the bird and then the bird is in peril and that's when he finally is like, he's gotta take action.
- [Brown-Haired Man] Oh, that's good. (lighthearted music) Whatever script that they're writing, my job is to sort of act as the cameraman basically and figure out what are the angles of the scene, character introduction, and character motivation, world building. It all kinda comes in those early stages of what I do. And then ideally, you start getting information from other departments as the film progresses and everyone starts feeding each other all this information but story is what I do.
- My job is to basically breathe life into the characters. As a directing animator, you're basically concentrating on getting the best performance out of that character from the other animators or whether you're animating a shot, and you're trying to get the director's vision as clear as possible translated onto film for them. (perky music) The premise of this short is that it's about this store owner who owns like a kind of a bird shop or pet store and basically, a character comes into the shop and almost like a mobster kind of a collector and he forces this guy to pay up and obviously, he's not doing well.
The store's doing terribly and he intimidates him. You know, he breaks off kind of like, you know, the head of a toy bird, shows him like, "This is what's gonna happen "if you don't pay me." The whole time, a bird who is like the store bird is witnessing this and very smartly, kinda comes up with maybe a plan to kinda help the store owner and hopefully stand up for himself. They're not gonna answer the problem completely for him but it's just basically a simple story of a guy who is powerless and by the end is a little bit more in power.
- [Nathan] Yeah, we like the idea of a shop if it isn't doing well but at the end, it is doing well. - Yeah. - So, negative to a positive. These are very simple things that we can do for a short film. - Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we were thinking about, you know, maybe it's way in the 20s, he's listening to like a classic crime drama and he's mimicking the sayings of the mobsters and that's intimidating the other guy like, "Hey, who you got working for you?" How can we utilize clothing when they dress themselves up or you dress up basically a classic birdcage so that looks like it's gotta, you know, a big hulking figure with a hat on it. - Absolutely.
- And then you're shooting in a certain way so we just wanted to play with the story so that we could play around with staging, character, animation. - Yeah. - You know, it's not gonna be a Citizen Kane but it's a great exercise to kinda learn from. - Yes, and to come up with solutions and. - Yeah. - I like the idea like we saw later that they're, okay, there's actually other things in here. There's a little rabbit in a cage, there's a little kittens, maybe they can be utilized somehow. - [Andrew] Yes, yeah. (birds chirping) - [Nathan] Great.
Thank you. - Reference, for me, is always the first stage of anything when I'm planning a shot that I go into just research mode and it's like a kickoff. I'm not looking at it from an animation perspective. First, like character-wise, what can I get from the birds? What mannerisms do the birds do? How do they turn their heads? What do their eyes look like? Their body language, getting any cues from that.
(country music) - Hello. (bird chirps twice) Hello. (laughs) What did he do? Did he just waved? (laughs) That's great. (parrot imitates Nathan's laugh) - (laughs) - That's the mimicking. - Yeah. - It's amazing. - Yeah. Can you? I'm laughing. Ha ha ha ha. (parrot chirps twice) - See, if we use that, that's like a cynical laugh. That could be really an interesting part of the film, yeah? Ha ha ha.
(parrot chirps twice) Ha ha ha ha ha. - [Nathan] Being in a physical space like that is really helpful. You just get a sense of what camera angles that we could use and what physical objects will be used to help with the general story. - Like when he's trying to get away from the guy, he could be like knock this down. Pssh and then like throw the seed and then. - [Nathan] Oh, that's great. - Ahh! - Falling on, yeah, litter. - That could be like a good idea, right? You start to hear things. You're using your ear to like, these bird are talking and the squawking and so one would go (whistles) and then another one's going (parrot laugh).
They're all spurring ideas like-- - [Nathan] Absolutely. Even the level of audio, I realized it got really loud in there so that potentially could be what could be unnerving for this mob guy that comes back. - [Andrew] Sure. - For the money. It's like how loud it got in there. - Exactly. - I wasn't quite expecting that, yeah. (suspense music) - [Andrew] All right. So we wanna get like maybe, you know, these first shots were kinda nice. - [Nathan] Mmhmm. - [Andrew] Of him, you know, basically just walking in.
