Writing for CGI: A Talk With Ian Boothby

by Heather Kenyon

Ian Boothby.

Starting as a stand-up comedian, Ian Boothby writes for television, radio and theater, as well as comic books. For the past two years he has written for Bongo Entertainment's Simpsons Comics. He was also a contributing writer on Homer Simpson's Guide to Being A Man (Harper Collins). For television, Ian has written for Canvas Cat and Bongo Bat, Zero Avenue, Street Cents, Popular Mechanics for Kids and Skinnamarink TV, among many others. He has also created two television shows, Channel 92 and The 11th Hour. For his efforts he has won many awards, including the Gemini Award for Best Children's TV Program (1987) for Switchback, a show he both wrote and performed in. His relationship with Mainframe Entertainment started when he began writing for Weird-Ohs. Recently, he and his partner Roger Fredericks, another Weird-Ohs' alum, co-wrote the screenplay for the CGI feature, Casper's Haunted Christmas.

Roger Fredericks.

Here Ian talks about working with Mainframe, writing for CGI, balancing a freelance lifestyle and collaborating with a production team...

Heather Kenyon: You write for television, radio, do everything. Is this what it takes to make a living as a freelance writer?

Ian Boothby: Well I might be a little different in that my prime goal is to work on my own projects. I like working on other projects that I enjoy in the meantime to sort of finance my own personal work. Everything for me comes back to, 'How can I learn something that I can put into my own films or television programs?'

HK: So you're creating your own films, your own television shows, and then taking television series work and other things to pay the bills?

IB: Yes, but not taking just any work. I only take work where I either feel I can learn something or I really enjoy the company that I'm working with. With Mainframe that was the case. I was a big fan of Reboot and always wanted to work with them on that show, but then, of course, it's off the air. Then Weird-Ohs came along and I got the opportunity to work on that show and from that I got Casper.

HK: All things flow into one another.

IB: I've got a pretty strong rule, which is I won't do anything that isn't funny, or doesn't have the potential to be funny. Sometimes you drop the ball later, but it's got to at least have a good chance. To me, the Casper movie was very funny and so that was like, 'Yeah, all right, I'd like to play with these characters. I'd like to take these toys out to the back yard and see what we can do.'

HK: How do you change your sensibilities for these different mediums? What factors do you take into consideration?

IB: It's interesting 'cause the line is really blurred now. It used to be if you were doing live-action you were very limited to the amount of sets you could have and your budget. Any time you had anything slightly special effects-y -- see if that gets past your spell check -- special effects-y, your budget would go through the roof. But then in the world of cartoons, you could have people falling off mountains and flying to the moon, but you couldn't do realism. You couldn't do faces well. You couldn't have small little gestures. At present you have to be much more slapstick-y when you do animation. You have to be much more visual when you do animation. But the line is blurring and there will be a lot of crossover. There's a lot of live-action movies where the special effects are all computer generated. What's the difference between that and CG animation? It's all mixing into one really interesting world where there are no limitations. As a writer that's both scary and very fun.

HK: Sometimes I see stories that are animated but there doesn't seem to be any reason to use this special medium. What elements do you see are necessary for a successful animated story versus a live-action story?

IB: That's an interesting one. Something like King of the Hill you could almost see as being a live-action sitcom, whereas something like The Simpsons, there's absolutely no way. One, you'd never be able to do the timing correctly on the jokes. With animation, you can do all these quick little jokes and little behind the scenes things; you can have multi-layered jokes. Whereas in a sitcom, you really have to do, set up, punch line, set up, punch line. If there's anything in the background, it'll probably be out of focus or take away from the live studio audience laughing. The benefits of animation or what makes a difference from, say, Something About Mary, are the background elements and multi-level jokes.

HK: What about the general elements of the story? It seems like a lot of the great animated films contain elements of magic, fantasy or of looking at the world from a different point of view.

IB: You got a couple things you can do with animation that, at least at present, you can only do in animation, and that is, it can take you to another world. What you really need is for the audience to be able to project themselves into that environment. I saw Dinosaur recently. You couldn't do that any other way than computer animation. That's something animation can do -- take you to a completely different world that has its own rules. But what has been done traditionally, I think, is since you've got animation you feel weird doing a small intimate story about just people and so you go, 'We better take them to the moon.' You're spending all this time drawing something. 'I better do something you can't do in live-action.' So you get a whole bunch of big action, big slapstick or eyes popping out, things like that, but otherwise you feel like, 'Why don't I just do this live-action?' like you were saying earlier.


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