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Characters Engage Showcase

June 19th, 2012

"How to Write for Animation"

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Tom Isaksen



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"Characters can do anything, including flying, defeating all evil and staying forever young. They can do all this because they are made of the stuff our dreams, wishes and imagination are made of"



Jeffrey Scott talks about "How to Write for Animation"

Characters Engage Showcase: Tom Isaksen


Jeffrey Scott needs no introduction.  The grandson of Moe Howard of the "Three Stooges" has written over 700 animated cartoons and his credits include motion pictures, TV and the stage.  Many of our readers will also know Jeffrey Scott as the author of "HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION".  


In the foreword to this important book Joseph Barbera wrote, "With HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION, Jeffrey has cut a clear path that will take aspiring animation writers from their first confrontation with the dreaded "blank page", past the dangers of falling anvils, all the way through to a confident understanding of how to write animation.  Jeffrey has done a masterful job of condensing 25 years of experience into an easy to read, step-by-step journey through the cartoon writing process."


After a recent reprint, Characters Engage spoke to Jeffrey Scott about "HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION".


























CE:  Jeffrey Scott, your book has received the highest praise from industry giants such as Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Roth, Stan Lee, Andy Heyward and Haim Saban.  What made you write “HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION”?


JS:  About 15 years ago I wrote a column for Animation Magazine called “The Write Stuff” in which I discussed various tips on animation writing.  The column ended after about two years, at which time I didn’t give it much thought.  But then, after getting many emails and questions about how to write animation I realized that I could put these columns together, fill in the blanks, add a premise, outline and script for a "TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE" episode and a full series bible I had developed, and turn it into a book.  And best of all, instead of writing individual answers to all the queries I was getting, I could just say, “BUY MY BOOK!”


CE:  SVP Playhouse Disney Worldwide at The Walt Disney Company, Nancy Kanter, said, “Jeffrey Scott has written the definitive sourcebook for anyone interested in the world of animation and script writing...”.  Who did you write this book for and what will they find in it?


JS:  Well, as noted above, I wrote it for all the folks who were asking me questions.  But seriously, it’s designed for several audiences.  First are those who want to learn how to write for animated television.  It should be noted that this book is not for people looking for information on how to write animated features (though there are some great tips in my book that would help them, and so they should read the book).  The reason I didn’t go deep into animated feature writing is because they are written with virtually the same structure as live features.  So if you’re interested in learning how to write animated features you really need to read Robert McKee’s "Story", Syd Field’s "Screenplay", Christopher Vogler’s "The Writer's Journey", John Truby’s "The Anatomy of Story", and other top books on screenplay structure.  The only difference between animated and live features is that animation is more visually oriented, and the audience is almost always what’s called “crossover”, meaning it crosses over between adults and kids.  So the story works visually for little kids, while at the same time working emotionally and comically in a way that’s satisfying to adults.  The second audience for my book are TV animation professionals, including writers, editors, producers and execs, because everyone in the business needs to know how the stories work.  There is a lot in the book that can be very helpful to professional story editors and producers who need to get their writers writing right...and right away!  And finally, the book is for any writer (animation, live, novels, etc.) because there are many creative tips that cross all genres of writing.  And one, good, useful tip is worth the price of any book.


CE:  You worked with and for the people who invented scriptwriting for animation, for decades.  How important was this practical experience and to what extent is it reflected in the book, when it comes to practical tips and hints for scriptwriters?


