Animated Storytelling Chapter Summary
The following is a summary of chapters two and three of Liz Blazer’s book, Animated Storytelling:
The most challenging thing about storytelling is being disciplined and intentional with your choices. With a story concept refined to a few keywords, a plot is built to create the most emotional impact. A plot is constructed by “beats” or the moments that move a story forward. Write all of the beats on cue cards (or note cards)—initially they should be given equal importance. Arrange the cards in chronological order to form your story. A small animation should include 15 to 30 cue cards.
Arrange the cue cards into four rows, one for each act for a three-act structured story, and the fourth for beats that don’t fit the structure. A three-act story is a linear story beginning with a problem, work towards a solution, and eventual resolution.
- Act one introduces the character, his desire, and the problem standing in the way.
- Act two is where the character attempts to solve his problems, but encounters all sorts of roadblocks. The more you know about your character, the easier it is to devise obstacles to throw in his path—what does he look like? What does he like and dislike? What’s his motivation?
- Act three is the resolution, how the story is resolved. It should be the shortest section (fewer cards than acts one and two). It’s important to consider your story’s theme when devising the resolution. What’s the meaning you’re trying to convey? With the meaning or message established, it can be helpful to go through all cue cards and add notes where beats can have added depth and enhance the message.
Nonlinear storytelling is an abstract style of storytelling. It can be liberating but requires more planning and attention to detail than linear storytelling. A nonlinear story begins with inspiration that could be anything, a song, poetry, or a dream, etc. The challenge is creating other elements that work in concert with your inspiration to elevate it.
Nonlinear Story Structures (Blazer, 2015):
- Book Ending: End the story exactly where it begins.
- The Countdown: Create a constant upwards build in drama until the end, without any de-escalation.
- The Puzzle: Keep your audience in the dark about specific story information, reveal the information piece-by-piece until the big picture is clear.
- The Beaded Necklace: use music, sound or voiceover to hold the chaotic elements together. Sound acts as the string preventing the beads from falling off.
The most prevalent animated storytelling is nonlinear (e.g., music videos, title sequences or broadcast graphics).
Keep a story journal and fill it with ideas, musings, experiences, anything that strikes a chord. Once a week go through the journal circling anything that catches your eye. When you find something, type the idea down in a story ideas document.
Walt Disney is credited with creating storyboarding, which is an opportunity to work out the visual elements of a story.
The storyboard process is organic; you’re creating individual frames of action. Start rough and refine as you go. Have Post-its ready; thumbnails or rough sketches (stick figures are A-Okay) are the first step. Once you’ve finished the “shots,” stick them in order on a wall and refine, redraw and replace them as needed.
Next comes the actual storyboarding, take your Post-its, draw out each frame and include dialog and notes underneath. The goal is clarity—a casual reader should be able to follow your story—because the next step is to present or “pitch” your storyboard to a small trusted audience for feedback (be sure to watch their body language). Refine and Revise your storyboard based on the feedback you receive.
Shot composition is about revealing information to your audience.
Framing is about keeping the eyes interested. Use the rule of thirds breaking a shot horizontally and vertically into thirds and avoid putting the subject of the shot directly in the middle.
Staging is where the subject is in space in relation to the camera. Focus on clarity. You want to stage only elements that will enhance the story and not distract.
Transitions are one of the more powerful aspects of animation. You need to consider continuity:
- Spatial (space and layout continuity)
- Temporal (logical continuity)
- Directional (moving)
Timing your storyboard is the final step. First you need to establish a total running time of your project (TRT) and break it into three acts (how many seconds for each). Creating an animatic or setting your storyboard to a timeline in video editing software. The animatic is the final chance to edit and refine before the animation process begins.
Blazer, L. (2015). Storyboarding. Animated storytelling: Simple steps for creating animation and motion graphics (1st ed., pp. 37-53) Peachpit Press.
Blazer, L. (2015). Storytelling. Animated storytelling: Simple steps for creating animation & motion graphics (1st ed., pp. 17-35) Peachpit Press.
Research to Inform
- I really like this cinemagraph—it’s simple and effective—the motion of the text on the bus enhances the photo.
- This cinemagraph of a typewriter is seamless and could only possibly benefit from type on the page but a beautiful cinemograph.
- This cinemagraph of a light up globe is beautiful. The framing is impressive: the fact that the globe isn’t entirely in the shot enhances the photo.
- This cinemagraph was taken of a musician. I really like the rain on the umbrella and the framing. The only blemish on this cinemagraph is the slight jump in the background, noticeable in the people in the café.
- I love the mirror effect of this cinemagraph—and so fitting that it is of a pantomime—very fun and seamless.
A Salute to Cinemagraphs
I created this from a photo from Unsplash and a public domain clip of the Keystone Kops using Photoshop.
Nature – Photoshop
This cinemagraph was created with footage from Don Whitaker. The shot was perfect: it had minimal background movement, so it made for an ideal first attempt. I created this cinemagraph using photoshop.
Morning Ritual -After Effects
This cinemagraph was created in After Effects using footage of my bathroom sink. I had originally wanted to get a shot of the head of my toothbrush spinning, but the entire brush moved when I put it on the sink. The footage was sort of blah, so I tried to make it a little more interesting. I increased the saturation and added a very light vignette. My goal was to make it look sort of stylized like older film stock. I’m not sure how it came out. I was also hampered a little by the limitation of my camera –It only shoots in 720p resolution.
Nap Time -After Effects
I wanted to attempt a cinemagraph with more movement, so I recreated a normal nap pose. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fully remove the blur around my moving arm. I’m not sure if the pixelization has anything to do with the video quality of the original shot. Either way, I made the photo black and white, trying to go for a film noir-ish look—shooting to add an ironic emphasis to a nap.