“The Beat”: When Silence is Golden

I’m attempting to show two things with this post. And let it be known there are many images ahead.

The first thing is to show how I would have broken down a scene from a TV show (that I didn’t work on). I talked about this at the end of my last post on dealing with dialogue. This is something you can do to practice breaking up dialogue and acting it out.

Why South Park?

Well, I love South Park. It brings out the 20 year old frat boy in me, what can I say? I’ve been a fan since it first aired while I was in animation school. I also have all the DVDs and watch them while I work. Keeps me in a good mood.

Also, it demonstrates that even the ‘simple’ shows can be acted out. South Park is a very ‘wordy’ show too. A lot of the jokes are very dialogue based (as well as visually based). So when I broke this down it got quite long because of all the dialogue, even though it’s only a portion of the actual scene.

It goes to show how much work a TV animation storyboard artist should be doing to pull off the dialogue well.

I would have loved to show the video clip first to go with this. But alas, I have yet to figure out how to easily get that from my DVD onto this blog. Anyone with some advice please offer it in the comments (or email me) and I’ll give you kudos and lots ‘o Karma.

Keep in mind the South Park guys may not have broken down the posing this much. They may have left much more to their animators because they work right there with them. Very different than sending it somewhere else to be animated.

Also keep in mind what I’ve done here is not formatted like a professional storyboard. I’ve just slapped the dialogue under the images, OK?

So let’s start and I’ll get to the second point.

Butters:”Yeah, and he’s never gonna get me again,”

“because what Cartman doesn’t know”

“is that I know”

“one of his secrets.”

(hold a beat) Cartman: “What?”

There it is.

The ‘beat’. The beat is a pause. It’s silence. And it’s huge.

When you add a beat before the dialogue continues you’re usually adding comedic timing (or a dramatic pause, but we are talking cartoons here). You’ll see lots of great beats in South Park. They do it very well. And you watch and laugh at the comedic timing.

But as the storyboard artist, you have to get that timing across on paper (or pixels 🙂 )

If you want that great timing to come across in the animation, you have to put it in the storyboard because the animators probably won’t do it on their own. You do that with ‘the beat’. You don’t have to say how many frames exactly. I don’t have time for that. It’s more of a ‘feel’ for me. An instinct.

A beat is close to a second (24 Fr.) but maybe not exactly. What do I say in my head to get my beat?

“One steamboat.”

Weird, I know. But it’s something I picked up as a kid watching my brother and his friends throw around the football. I don’t get it either, but I’ve been using it for years. Pick your own. I like “one steamboat” and I’m sticking with it.

Let’s move on shall we?

Butters: “When Cartman is playing all alone in his backyard”

“he likes to dress up like Britney Spears”

“and pretend he’s her!”

“He sings and dances around”

“with a life size cut-out”

“of Justin Timberlake.”

(hold 2 beats) Cartman: “You saw that?”

Ooo, see that?

Two beats.

How long is two beats? It’s not “two steamboats”, it’s “one steamboat, two steamboat.” About two seconds. Two beats is that much more powerful than one beat and should be used sparingly. For effect. And laughs.

What’s really going on during those beats?

Your character is thinking.

They are taking in what the last person said. Their brain is whirring around trying to ‘compute’. They are contemplating what to say next.

Make your characters think and those characters come alive.

That’s where good acting starts. Characters that think.

Let’s wrap it up.

Butters: “Yeah, and I videotaped him doing it!”

(beat) Cartman: “Nuh-uh!!”

One more beat for good measure.

If you have the chance to watch this episode (Awesom-O, season 8), you’ll really get the feel for what I’m talking about here. Hopefully I can get the video clip thing sorted out soon.

So to take away from this post: make your characters think and use beats for comedic (or dramatic) timing.

When you read this, I’ll be in Montreal (my home town) for the next week. Yes, another little get-away. Aren’t I spoiling myself?

One cool thing I’ll be doing there is attending some of the ‘Just for Laughs Festival’ and I’m going to the ‘South Park Live’ show! Very stoked about that. Matt and Trey will be there live discussing all things South Park. I’ll be sure to give a full report when I return.

I will be checking in and maybe even posting. But we’ll see how it goes. Till then, happy reading and see ya in another week or so. 🙂

Read the Storyboard Blog by RSS Feed or by email to see just how many damn vacations she plans on taking.

18 thoughts on ““The Beat”: When Silence is Golden

  1. Friar


    I loved that AWESOM-O episode! Especially when Cartman says “…LAME!”

    The whole SouthPark cartoon has such crude animation (i.e. characters bouncing up and down with stiff legs instead of walking). Or Canadians talking with heads like bouncing trash-cans.

    They so obviously do this on purpose. It’s one of the funniest show on TV, though.

    It just goes to show you how good writing (and good comedic timing) can make or break a whole cartoon.

    Trevor Parker and Matt Stone got the comedy timing down perfectly, with that show.

