Pitching an Animated Series
BY MICHAEL VOGEL
CHARACTER! CHARACTER! CHARACTER!
This is probably the single BIGGEST thing that everyone claims to “get” but very rarely gets expressed when pitching. The focal point of your entire pitch should be built around your main character. Who he or she is, how do they see the world, what do they want/need. There seems to be a tendency, ESPECIALLY in the no boundaries world of animation, to lay out the entire universe right off the bat. But the truth is, that it doesn’t matter how many galactic armies there are, or what the history of the royal family is, or how the zombies managed to become the dominant species on the planet if there isn’t a main character to latch on to first. Start your pitch with the character, introduce them, talk about the way they see the world, and let the world naturally be explained from there.
One of the questions I regularly field is “Do I need to have artwork?” The simple answer is this: if the artwork is world-class, then go for it, if not, PLEASE don’t. The bottom line is that a great story is a great story. You don’t NEED artwork to sell it. But if you happen to be a great character designer, or know a great artist then it’s definitely going to help you. Conversely, artwork that doesn’t look professional, or artwork that isn’t exactly what you want the show to look like, can actually hurt a great pitch. Here’s a way to test your artwork - looking at potential designs, can you see those, exactly as they are, on television? If so, they’re probably good enough. If not, I would consider losing them. What IS a good idea is to be able to articulate how you see the show. Is it traditional animation? CG? Flash? What shows out there have a look and style that fit what you are envisioning? If you, as the creator, can articulate the art of your show, that’s the thing that will really help you.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
It’s usually a good sign when an executive asks how you see your role on the show. It means they like the idea enough to start entertaining the possibility of working with you and want to get a sense of what they’re in for. The worst thing you can say is that you want to “do a little of everything.” That job doesn’t exist. So know your strengths, and know how you fit into the production hierarchy. Are you an artist? Do you want to design the characters? Are you a writer? Do you want to story edit? Or are you just an idea factory? Maybe you’re a producer who wants to be teamed with a kick ass writer and a director? Do the homework, know the positions that fit your personal skill set and be ready to say exactly where you see yourself on the show.
LENGTH OF THE PITCH/WHAT TO COVER
I had a teacher in middle school who, whenever asked how long a paper should be, would respond, “As long as a dress. It just needs to cover all the important parts.” That pretty much sums it up. There is no standard rule for what you need to cover, and depending on how big your idea is, there may be lots of stuff to discuss. But I would work hard on honing your pitch and knowing exactly what needs to be told and when. Practice it. Pitch it to your friends. Get their thoughts. It can be painful or feel weird, but it works. You don’t want to be stumbling over stuff and then bust out with the dreaded “Oh! One thing I forgot to say earlier was…”
You are the storyteller and the executives are your captive audience. You want to make sure that your performance is a winner. As I said before, you want to start with the main character, but then it’s up to you. Does that lead into the other characters and then a description of the world? Or do you go into the world and meet the rest of your cast along the way? Is there a pilot or premise story that needs to be covered? Or is it a new and random adventure each week? Regardless, the thing you want to end with is…
Every TV executive wants a show that is going to run 100 episodes or more, so it’s up to you to explain what the characters are gonna do each week. I personally recommend having two fairly fleshed out stories. With this plan - we get to see all of the main characters in action and how they react to certain situations. In the end, the executive across the table will get a general sense of the world. But make sure you pick story ideas that really underscore everything you just said about your characters. If the main character wants to be famous, then that’s what he or she should be trying to do.
That said, I’d also come equipped with maybe six back-up stories - episodes that aren’t as fleshed out but illustrate all of the different ideas the show can explore. These shouldn’t be more than a few sentences and each should give just a taste of what can happen.
BE AN EXPERT
I have a friend who is a successful working actress. But there was a time when should couldn’t book a single job. Then she started watching all the shows she wanted to be on and studied how the characters were dressed. She started wearing similar outfits to auditions and BAM - she’s all over TV. Same goes for animation. If you are pitching the NEXT big animated show you had better know what the CURRENT big animated shows are. Know what is working and what isn’t, but more importantly know what you like and what you don’t and be ready to talk about it. You would be amazed at how an intelligent and informed discussion about the current state of animation can wow an audience into thinking you are the next big thing in the biz.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
This may sound like the cheesy, rah-rah “you can do it” part, but it is actually one of the most essential parts of your pitch - if you walk into an office looking like you don’t absolutely know that you belong there, you’ve already started to lose the room. If you are giving off the vibe that you are wasting everyone’s time and that you aren’t sure if your idea is any good, every other person in the room is going to pick up on that. However, if you walk in knowing that you LOVE your idea, regardless of what anyone else thinks, people will be more than willing to listen. Here are the two big secrets to remember: A) Every executive WANTS every pitch to rock and we WANT to be amazed, and B) none of us have any special ability that makes us any more of an expert on story than you. So if someone doesn’t like your idea - so what. If you love it, then sell the hell out of it and find someone who agrees!
