Now this is not to infuriate the writers out there.
The words *do* matter in many ways. How else would we know what the story was about or what the characters were thinking? And for those very dialogue-based shows (when the gag is verbal, not visual), the words do indeed matter.
But sometimes they don’t.
Please keep in mind I am mainly talking about cartoons here, not live-action. But hopefully the live-action folks can still get something out of this.
I mentioned in a previous post about a show I worked on called ‘The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers!’.
They don’t speak English.
They speak Rendoosian.
Yes, it’s a made-up language. We didn’t get translations to what they were saying in the script either. But it was usually pretty obvious when you read the context of what was going on.
The brothers didn’t talk much and it usually involved their cheer, “Yahzaa!”, so it wasn’t too difficult.
But a few weeks into storyboarding on that show, the producer called. He wanted to remind me to really ‘act out’ the dialogue. Some storyboards were coming back with the acting not clear enough for the dialogue of the brothers (everyone else did speak English in the show).
I reassured him not to worry because that’s how I handle all of my dialogue. You see, it didn’t matter to me what language they were speaking. I make all my characters act out what they are saying. I break up dialogue into ‘act-able’ chunks, so the Rendoosian thing was not an issue.
I get compliments on my ability to do this, so I figure maybe not every storyboard artist works this way.
But they should (that sounds all ‘high and mighty’, doesn’t it? Oops 😉 ).
“So why should they, Ms. Smarty-Pants?”
Because cartoons are visual storytelling. For the most part, you watch them, you don’t listen to them.
If you understand the main story and ‘gist’ of what’s going on in a cartoon when the sound is off, that is visual storytelling. If you could interchange the words and nothing would really change while you watched it, if any dialogue would work in that sequence, that cartoon’s got a big problem. (In my humble opinion, anyway…and I do have one.)
The best way to look at it, is like this: A cartoon is a film, not a play.
What happens when you go see a play? Yeah, yeah, I know…you don’t go see plays, right? But I’m sure you’ve heard of them…or seen them in the movies? (Which totally goes against the point I’m trying to make…anyway…work with me people!)
What happens at a play? Lots of people talking and telling the story. There may be a few minor set changes but we sit (and watch) and we mainly listen. You could close your eyes at a play and get the gist of what’s going on, couldn’t you?
Yes, you’d miss some good (or bad) acting, but you wouldn’t be lost, right? Because we listen to a play and we watch films.
Don’t storyboard a cartoon like it’s a play!
That means no talking heads (no, not the band). What’s a talking head? It’s usually a close-up or medium shot of one character with too much dialogue indicated for that one pose. See this example (it’s from the show, is *not* one of the brothers and was done in Flash.):
“Well, that guy had stinky breath. He HAD to go!”
And that’s not even a bad example. It’s kind of on the border line. To some of you this might look just fine and dandy.
If this panel was sent overseas to be animated (I’m talking TV show here), they would probably just move her mouth for this scene. For TV shows, the animators just animate what the storyboard artist poses out. Remember that.
It should be improved because she could be saying anything in that pose. Let’s try this:
“had stinky breath.”
“He HAD to go!”
Bit of a difference, huh?
The hand gestures, the waving at the ‘stink’, the rolling of the eyes. It all gives us an idea of what she’s talking about if the sound was off. It gives the animators more to work with. It makes a better cartoon.
This is a very simple example, but I just wanted you to get the idea. Why didn’t I use the brothers? Well, like I said, they don’t talk much. But I will use them for more acting examples…with or without dialogue…in the near future. I’m just scratching the surface here.
So what to take away from this post is: Break up and act out your dialogue.
But be warned:
You can overdo this! I did a one-word pose, but it was hooking up from a previous pose (that you can’t see) and works. Beware of the one-word poses! If you’re new to this, I’d even go as far to say don’t do them.
Some good practice is get out a favorite cartoon on DVD and stop-frame it to find what would be the storyboard poses. Where are the strong poses that “say” the dialogue? I’ll do some examples like that in the future too.
Just for kicks. And material. 🙂
So to sign off let me give belated Canada Day wishes to my fellow Canadians, a happy Fourth of July to my American friends and…uh…have a rockin’ weekend to the rest of you!
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