Monday, June 13, 2016

The Power of the 10 Minute Cartoon

Since I'm a student animator, I'm a big fan of cartoons. I always have been. Whenever I have some spare time, I like to sit down and binge watch kids cartoon shows. My absolute favorite cartoon show is a tie between Gravity Falls and Teen Titans (OS). But these are both ~30 minute long cartoons, which is necessary for the story they're telling. Both Teen Titans and Gravity Falls are plot driven shows. What I want to talk about is 10 minute cartoons.

10 minute cartoons are a cool thing. One of the first 10 minute cartoons I remember watching was 'My Life as a Teenaged Robot.' This was a 20 minute show with two 10 minute segments. The stories were generally pretty light; quick little vignettes and sketches with no continuity from one to the next. My most recent obsession is Steven Universe, a continuing three season long cartoon show with individual 10 minute episodes. I watch all of my TV online, so I don't know if they play two episodes together or not on TV, but each episode has an intro and credit sequence, which suggests not. If I'd gone back in time and tried to tell myself how powerful a 10 minute cartoon show could be, I wouldn't have believed myself. It took watching several episodes to convince myself of that. So that you can understand why I think 10 minute cartoons can be so powerful, I'm going to take a brief segue into movies and scripts.

If you're a script writer, the ultimate reference for making a great script is Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. In this book, Snyder presents an outline that every successful movie should follow. If the outline is followed exactly, the script can become a movie that leaves the audience satisfied and happy. Snyder explains why the outline works for stories and also says that following the outline gives you a way to prove that the script is your own, in case some one tries to rip off your idea. Blake Snyder simplifies the outline to a 'beat sheet' in his book, with each 'beat' being a major plot point. Not only is the beat sheet great for movies, it can also work for books, television shows, and cartoons. A satisfying story can be told through any of those mediums. Since I'm an amateur writer, Save the Cat  is a book I've studied. Out of curiosity one night, I decided to sit down in front of a few Steven Universe episodes to see if each episode hit each beat. Each episode I had watch felt full-length, rather than the short 10 minutes that it actually was, so that made me wonder if they were applying Snyder's outline. (Or maybe I'm just a spaz and can't sit still for longer than 10 minutes.) To my surprise and delight, the three episodes I plotted all hit each beat. Each beat was clear and distinct. In movies, it can be hard to find each beat the first time watching it, but I figure this is because a movie has more time to develop each plot point that you can look at at the end of the movie and then recognize them. Short cartoon shows have to be a lot more direct so that you don't get lost.

Not every 10 minute cartoon uses the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet outline. Not every cartoon needs to. Adventure Time, for example, is closer in character to the Teenaged Robot show I mentioned earlier. Each episode is more of a quick sketch,with no real continuity between episodes (at least for the first two seasons). Adventure Time is a good example of a joke driven show, where each episode is a build up with a joke for a punchline at the end. We Bare Bears appears to be a simpler outline than Snyder's for each episode, although I haven't plotted any of them out. I suspect the outline is truncated.

Seeing how powerful and interesting a 10 minute cartoon can be gives me hope. My eventual goal is to become an animator and hopefully create my own animated series. If I start a cartoon show more or less on my own, it would be impossible for me to regularly create a 30 minute show every month, let alone every week. A 10 minute format would be much more feasible.

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