If you're currently a character animator in feature film, you are part of a very exclusive and elite group, don't think so? Read the article below.
It's a very small business indeed
By: Keith Lango, May 2005
I got to thinking about just how cool it is that I get to do what I do for a living. It got me to thinking just how small this niche really is. Check this out…
Based on various conversations and public data this is my very rough estimate of the number of professional character animators working in feature film animation/service studios in North America:
Disney Feature: 60
Sony Imageworks/Animation: 60
Digital Domain: 20
Blue Sky: 35
Rhythm & Hues: 20
Other feature film service shops (Tippett, Wildbrain, Orphanage, Hydraulix, Blur, Vinton, Warner Bros., ReelFX, Vanguard, etc.) approx 150.
Rough Est. Total: 650
Of course I'm not right on the money with these estimates, but as a ballpark number, I think this is a pretty good first whack. If I were to include other animation film studios outside North America like WETA, Animal Logic, Aardman and more my guess is the worldwide total of character animators working on high end film projects is less than 1,000 max.
Compare that to...
Number of professional football players on NFL team rosters: 1,696
Number of professional baseball players on MLB team rosters: 750
Number of professional basketball players on NBA rosters: 450
Number of air traffic controllers in the US: 675
On the other side of the coin, consider this:
2,000 Secret Service "special agents" in the US
7,250 jobs at sound recording studios in the US
15,600 locksmiths in the US
22,200 winery jobs in the US
28,600 taxi drivers in the US
35,000 jobs at nuclear power facilities in the US
69,900 graphic design service jobs in the US
1mil law firm jobs in the US
2.58mil grocery store jobs in the US
2.9mil fast food jobs in the US
The numbers don't lie. I'm sure there are millions in this land who would love to be film animators. Only a few hundred are. Our work will be judged in the crucible of the market and under the unflinching review of our peers. We need to be at the top of our game, collectively and individually. Just like being a professional athlete is a special privilege and honor it's an equally high honor to work at this level in this field. It takes commitment, serious effort and a driving desire (on top of your God given talent) to be the best you can be. The ones who make it are among a special group. We should take that honor seriously, consider what it takes to not only get to this level, but to stay at it, succeed at it and excel at it. We are the very, very, very few who can say that we make animated films for a living. Take pride in that and work hard to maintain that honor.
OK, that oughta get your engine revving!
Keith Lango has been a 3D animator on various features for 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. & Walt Disney Studios. He has lots of great CG character animation tutorials on his site, go see them.
News on various animation salaries and pay scales:
Animation Budget History
I've compiled some serious inspiration for all you Flash/ToonBoom television animators out there, enjoy!...
Rain -By Pascal Campion
Jorge & Gandalf -By Jacques Daigle
Break Dancer -By Matt Shepherd
Birdman -By Rachel Morrison
Chunks -By Rachel Morrison
Run & Jump (Ruffs) -By Bianca Siercke
Ron Burgandy -By Matt Shepherd
Turkey Legs -By Scott MacDonald
Fog -By Mirco Chen & Scott MacDonald
Transistor Sect -By Mike Geiger
More Sex Than Me -By Bernard Derriam
Animatic -By Mario Richard
Monster (Final) -By Rachel Morrison
Monster (Ruffs) -By Rachel Morrison
Door -By Pascal Campion
Super Senior -By Pascal Campion
Trapdoor -By Pascal Campion
Clap -By Pascal Campion
Cycle -By Pascal Campion
Lunch Break -By Pascal Campion
Dream On -By Pascal Campion
One or Two -By Pascal Campion
Pulling -By Pascal Campion
Pyramid -By Pascal Campion
Rematch -By Pascal Campion
Roboss -By Pascal Campion
Rock -By Pascal Campion
Street -By Pascal Campion
Stupendous Man -By Pascal Campion
Venting -By Pascal Campion
Wireless -By Pascal Campion
The Odd Couple -By Ben Jeddrie
Straight Ahead Animation -By Rune Brandt:
The Magic Gnomes -By Mike Moloney:
Arj and Poopy: Unlucky in Love -By Bernard Derriam:
Thor! -By Mike Moloney:
"Opinion vs. Fact" -By Matt Shepherd
Tenacious D -By: Matt Shepherd
Saturday Morning Watchmen -By: Harry Partridge
Upstate Four -By The Krause Brothers: