Interview with Beverley Gilmour
I can’t think of a more exciting and magical career to follow than being involved in the children’s and YA sectors; especially when that involves animation of an incredible array of special effects. Imagine spending your day fending off a fire-breathing dragon or engaging with a group of forest fairies. This is exactly what Bev Gilmour does in her role as the Head of Children’s and YA Film and Animation for the Susan Mears Agency.
Speaking of her role, one cannot help but become fully immersed in Beverley’s conversation. “The earliest known animated film was made in France in 1906, titled Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, and was made from chalk pictures. Since then, other small animations have been made, but the first animated cartoon with synchronized was made by Walt Disney in 1928, called Steamboat Willie. But we’ve been telling stories more or less since the conception of man and in many ways, I feel, animation dates back to prehistoric humans. You might think animation is a modern medium but actually our first ancestors who created sequential painting on the cave walls were essentially the first animators, sharing their stories visually with the rest of their tribe. Humankind has always recognised the communicative power of words and pictures. Over time, people came to use both the written word and the painted image, employing each art on its own and in any number of combinations to share ideas, for business and pleasure, survival, and diversion. Animation is essentially a partnership between the storyteller and the artist.
The animator’s outline is very similar to a writer’s storyboard. Screenwriters when they are creating an outline, he/she/they are able to block out every beat, every scene, sequence, and act. Animator’s storyboards do the same except in a visual context and regardless of today’s incredible animation software, every animator who I work with will always sketch out their storyboard before transferring their vision to the computer. But no matter how brilliant the artist is, if they can’t connect to the story – they just simply can’t create the magic.
At the Susan Mears agency, our first and foremost responsibility is to ensure the script (the story) has the excellence to engage an audience so 90% of my work is to the screenwriter; making sure their work is formatted correctly and flows in sequence. Once I am confident, we have a story that we can bring to life, its then handed over to the animation team to visually create the magic the screenwriter has created in his/her/their imagination.
I also oversee the games department. Many people tend to think animation for video games and animation for movies are really the same thing. It’s a fairly common misconception. Even though the same tools and principles of animation apply to both mediums, the processes and techniques actually differ greatly between the two.
Animation in Games differs because Games are meant to be interactive. When you play a game, you’ll have complete control of the character and the camera. You’re the one driving the story forward and making the character move. So not only does the animation need to look good, it needs to look good from every possible angle.
For instance, if the game is third person, and the player rotates the camera around they’ll see the walk or run cycle from a completely new angle. This new angle can reveal things like knee pops that may not have been visible in the normal camera view. These are things that a game animator needs to take into account to ensure their animation holds up to whatever the player may throw at it. When it comes to animation for movies, the animator is only responsible for animating whatever is in the view of the shot camera. In other words, they only have to worry about one camera angle at a time. If you’re watching a movie, you hit the “Play” button on a movie you can’t rotate around to look at the whole set. So, you’re stuck looking at whatever the camera is viewing.
The cutscenes in a game are quite similar to regular screenwriting. What’s different about game writing is that you need to motivate the character to do what the player is going to want to do. The biggest flaw in game writing is when these two things aren’t aligned. You need to manipulate the player into having emotional experiences as opposed to just watching a character have one.
For many games, you’ll be writing dialogue in a spreadsheet, because there are branching choices. If a player chooses to do X, then a different line triggers than if the player had chosen Y. There are various programs to help with this branching dialogue, but it’s a lot more “mental math” than writing in, say, Final Draft.
There are also various technical differences. You are usually playing a game in ‘real-time,’ for instance. Having a “companion AI” sidekick can be quite expensive, so you often have the character self-talking instead. Plus, your narrative delivery systems might include things like letters, journals, signage, etc. It’s a lot of fun when you get to do multiple types of writing for a game.
Here at Susan Mears, we have seen a dramatic increase in writers turning to the craft of writing for games; especially from the younger generation. But just because when you were young the only games you played were with a physical bat and ball or hide and seek, it doesn’t mean you can’t now master the art of game writing. I myself only began animating and writing for games in my fifties, and back then one of my greatest challenges was learning how to make my character in-game jump, much to the amusement of my two sons – eight years later, not only have I mastered this simple command, but I am now creating games in Unity. So, if you have an idea that you believe will make a good game – don’t let the idea that you are too old to play games stop you. At the end of the day, it’s all about the story.”
Beverley is also a published Children’s author and Screenwriter.