  2. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Amen brother. They aren’t going to mess with success now.

    But…uh…it’s actually ‘Trey’ Parker.

    (Unless I’m an idiot and don’t know that his real name is Trevor??) 😉

  3. Dan Szilagyi

    I’ll be honest and say i don’t watch south park, but before you poke me with a red hot iron (?) i do argee with everything you said Karen, its that little “thinking” for the character that gives them more life, more then a stereotypical “2d” character.

    a few other shows that do that pretty well are simpsons, futurama, family guy and lots of others.
    but i think because south park is so bare bones ( in terms of design and animation) that you notice more things like that ( even if you don’t know what “it” is)

    have a great time Karen, wish i could go to montreal, its a place i’ve been meaning to visit

  4. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    WHAT??? *flogs him with a stick*

    Hey, you don’t have to be a fan to still see what I’m talking about. The shows you mentioned also do it very well.

    Just that SP does it *really* well and they seem to use the same timing choices that I would do. So I guess that’s why I connect with that show so well.

    I grew up in Montreal and love it, but I still feel that Vancouver is ‘home’. Seems a better fit. 🙂

  5. Will

    I couldn’t help but smile as a read the dialogue, this was a great scene, and a great breakdown of that scene.

    Would be nice to see a contest that was entitled something like “Best Use of The Beat”.

  6. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    I know…this is one of my favorite episodes! Any scene with just Cartman and Butters in it is *gold*.

    It was really fun to break it down too. I plan on doing lots more of this stuff (if folks like it).

    So what’s *your* nomination for “Best use of the Beat”? 🙂

  7. Lorin

    First off, as a designer, “less is more” is an important principle that’s disregarded all too often. Incidentally, it falls back onto the shoulders of these [2D animation] guys to show the live-action world how it’s done. This is a great example, but you can also include any of Seth MacFarlane’s work…and maybe a some of the early Simpson’s episodes (before all the good writer’s left).

    Plus, in animation the character designs are accentuated so the viewer can focus on facial features and read the reaction. That is usually the funniest part.

    Good stuff. glad you’re here putting this info out for the world to see.

    Oh, if you’re using Mac, download Handbrake (free) to rip the dvd to your hard drive, then use something like Reel Bean or Quicktime Pro to export it to a flash video, or something. Stupidly easy.

  8. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Lorin and welcome!

    Nice stuff on your site. 🙂

    Thanks for your input. And I’m on a PC (yeah, some artist I am, eh?). Would Quicktime Pro still work and can I just rip the parts I want?

    Thanks for the help…I *need* stupidly easy. 😉


  9. Pete

    Interesting post! I didn’t know storyboarding became so in depth that you’d be making acting decisions etc. Is that just because it’s being sent overseas, or would it happen on site as well?

    It sounds very similar to animation planning, i.e. thumbnails and stuff only the drawings are better!

    Enjoying the blog!

  10. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Lorin – thanks again and yeah, I’m working on it! I want some video goodness on here too. 🙂

    @ Pete – Yes, this more detailed stuff is directed more for TV animation since it usually IS sent overseas. You really need all that posing to get the cartoon you really want.

    I would say in feature films the posing may be less so. Those board artists work out the story and add the main acting beats, but they probably leave a lot to the in-house animators.

    They know who they’re working with and what they can do. And they get more time to animate the scenes. In TV it’s go, go, go, get it done!

    And board artists do ‘crappy little thumbnail’ planning too. At least they should. 😉

    Thanks for dropping by!

  11. Lorin

    In my experience doing previz animation my team and I worked hand-in-hand with the storyboard artists; it became very fluid and organic, acutally. The boarders would come up with a scene; we’d animate it and develop some alternate scenarios that would give them a new direction to take the flow of action or pacing (which was usually in our court). Of course, this was during feature development; kinda different from the commercial or tv animation world.

  12. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Exactly. Features are a much more collaborative effort. I’m sure there’s lots of back and forth with that ‘organic’ approach.

    I’ve never worked on a feature film myself (hence all the advice about TV animation 🙂 ). Except for direct-to-DVD movies. Which were boarded the same way as a TV show….all by myself (with the director having the final say).

    It’s very different for TV. You’re pretty much on your own and have to communicate a show to a bunch of folks you never see (or talk to) after you hand it off. So it better be *clear* to anyone looking at it.

    That’s why I think if you can board for 2D TV, you can board for anything…it might be the hardest. It has the most limitations with the most posing (and the tight schedules!). 🙂

  13. Lorin

    That’s a good point. Working on a project with fewer resources than a large-scale feature is very beneficial. Your focus remains on the character’s performance and the narrative as apposed to the spectacle.

    I’ve also boarded and designed tv movies and commercials and must say that they were probably some of the more fulfilling productions BECAUSE they had limited time and resources were you had to make the character’s sing (not literally, thankfully). The best needed to come out on the first try.

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