Learn how to make your own short animation movie
It all begins with a character
This article explains how to work out and design a basic character and storyboard for stop motion animations, cel to computer graphic animation, and digital animation filmmaking.
Animation first appeared at the same time as moving pictures, in the 1890s. Its specific skills became prized in 1990s filmmaking, as computer-generated imagery converged with standard film production. Similar computer graphic design skills are also required in digital moviemaking and the video game creation industry.
Making a short animation is not too difficult for a school student. Many award-winning animated filmmakers, like Nick Park who devised Wallace & Gromit, began animated storytelling as a hobby at a young age.
Work out your animation story basics
Animation is so detailed that a very simple storyline is best for a short one or two minute film.
- First essential is a character; it does not have to be a human, but it does have to move and express emotions visually.
- Second, the situation the character is in, the problem the character has to solve, the character’s need – you must be able to express this visually. Your character journeys through a variety of experiences to solve the problem.
- Thirdly, this journey will be both external and internal – the character’s actions plus the character’s emotions – the latter should deliver the “surprise” that is the keynote to animation shorts. Animation works best when it does what live action cannot do; this is why non-human shapes or animated objects work so well as characters.
Instead of a character you could even use abstract symbols, such as sticks, spots, squiggles, or pieces of string. Movement will convey the sense of story, while simple sound effects can convey the sense of character.
How to create a storyboard for your animation film
Whatever the method of animation you plan to use, you start with pencil and paper, drawing a storyboard:
- Sketch your character. Remember the basics of a story: who? what? when? where? why? how?
- By now, you will have a sense of the story, of where the character is going and why. If not, try imagining the setting and location of your story first.
- Now start building the storyboard. This is a set of thumbnail sketches focused around the character, its actions, and its emotions. Divide your paper into squares or rectangles, draw your character’s journey, scene by scene, like a comic book story.
Your story tells about the character and the character’s needs, but keep the resolution of the problem a secret until the very last scene.
How to organize and develop the animation storyboard
- Number each section – leave big gaps (at least ten) between the numbers so that you can insert extra drawings later.
- Act out each movement to work out how many shots each scene will take, timing yourself with a stop-watch; write the time taken under each rectangle you have drawn.
- Write details about each scene as they emerge from the process.
- Write the dialogue or sound expressions.
- Describe the environment, background colors and shades as they will appear.
- Prepare a presentation in which the sketches (maybe new versions) will be pinned on the wall and you read the script as though acting it. Record the presentation if you can, video or audio; it will help you put together the finished product.
Three methods of animation filmmaking
Animation methods render images that are either 2D (two dimensional) or 3D (three dimensional).
- Cel animation is 2D; tools include pens, paper and an electronic scanner to digitize the cels for multi-layering, coloring, etc. on a computer.
- Stop motion animation is 3D; you can make a set out of a large cardboard box and model figures from modeling clay, then set up lighting and a camera on a support.
- Digital animation software is readily available on the internet, as are a range of sound effects and sound recording tools.
- Now you have to start actually creating your character and making its story happen by painting, photographing models on set, or digitizing your scenes with computer animation software. Decide which type of animation this will be, and get to work. This is the obsessive time-consuming phase, but your animated movie production will come to life, eventually.
You also need to read about creating an environment for a short animation movie and do some thinking about narrative in film college student animation. If your own short animation movie turns out well, you can use it as a showreel to help get your place in film school.
Find out more about how animation has become so popular in feature films that whole new careers are developing for film school students.