top of page

How Do You Write for What the Camera Can’t Do?: Scriptwriting, Animation, & Transmedia Storytelling

DOI: | Issue 2 | September 2019

Brian Fagence

University of South Wales


How do we write for what the camera can’t do? How do we imagine and create for a medium which resists definition, is constantly evolving, and ‘is a protest against the stationary condition’? (Dragic et al, 1972: 9). How might a writer realise in the initiating instances of pre-production, what may become and potentially catalyse the illusion to life? This article considers how the means of writing may reveal insights into animation. It will particularly focus on an analysis of my own writing practice for animation for the animated short film Fallow. This story is one component of an ongoing practice-as-research transmedia storytelling project in development at the University of South Wales. This project was created to explore the specificities of a medium, transmedia storytelling and the relationships found between these through the practice of creative writing and scriptwriting. The project draws on aspects of Punch and Judy and the themes of identity, memory and perception which are explored within each story across each of the primary components of: Fallow (animation), The Pier (comic), Desistence (computer game), The Deep Machine (songs), Observance (journal), dell’ Arte (mixed media), Stain (music video) and The Quay (novel). This article discusses the process of writing for animation while considering a transmedia cosmology, and through examining the creation of the short film script Fallow what, for the writer, this may reveal about animation.


In The Animator’s Survival Kit, Richard Williams states the animation dictum of ‘Don’t do what the camera can do – do what the camera can’t do’ (2001: 16), referring perhaps to the propensity of animation in its aspects of exaggeration, and transformation, and distinguishing it from live action’s capturing and emulating of motion. This suggests ways for the writer to consider not only the distinctiveness of the form, but particularly the creative approach to its production.

There are similarities to the viewing experience of the live action and animated screen ‘although each of these approaches uses different formal means’ (Dumala 2011: 38). As a technical process, recorded animation differs from live action narratives because live action film captures motion in ‘continuous time’ which separates it and recreates it when re-presenting the ‘captured’ images in sequence to create the illusion of motion (see Clark, 2005: 138). Live action recording captures motion, and through the live action representation recreates this motion. Animation creates the illusion of motion from the generation of image sequencing; however, the images captured from this initial production are not (generally) originally in motion. In comparison to live action, the practice of animating creates a greater control over the construction of the separate aspects that will be displayed within the frame/diegesis.

Imagining for the image, then, through textual articulation poses a variety of opportunities for the scriptwriter for animation, as each mode of construction and expression impresses particular imaginings upon its construction, articulation and reception in terms of the specific correlations of the textual, pictorial and aural modes. So, in some ways returning to that dictum – how do you write for what the camera can’t do?, this article will discuss animation specificity and the transmedial distinctiveness of the animated narrative. I do this through an examination of the script development process for the animation short Fallow as it forms within a transmedia storyworld. I will explore the narrative tensions of creating a transmedia universe from the perspective of the scriptwriter, and how it is possible to explore story and script as it relates to animation where expectation and the assurance of authenticity is questioned in the more experimental or abstract forms of animation.

Initially I will be presenting a very brief overview of scriptwriting and animation, then I move on to explore what may be revealed about animation through the pre-production process of writing for animation. Here, I discuss the development of the script for the animation short film Fallow, while creating a cohesive transmedia storyworld or story cosmos to place the story of Fallow within.

Scriptwriting and Animation

The scenario, continuity and screenplay emerged out of the birth of American cinema to organise formally the shaping of the narrative, as well as technical and budgetary elements in the production of a film. As Maras suggests, ‘there is some debate around the definition of a scenario which leads us to question a direct evolution of script from scenario to continuity to screenplay (2009: 90). However, the script and the writing of the ‘photoplay’ had developed in America from the dawn of cinema, and ‘by 1917 script and intertitle writing had become thoroughly institutionalized elements of [American] film production, situating writing at (or at least near) the centre of the creative process’ (Liepa, 2010: 8). (Also, see Mehring, 1990: 232, regarding the development of the ‘Traditional Screenplay Format’).