JS:  Well, certainly working for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera was a wonderful experience.  Working in the H-B environment you couldn’t help but absorb the writing techniques that Bill and Joe pioneered when they virtually single-handedly created the animated TV market.  Animated movies, such as those done by Disney, used to be created by “story men” who didn’t write stories, they visualized everything and put up little drawings on the wall until the entire room was filled with pictures.  And after lots of drawing and push-pins there was a movie on the wall.  But when Bill and Joe needed to get several TV episodes in production each week they couldn’t afford the luxury and expense of several men developing stories on the walls, not to mention that it would take too many walls!  So they brought the concept of live TV script writing to animation and hired TV writers to write cartoons.  The main difference being that the writer in cartoons does a bit more visual direction than the live-action writer.  In fact, back in the late seventies when I started working at H-B we’d call out every shot in a script.  TWO SHOT SUPERMAN & BATMAN...CLOSE ON WONDER WOMAN...WIDER ANGLE ON BRAINIAC...page after page after page.  Some of the 22-minute scripts were 50 pages long.  Today I write some 22-minute scripts that are 24 pages with virtually no shots called out other than the master slug line (e.g. EXT. THE BANK - DAY).  All of this experience, as well as getting a personal cartoon writing apprenticeship at the time from my brilliantly creative dad (Norman Maurer), was priceless.  And everything I learned is in the book.


CE:  To what extent do you focus on characters in the book and which aspects of characters do you discuss?


JS:  There isn’t a great deal of discussion of character in the book for the same reason there isn’t a lot about feature animation.  For the most part, characters are characters, and you can learn about them in books devoted entirely to that subject.  Most of what I discuss about character comes out of other aspects of writing, such as dialogue, action and comedy.  Cartoon characters, after all, generally don’t have great character depth, nor do they have much in the way of character arcs.  Neither Superman nor Bugs Bunny is going to make much character change.  Truth is, we love them for who they are and don’t want them to change.  Though there isn’t a chapter on character, after reading the whole book you’ll gain some definite understanding of basic cartoon character development.


CE:  Where can people buy “HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION”?  Are there any non English language versions available?


JS:  Though the book just had a new printing, it’s not that easy to find in brick-and-mortar bookstores that don’t specialize in movie and TV books. The best place to get it is still Amazon.com.  To the best of my knowledge there is a Korean version still in print.  I’m hoping that a new Chinese version comes out soon.


CE:  Thank you Jeffrey Scott.  To buy “HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION” please click the link below:




Please also check out Jeffrey Scott's website:









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35 year old Tom Isaksen from Denmark currently lives in Brasilia, Brazil.  In 1998 he gave up a career as a firefighter to explore his creative interests in drawing and computer graphics.  He began to study at a media school in Denmark, where he stayed for a year, until he got accepted at NCCA University in Bournemouth, UK, on a postgraduate and MA course in Computer Animation.  Tom completed his studies in 2000.











































After university Tom started to work for a company called 3D Films in the UK. He started out as an animator on a kids TV show and after just 3 months, he became Lead Animator.  For 3 years after that, Tom worked on various animated TV shows.  While animating and rigging at work he spent his free time creating characters, just for fun, and eventually Tom became more interested in that than in animating.  This new found interest in 3D characters led him back to Denmark, where he got a job as a Character Artist at IO Interactive.




































When Tom started to work for IO Interactive in 2003, he went straight into character production on Hitman Contracts.  He went on to become Technical Director for characters on "Hitman Blood Money" (HMBM), and one year before "HMBM" shipped, Tom became Lead Character Artist on the production.  After that, he spent alot of time researching workflow and new technologies for character production, and for a while he helped set up the character production pipeline for "Kane & Lynch" and develop the main character for "Mini Ninjas".  Tom was then put in charge of developing the character production and technology for "Hitman Absolution", which he worked on as a Lead Character Artist until he had to move to Brazil to be with his Brazilian wife.





































Because Tom had to move to Brazil before "Hitman Absolution" was completed, he set up his company "Character Ink". to be able to continue his work on "Hitman Absolution" while being able to take on other clients and projects.










































These days Tom is involved in various projects, including acting as a consultant for an indie game development studio, and digital sculpting for 3D print.  He also tells us that he has been slowly working his way towards advertising and high-end 3D.  He has even been hired to visualize various contemporary art projects, which is something he never thought he would be doing.  Apart from all this Tom is also setting up master classes for creating video game characters in Brazil.


For more of his great work, please check out the Character Ink. website:



Jeffrey Scott's book Jeffrey07

An interview with Jeffrey Scott



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