How to write a script for an animated short film

Animated short films let moviemakers take creative risks and wow viewers with bite-sized tales, and even have an entire Oscars category. Like feature-length animated movies, so many aspects go into making an animated short film. This includes everything from storyboarding and producing the animation itself, to the music and the editing.

One of the most important aspects to produce is the script. If you’re considering making an animated short film yourself you’ll need to do just this, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Fortunately for you, this guide explores exactly how to write a script for an animated short film, as well as giving you vital background information on the genre to help with the process.

Animated short films: The basics

How long should an animated short film be?

The term ‘short film’ as a whole has several definitions. According to film industry data analyst Stephen Follows, it was historically defined as a movie “being on just one or two 35mm film reels, i.e. 22 minutes long.” However, nowadays some believe it’s any film under 60 minutes, the Oscars define it as those under 40 minutes (though the average running time of nominee movies is 22 minutes), and the Cannes Film Festival says they should be just 15 minutes long. All in all, the average length is 13 minutes and 31 seconds.

What is an animated short film’s structure?

An animated short film has no set structure, although, like the majority of screenplays generally, most follow the Three Act Story Structure. This is simply a story with a beginning, middle and end, or a setup, expansion and payoff. Usually, the middle part takes up around 50% of the film, while the other two take up 25% each.

Luxo Jr.

Easily one of the most famous animated short films of all time — if not the most famous — is Luxo Jr. The two minute movie is synonymous with Pixar, and depicts a larger lamp (Luxo Sr) looking on as the smaller lamp (Luxo Jr) plays exuberantly with a ball that it accidentally deflates. Deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress in 2014, it was also the first ever CGI film nominated for an Academy Award.

The Wrong Trousers

This Wallace & Gromit short was released in 1993 as a sequel to 1989 film A Grand Day Out, and follows a sinister penguin using Wallace and Gromit’s robotic “Techno Trousers” to steal a diamond. The Wrong Trousers won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1994 and garnered two further sequels: A Close Shave (1995) and A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008).

Bear Story

Scooping the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at the 88th Academy Awards, Bear Story was also the inaugural Chilean winner of an Academy Award and the first Latin American animation to even be nominated for an Oscar. The film follows an old, lonesome bear telling the story of his life to a young cub through a mechanical magical diorama.

Writing an animated short film script

What is a script?

Scripts — also known as screenplays — express the movement, actions and dialogue of the characters in a film. Considered the blueprint of a movie, they are written in a way that distinguishes between characters, the action and dialogue. To achieve this, scripts will usually include scene headings, action lines, character names, dialogue and parentheticals.

How long is a script for an animated short film?

Typically, one page of a script equates to around a minute of screen time. So if you’re aiming for a 45 minute film then the script should be around 45 pages long. However, this is just a rough guide, and a script should be long enough to fully tell a film’s story.

How do I write a script for an animated short film?

Step 1: Watch animated short films and break them down

To help get your creative juices flowing and au fait with the conventions of animated short films, it’s recommended to watch as many as possible before starting your own script. While watching, take notes on aspects like the concept, story, characters (including their motivations and goals), dialogue and the logistics (such as how many scenes there are). By breaking everything down you’ll know the kind of things you’ll need to include in your own short film script.

Step 2: Read animated short film scripts

As well analysing animated short films by watching them, you should be reading the actual scripts too. This will provide invaluable insight for when you start writing your own, and gets you used to the format and conventions. Sites such as SimplyScripts, ShowMeShorts and ScriptEvolution are good places to find such resources.

Step 3: Create an outline

Once you feel like you’ve studied other filmmakers enough, it’s time to create an outline of your script. Jotting down all the scenes you have in mind will help you formulate the dialogue and other details when writing the final iteration. We recommend producing a few drafts before committing to a final outline — this will save you writing lots of script rewrites later down the line.

Step 4: Write the first script draft

Now’s your time to shine, as you finally get to write the animated short film script. When doing so, constantly ask yourself if the scenes are reflecting the film’s theme, whether they are driving it forward, and if the script is doing justice to your characters. Don’t fret too much if your first finished script feels too long or the dialogue isn’t perfect — these things will come the more you revise it.

Step 5: Get feedback

Make sure you get other writers to review your work during the writing stage. Getting a new perspective is essential as everybody thinks differently, and others can open your eyes to improvements you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. Be honest with them about where you think your script can be improved, as this can help direct their focus and subsequent feedback. If you don’t know anybody who would be willing to review your script, you can pay a professional screenwriter to do so. Sites where you’ll find such individuals include ScriptReaderPro, WeScreenplay and CoverageInk.

That’s all of our tips! Thank you for reading and good luck with your animated short film script writing — we’re sure it’ll turn out great.

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