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Mind Your Business: What to Bring on a Pitch for an Animated Show

In this month's column, Mark Simon reveals some essential tips for pitching that you may have overlooked or may not be aware of if you're new to the industry.

Mark Simon is truly an animated character. Unless noted, all images courtesy of Mark Simon.

Mark Simon is truly an animated character. Unless noted, all images courtesy of Mark Simon.

When you are pitching a television show, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that TV is a visual medium. You want your pitch to represent your show as visually as possible.

Sounds simple and obvious, right? Well, in practice, we see more misses than hits.

While most people who create animated series are artists, many are not. Some series creators are gifted screenwriters, and they need to represent and sell their vision as well.

That doesn't mean that a screenwriter has to hire an artist to illustrate and design his concept, but it helps. It does mean, however, that every description, the script and the pitch need to build a visual in the minds of the studio and network executives. Think about how visual the Harry Potter books were. You could see the entire book in your head without a single image.

An example of where we often see creators miss in their pitch is with character design. Most presentations show static images of characters. That is a not a visual of your show. Any images of your characters need to show them in character, acting the way only that character would act. Maybe you can show your characters reacting to a situation or reacting to each other.

Years ago I interviewed Linda Simensky while she was at Cartoon Network, now she is VP of children's programming, PBS, for my book Producing Independent 2D Character Animation. She told me, "I like to see drawings of characters doing all sorts of things, because the humor should be right there. It should make me want to see more."

Yet, in most presentations, I see turn-arounds of characters. That's not interesting. It also doesn't say anything about who the characters are. The art you show should represent what I will see when I watch the finished product.

This doesn't mean you have to have finished designs. Rough sketches can be funny. Shows have been sold with funny sketches on napkins. Plus, many studios prefer to be part of the development of a project so coming in with finished art may leave them feeling there would be nothing for them to add.

Years ago I pitched a project to Klasky-Csupo, the company that produced Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys. I went in with all my finished art and storylines. The director of creative affairs told me that they always wanted to design the characters in-house because they had a house style. The look of all their shows had an Eastern European feel to them. Less finished art would have worked better in that instance.

Besides art, you can also bring in finished animation. This can get expensive. Even if you do that animation yourself, it can be time consuming. Of course, if you produce the wrong type of sample, it can also be a waste of time.

For instance, don't produce a trailer. If you produce something, make it a very short stand-alone story. Tell a story in two to three minutes or less. Use your main characters. Stories are more interesting to watch and the viewer learns about the characters.

Timmy's Lessons in Nature. © 2008 A&S Animation Inc. All rights reserved.

Timmy's Lessons in Nature. © 2008 A&S Animation Inc. All rights reserved.

When I sold my series Timmy's Lessons in Nature, I had produced three shorts that were each under one -minute long. They were funny and showcased our lead character. We won festivals and money all over the world and were offered many contracts.

You can tell a story without going to full animation. You can pitch with a storyboard or an animatic.

Storyboards are great. They are quick to produce and a good board showcases animation quite well.

However, a lot of action and comedy comes from timing and great voice acting. If you get the opportunity to pitch your board, you should act it out as well as you can during your pitch.

The problem is that when the executives look back at your board, you are not there to perform it. That's where animatics come in.

Animatic produced in Storyboard Pro. Animatic by Animatics & Storyboards Inc. Artist: Willie Castro.

Animatic produced in Storyboard Pro. Animatic by Animatics & Storyboards Inc. Artist: Willie Castro.

Animatics are getting easier and cheaper to produce. An animatic is basically a video storyboard. You can have anywhere from very little motion to a lot of character movement, but it's really an edited video of your storyboard frames, set to an audio track.

Many artists are using Flash to produce animatics with their boards. I prefer to use Toon Boom's Storyboard Pro. The animatics build as quickly as I board. We've done a number of pilots lately at my studio using Storyboard Pro and the results have been fantastic.

I had a producer, Kati Haberstock from Identity, watch me work the other day on a project and she said, "This is amazing! Mark was incredibly fast on Storyboard Pro and watching him work was really cool. I want all of my artists to use this software from now on."

TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards.

TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards.

On another pilot, I added a funny sequence of a character being shot by tranquilizer darts. Not just one or two, but dozens of darts. I knew the timing of the darts hitting was crucial to the humor of the scene. Static storyboards of the darts would not have given the sequence justice, but producing an animatic showed exactly how the shot should play. Plus, even after a pitch, the animatic still shows the timing and humor without me.

Over the last couple of years I have noticed that the networks want to know more and more about the characters in your shows. Know your characters and make sure their personalities come out in whatever you produce.

Remember, it's not just that you should have art, but that art should sell both your concept and your characters.

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation producer/director and speaker. He owns a storyboard company, and animation studio and is co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com, the most comprehensive source for expert guidance and resources for those who are serious about selling their TV show ideas. He is offering AWN readers a free month of TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards.

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