What narratives are most often used in animation and still do it successfully
Let’s start with an easy question for you to think about. What is your favourite plot line in the movies or cartoons? In the books? Just take a moment to sleep on it.
So…. I try to guess. Is it an adventure in any context, super large or small? Maybe a story of kidnapping a person, not necessarily literally: maybe psychological kidnapping is what you thought about.
Wait, another shot — it is a mysterious story; a riddle to be solved. As well as might be a plot based on a character’s tries to obtain something.
Was I close? 🙂
I bet that many of you guys thought about similar things. Not because we all love the same story twists. Just many stories follow the same narratives. The same path that makes us watch basically the same story in different variations.
The narrative is often a shape that ties together different aspects of one story; moreover, this is what lets a story be coherent.
But it is not that easy unless we would finish this article right now:)
When it comes to animation or any animated content, narratives may be used differently than in the movies, for example. Also, animation offers many forms of interactive experience, and it also can’t be done without specifically constituted narratives.
What do I mean?
Narrative design, narrative content, and narrative mechanics – are only some parts of many narrative tools that make animation in-game works and partly in cartoons.
Generally, however, we tend to associate this definition with story/scenario. But it goes just a little deeper. Okay, way deeper. 🙂
In games, where animation is one of the main pillars, this is a combination of all components that constitute the gaming experience — level design, animations, dialogues, gameplay mechanics, and so on.
This provides a player with a traditional task of a story, of course, but also it offers immersion and gives an emotional message.
The 36 Dramatic Situations or Periodic table of elements for a narrative
As you know, 118 elements make up everything around us. Your clothes, your furniture, streets and aircraft. 118 Periodic table elements that we all learned in school.
The 36 Dramatic Situations is in some way like a periodic table, although it is not that all-covering. However, most of these carefully noted scenario-cause actions are easy to face in another movie you see.
It was created – believe it or not – in the 1700s by Italian playwright Carlo Gozzi. Ever since many screenwriters navigated themselves through the plot creation.
The main point is easy: all stories consist of 36 basic situations. Just like that.
Let’s take a look at these.
- Supplication — Asking or looking for help; maybe even begging.
- Deliverance — Rescuing or being rescued by someone or by lucky circumstances.
- Crime Pursued by Vengeance — Seeking revenge for a crime against someone close.
- Vengeance Taken for Kin upon Kin — Revenge within a family or a group close to a victim.
- Pursuit — In pursuit of or being pursued by.
- Disaster — A disaster of any magnitude or context even when it is just about a bad day.
- Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune — Bad things happening, due to a variety of reasons.
- Revolt — Rebelling against something.
- Daring Enterprise — A bold adventure.
- Abduction — A story of the kidnapping of any kind.
- The Enigma — A mystery; a riddle to be solved, of any magnitude.
- Obtaining — Trying to obtain something real or intangible.
- Enmity of Kin — Hatred between relatives or among a tight-knit group.
- Rivalry of Kin — Rivalry between kinsmen, in any kind of relationship.
- Murderous Adultery — Adultery, but with murder or murderous intent.
- Madness — Insanity in any form.
- Fatal Imprudence — Doing something unwise with fatal consequences (often metaphoric).
- Involuntary Crimes of Love — speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
- Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized — Hurting someone you know without knowing who they are.
- Self-Sacrifice for an Ideal — Sacrificing oneself (often metaphorically) for some values.
- Self-Sacrifice for Kindred — Giving of yourself, even your life, for love or duty.
- All Sacrificed for a Passion — Pouring everything you’ve got into what you believe in.
- Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones — Having to sacrifice someone you love.
- Rivalry of Superior and Inferior — classic plot line.
- Adultery — Literal adultery, or violating a trust of any kind.
- Crimes of Love — Often sexual, but can be any kind of violation in a close relationship.
- Discovering the Dishonor of a Loved One — Learning that someone you love is dishonorable.
- Obstacles to Love — Anything that blocks a love of any kind.
- An Enemy Loved — Falling in love with an enemy or respect for an enemy
- Ambition — All types of ambition; even a total lack of ambition.
- Conflict with a God — Going up against any great power.
- Mistaken Jealousy — Being jealous, but for an incorrect reason.
- Erroneous Judgment — Making a bad choice, of any magnitude.