Early U.S. animation up until the 1960s rarely utilised the scriptwriter in the development process, and it was primarily through the shift from the 7-minute cinematic cartoon, to the uniquely financially demanding programming schedules of television that these ‘business-driven necessities led for the first time to the hiring of actual scriptwriters ... and the step of hiring scriptwriters to first create the script was at long last integrated into the creative process’ (Marx 2007: 4). In contemporary animation production the script is utilised in the pre-production phase of development, though this is more commonly seen in conventional cinema and television shows. Outside of formalised television and film production, animation development uses many processes in its creation practices to generate the final animated piece; this may include a traditional script development process, however:

the term ‘script’ as it is primarily understood in live action film and television, may operate slightly differently in animation, and further, that ‘script’ may ultimately be an unhelpful or misrepresentative description in animation practices or must be viewed in a broader light to accommodate animation processes (Wells, 2010: 89).

According to Wells, there are four main models of writing in animation development: ‘Traditional scriptwriting for animation’, ‘Studio-process script development’, ‘Series-originator writing’, and ‘Creator-driven writing/devising’. He states:

In all of the writing models ... scripting should be understood as a process of conceptualisation, visualisation and application...Animation, under any condition and using any technique is largely created more self-consciously as it proceeds. Most live-action work, while following a traditional script – however loosely – is ultimately an accumulation of material, which is effectively constructed in the post-production stage. In general, animation is configured in the pre-production stage and monitored and modified during production; this means there is a greater emphasis on the process as it occurs, rather than after it occurs...Scriptwriting for animation is a very particular skill that draws upon traditional techniques, but insists upon its own processes and applications (2007: 18).

Following the traditional approach used for the development of a classical narrative design (Bordwell and Thompson, 2008) in film, I wrote a production folder for Fallow to create the content. Through this, I was able to examine the medium of animation through the exploration of script development when writing for animation. It follows the character of Fallow as he goes through a series of tumultuous ordeals from his birth from the ether into fear, on to disbelief and anger, despair and finally acceptance. It is a story that explores trauma, isolation and memory. It is a separate story, but also one which can be viewed and engaged with in combination with the other transmedial aspects of The Fallow Narratives (The Pier, Desistence, Fallen), which are intended to extend, deepen and provide further opportunities to discover these storyworlds.

In the process of developing the script, opportunities were presented and generated to scrutinise the nature of animation from the perspective of a writer, as well as create and consider for the process of transmedia development. Such questions included: what and where do you place the story? How do style and theme connect, continue and echo?

The Production Folders for each of case studies were comprised of the following creative development processes:

story synopsis to work out the basic premise of the story.

  • develop a coherent storyworld/location of story,

  • create the character/s, considering the goals, needs and wants of the character/s, develop barriers and rewards to hinder and advance the journey of the primary character and reveal the qualities of their character,

  • and finally construct an end point which articulates character transformation/evolution).

The synopsis was also developed to aid in the consideration of how amongst its transmedia diegesis this story can advance, extend and enhance its story and the other stories as a part of the entirety of The Fallow Narratives:

story treatment to develop the outline of the story from this premise.

  • This process initially breaks down the story into significant events often crucial for the development of a sufficiently coherent story.

  • The next stage is to organise/reorder the sequence of events to create the particular order of events that the writer requires for the audience to respond to.

  • Next expand on these events for a fuller treatment or outline.

script to progress from the outline into a ‘script format’ (describe setting and action, state any dialogue and transitions/camera moves where required), and in this writing process continue to advance the story.

edit to hone the script into the clearest demonstration of the story for the next production reader (for example storyboard artist or director).

While there are several ways that may be unique to the artefact development process, this approach to developing each of the elements of The Fallow Narratives was done in order to maintain a production parity, and as such expose to the ‘writer’ the distinctiveness of each medium. This similarity in development process allowed for a systematic comparison of the content, to ensure content parity regarding the process of adaptation in each and to bring about ‘new stories’ that may be transmedially linked.

This more ‘traditional scriptwriting for animation’ model was used intentionally across each of the case studies for the project as a means of comparing what may be revealed about animation from the creative writing process. The script for the animated short film Fallow, however, would sit more comfortably with the more abstract mode. The creation of a production folder and script for this type of narrative was developed so to engage with the tensions that may be found when writing for the outliers of the traditional animated narrative form. This allow me to see what similarities and differences occur when writing for this type of film, and to see what the similarities and differences reveal about animation for the writer.

