Stage 1: Pre-production
The pre-production stage is the process of preparing all the elements involved in a production and is the foundation of the project—the blueprint of the entire animation. The story and visual look of a project is developed at this stage, as well as the overall planning of the production. Any shortcuts taken at this stage of the game can directly affect whether a project will be a success or not.
After the initial concept has been approved or decided upon, writers develop the story in the form of a script or screenplay. Story is critical. It’s my opinion that the success of Pixar films is directly influenced by the fact that it is a story-driven animation studio. The highest production values cannot save a project with an inadequate story. Without a solid story, there are only elements thrown randomly at the screen, leaving the viewer confused, bored, and in most cases, unsatisfied.
The story lives in the director’s head. A good director should have the entire movie already playing in the theatre of the mind, and the director’s job is, quite simply, to transpose what he sees in his mind onto the screen.
Ideas can arrive in an untold number of ways. They can come from a phrase uttered by someone in a conversation, from a line read in a book, newspaper, or magazine, from a picture or illustration you happen to glance at one day, or from an event or moment you experience in your daily life. Perhaps the latest novel you read or the magazine article you recently finished inspires you. You may have sketched a curious character who suggests a storyline to you, or maybe you just have a thought buzzing through your head that won’t go away no matter how hard you try.
You can even be inspired by another artist’s work, or a technique you saw in the last movie you watched, or a dream you had one night. Or the idea just popped into your head when you were using the restroom! Ideas can come from everywhere and anywhere. Life speaks to us constantly. We just have to have our eyes and ears open to it when it does so.
Evolving a Story line
Ok, so let’s say you’ve navigated the potentially treacherous and turbulent waters of intellectual copyright and its inherent dangers of plagiarism and you’re ready to move on. The next stage is story line Whether you are making a film, a TV program, a computer game, or even a Web site movie, you will now need to progress your basic idea into a story line that an audience or player can identify with. The very best story lines tend to contain three essential elements: set-up, and resolution.
In the set-up stage, you introduce your audience to the setting, characters, and circum-stances of your story. Unless the opening of your story line is deliberately conceived to shock, deceive, or confuse, the audience needs to be introduced to the world you are about to take them into. All the parameters of your story line are set at this stage.
The conflict stage in your story line is often the point where things start to go wrong for the characters. Characters might behave out of keeping with what we believed them to be, or our hero character may suddenly be threatened by unexpected, or out of control, events around him or her. Perhaps a new character or another form of disruptive element is introduced to the plot, which turns the entire status quo of the story upside down. Whatever the cause, a definite conflict materializes something significant enough to turn our cosy, established world, or its way of being, entirely upside down.
As implied by its name, the resolution stage is the point of the movie (invariably the end of the movie but not always so) when the conflict we have introduced comes to a climax and is resolved in one way or another. This can give us a happy ending, a sad ending, or an ending that leaves audiences wondering. But it does need to resolve the story line we have established in the first two stages so the audience feels some kind of satisfaction that the outcome is as it should be. The only exception to this would be in a series, where you deliberately leave the audience hanging, wanting more.