- Remorse — Feeling bad for something, or conversely, a total lack of remorse.
- Recovery of a Lost One — Getting back someone or something you’ve lost.
- Loss of Loved Ones — Losing someone or something you love.
Wonderful list, many things probably pop up in your head, right? Yeah, most of the stories were made up out of these paths, and it will always be like that. The world gets more complex, we are stepping into all kinds of metaverses, but the old stories keep happening.
But when it comes to animation there are a little bit more narrative tricks. Why?
Animation as a medium is way more different than movies. And it is applicable to games as well as cartoons, so we are focusing on both of these genres.
For example, the simple movement of a character, and the way he or she expresses the role, impact a narrative.
“Outside of more formalistic expressions, just presenting a character moving around in the world still offers challenges. Movies often fill the frame with the character you want the audience to pay attention to. In a FPS, outside of a cutscene, characters will most likely be fairly small in the frame, often competing for attention with interesting backgrounds and player attention spans. How often in a movie do you see a character’s full body (head to toe) in the frame, vs. in a game? Because game characters (outside of cutscenes) tend to be smaller on screen than their film counterparts, you have to not only think about the animation but also think about how you are going to present that moment. Sometimes that means pulling back on the environment details to help push characters forward.”
Shawn Robertson, animator
Details matter. May sound like some cliché, but actually it is the truth for such a sensitive thing as a narrative. One small thing could change the meaning of the whole movie.
This is expressed not only in the plot twists, characters’ choices or dialogues. Examples?
Joel in “The Last of Us” looks at a broken watch that his daughter once gave him. It is an extremely important narrative trick, it is exactly where animation provides us with this fascinating experience of being on the same page emotionally. Especially such well-created animation as we see in ‘The last of us”.
A long prologue in “Horizon: Zero Dawn”, gives a great deal of who the main hero is. Without it, you could miss much of the character’s identity.
In the games animation itself could be a narrative tool. For example, in first-person shooters, camera movements and hand/weapon animations introduce the protagonist to the audience. How exactly does he handle weapons? How fast is he?
The perception of basic movements is largely determined by the camera and hand animation. Camera movements are especially tricky. You have to constantly balance between the correct feeling of the “mass” of the character and the possible effect of motion sickness that occurs in the user. This is very frame that makes narrative possible.
“One of the best lessons I have learned doing game animation is that theatre is an often overlooked source of inspiration, especially when you are creating scenes in which you are allowing the player to move around. In the film, the camera tells the audience exactly what they are looking at. In a game that allows for any camera movement, you have to draw attention from the audience in other ways and theatre stagecraft is a good place to draw reference from. posing and silhouette become much more important as an animator when you are competing for the attention of a player who is allowed to move the camera around. lighting and sound are also important tools and should always be considered when you are thinking about how the animation is going to be presented. In the Andrew Ryan scene in Bioshock 1, we stepped away from a realistic office in order to construct a more abstract stage, complete with formalistic lighting, in order to sell the ‘would you kindly?’ scene.”
Shawn Robertson, animator
The metaphors in animated movies are a type of narrative produced by a variety of tools inside the movie itself. It is often a blend of certain elements in the animation. Lens movement contributes to the metaphor of space on the visual psychological level, at least many cartoon-creating studios use it quite often. Here is what one of the Taiwan researchers says on the subject:
“Every animated movie has the manifestations of metaphor narrative, such as Ratatouille, as produced by Pixar Animation Studios, which used black screen and lines to express the various tastes of delicious foods, and the Castle in the Sky, an animation produced by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki in 2002, which used two spaces as the hints of human beings’ yearning for an imaginary Utopian and the essence of human nature”.
Narrative and 36 dramatic situations
In any case, the narrative metaphors and tricks we mentioned are a way of emphasizing the main story. Meaning: if you want to provide a better frame for crimes of a love situation, it is better to use anything various narratives can offer you.
All we say is that with the narrative devices used in games or animation you can create a better intersection of the certain dramatic situation with tools that would make the whole plot more tangible.
The narrative is more than just a skeleton for a story. It brings together lots of small elements of animated content – whether it is a cartoon or a game. But as we see animated content evolving into more types and genres, the role of narrative tricks, tools, and features evolve, becoming even more vital in the animated content.