Transforming the ‘Fallow Treatment’ to the Fallow Script

A treatment is traditionally used to write and straighten out the story. It is often, though not uniformly, used as part of the production process of the writer. It can be seen as a creative release to some, as it allows almost a creative indulgence, after the working out of the plot, structure, turning points and character biographies that form much of the conventional scriptwriting process (Scott, 2002; Wright, 2005). It ‘tells’ the story straight through, and is intentionally written as to what is ‘seen’ and to be visualised. This is then developed into the script, which further advances the notion of the visible through the text. Syd Field states, ‘A screenplay is story told with pictures, in dialogue or description, and placed within the structure of dramatic action’ (1994: 7), but what is seen, and how can the writer know to elucidate this? Written language has the potential to enter the internal, exposing, and often explaining – the emotional world of a character and their perspective. The moving visual shows the viewer action, and from this kinetic pictorial state they might infer something of the interior qualities of character, that is generally intended to tie us to caring for a principle or primary protagonist. Margaret Mehring suggests that ‘screenplay characterizations emerge from the portrayal of subjective feelings and thoughts. In other words, the screenwriter must find other ways to externalise subjective content within an objective context’ (1990: 188).

For my project, I decided to create a stage prior to a traditional treatment phase, to provide an insight into the interior, subjective state of the character of Fallow through using the expositional properties of language. This was done with the intention of capturing the quintessential qualities of the character of Fallow, his fractured, aggregational existence, in order to develop and examine the themes within this and the larger transmedia project, as well as to articulate the story and the activity of writing. This prior stage created more of a sense of creative play than in the traditional production folder and script development format, creating a space to further explore these notions of word, script, visual, visualisation and animation.

In addition, this proto treatment was used as a way of discovering the interior of Fallow’s mental state as he is born into his ether-formed prison, rather than as a traditional relaying of the sequences of action. It is called the ‘Fallow treatment’ (excerpt seen below) also because of how the character of Fallow in this film is ‘treated’ by the character of Punch.

‘Fallow treatment’ (Excerpt)

The box is square

and like a stage,

like a prison.

I know there’s something I need to do,

but, the box, this box,

I’m not sure if I’m looking at it or

am I in it, looking at it?

And there’s something I need to do, just there,

just in me. Like an ache,

like the heart of a cold fire.

Brittle, lost, burnt out, crying

silently for the heart that ruined me.

What is this ache?

It’s not dark, it’s not light.


A fog? shifting? or is it swimming,

circling? My eyes are open.

The fear, it goes down far,

but I don’t…

The fear goes down.

It’s on my skin, whispering, afraid.

Is this my shape?

A haze distorts over me a…

The fear goes down the well,

the further dark.

The dark and deep.

And the walls echo the shame

and the fear/dread becomes a push into me.

it’s only my skin…

it’s only (my skin)

(Fagence 2009)

This excerpt from the first part of the ‘Fallow treatment’ was not written in the traditional sense as a treatment (though a traditional treatment was developed from this). This was intended to serve as the sense experience of Fallow inside the box (cell/stage) and as he is recently born out of the ether from dust, and becomes who he is, and learns how to become this self. It did not have to be a perfect poetic form, but in order to articulate and explore the ‘subjective content’ (Mehring, 1990) I wanted it to provide me with a way into what Fallow is experiencing in order to imagine how this may be imagined for the animated film. Moreover, the treatment process served to explore what was behind or inside the visual, and within the character of Fallow, and in turn to open up the interior landscape of the character so as to consider what might be the exterior manifestation of this later on. On reflection, this opened up further insights about the potential of a transmedia work. When developing the entirety of The Fallow Narratives project, for instance, what was revealed in relation to transmedia was that not only is there great creative potential in this approach, but also that transmedia is not (in this instance) creatively wasteful. Different media platforms for the dissemination of The Fallow Narratives content began to utilise content created elsewhere, which aided in weaving the project together.

Supporting this process of weaving, there are different writing practices I utilise in the development of written expression. In this instance the script was initiated in longhand writing (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The Treatment of Fallow: Longhand (2.12.09)

My perspective is that of a writer using written language to evoke the visual, not an animator using visual language. It cannot be the same, but my understanding of the visuality of animation is revealed to me from time spent imagining animation through words. In the moment of writing, I am ‘joined up’ with the ideas to be discovered through the words, and the search for the choice and sequence of words, and it is the act of writing that opens up these potentials of new knowledge and understandings. Writing often becomes a door or gateway not only into the realisation or expression of the idea, but a way of revealing the idea itself.

During the activity of writing the production folder and script, I wanted to continuously be aware of some sense of medium specificity. Animation is essentially made motion, and so to have dialogue or voiceover in the initial development of Fallow appeared to take away something of the potential of the medium of animation. To show the animation visuals with the additional, expositional properties of the framing voice, fixing in place the potential meaning seemed too ‘guiding’ of what would have been seen on screen.

