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WRITING FOR ANIMATION: Some Inspiration from the Experts

Susan Kouguell explains how writing for animation follows the same basic rules of live-action screenwriting, but the attention screenwriters must focus on are world-building and effectively using visual storytelling.

Susan Kouguell is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and chairperson of the screenplay and post-production consulting company Su-City Pictures East She is the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself ). Follow Susan on Twitter: @SKouguell

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When film industry folks start reading a screenplay they want to quickly enter the world screenwriters have created with a complete understanding of how it looks and feels, and be able to visualize how the characters relate to each other in their specific environments.

How do you create that awesome wonder that prompts a reader to turn the page with baited breath?

Let’s turn to two experts for some advice.

Recently at Purchase College, SUNY, Oscar-winning animation director Chris Wedge was interviewed at an event by Iris Cahn, Professor of Film, School of Film and Media Studies at Purchase.

Wedgewrote and directed Bunny, (Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film) Ice Age (nominated for Best Animated Feature Film) and Robots. He was executive producer of Ice Age: The Meltdown, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!RioIce Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Ice Age: Continental Drift. He directed Epic (2013) and recently completed his first live action/hybrid film Monster Trucks due in 2016.

Creating a World

CHRIS WEDGE: “I go backwards. Many filmmakers will start with a story or book or script -- something that’s written. I always start with the world because in animation it’s primarily a visual medium. There are not many words there. I’m always on the prowl for a place to go in animation, a place somebody else hasn’t put their mark on, a place to give an audience a new experience based on the place. I want to tell a story there that you can’t tell any other way.

“The stories I like to get to are the ones where the truths come out of every real story. I always found -- even in whatever trials life brings you -- help comes from unexpected places; I always find in that kind of realization that you have more support than you know.”

Audiences watch characters. That’s the part where all the writing has to happen."

For more insights and advice from Chris Wedge visit his website.


In two-time Academy Award-winning writer and director Andrew Stanton's TED talk, Stanton discusses writing and storytelling, knowing the spine of your story, and the importance of the audience caring about your story and characters.

ANDREW STANTON: “Storytelling is joke telling. It's knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings. We all love stories. We're born for them. Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.”

Read the transcript here.

Watch animated films that share your sensibility of the worlds that you are interested in creating. Note how the worlds are revealed. And then watch even more animated films.

Read more articles by Susan Kouguell

Check out all of Susan's Upcoming Classes!

The Fundamentals of Screenwriting: Give your Script a Solid Foundation
Writing the Family Feature Film
Writing the Family Feature, Accelerated
Writing the Documentary
Writing the Documentary, Accelerated
Writing the Animated Feature
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting
Advanced Film Rewriting
World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into

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