Sunday, December 11, 2005

Animation: It’s the Script That Counts

There’s an interesting article in this month’s Fast Company (subscription required) that discusses how small companies are getting into the computer animation business, using off-the-shelf software and workstations to create films at a fraction of the cost of those from Pixar and Dreamworks Animation. However, hardly mentioned, if at all, is the importance of scripts in the success of animated films.

Over the past few years, along with the mega-hits The Incredibles and Shrek II, we also got films such as Valiant and Robots, both of which disappeared from theaters in a few weeks after their releases. All four movies were well-animated; in fact, Robots came from the same studio that produced the hit Ice Age. However, almost every review of the films came down to the scripts: Brad Bird’s script was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at last year’s Oscars. Valiant and Robots, on the other hand, were panned by critics for their scripts, even though Robots was praised for its animation.

Perhaps a better example is The Polar Express. The characters had almost creepy features, but the story was strong enough to make the film one of the biggest hits of last Christmas.

The impact of scripts doesn’t just apply to fully-animated movies. Star Wars Episodes I and II, Hulk and Van Helsing were all criticized, not for the quality of their animation but rather for their scripts. While the Star Wars movies still did very well at the boxoffice, their performance (especially Episode II) was below industry expectations. Hulk and Van Helsing both performed much worse than their pre-release estimates. (In fact, many audience members were text messaging their friends while they were watching Hulk, telling them not to bother seeing the movie.)

My point is that while the animation is very important, the story and script are far more important. By focusing on the technology rather than the writing, it’s easy to draw the wrong conclusions. Yes, animation technology has gotten much cheaper, and excellent animators can be found worldwide, but they’re only as good as the scripts they’re given.

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