Meanwhile, while ‘word symbols can never have precise meanings that will be understood by all people in exactly the same way’ (Mehring, 1990: 158), words direct an understanding, whereas sound effects and the score may drive, support and challenge the visual aspect in a way that is not available to words in the same manner.

When combined, then, sound and image reshape the meaning of each other; the image ‘transforms and disguises’ the sound, just as sound ‘recreates’ the image (Chion, 1994: 184). As such, through the development of the practice it became more and more important across the development of Fallow to push the visual and focus less on the spoken word: to write for animation in what appeared to be its purest form, not when sound-words reshape it.

Film, of course, is a combination of sound and image, however my approach was to discover and reveal – from the perspective of the writer – by writing more of the properties of the animated medium, as dialogue or the spoken word carries more gravitational weight towards a specific intended understanding. This is not to say that the sound was not considered, only that with the particular unity that sound and image has, the dialogue would in this instance overly delineate.

The sound design for this script was drawn in part from, and deliberately echoes, the film dell’Arte (1998). This film is one component of The Fallow Narratives, and is a storyworld, two tiers away from the initiating story told in the novel The Quay. As each component of the transmedia project (The Pier, dell’Arte, Fallow, Desistence) moves away from and returns to The Quay, a fading away separation from the ‘realism’ of the storyworld affected both the visual and aural expression. Born out of a decision made with the sound designer Pete Hodges, the sounds would emulate these separations in the design of the sound.

The ‘Fallow Treatment’ below (Fig. 2) was an experiment in searching for insight. It showed me – through the act of writing the relationship between words and visualisation in the process of writing a script – how to open up the interior, the feeling and experience of the character through his deliberate ‘telling’, a telling that would have, within this writing-searching, become inappropriate if spoken across the ‘showing’ of the animation.

In order to ‘externalise subjective content within [the] objective context’ (Mehring 1990: 188) of the script, I next considered what would be seen and heard if the ‘Fallow treatment’ could not be heard. My writing process is iterative and continuous, articulating before questioning (see figure 2. above for ‘?’’s circled in green) what I have worked out through my creative (searching) process. To articulate the interior from the exterior, I asked (a) ‘fallow is being made and becoming aware of himself – what do we see and hear?’ The next stage in the process then responds to these questions so as to advance the work.

Fig. 2. Fallow Treatment – Poem and Notes (23.6.10)

‘Inside’ (b1) and ‘Outside’ (b2) show this approach to the creation of the outside ‘exterior context’, from the interior ‘subjective content’. The response to the ‘Fallow treatment’ below (c) shows the stages of my process of visualisation from the ‘inside’, the character’s feelings and expressions of being, into what I perceive as the outside, what the audience is to see and hear as the writing processes iteratively prompts the next stage in the production of the script:


(before clouds and greys)


- sparks of grey light

Distant and slow

Flicker in and out

- no sound

- start to stay longer

the sea/ether is heard either small tide or crushing? (d)

- start to expand

and shed light

upon (angles)

corners made out

only through the shadows cast from them


(Fagence, 2010)

The sea must be heard (d) to aurally tie together the storyworlds within the transmedia story cosmos of The Fallow Narratives. Fallow, The Pier and Desistence are connected within the project, and it is essential that each of the components on each of the platforms echo each other. Through their temporal and spatial relationship to the story cosmos, each of these components demonstrate the shared characteristics of each story. They all causally connect before then dissipate, as each component extends from the originating trauma of Christian Jensen, the primary character in The Quay. The component stories are each echoes, and their reimagining through a different medial language creates a new story through these associated aesthetics and causal connections, thereby iteratively expanding the transmedia experience.

To ensure creative content consistency across the transmedia project, i.e. so as to explore story transformation across media and examine media formation and form, a set of guidelines were created. Titled ‘The Fallow Principles’, these guidelines examine how adaptation might become transmediation, and what this ultimately reveals about the medium being written for.

As such, each story in the larger transmedia project will then:

  • contain the same basic structure, the plot of each narrative media should in essence remain the same;

  • be enclosed of itself and extending (leave some questions unanswered);

  • enhance the storyworlds/cosmos and advance the story;

  • permit entry at any section of the storyworld, and as such create unique pathways through the story across the media;

  • contain variations on/reflections of the same characters in each separate story

The Quay, Christian Jensen

The Pier, Casper Fallow

dell’Arte, Punch

Risen, Charles Fallow

Observance, Christian Jensen, and Casper Fallow, and Punch

  • examine the same mood and themes of: memory, identity, perception, trauma, loss, grief;

  • be developed from words in the generation of the story and script into other modes and media;

  • work to the potential of the medium.

Looking further at the ‘same basic structure’ then:

  • The story will have the initial character forming or being encountered in some way, then encounter trauma

  • This trauma may be of person, either self or other

  • This trauma must get worse

  • There will be a reprieve, the reprieve is false

  • Each story is a further separation from Christian Jensen in The Quay, and each version of the story repeats yet also advances the storyline.

In this film:

  • The story will have the initial character forming or being encountered in some way, then encounter trauma

In the script:

On the floor should where the ‘speck’ was trapped body parts are becoming realised in the right corner of the box/space. They begin from the heart out and in contrast to the forming/fading background that swirls and moves in random patterns.

These parts fill in becoming more solid (like reversed soil erosion), then the ‘floor’ slows its movement down and firms up underneath and to the sides of the parts slowing the swirling pattern completely. Moving out from the body across the floor and up the walls. Light and sound fade and judder out.

(Fagence 2010: 1/2)

Becoming mesmerised he looks at the floor shifting and slowly draws his cuff out, then quickly couches, runs/falls, crawls to the corner of the room.

His back touches the wall and he yelps, faint screams are heard [SFX: screams erupt], as his cloth top smoulders where it had touched the wall.

(Fagence 2010: 3)

In this film:

  • This trauma may be of person, either self or other

  • This trauma must get worse

In the script:

Fallow tries the next wall to the right. This wall is flat-blank though. He presses hard. The wall ripples out very slightly from his press. A very slight image comes forward to the wall.


Through the wall, an old photograph of a small hill. Circling the base of the hill are tens of dead bodies. On the top of the hill is a gibbet, a man in bandages, on fire, is high up, chained within a cage. His neck is clearly broken. The dead bodies raggedly stand up, hold each other’s hands, look up to the sky and scream.

SFX: Screams.

Fallow shivers and contortions rack his body. He steps sharply back.

(Fagence 2010: 4)

In this film:

  • There will be a reprieve, the reprieve is false

In the script:

ELS. The corridor floor extends across the entire frame. The corridor walls rise to the top of the frame, rippling slightly with grey/white static. Fallow walks to the left.

MS. His eyes are closed as he walks. He stops to glide his fingertips in crescents across the wall.

SFX: Briefly, faint classical music rises and falls.

He listens to it for a moment. Sways his head slightly from side to side. He rubs at his eyes and looks at the corridor from front to back. There is no end in sight.

He sits down cross-legged on the floor, rests his back against the wall. Breathes deeply in and out. Begins to chuckle to himself. Stops, starts again, near tears.



Rests the back of his head against the wall, and closes his eyes.


The corridor begins to brighten, flaring in grey/white neon directly opposite Fallow.

He quickly opens his eyes and sees a glossy beige interior household door form out of the wall.

(Fagence 2010: 7/8)

In this film:

  • Each story is a further separation from (the primary character of) Christian Jensen in The Quay, and each version of the story repeats yet also advances the storyline.

The further away from Christian Jensen’s circumstances in the novel The Quay, the greater the distance between that sense of realism that was to be manifested in the writing of the representations of image and sound within the project. This retelling of the same fundamental content within each of the project’s components allowed for a way for the character of Christian Jensen to play out his guilt and grief. There are motifs of water and dust: water in the forms of the sea and tears, and dust to represent any ground, powdered particles including sand and sawdust, though thematically these are used primarily to represent decay. Transmedially, these themes work to connect Fallow to The Pier and Desistence and the rest of ‘The Fallow Narratives’, as each of the components are about falling, falling apart, and the larger narrative themes of grief and finally the journey towards healing. The stories ripple out from the causation trauma in Christian Jensen’s life, and as they do so they fade away from that text’s ‘realism’. Since each of the stories are a component of the project they are also another manifestation of the pain journey of Christian Jensen in The Quay. Each is a further iteration and expansion within the project; however, they are also an adaptation of the same content and themes determined from the ‘Fallow Principles’.

