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Book Summary ICM504

Animated Storytelling: Chapters 2-4 Summary

Learning how to tell a story and the process of visualizing it.

Last week, I wrote about the first chapter in the book Animated Storytelling by Liz Blazer and Pre-production—the first step in creating animation and motion graphics. This week, I’ll talk through Chapters 2-4, which introduce storytelling, storyboarding, and the use of color to tell a story.  

Chapter 2: Storytelling

Storytelling is human nature. We’ve all heard a good story and shared a good story. We’ve seen films whose stories have pulled on our heartstrings or left us in awe and wonder. Stories can be anything you want them to be—and that is their magic. They don’t have to be realistic or stay confined to the world as we know it, or the laws of nature. Stories give our imaginations a chance to roam wild. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the wildest imagination creates the best stories. They also require intention and discipline. That’s where story structures come into the picture.

Simply put, story structures are a formulaic method for how a story is told. Just as ancient as stories themselves, story structures have been used since the days of Aristotle. The most common structure is the Three-Act Story.

Image courtesy of Reedsy. Original file: https://blog.reedsy.com/guide/story-structure/three-act-structure/

Act 1: Set the Scene

In the first act, we meet that main character and learn about them and their scenario. Soon after, an incident to the character will occur. This incident is what propels the story forward and causes the sequence of events that follow.

Take the time to flesh out your main character with specifics. What unique qualities or traits does your character have? What do they like, dislike, fear, or love? Focusing on character development early on will help open up the story to more possibilities and establish relevant roadblocks for your character.

Act 2: Journey Towards a Solution

Act 2 is usually the largest segment of your story. It chronicles your character’s journey in pursuit of their goal. All of that character development you previously did helps build out the story here and establish scenarios that deter the character from accomplishing their goal. This act should have your audience feeling helpless for your character, as if they may not achieve their goal after all. 

Act 3: Resolution

Usually the shortest segment of the story, this is where the character finally solves their problem. Any story ending can work, but the best ones tie into your underlying theme —whether it is about love, kindness, self-discovery, etc. Think about what you really want to say and the message you want to leave your audience with. This theme should also influence every element of your story, from the physical environment to the colors you use (more on color later.)

After learning about story structure in this chapter, I am beginning to point out its use in movies and shows that I watch—from classics like the Wizard of Oz to new blockbusters like Marvel’s Black Widow. The traditional story arc isn’t a method to inhibit creativity but rather increase the clarity and impact of what you want to say.

Like Blazer says, “the great challenge in creating meaningful animated stories is less about letting your imagination fly free. We know it can do that. The great challenge is more about disciplining yourself to reel it in and be more intentional about your storytelling choices. “

But the great challenge in creating meaningful animated stories is less about letting your imagination fly free. We know it can do that. The great challenge is more about disciplining yourself to reel it in and be more intentional about your storytelling chocies.

Animated Storytelling by Liz Blazer, page 18

Chapter 3: Storyboarding
Build Your Visual Script

Now that you have an excellent, clear script with an awesome theme and story structure, it’s time to start visualizing it. In UX, before you build a final product, you prototype and test. Before you design a full-color logo, you sketch ideas and explore them in black and white. In animation, you storyboard! Storyboards are static illustrations of your script that help you hammer out the details of your story and the visual cues that will help you tell it.

A storyboard is essential. As Blazer describes it, “Storyboarding is your opportunity to work out the visual elements that best suit your story. It can help you determine most aspects of your animated piece before moving a single pixel. Boarding saves time and money and can help you get people excited about your project before it’s made. Simply put, the better you storyboard, the more likely you are to achieve success with your project.”

Storyboarding is your opportunity to work out the visual elements that best suit your story. It can help you determine most aspects of your animated piece before moving a single pixel.

Animated Storytelling by Liz Blazer, page 38

Storyboards begin as rough thumbnail sketches on post-it notes and develop into more refined sketches as the story comes more and more together. Depending on how you will use your storyboards, they can either stay sketch-like or transform into refined and polished illustrations. No matter which fidelity you chose, just make sure your storyboards tell the story clearly.

The following examples of storyboards are from studiobinder. You can read the entire article and see more examples here.

