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A decree from the countess of cartoon storytelling: a book review of Animating Short Stories by Cheryl Briggs

Cover of Animating Short Stories by Cheryl Briggs

Once upon a time . . . they lived happily ever after. The reason for such everlasting bliss is that they – ambitious, upstart animation pros – have devoured Cheryl Briggs’ newest publication entitled Animating Short Stories: Narrative Techniques and Visual Design (Bloomsbury Academic).

Combining the spirits of fairy godmothers, magicians, royal culinary artistes, philosophers, sages, and miscellaneous mentors of yore, Professor Briggs bakes an easily digestible recipe for short form animation success. The book itself masquerades as a slightly intimidating, 267-page, heavily-illustrated, educational trade paperback. However, its contents go down like chocolate syrup atop frozen yogurt . . . or the best of Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ porridge (depending on one’s taste in food metaphors).

For starters, consider highlights from the Introduction:

Our Heroine has only one lifelong dream that has sustained her through the most harrowing experiences encountered thus far in her journey through life: her desire to create award-winning animated short films . . . She searches for the path that will bring her the knowledge needed to succeed in her goal . . . The first chapter launches our Heroine into the foundations of animation genres and an understanding of story structure . . . Chapter Six illustrates the cinematic techniques used in other films and helps our Heroine begin to imagine her story through a camera lens . . . Chapter Ten provides a case study . . . Now it is time for your story to be told . . .

Thus the reader gently leapfrogs into the mechanics of spinning an on-screen yarn. However, the aforementioned homespun tone belies hardcore filmmaking techniques enclosed herein. There is no need for an animation scholar or a one-person production company to purchase separate texts on animation craft and screenwriting basics.

Figure 1.14 from Animating Short Stories
Figure 1.14 from Animating Short Stories

Like a prize-winning casserole cook, Briggs subtly combines all of the basic food groups into a coherent whole, plus dessert. Chapter subheadings include such staples as How to Come Up with Ideas: The Creative Process; Developing Character; Writing a Script; Cinematography Rules; Storyboarding; Animatics and Editing; Sound; and Production Scheduling. The grand finale and written equivalent of crepes flambés is the abbreviated production book corresponding to Dreamweaver, the highly-lauded 2017 short film by Briggs’ cohort of the Character Animation Specialization at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. It is there that the student animator is able to learn directly by example.

If the Dreamweaver case study is confection, then the secret sauce is in ‘Additional Documents’ on the Bloomsbury Publishing companion website. Nestled discreetly under ‘Resources’ are templates, hacks, and other boilerplates that Briggs generously shares with readers. These include a sample style guide, model sheet, storyboard, editing cheat sheet, genre chart, and much more.

From left: Cheryl Briggs, Marlene Sharp
Animators in arms: (from left) Cheryl Briggs, Marlene Sharp

Readers are in good hands during the entire process of consuming this book. Author Briggs herself is an industry authority: She is Associate Professor of Animation in the School of Visual Arts and Design at the University of Central Florida. From 2001-2009, she served as Professor of Animation at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). She is an award-winning animation short film director and enjoys a seat on the Board of Directors for the Animation Hall of Fame. Most important, she and yours truly are fellow graduates of Mount Carmel Academy (New Orleans, Louisiana) at which they studied storytelling fundamentals under the unparalleled tutelage of high school drama and video teacher Mr. Paul Werner.

Animating Short Stories is delicious and nutritious! To immerse oneself in its storied, chocolatey goodness (plus bonus material), please visit https://www.bloomsbury.com/cw/animating-short-stories. Bon appetit!


Marlene Sharp

Marlene Sharp is a creative and business-savvy entertainment multi-hyphenate who originally hails from New Orleans but is now a Valley girl. Marlene recently served as Director, Production at LEVEL-5 abby, home of YO-KAI WATCH and other video game-based franchises. Formerly, as Producer, TV Series, at Sega of America, Marlene worked on much more than the Teen Choice Award-nominated cartoon SONIC BOOM. For example, her Hedgehog duties took her to the heights of nerd-dom as an official San Diego Comic-Con 2017 panelist. Her original sitcom pilot script BORN IN LA: DOLLS AND ALL won 2019 Best Screenplay at Oscar- and BAFTA-qualifying LA Shorts International Film Festival. This honor is particularly sweet validation after her years as ghost writer and uncredited project-puncher-upper for various employers worldwide. For chuckles, please visit www.pinkpoodleproductions.com.
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