Through the act of writing, this exploration of the same content and themes works to reveal what the potential of each medium might be and what these properties of the medium might bring to the storytelling process and the viewing experience. The act of writing is revelatory, this act discovers content, and more importantly content that is discovered and specifically shaped from a search for animation. The particular words to be used in the visualisation and auralisation process become attuned to the specificities of the medium because of the framing of the search writing activity. This content, then, when considered through the language of expression of each medium, reveals how unique each medium is, in terms of its properties.

In drawn animation, for example, metamorphosis is a uniquely identifying aspect of the medium. This property of the medium best suited this first stage of the film when the world of the film is created out of flickering grey ether stardust, as seen below:

Inside the grey patchwork, moving in ebb and flow a ‘speck’ grows larger, and swims through the grey cosmos.

In the distance within this expansion edges begin to appear, MOVING closer, then corners seen only through the shadows they cast.

A negative image of a room seen from the inside forms.

The background to the room still goes through permutations of forming and fading. In the centre of the slowly forming floor, the larger, swimming ‘speck’ is encased, struggles and stills.

(Fagence 2010: 1)

Then as Fallow’s box/cell is constructed around him, the animation discipline would shift to stop motion. I wanted to use stop motion in order to inform a reading of the aesthetic which played with notions of the uncanny, and use this to resonate the ‘look’ with the storyworld, and to draw the viewer into this ethereal and eerie storyworld. This world, created using both drawn and stop motion animation, would be the first encounter with the storyworld and inform the reading of the rest of the film. In terms of practice discoveries, this use of descriptive language in the script to explain the transformative flow of animation opened up a variety of concerns regarding the various modes used in their particular articulation.

Namely, what am I seeing when I write? How might words reveal and constrain this sufficiently, as in to write for a deliberate visualisation by a storyboard artist, yet still open up meanings for the subsequent viewer of the Fallow animation short film? The activity of writing the production folder and script revealed to me what I see when I write, and how to perceive in the distance a potential (story) destination; through that, the act of searching options are revealed and discarded. Those that are revealed are then focussed in on and chosen (or not) as the appropriateness of the right word to the writing intent are considered suitable. This process of focussing in on and firming up defines the content appropriate to the search writing needs, and shapes how to phrase the language of the production folder and principally the script accordingly for the medium. Words, when used in the act of articulation, deliberately limit as they explain. To write, then, for another’s visual and aural interpretation and subsequent articulation calls for an understanding of the sense-making process of interpreting words. For the writer, an understanding of how words are then understood beneficially informs the development process. In this vein, Voloshinov has suggested that:

To understand another person’s utterance means to orient oneself with respect to it, to find the proper place for it in the corresponding context. For each word of the utterance that we are in the process of understanding, we, as it were, lay down a set of our own answering words. The greater the number and weight, the deeper and more substantial our understanding will be. In essence, meaning belongs to a word in its position between speakers; that is, meaning is realized only in the process of active, responsive understanding (Voloshinov, 1994: 35).

Semiologically speaking, then, words anchor an understanding’s polysemous potential, and it would seem that the more words articulated by the writer ‘the deeper and more substantial our understanding will be’ (ibid., 1994: 35). The more words the writer uses to articulate an idea should also then clarify the meanings made for the artists who will later storyboard to the words and animate from this. However, they have to be the right words:

Because the meaning of word symbols come from our individual experiences with these symbols and the things they symbolize, word symbols can never have precise meanings that will be understood by all people in exactly the same way … Where exact communication is essential, it’s important to use the word symbols that most closely – most concretely – communicate your intended meaning: thoroughbred dachshund instead of dog; a sunny, warm day instead of a gorgeous day; or fear of assault from unknown assailants instead of feelings of terror (Mehring, 1990: 158).

As Mehring also states, ‘What we see tells us what’s happening’ (1990: 157). Or to put it another way, what words the writer chooses to use in the script tells the next production reader what to see, just as the subsequent seeing of the film ‘tells’ the viewer what is happening through its ‘showing’.

Based on this thinking, the Fallow script that came out of this was an endeavour to explore how to engage with this ‘showing’, done so through the kinetic, metamorphic form of animation. The script introduces the production reader (story artist, director, or producer) to what is to be seen. Which was also developed out of the ‘Fallow treatment’ by particularly engaging with the notions of inside and outside (see fig. 3 below). As both the treatment and the script are articulated through written language, they explain their story intention and state their exposition of character within their particular modes of reference.

Fig. 3

Effectively, the treatment is intentionally revelatory of the character; the script then attempts to adapt the interior emotive state to an exterior exposition that will later be adapted into a storyboard, animatic and animation form. As Wells suggests of this adaptive process:

the animation writer cannot merely write a script in a traditional fashion, but must also be consistently aware of the visualisation process and the role of the other artists involved – artists who are not only thinking of the way something looks, but the ways in which it will move (2007: 13).

Indeed, the character of Fallow is perceived through action, aesthetic, sound design and narrative – that is to say that each is used in the story to show qualities of character through these aspects of characterisation. To find a connection with a character, the audience perceiving the ‘visual’ moves past the exterior to the interior, as each code of expression shows us more of the character and his or her state of being. This process of considering the inside to the outside to the inside revealed ways of considering storytelling and scriptwriting practice, but also informed my awareness of the transformative nature of the animated narrative. Such a reflection echoes ideas originally put forth by Chatman:

In order to understand the fundamental components of any narrative it is first necessary to make a distinction between a narrative’s ‘story’ and its ‘plot’. ‘Story’ … refers to the events of the narrative, and the actions and responses of the characters. ‘Plot’ … refers to the ways in which the story is presented to us in terms of its order, emphasis or logic. A succinct definition between these two ideas has been provided by Seymour Chatman, who suggests that ‘the story is the what in a narrative that is depicted’, and the plot ‘the how’ (Chatman, 1980: 19, as cited in Speidel, 2012: 83, original emphasis).

Broadly, a narrative can be described as ‘the showing or telling of … events and the mode selected for that to take place (Cobley, 2008: 6). The animated narrative is a distinctive form through its unique expression of the combination of textual, pictorial/visual and aural. It may combine some or all aspects of the textual (though often used iconographically and iconically), pictorial motion, and sound effects and sequence. What distinguishes it from paintings, then, is motion – an inherent movement. At its heart is the nature of bringing life to vitality, and as the Zagreb school would say, ‘to give life and soul to a design, not through the copying but through the transformation of reality’ (cited in Holloway, 1972: 9).

So, when writing for animation, the properties of animation for the writer may be revealed from this practice. Writing for a medium ‘fades in’ the edges of a medium, brings forth a contextualising delineation, which of itself becomes a shaping of the creative practice of the potential and quite particular medium content. Utilising the same content in each of the components of The Fallow Narratives transmedia project necessitated the language of the production folder and script to engage with the textual, visual and/or aural properties of each medium. The reshaping of content through the different modes available (and not available) to a medium transformed the content by eliciting a distinct light or perspective for the content to be considered with and engaged through, both in the writing stages of the ‘production’ and in the experience state of the ‘reception’. Importantly, this process of retelling creates a new story. The same telling of a story creates the same story and a different telling creates a different story as these differing properties or articulatory modes uniquely shape and so reform the content. The act of re-articulation has to be a process of transformation.


The search for animation as a writer is of a shifting portrait that never fixes the fluidity of animation, but does however challenge one to articulate the visual and to bring to life the visual, to set it in motion. Its state changes; it constantly moves under the act of observation when searching for its properties, potential and creative limitations. Definitions of animation will continue to develop, as will approaches to its study, indeed as Solomon (cited in Furness, 1998: 5) suggests: ‘filmmaking has grown so complicated and sophisticated in recent years that simple definitions of techniques may no longer be possible.’ Most endeavours to define animation cite McLaren and explore its integral techniques and processes of construction as this manifests from ‘a conceptual movement that calls attention to the surface of representation, instead of its actual contents’ (Hernandez, 2007: 36).

However, these approaches are born out of a theoretical perspective drawn from media studies or film studies, as Cholodenko states, ‘animation is the least theorized area of film” (1991: 9, emphasis added), and art criticism: ‘Arguably, all animation works as a version of fine art in motion, and recalls the generic principles which have evolved from art practice’ (Wells, 2002: 66, emphasis added). These critical languages that reveal animation are commonly drawn from a range of academic disciplines such as film theory and film history, media and cultural studies, feminist and reception studies (Pilling, 1997: xiv). They are drawn, however, primarily from the post of production in the analysis of the languages, content and experience of viewing. From writing the production folder and script for Fallow, it was revealed that my perspective is that of a writer using written language, not an animator using visual language. These two things cannot be treated as the same. When commenting on her study of illuminated manuscripts and ‘focussing mainly on visual language’, Annette Iggulden stated that her ‘understandings of visual language brings a different perspective to that offered by scholars whose primary tool is written language’ (2012: 65). My own understanding of the visuality of animation is revealed directly to me through time spent imagining animation and practicing the potential of animation through words, reflecting on this practice can reveal for the creative writer.


