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A Few Words About Animation Script Format February 8, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in Advice, animation, script, Uncategorized, Writing.
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One of the questions I often encounter when interacting with hopeful animation writers is: “What exactly is proper animation script format?”

Animation scripts are standard screenplay format, with one exception.  That difference comes when you are talking about an animated show geared at prime-time (say THE SIMPSONS or KING OF THE HILL).  Writers for these shows originally came from the live-action sitcom world, so they brought the dialogue style used in sitcoms into the prime-time animated scripts.

In sitcoms, dialogue is double-spaced. This is in case they decide to rewrite jokes on the set at the last minute, there’s lots of room to do it.  No scribbling tiny text in the margins.

So why bother to do so in prime-time animation, where the product ships overseas to be animated and then comes back for final assembly?  Series creators in prime-time animation build in a similar advantage to their live-action sitcom counterparts by creating window of opportunity in their production schedules (one that normally cannot be afforded in other series animation).  The show’s producers budget time to re-record dialogue in order to make the comedy fresh and topical, but the only restriction is that the new lines must fit the existing mouth movements.

“Saturday morning” series, such as the ones I worked on for Sony Animation, and animated features use the format identical to a live-action screenplay.  I have heard of some people that employ the two-column audio-visual format for animation, but this is not the industry standard and I personally have not seen an animated script in the two-column format; I recommend not using it.

So how do you find out what “standard screenplay format” is?

The books that remain the traditional reference of standard screenplay format are Cole and Haag’s Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats books.  Volume One covers screenplays, which is the one I’m talking about.  Volume Two covers one-hour drama and half-hour sitcom formats.  You can find the book at the usual places, like Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, also consider specialty stores such as The Writers Store that may be able to fulfill your other writing needs.  (I will be honest, I used to work for The Writers Store.  But it’s on that basis I’m willing to recommend them directly, because I know the kind of operation they run.  Also, they’ve been in business for almost twenty years and the Internet was an expansion of what they do versus being just a virtual storefront.)

Or, you can get screenwriting software to help you do the job.  Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and Scriptware are the three major programs.  You can visit their sites directly, or again, The Writers Store has all three (they also happen to be Final Draft’s preferred vendor, so it’s not just me singing their praises).

This should give you a solid start in formatting your animated script and bringing your dream to fruition.

(originally published at Suite101.com, 2001)

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