Friday, November 19, 2010

Animation 101: What makes a good Short Film?

There are typically four reasons an animated short film succeeds, you don't have to do all of these, but your project should have at least two of the four:

1. Original Technique
2. Appealing Story or Characters
3. Humor
4. Design

1. Original Technique:
Try something that nobody has ever done, or build on something that you think not enough people know about. Painted mural animation had been around for a while, but it took BLU to pick it up and run with it, going further than anyone before. Same thing can be said for PES, who completely built upon what others had already done, but brought to it an original and fresh approach. Original technique is possibly the strongest and most effective way to make a successful film. If you can find something that nobody has done, or done well before, people will be interested.
Blu's painted wall murals are done with a wonderful technique that he has exploited better than anyone before him.

2. Appealing Story:
Create a story/idea everyone can relate to, and create it within your own personal experience. Dig deep and find what images and ideas you want to communicate to the world. If you're having trouble, focus on the difficulties you've had in your life, and try to illustrate them in a simple, perhaps humorous way. Be sure to use analogy instead of a literal translation of the story, for example, PUPPET isn't about a boy and a hand puppet, it's actually about my relationship and difficulties with my own creative process. Finding accurate analogies can be very rewarding, and often communicates your experience more effectively and to a broader audience.
In "Lavatory Love Story", although the design is good, it's the story that makes this film work.

Arthur Metcalf's "Bubblewrap" is simple and crude, but hilarious and an audience winner every time.

3. Humor:
A tremendously funny film will simply do better. I don't make funny films, but I see this fact time and time again, and I'm always quite jealous. Typically if your idea is based in humor, you film will most likely be shorter. Humor is very difficult to pull off though, and if you're not a funny person by nature it will be even more of a challenge. I find the funniest films are intent on expressing a humorous character or idea, not a string of gags. The overall idea of Bill Plymptons "Your Face" is entertaining and hilarious, in harmony with the music and design, it's not a gag film.
It would be difficult for a film like Tomasz Bagiński's "Fallen Art" to fail with the impeccable art and design.

4. Design:
Quality design is related to original technique, it's just one step further inside the aesthetic. When you approach the design of your project, keep in mind all the elements that make characters appealing. Rely heavily on influence, build on what attracts you, whether it's an illustrator, a painter, or an animator/filmmaker. Go above and beyond what influences you, add your individual twist to it, and use the brilliant principles that others have set for us all. You would be shocked at how well they work within your own style!

The most important thing of all is to make the film for yourself. Make it your own. It's great to think about the audience and attempt to bring them into your piece, but the audience will do what they do with or without you most the time.. best not to spend too much time trying to please them. Have fun, and good luck!


  1. I find this very helpful. I'm printing it out.

  2. Thanks for this, great guide.. very helpful for someone like myself who is in the early stages of development of an idea.

  3. Fallen Art is so good, thank you for reminding me how much I loved that film and to watch it again. Such a wonderfully dark comedy.