  • Bordwell, D and Thompson, K (2008) Film art: an introduction. London: McGraw-Hill.

  • Chion, M (1994) Audio-vision: sound on screen. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Cholodenko, A (1991) Introduction. In: The Illusion of life: essays on animation, edited by Alan Cholodenko, 9-36. Sydney: Power Publications in association with the Australian Film Commission.

  • Clark, D (2005) The Discrete Charm of the Digital Image: Animation and New Media. In: The Sharpest Point: Animation at the End of Cinema, edited by Chris Gehman and Steve Reinke, 138-151. Toronto, ON: Yyz Books.

  • Cobley, P (2008) Narrative. London: Routledge.

  • Denslow, P K (1997) What is animation and who needs to know? An essay on Definitions. In: A reader in animation studies, edited by John Pilling, 1-4. London: J. Libbey.

  • Dumala, P (2011) Out of the trees and into The Forest – a consideration of live action and animation. In: Animation Practice, Process & Production 1(1): 33-50.

  • Fagence, B (unpublished), Production Folder, Desistence.

  • Fagence, B (unpublished), Production Folder, Fallow.

  • Fagence, B (unpublished), Production Folder, The Pier.

  • Fagence, B (unpublished), Screenplay, Desistence.

  • Fagence, B (unpublished), Screenplay, Fallow.

  • Fagence, B (unpublished), Treatment, Fallow.

  • Fagence, B (unpublished), Novel, The Quay.

  • Field, S (1994) Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. New York: Dell Publishing.

  • Furniss, M (1998) Art in motion: animation aesthetics. London: John Libbey.

  • Hayward, S (2006) Cinema Studies. London: Routledge.

  • Hernandez, M L (2007) The Double Sense of Animated Images: A View on the Paradoxes of Animation as a Visual Language. In: Animation Studies Online Journal 2: 36-44.

  • Holloway, R (1972) Z is for Zagreb. Cranberry, NJ: Tantivey Press.

  • Liepa, T (2010) Entertaining the public option: The popular film writing movement and the emergence of writing for the American silent cinema. In: Analysing the Screenplay, edited by Jill Nelmes, 7-23. Oxon; New York: Routledge.

  • Maras, S (2009) Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice. London: Wallflower Press.

  • Marx, C (2007) Writing for animation, comics & games. Amsterdam; Boston: Focal Press.

  • Mehring, M (1990) The Screenplay: A Blend of Film Form and Content. Boston: Focal Press.

  • Morris, P (1994) The Bakhtin Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Voloshinov. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

  • Muir, S (2007) Gardner's Guide to Writing and Producing Animation. Washington, D.C.: GGC/Publishing.

  • Perry, G (2012) History Documents, Arts Reveals: Creative Writing as Research. In: Practice as research: Approaches to Creative Arts Inquiry, edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt. London: I.B. Taurus.

  • Scott, J (2002) How to Write for Animation. New York: Overlook Press.

  • Solomon, C (1988) Towards a Definition of Animation. In: The Art of Animation, 9-12. Los Angeles: AFI.

  • Speidel, S (2012) Film Form and Narrative. In: Introduction to Film Studies, edited by James Nelmes, 79-112. London: Routledge.

  • Stephenson, R (1998) dell’Arte. United Kingdom.

  • Webber, M (2002) Gardner's guide to feature animation writing: the writer's road map. Washington, D.C.: Garth Gardner Company.

  • Wells, B (2011) Frame of reference: toward a definition of animation. In: Animation Practice, Process & Production 1(1): 11-32.

  • Wells, P (1998) Understanding Animation. London: Routledge.Wells, P (2002) Animation, Genre and Authorship. London: Wallflower.

  • Wells, P (2005) The Fundamentals of Animation. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

  • Wells, P (2007) Basics Animation: Scriptwriting. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

  • Wells, P (2010) Boards, beats, binaries and bricolage: Approaches to the animation script. In: Analysing the Screenplay, edited by Jason Nelmes, 89-105. New York: Routledge.

  • Williams, R (2001) The Animator’s Survival Kit. London: Faber & Faber.

  • Wright, J A (2005) Animation Writing and Development: From Script Development to Pitch. Amsterdam; Boston: Focal Press.

bottom of page