How to write an Animation Essay

The complete guide to writing a 2:1 standard university essay

Normally an essay in animation will be to do with a piece that you have created and the ideas behind it. This will usually provide you with more than enough material to talk about, provided that your animation is something that you are really interested in. If this is the case, then all you will really need is a way of expressing your thoughts and a way of structuring the ideas you would like to present. In order to do this, there are a few general tips that are useful to consider when writing an animation essay. Firstly, you should structure your essay in a four-step format including; an introduction; a thesis; an antithesis and a conclusion. The introduction will consist of a general overview of the essay. It does not need to be done to begin with (it is normally best to revise it after the essay is finished) but it is important that you should have in your mind the general premise of the essay before you begin.

The second section will introduce your thesis or the general ideas that your animation is trying to portray. It is important to remember that all sections of your essay can easily be changed afterwards, however you should try to stick to one argument, opinion or topic throughout the text. Even if you come to disagree with the premise you originally held, you should regard the thesis as a topic of general discussion rather than a ‘hand-on-your-heart’ assertion. You will not be ridiculed for holding a false assertion, in fact, some of the more interesting essays on animation have come about as the result of the writer dismantling an notion they previously held to be true and creating a synthesis of ideas in the concluding sections. The antithesis section is the bit where this dismantling can start to take place.

When you critically evaluate an idea it is important not to be too dismissive of it straight away. Although I said that interesting essays can occur when the thesis is dismantled, an idea that has some obvious flaws to begin with is hardly likely to provide for a convincing dialogue of ideas. Try to pace the counter-ideas out, looking at the merits of the thesis (for this is the proposal you are defending) but also being aware that there are a number of opposing positions that could be defended. In this section, try to find other critics and examples of your thesis in other places, such as films you have seen, books you have read or conversations you have had. Journals and magazines are also good places to find resource material, as well as Internet sites. As ever, remember that the Internet is probably more fallible than most other sources and try to verify any ‘facts’ (such as the influence behind Luxo Jr., for example) before relying on them as grounds for a justified assertion.

The last section of your essay will be the conclusion. This should be a synthesis of the ideas that you have presented in the preceding thesis and those you have ‘discovered’ in the critical analysis of the antithesis. It may be the case that you find that the counter-arguments simply reinforce the thesis that you held all along so state that this is what you have found. If your thesis breaks down completely, don’t be afraid to say so, but remember to also state why it dismantled and how. Where were your ideas weak and how are the new ideas better. All essays and dissertations should seek to someway advance the breadth of knowledge about a subject and the fact that you held a certain proposition to be true means that it is very likely someone else will also hold it to be true.

Help with ideas

When you start writing your essay, there will probably seem a vast amount of directions it could go in. However, it is important to limit your choices and to focus on one specific topic. In order to do this, it is helpful to recognise the various different components of the animated work. Breaking the animation down in this way will allow you to focus on aspects of the animation or the animation process that you might not have otherwise considered. It will also give your essay depth and interest. Once you have done this, you can then chose one strong topic to form the main thesis of your essay and several other weaker ones to support it. I will now give you some ideas about topics to write about however it is important not to try to use all of them. Select the one that excites and influences you the most and stick to it. You will find that your word count gets filled up quicker than you think so don’t try and force it out with lots of different ideas. It will inevitably come across as muddled and confused.

I find it useful to separate the components of the animation into two basic categories. The first is content, which is about what goes on in the animation, the story, the music and the mood that is being portrayed. The second is context and this is about the medium through which the animation is displayed.




Content

The basic element of the ‘story’ is an important topic to write about in animation essays. You may like to focus at one of the seven basic plotlines (overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy or rebirth) and see how a number of different animations use this plot devise to guide their story. An essay title of this sort would be something like; “An investigation into the use of tragedy in 1950’s French animation” or “Comedic devices in modern American animation and their critique of society” etc.

Music is also a very important factor to consider because it is a psychological subtlety that the audience is not immediately made aware of but will influence their response to the animation greatly. The way that music changes the images you are seeing is an important aspect of animation and can be looked at in great depth. Examples of music being used to great effect can be seen in, Fantasia or The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics etc.

Context

The wonderful thing about animation is the tremendous variety of materials that can be used to portray the moving image. Within an essay these elements can be fully exploited to make an interesting and in-depth essay. So, for example, you could look the ways stop-frame animation has been used to evoke different ideas, or look at the way Anime has had an impact on the wider scope of American cinema.

When you are looking for contextual ideas, try to also consider some of the 12 basic principles of animation that you will have learnt from your studies. Look at the ways in which these principles were established and the significant influence that certain people like Walt Disney, had in their development. You could simply focus on the principle of ‘Attraction tricks’ or ‘staging’ but always try and find as many instances as possible of this and look at where they came from. You should look at how and why they work but also where and when they are most effectively implemented. Also, look at new innovations in the movement of animation for example the, “Action League Now!” style or computer generation.

Other ideas

You may also like to look at your favourite animated film (or animator) that has had a significant influence on you and your work. If this is the case, you should show why they have influenced you and cite specific instances of this in your work. You should also consider broadening this idea out to look at the genre of the film your favourite animation fits into, its influence and the impact that it had on audiences over the years. This should seek to look at the social influence of your film and the ways it has been received or decried by critics over the years.


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