Thursday, August 6, 2009

Short cartoon writing tips!

OK, here are my ideas about writing a funny 11 minute TV cartoon.

Most important!
Know your characters and how they relate to one other. Take any great comedy team and you'll find that the humor is based on the personality of each character and the dynamics with the other characters.

When writing cartoons, do not exclude cartoonists from the process! Writers are great and all but they cannot draw a funny expression or work out the poses and timing necessary to make a funny cartoon. Believe it or not there are lots of really funny cartoonists that write funny too!
Imagine if writers wrote the great Termite Terrace 40's and 50's era Warners cartoons and Bob, Chuck and the boys were excluded from the process and forced to work from scripts.

Now I'm not dissing writers here. They are a huge important part of the industry and deserve as much credit and support as anybody on the crew. Unless they suck.

Use outlines and not scripts. This leaves the storyboard artist (who in my mind is really directing the artistic vision of the cartoon) room for his or her mind to work out the funniest gags for the cartoon and write dialogue that fits the gag not the other way around.
If you must use scripts then NEVER write more than 11 pages for an 11 minute cartoon.

Do your self a favor and watch the funniest 7 or 11minute cartoons you can think of.
Watch each one over and over with a notepad and a stop watch. Note each sequence paying attention to it's purpose (like setup, gag, payoff etc.). Note the type of gags and how the comedy pays off. Is the reveal funny? How does timing make the joke work, or not.
You will begin to see patterns that are typical to an individual studio, director, story artist and animator. Watch old 2 reel shorts like Laurel and Hardy, the Stooges too. It's what I grew up watching and I learned so much about comedy from them,

When writing an 11 minute cartoon, don't get all wound up in plots, secondary plots and too many characters. This is no way to make a funny cartoon. Keep it simple! Avoid stereotypes and tired old ideas.

Come up with a funny idea. If the initial idea isn't funny then don't bother going forward with it.
Write down about 20 one line ideas.
Stimpy's invention- Stimpy is an inventor. His latest invention makes Ren really mad. Stimpy must invent a helmet that makes Ren happy against his nature.
Stimpy's Chicken- Stimpy falls in love with the chicken that he was preparing for Ren's dinner. He elopes with the chicken and Ren is tortured with Hunger and jealousy.

Now you get the four or five funniest bastards (who all have lists of one line ideas) into the same room and go at it coming up with gags and making quick sketches and laughing their asses off. We used to rent a suite at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood for a week and write the whole season. That was fun!

You have your idea for the cartoon. Now you go through all of the gags and lay them out eliminating the least funny. Start with the setup, put the best gags in order building to the funniest and ending in a ironic funny ending.
Set-up, series of gags, ironic pay-off.

Don't be satisfied with something that is only amusing keep bouncing ideas around until you are actually laughing outloud.

Type it up into about 3 or 4 pages and let the storyboard artist do his job.

Afterward it's good to pin up the board so the director can work on fine-tuning the gags with the other board artists helping out. Always be open to upping the comedy at every level. A funny board can be made ten times funnier by pushing character layoutout and animation. The acting and adlibs that the voice actor came up pushed the comedy again!

I hope these ideas help!


Brubaker said...

I think this part needs to be emphasized.

When writing cartoons, do not exclude cartoonists from the process!

Martin Olson said...

Yep. Great post, Camp!

Ryan Kramer said...

Bob, one day when I am running my own cartoon show...THIS post will be printed and hung in every office.

Thank you for the great insight!

Yeldarb86 said...

Excellent advice.

Both writers and artists can get caught up in a lot of cliches and boring ideas, so it would be helpful if they complemented each other in shaping a story.

Unknown said...

I'll favorite this page and watch the popeye Superman and Casper DVD's I just bought.

Anonymous said...

Hey bob what is up?
Juts read your storytelling tips,really true and usefull!
I hope you do well man.
take care

spleenal said...

I recently did a short sample storyboard as a part of a pitch for a Cartoonickworx (or something) about a bunch of green, sticky, mucus based guys.

I'm the cartoonist, and I worked from an outline.
I don't think I couldn't work from an actual script. I'm pretty sure it would be way too boring.

BoneDaddy said...

The same could be said for comics as well! For me, the dialogue, even though already written, must often be revised to better fit the artwork.

:: smo :: said...

nice!!! the page a minute thing is definitely good to rub in, even for people who are drawing! timing is tough and even during boarding you can't just guess on an action when you're putting something together, you really have to see how long things are gonna take!

Bob Camp said...

Thanks bru..

Thank you Olsen!

Hi Ryan you are welcome!

Thanks Mr. Semaj!

Good idea Niki.

Hey Baskee. Glad you like the tips. I'm doing storyboards and writing a little for Disney these days. All my best to you too!

Hey Spleenal. I saw the board and showed it to a couple of olks in the business who thought it was funny. Outlines are best for sure!

Hey Bro, yeah right comics work that way too!

Hi smo. Timing is so important and if the writers have no sense of it then it just makes the artists work much much harder!

Zane Asylum said...