Just for an established shot. It's not gonna be this much but this, this shot right here. - Yeah, that's great. - Then he goes in, right? That could be like the birds drop. When you're looking at film clips and when an animator or story person is looking from a film clip perspective, we're both looking at different things. Nate is probably looking for composition, - [Nathan] Yeah. - [Andrew] Lighting, where the camera is. - [Nathan] Yeah. - Am I right? - In the shot structure. That's what I look at is how is the scene put together but it is more specifically composition, staging, and camera angles, things like that.
But there's something really nice about this framing that's coming, yeah. - Yeah, yeah. - Yeah, this feels really good but for our purpose, it would be cages. - [Andrew] Yeah, right, right, right but this is the general idea. - [Nathan] Yeah. - [Andrew] Yeah. "Oh, you want that?" "Here, see." (laughs) What is it? A bunch of guns? - Yeah. (laughs) - No need for... (laughs) - A background check. (laughs) - No need for background check. Just take it. As an animator, I'm basically like looking at it from character performance like how did they do it in that film that might help me? Oh, okay.
That guy fell really interesting. This guy had an interesting mannerism. If we have actors, we're shooting reference of the actual dialogue session. Well, maybe there's something there because with animation, as opposed to acting, a lot of times, you're kinda going from the outside in. You're really trying to make something that is not spontaneous look spontaneous. So if I was animating a shot, let's just say it's this shot right here.
I would really literally, I would set up my camera very similar to this shot that I was doing the reference for. I would lay it down and try to look at the storyboards and I would act it out the way that it was in the boards. I take the money. "Where's the rest?" Right? And so, I would try it a bunch of different times. I'd be like, "Where's the rest? "Where's the rest? "Where's the rest? "Where's the rest?" Often in animation, you tend to do too much so in live action, we're trying to, just like a good kinda splitting the difference, you know? We're trying to figure out what is the scene about? How are my brows moving? Right? So if he's looking down on his money like this and then that changed.
Where does that change? From here to "Where's the rest?" Right? And so, we're paying attention to the nuance, the change. We're looking for that change. (relaxing music) Any sort of character that we're animating, we have to understand the locomotion first and then the acting will go on top of that. If it's gonna be, say, a bird that's gonna be the story, of course, we're gonna be researching that thing.
I don't want it to feel like a guy in a bird suit. It has to feel like a bird for real. And then the acting is always on top of that. That's really the way that I was always taught. When you look at something real, it can go through the filter of your eye and then you can translate it the way you want it. When you're looking at animation to animation, it's kinda like you're cannibalizing what somebody else already did and they had an idea for how they wanted to animate it so I like to stick a lot more of a live action reference base.
So once we have the story and we have an idea where it's going, usually in parallel, art is doing their thing and animation is gonna be doing their thing so while story is figuring it out, we have a sense of who are the characters, what is it have to do where they want. There's so many different ways that we could go with this. The first pass will obviously be the simplest where it's a guy that is not in power that is ultimately by the end of the short, in power and taking control of himself.
So that could be one path or who knows? Maybe the bully or the guy that is collecting, somehow he learned something. The bird is kind of a catalyst. A little bit. - [Nathan] Yeah. - [Andrew] Maybe. He's the character that you, through the audience, are feeling empathy through this bird, you know? - [Nathan] Absolutely. - And I guess we could explore that but as soon as you go a little bit too far, we don't want it to be like singing and dancing, you know? Doing too much that we kinda wanna retain some truth to the world a little bit.
- Yeah, that is the balance. Does it get too cartoonish? - Yeah. - But that's all about the kind of short. What kind of short do we wanna make? (perky music) Pay up. (cash register rings) (parrot chirps) (door slams) (grunts) (parrot squawks) (pops) (mouses squeak) Hey! (knocks on door) Get out! Huh? Where's my money? (growls) (grunts) (parrot chirps) (grunts) (parrot squawks) (growls) (parrot chirps) (grunts) (mouse squeaks) (pebbles fall) (grunts) Ohh.
(parrot chirps) Hm? (growls) Hm? (parrot chirps) Ahh.
Learn how to develop strong characters and tell stories for animation: parallel processes that result in a great film. Nate explains how he approaches world building, figures out character motivation, and balances action and emotion using the angles in each scene. Andrew shares how he incorporates reference material into character designs, and layers performance over locomotion. It's a short, fun interview filled with snippets from a story they created just for this lesson. (A pet shop shakedown thwarted by the creature you'd least expect!) At the end of the film, they share the first pass of the short animatic with us.