How To Make A Hit Animated Feature Film

By Dave Bossert

I often hear from individuals across the cultural spectrum that they have a great idea for a Disney animated movie. That it is the perfect property for Disney and would surely be a major success. And my immediate reaction is that I am prohibited, by company policy, from receiving any unsolicited ideas or pitches. That said, I am happy to offer up advice on what is entailed in making an animated film through the following four easy steps.


     First, you have to have a great story. That is easier said than done since, according to some, there are only seven basic story plots; 1) Overcoming the Monster, 2) Rags to Riches, 3) The Quest, 4) Voyage and Return, 5) Rebirth, 6) Comedy and 7) Tragedy. Your story has to be strong, compelling and most of all has to have a theme that will resonate with audiences.


     Once you have the most incredible story in hand, you will need to develop truly endearing characters. Your characters have to have depth, must overcome some insurmountable obstacle and change for the better by the end of the film. These are characters that you need to love and want to spend time with, or at least eighty-seven minutes which is the average length of an animated film, give or take five minutes.

     This goes for your villains as well; you have to love to hate villains. The villain must be despicable, someone the audience will despise but loves to watch and hate. You have to develop your villains to be evil, nasty characters who also have some decent traits. It is a mix of good and bad qualities that will make your villain believable and engage the audience.


     Once you have a fantastic story in hand and have developed incredible characters, you’ll need to create an environment for them to live and interact in. This can be a setting like a small town, big city, jungle, or some other familiar, realistic place. It can also be some wondrous, fantastical world that is new and fresh, something that we have never seen before. Most importantly, it needs to be a setting that the audience wants to spend time in and potentially come back to visit over and over again.


     You have a compelling story, endearing characters and an amazing world to set it all in; there is only one more important component. This final step involves a talented crew of five to six hundred artists and technologists plus the financial lubrication to make all those folks labor for several soul sucking years to bring your idea to the big screen. Figure approximately one hundred and fifty million dollars with no guarantee of success. If you are not a multi-national public corporation, you will also need to be prepared for complete financial ruin if the film doesn’t resonate with audiences.

Making animated films is hard.