Visualize, Research, Create!
Are animators artists? We might agree that they are, and that it takes an artist to come up with animation ideas, and to make those ideas come alive, even though they are most commonly, stereotypically, thought of and represented as geeks. The reason may be the hours spent behind a screen, or the very process that inevitably keeps them stuck in a room. Anyone who’s ever done animation understands that it takes countless hours of work and undivided effort and concentration to create something even reasonably appealing. That’s why animators are spared the image of a hip, creative, conceptual artist, which is, sadly, reserved for other forms of art.
Every work of art is built on a good concept. How do you think of one? What could I even make an animation about? Traditionally, the processes going on in the creative regions of our brains have been over mystified. They were thought of as something you could influence by summoning or enhancing your inspiration in various ways. Nevertheless, regardless of the biology and the genius of the author, his or hers ambition to enhance the grey cells with meditation, workout, drugs, or any other means, everything starts from an idea. How and why it pops into your mind is less relevant.
Sometimes you get hit by an idea; you see something which immediately makes you imagine something great you can create. Most of the time, though, it’s not like that, and you have to develop your own animation ideas. Here is some advice on how to start.
- Keep a diary – Emotional and intellectual creativity will get easily intertwined that way
- Follow the news and everything new that’s going on in animation
- Read books on animation to get ideas about interesting narratives
- Brainstorm in familiar groups – the easiest way to create and develop ideas is to work in a relaxed, friendly environment
- Write down your Goals – having firmly set goals can help develop creative strategies; a lot of things become apparent if there is a clear purpose of the animation, whether it should be long or short etc.
- Set a deadline! – Some people perform better creatively and in general while under pressure (even if the deadline was set by you, and you can push it back if you fail)
- Drawing, sketching and doodling is always welcome (which is why you will rarely see an animator without a notebook and some pencils); great ideas can come from automatic, unintentional drawing
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And don’t be afraid to admit them. Sometimes it’s wise to leave an idea, or a part of it, for some future projects
- And finally, it’s always wise to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise regularly and to get out of the house or the studio and have some off time
After the idea is formed it’s important to create sketches and to perform research. In this phase we are looking for references. They can be pictures, drawings, paintings, movie clips, books, figurines etc. These references should help us envision the feel and the ambiance of the movie.
- Always observe people and animals in the real world around you and document their movements and behavior
- Decide on a technique that best suits the ambiance
- Decide on a storytelling method or style
- Try to develop some acting and dancing skills so that you could better understand the movements, and hence be able to animate them in a more natural way
Deciding on your targeted audience and adjusting the theme
Deciding who your targeted audience is, and who your movie should target the most is extremely important. Even if the goal is to create a universally likable movie, it nevertheless has to be put in some sort of cultural context. Very often it can reflect much more; the historical context, or even the age, status and the experience of the author. Some of the key steps are researching the age of the viewers, their stands on the subject/s reflected on in the movie, their motivation to watch it, and their past experience. That kind of data is extremely important while applying your work to festivals.
While choosing a theme, there is always a broad spectrum of those which are “unsuitable” and get censored or banned, which is another thing you should keep in mind.
Whether or not the animation ideas and the concepts you created were successful is reflected in the feedback you get. One thing that makes animation different from other art forms is that you rarely end up wondering whether your movie has succeeded or not, or has the work paid off. Sometimes the success is measured by the profits, sometimes by positive feedback, and some will value the process, and the experience of working on the movie more than the final product. And sometimes the emotional bonding with audiences from around the world is immeasurable.