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Using Contrasts to Spice Up an Animation Script

By Jean Ann Wright

Does your animation script seem a little flat? Be honest. The problem could be that you haven't included enough contrasts in your script. Variety is just as important in a script as it is in a gourmet feast.

Characters

Build your script around your characters, and contrast each of those personalities as much as possible. List your main characters on a sheet of paper and then jot down the attributes of each underneath. Think of making each trait as different from the traits of the other characters as you can. In a comedy especially those contrasts are what make the characters rub up against each other and provide the comedy. In an action script it's those disparities that provide the conflict. What are the differences in their values? What motivates them? Are their attitudes different? How do they look and move and talk? Prize diversity. If Sunshine has a sense of humor and loves a good time, then Dolores takes everything seriously and plans for the worst. On the other hand Ferdinand doesn't consider the consequences of anything he might do but is always on the move, charging ahead with no time left for fun. Set up interesting relationships.

Juxtapose traits in each individual character as well. Sunshine might have a sense of humor but not when it comes to jokes that are played on her. What incongruities can you add to make your characters interesting?

When you've created an intriguing mix of characters, make a final check to be sure that no one character is too similar to the others. If you find one who is, then he's not needed. Take him out. Is a character missing - one who will set the other characters off? If the character mix is still too bland, then add an extra character that will set the sparks flying.

Style

What about style? Does the look of your feature or series contrast with what is already out there? Is it fresh? Is it truly unique? Make your series or feature stand out from the pack with its visual style.

Contrast the look of the characters. Some should be tall and some should be short. Some should be skinny and some big. However you don't want such a great contrast that the characters are difficult to animate together. (For example, it was hard to make the little Smurfs run fast enough to get away from the huge Gargamel.)

Have you used a variety of locations for interest and visual contrast? Can you think of locations that are unique and different from those used in other animated stories? Stretch your imagination.

Cutting Between Scenes

Contrast scenes. Cutting back and forth between locations can highlight differences and add variety to your script. Make each scene unlike the one before and the one that follows. Of course the overall choice of where scenes are set and when they are set there contributes to the rhythm of the story, and the rhythm of your script needs to be considered as well.

Cutting back and forth can also contrast moods and change the pace. Shakespeare inserted comedy scenes into his tragedies to relieve the tension. Build by juxtaposing scenes to help you tell the best story.

Scenes

Add contrasts within each scene. Whose scene is this? What does that character want? Actions and dialogue may not always produce the results that your character anticipates. A character who comes into a scene planning to apologize and make up may accidentally intensify the previous argument instead. Do the unexpected. Add a twist.

Change the pace and the intensity. Individual scenes should have highs and lows and build just like the story as a whole.

Dialogue

Each character should speak differently from all the others. You should be able to know which character is speaking because of the contrasts. Use wording and sentence structure, vocabulary, sentence pacing, and voice quality to emphasize those contrasts. Try giving your main character a dialogue tag, something that only he says (Homer Simpson's "D'oh!").

Comedy Surprises

Comedy is made up of juxtaposition and surprise. There are contrasts in the sentence structure of a joke. First we set the joke up. We increase the tension. Then we spring the surprise at the very end. A joke has a rhythm: information, information, surprise! And it is often set up like that in a rhythm of threes. But it's the unexpected contrast, the sudden turn at the end, that makes a joke funny.

Visual gags too are built with unexpected juxtaposition. Think of a jack-in-the-box! You are watching and expecting one thing, when suddenly out of the blue something else appears. The unexpected contrast and surprise from what you expect to see to what you actually see is what makes the drawing or action funny.

The Whole

Now that you have so many contrasts, you need to bring them together into a seamless whole. The comedy can come out of nowhere, but the contrasts in your script need to have an inner rhythm, blending the diverse parts together so that they complement each other and build your story to a climax and quick resolution. Have fun putting the puzzle together!

Meet the Author: Jean Ann Wright