I think the renting a place with your co-workers for a week and throwing ideas around until you nail down the absolute funniest stuff is some of the best advice I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

I think your advice is more practical than Johns. I wonder however if there will ever be another show that gives that much freedom to the artists.

chrisallison said...

hey bob, this is some real gold you have here. i have the luxury of having friends to work on cartoons with on our spare time. this will be a great help to us. i have a couple of questions:

1.) you said the 5 funniest fucks you know have a list of one liners too. did you come up with a premise and then broadcast it without telling them any of your one liners? usually one of us will have a premise and we'll have a bunch of one liner ideas too. that's when it gets pitched to the group. but maybe this is backwards as the group kinda accepts that's where the short should go. small philosophical thing, but maybe it'll make a difference.

2.) i heard you guys had some tex avery timing sheets. is this true? rather than sitting with a stopwatch like a dunce, i think that would be much more exact and useful. if you do, think you could share?! i'll be your best friend

3.) did you guys have any exercises or anything when coming up with premises? i try to watch movies and read as much as possible and that works. but i dunno, maybe there's some method i'm in the dark about like drawing items out of a hat and trying to piece them into something.

this system totally seems inspired by tex. tex gets you into the premise in the first 30 seconds and then just lays gags on you for six minutes, then has a funny twist for an ending. it's just pure gold.

thanks for your time, i know you're busy. i feel like someday i'll have a diploma from the bob camp school of cartooning tho

Eric Noble said...

These are fantastic tips. Laid out perfectly and succinctly stated. Hopefully I'll be making my own cartoons and I'll have this put up as well. It should be part of the books on animation.

Now, how would you advise writing out a feature-length cartoon?

Bob Camp said...

Thanks Zane!

Thanks Anon..

Chris, one liners are premises. some people call them springboards. There is no set method to it, you just throw out your ideas. If they stiml everybody will pretend they didn't hear it. If it's good then somebody will yell, "Yeah and then he shits his pants! Ha ha! That one is alive and will move along the prcess.
If anybody had some timing sheets by Tex they never shared them with me. I always kinda flew by the seat of my pants with timing. I never pretended to be an animator (Like somebody who i will not mention). You still want to be my friend anyway?
We were very strict about exercises during the writing process. Nobody was allowed to exercise.
We ritualistically had my assistant make a pitcher of martinis and somebody would roll a big fatty:)
Yeah the Tex story structure is the best for comedy. short setup (minute tops) Gags then ironic ending.
Hey I'm happy to help. I got a lot of help along the way and I feel it is my duty to pass it along.

Hey Weirdo, you are welcome. I'm glad you like my tips and I'm really impressed you can spell succinctly.

Features are a much more complicated process. I defer to my friends at Pixar. They seem to have it down.

chrisallison said...

god bless america, bob. just gotta get down in the trenches. okay, back to work.

Unknown said...

"We were very strict about exercises during the writing process. Nobody was allowed to exercise.
We ritualistically had my assistant make a pitcher of martinis and somebody would roll a big fatty"

^ This makes me happy

James Sutton said...

Stimpy's chicken.

I love the Games Era! I don't know why everybody hates it so much!

Bob Camp said...

Stay cool Chris!

Stay happy Dustin!

Hey RobochaoXX,
Thanks. Not everybody hates the Games era. It's propagana pure and simple.

James Sutton said...

Haha thanks for the reply!

The adventures they go on in the later seasons are awesome.

chrisallison said...

Bob! Come back! Class isn't out of session. This post really got me juiced. If you got any more in you like this, I'd love to see em. Or drawings!

Anonymous said...

what he said

Corey said...

Awesome post, you would think that modern studios would use this process. The way cartoons are made now is depressing.

I encourage you to make more posts about this!

Jason Butler Rote said...

A theory I use for writing short cartoons is - The audience should be able to follow the story and appreciate the gags even if the characters speak in a foreign language.

And, writers, talk to draw-ers as much as possible. If their work area is not near yours (which is ridiculous) find them and casually bounce things around. It will be freaky and uncomfortable at first because, well, they're a freaky and uncomfortable bunch. Just let them smell your hand and realize you intend no harm. Perhaps bring some sugary treats and liquor as an offering.
Oh, and if you're a writer who's trying to use animation as a mere stepping stone to get a live action sitcom gig and every cartoon you write is essentially a spec script for the next 'Frasier'.. Meet me after school at the flagpole so's I can explain something to you.

RJohnson285 said...

I am trying to get into Animation, I have some cool characters, the only problem is I don't have any network of writers and storyboard artist to help me, nor do I have any programs to create the animation, is it possible to create a 3 minute animation all by myself, I'm sure there are artist that have done it before, but I feel this is a huge problem for myself. Any suggestions?

I really enjoyed Ren & Stimpy growing up, and I want to thank you for your great cartoons!

James Sutton said...

It is very possible to create a cartoon by yourself.

What I did my first time was used Microsoft Paint and when I got sick of that I scanned animation into my scanner and put the frames into Windows Movie Maker.

Now I use flash. If you wanna get into animation all you gotta is pick up a piece of paper and practice.

That's all I can tell you.

Anonymous said...

You haven't made a single good cartoon in your entire career, faggot; like shit anyone's gonna take your advice.

Taber said...

Thanks for the advice Bob! I've been working on a little cartoon with a friend of mine and I'll be sure to keep your words in mind.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I love it. This is great advice, and I can visualize this being given, in a Ren & Stimpy cartoon.

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