Report – The Art of Writing for Animation and The Art of the Theme Tune: Knowing The Score

Posted on: Wednesday 05 July 2017 5:31pm by Tyler McRae

Two Art of… talks in one session saw an insightful interview with top children’s writer Andrew Brenner, followed by notes on notes from composers Banks and Wag


  • Writers and composers both need to absorb the whole show as inspiration, not just an outline brief
  • Writers need to be aware of an animated world’s limitations and restrictions, and let that shape your characters accordingly
  • Composers shouldn’t be afraid of putting their own style and interpretation on a brief

Writing For Animation

Kath Shackleton, Director of Fettle Animation, hosted a fascinating half-hour talk with writer Andrew Brenner, with the conversation covering the craft of working on animation scripts, the relationship between writers and producers, and how he first got into animation writing.

Andrew was initially a writer on traditional comics, which he said was really good practice for making the switch to animation. That progression came as the people he worked with through the comics moved across to TV productions, and also as the comics became more tied in with animated pictures. His advice to breaking in to the industry today would be to start by building up your skills and your repertoire on low-profile work, whether that’s comics or perhaps an online equivalent, which will then get you noticed.

Processes of writing vary depending on the show, Andrew said, with different worlds each having their own limitations that you need to become attuned to through watching and absorbing the animation. An interesting example of this was his work on ‘Thomas and Friends’, where the restricted movements of many of the characters (they’re trains – so just forward and backwards, unless there’s a derailment, itself a useful dramatic device) meant that he searched around for other non-train characters to add a different dynamic, such as a crane to which he could give ‘arms’, and therefore a different character dynamic.

Andrew said the process of writing episode scripts is always going to be driven by the visuals, and knowing what the budget and the timeframe leaves scope for is important. The pace of a show matters too, and sometimes in his experience the pace – or how much dialogue is needed to fill a time slot – is hard to gauge at first, and sometimes it only becomes clear once you see an episode or a first series back.

He also talked about how when running a script writing team, he likes to have several episodes on the go concurrently, to take time pressures off the team and so that you can develop the series as a whole organically, rather than one episode then the next.

Other general writing tips included:

  • Have enough sense of your show in order for people to connect with it
  • Write stories that people love, and make the show revolve around that – not just a concept brief.
  • Be confident in your own ability, and don’t be afraid to constructively criticise during the pitching, writing and production process

The Theme Tune

The Theme Tune conversation was hosted by John Hancock, Director of Production at Three Arrows Media, who discussed with composers Banks and Wag how they go about pitching for and then constructing theme tunes for children’s shows.

The duo have an impressive back catalogue, and used one of their recent successes, the theme to ‘Go Jetters’, as a case study. Their pitching brief on this project was ‘action disco with a space unicorn’ (that old chestnut). While other pitchers had their own take on this, Banks and Wag were inspired to take influence from 1970s sci-fi B-movies and chords from ‘We Are Family’ to stitch together a funky disco theme suitable for kids, which won them the gig.

Their general advice when pitching to a brief was that you should aim to put a part of yourself within the brief, even if it appears to have a strict outline, as producers are looking for your interpretation of their vision. This is quite a nerve-wracking thing to do at first, as you fear it may cost you the job, but it has become more natural the more established they have become. And as with the Art of Writing tips, watching visuals and absorbing the whole show, rather than just the brief, gives you a truer sense of what is required for the music.

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Tyler McRae

About the author

Tyler McRae

CMC Blogger

Tyler is a soon-to-be graduate student of Sheffield Hallam, currently working an internship at the local independent cinema, The Showroom. He has been entrenched in the blogging world for just over two years, having started his own film and TV review blog: stayhumblestayhungryblog. He aims to apply hi Film and… Read more