Storytelling Through Animation
Mark Mayerson · May 8, 2005 | This book attempts to isolate what's important about story and show how each stage of making an animated film has the potential to reinforce what the filmmaker is trying to say. Author Mike Wellins breaks down the filmmaking process from script and design to post-production, dedicating chapters to each stage and supplementing the text with interviews and examples on the accompanying CD.

Unfortunately, instead of working to limit the discussion to essentials, Wellins includes everything he can think of. While there is useful information in this book, it is buried under too much detail and smothered in clumsy writing.

Wellins contradicts himself. On page 26 he states, "The first step in developing your story is defining the plot." Yet less than forty pages later he writes, "Many storytellers start with a scene or a core character in mind, or they start with a point of view that interests them. Each writer and creator has his own method of development."

Storytelling Through Animation
Written by Mike Wellins
Charles River Media, 2005
435 pages, includes CD-ROM

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His prose is awkward and he uses words incorrectly. On page 148 he writes, "The indiscriminate way cameras with a simple click recorded everything they saw in what was considered art." On page 97 he writes, "By the end of a successful animation project, no one should know a project as well as the director—not even the producer or the writer will be as intimate as the director."

Wellins defines concepts in questionable ways. For him, reverse engineering is defined as "accessing all the elements that a project has, and doesn't have, and figuring a story from those elements. "My understanding of reverse engineering is that it takes a finished product and dissects it to determine how it was constructed. His discussion of character animation confuses me, as he states that "Other forms of animation that aren't character animation include pixilation, where actual people are animated frame by frame." I doubt that anyone would say that Norman McLaren's pixilated film Neighbours is not character animation.

There are historical errors that could have easily been checked. Wellins is wrong about Carl Stalling starting in the animation business in 1937 (he was working for Disney by 1929), that Merrie Melodies preceded Looney Tunes (the reverse is true) and that Hanna-Barbera produced Star Trek cartoons for television (it was Filmation). Gustav Klimt's last name is not spelled "Klimpt" and Modigliani is not "Modigliano."

While the issues of film and video frame rates or the cost of rendering at film resolution are important, I question their place in this book. Unfortunately, the book is clogged with Wellins' digressions into areas that are not relevant to the subject of storytelling.

These are just a few samples of this book's weaknesses. Charles River Media has to shoulder their share of the blame, as this book was clearly not edited. It is shot through with typographical errors and grammatical mistakes. I am not familiar with their other books, but I hope that this one is not typical of their editorial approach.

While Wellins has clearly put effort into writing this book, the end result is a disappointment. The topic of storytelling through animation is a worthy one, but this book doesn't begin to do it justice.
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