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Concept to Creation: Directing Dialogue

Mark Simon continues his series of 12 excerpts from his new book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film.

All images are from Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Reprinted with permission.

This is the fourth in a series of 12 excerpts from Mark Simons book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film. This book is a full-color concept-to-pitch guide that teaches animators, students and small studios the art and business of producing short, cel animated films. Animation producer Mark Simon has detailed the process in an accessible how-to manner using his award-winning series, Timmys Lessons In Nature, as a guide. This 432-page book contains more than 600 full-color images, interviews and a CD-ROM containing sample animation, animatics, and sample software described in the text.

The most important part of a production is a good script. Next you have to have good acting. Without great voices, even the best animation will seem flat and uninteresting.

Actors need to have the emotions of a scene explained to them. If you dont give an actor much information, they are less likely to give you much in return. Try having table readings with all the actors together. Table readings are early read-throughs of a script with all the actors, director and producer sitting at a table. Read through the script to see how it sounds with actors, and take notes. This is a great time to make last-minute script changes so that it sounds more natural. Once the actors really get into their characters, they will often make suggestions as to what their character would or would not say, and those suggestions are usually very good ones.

Early sketch of the fox character.

All actors respond differently to direction, but none of them like being given a reading. In other words, dont demonstrate how they should say a line. They feel its demeaning, and you are likely to get a very poor reading from them afterwards. Instead, give them direction by referring to other film or TV projects, relating a scene to real-life incidents, or anything you can think of to help them relate to the characters situation.

Actors should stand while delivering their lines to keep their energy up and help them project from their diaphragms. They should also be encouraged to act out the action during the session. You do not want low-energy actors unless the scene calls for it.

Audio sessions should also be fun. Try to avoid yelling at people during a session it affects everyone who is involved. Sessions should also not go longer than three or four hours with each actor, with a number of breaks. Longer sessions are tiring and performances are likely to suffer, as well as being hard on someones voice.

Author, producer/director Mark Simon standing in the audio booth while delivering the fox's dialogue. Facilities provided by Sound

Just as big action never looks too big in animation, voices can also be much bigger and more animated in a cartoon than in live-action. Cartoons benefit greatly from truly distinctive character voices.

Many independent animators supply their own voices. When you record yourself, it is helpful to have someone you trust give you notes during a recording. Your voice never quite sounds the same in a recording as it does in your head.

In Timmys Lessons in Nature, I not only recorded the foxs speaking voice, I also did his vicious attack. For the attack I made a badger sort of sound and shook my head violently so that my jowls shook around. We recorded multiple takes of this until I got a headache and mixed them all together to get the huge attack sound heard in the animation.

In animation, actors dont have a lot to work with there are no sets, no props, few, if any, other actors and blank walls in front of them. It is very important for them to see their character and the storyboards. Once actors see what is happening in their scene, they can offer you much more.

The rest of the chapter contains more information on how Timmys Lessons In Nature, Lesson 3 was produced. To learn about other topics, check out Producing Independent 2D Character Animation, published by Focal Press. It can be bought at any bookstore or online.

Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2003. 432 pages. ISBN: 0-240-80513-5.

Mark Simon founded and owns A&S Animation, Inc., an award-winning cel animation house in Florida, which develops and produces character animation for commercials, TV, training videos and the Web. He also owns Animatics & Storyboards, Inc., the largest storyboard house in the southern United States, which has provided work to more than 1,200 productions. Mark's accomplishments include owning an award-winning advertising firm, being a syndicated cartoonist, a production designer for film and TV, writing entertainment industry books and lecturing on both animation and storyboards. Winning more than 30 animation award, Mark has directed Timmy's Lessons In Nature (which he sold as a TV series), My Wife Is Pregnant, numerous commercials, training videos and television series special effects. Read more about A&S Animation and the author.