Storyboards can help you make significant cinematic decisions like:

Shot Composition

The elements you want to focus on in a scene. Based on what you are trying to convey, what should you emphasize or conceal from the frame? How you choose to show certain elements can impact the story you are trying to tell.

Framing

Framing, or “cinematography,” is how you position your shot elements in a scene. By following age-old, tried, and true visual principles (like the rule of thirds), you can create a visually dynamic and interesting scene for your viewers.

Staging

Staging refers to your subject’s space and the objects and focal points you use to reinforce your story. Staging helps your audience read the room and understand on a deeper level what’s happening. Blazer says, “Staging should create a visual and conceptual hierarchy for the objects and characters in your frame, placing them in a way that reinforces your overall story.”

Continuity

As described from Blazer, “Continuity is the natural flow of visual information from one shot to another employed to support your story.” For example, suppose your character is driving on the right side of the road in one shot. So, you probably don’t want your character driving on the left side of the same road in another shot—unless, of course, that intentionally ties into your story. Continuity reinforces consistency to avoid confusion.

Chapter 3 made me realize how many considerations there are in animation. It’s not just about the story you tell but how you choose to tell it. The cinematic choices you make will have a significant impact on the impression it leaves on viewers. Making decisions on the visual elements above will help you tell the story you want the way you want to.

Chapter 4: Color Sense
Enhance Your Story With The Right Palette

Even as a graphic designer with over ten years of experience, color can still trip me up. The possibilities are endless, and even if you hone in on a hue, there’s still so much to determine about the color meaning and color relationships. What’s the best saturation or tone? Should the palette be complementary, analogous, or monochromatic?

In animation, color is also a significant part of telling a story. Like Blazer explains, “Color has tremendous storytelling power. It can express emotion, clarify motivation, and even dictate the entire meaning of a piece. A farmer’s lush green field means something different if instead it’s yellow-brown…”

Color has tremendous storytelling power. It can express emotion, clarify motivation, and even dictate the entire meaning of a piece.

Animated Storytelling by Liz Blazer, page 55

Blazer recommends starting your color exploration on your storyboards with a color script. A color script is a visual representation of how you intend to use color throughout the final animation. By starting with your storyboards, you’re allowing yourself to explore potential color applications and combinations in a less refined format before going into an actual design. Blazer suggests, “to begin, take a step way back and try to define what color your entire story would be if it could only be one color. This is akin to figure out the theme of your story, as it will influence each of your color choices as you move forward.”

To begin, take a step way back and try to define what color your entire story would be if it could only be one color. This is akin to figure out the theme of your story, as it will influence each of your color choices as you move forward.

Animated Storytelling by Liz Blazer, page 58

Once you determine your primary color, you can then establish your accent color and build a supporting palette. Start coloring your scenes, beginning with the most prominent frames to see how your colors are working together to tell your story.

In the chapter, Blazer also provides a few considerations for coloring your animations successfully. The two that resonated with me were that: 1. less is more when it comes to color, and 2. color should be used intentionally. I came across this video by studiobinder that talks about how one of my favorite filmmakers, Wes Anderson, uses color prominently and intentionally in his films. One thing I love about his application of color is how he creates color stories within scenes—for example, scenes in The Grand Budapest hotel that are mostly pink, or scenes filled with yellow in Moonrise Kingdom.

Color can impact the visual outcome of your story and how your audience perceives the mood, tone, and message. There is so much to learn about the use of color, especially in motion media. But, with the tips provided in Blazer’s book and a little fun and intuition, the possibilities for creating beautifully appropriate color palettes for your story are endless.

References

Lannom, S. (2020, June 1). 46 Storyboard Examples from Movies, Animation, and Games (with FREE Storyboard Templates). Studio Binder. https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/storyboard-examples-film/

Maio. A. (2020, December 13). Rules of Shot Composition in Film: A Definitive Guide. Studio Binder. https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/rules-of-shot-composition-in-film/

Reedsy. (updated 2021, March 25). The Three-Act Structure: 3 Steps to a Powerful Story Structure. https://blog.reedsy.com/guide/story-structure/three-act-structure/

Studio Binder. (2020, September 7). Color Theory and Wes Anderson’s Style — Sad Characters in a Colorful World. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtLBMBs_S9E

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