This discussion is part of a brief and investigation for students in Year Two Animation, for the module “Acting, Aesthetics and Audience”.
Some elements of the brief [2 & 3] is designed to get animation students away from the computer and drawing table, and into the habit of acting out the emotions/gestures/reactions and movements of the characters they are attempting to bring to life.
You are in most cases your own most convenient model. Rembrandt and almost every artist since has known and exploited this idea.
Animators are no exception… Check out the image of Chuck Jones below.
“When a young artist asked me for advice on drawing the human foot, I told him, ‘The first thing you must learn is how to take your shoe off, and then how to take your sock off, then prop your leg up carefully on your other knee, take a piece of paper, and draw your foot.’” – Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones posing as Bugs to get a pose right.
“Film and stage actors can spend a lot of time getting into character. Similarly, animators require a wealth of knowledge to be able to give genuine personality to the images. They’ll use whatever references they have, even if it means gawping into their own reflection or strutting like Woody. “If you walk into any of the animators’ offices they’ve got a mirror. We’ve got a room that we call the acting room where they will rehearse and work through an action, and we are constantly shooting reference footage. It’s funny when you’re doing research trips to retirement homes, like we did for Up.”
– A.J. Riebli (Pixar animator Interview)
Part 1 – You should probably begin by researching animated shorts [and related media] that involve character development, and in particular the “acting” of the character.
You can look at live action film too of course, in particular, acting on the stage and actors that performed in the “Silent Era” of movie making – games and character animation in cut-ways, and idling motion is acceptable research too, if part of a broader investigation.
You should also look at the relationship between “acting” and the animator.
• What exercises do animators participate in when developing convincing and appropriate characters through acting out situations or developing believable drama. Consider the use of workshops in which animators “act out” and develop short scenes.
Acting for Animators – Some links
1 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEY-MIbC8No
2 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8TS-E2pxek
Pixar’s Acting Room – http://bob.ryskamp.org/brain/?p=2241
You may also wish to look at:
Richard Williams – Animators Survival Kit – Pages 315 through to Page 337.
Mike Mattesi – Force
Walt Stanchfield – Drawn To Life – Chapters on Gesture (Vol 1) and Expression (Vol 2).
…all of which can be accessed through the Old Media section in the studio, or the Library.
Part 2 – You are then to work together as a group to develop a short narrative, 1.30 to 2mins in length that establishes four characters and their relationships. The scene, narrative must allow all the characters to interact, and must incorporate both dramatic and subtle movement.
For example, your characters could be:
- Four office workers/managers from the same company at deadline time.
- Four characters onboard a pirate ship abandoned by their captain.
- Four strangers at a birthday party awkwardly meeting in the kitchen.
- Four astronauts onboard a spacecraft during a crisis.
- …or four characters in a scenario of your choosing of course.
You are to continue to work together as a group to develop the four characters and the scene, with each student eventually taking ownership of the characterisation of one of the characters.
These characters should have distinct personalities as shown in their movements/actions, demeanor or dialogue. Your characters can leave or enter the scene, or be there all the way through.
Any dialogue should be there to enhance the characterisation, it should not lead the performance.
Remember the “acting” is the important aspect here.
You should also consider investigating the following areas as part of this development:
• Character based research including, but not limited to, Personality Types, Traits (see Dave Perry on Games Design), Jungian Archetypes and Characters based around those Archetypes, Stereotypes and Motivations (see Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung).
• The idea of “Conflict” as Dramatic Impetus (remember our discussion about Die Hard, conflict can be subtle as well as obvious).
Part 3 – Once developed, you will be asked as a group to perform the piece to camera.
This can be done away from an audience, in a venue of your choice (props and settings are not particularly important).
You will then take the video footage of the piece and develop the animation as individuals in a medium of your own choice; looking at emulating and exaggerating the actions you produce as live action to better show the emotions and intention of your characters.
As part of this process you should investigate and make notes on the following processes and practices amongst others:
• Rotoscoping, motion-capture and new developments in “performance capture”.
The above animation or animation product is to be presented as part of your hand in at the end of the year.
As part of your hand in you are asked to reflect and evaluate your investigations/work and the work of others. Your blog and your reflective practice therein is an important element of this brief.
Andrew Gordon of Pixar was asked about what they look for in a young animator –
“At the end of the day, we’re looking for people that have a quality or a sensibility of either animation or design. Whether it be designing characters, a storyboard or being an animator, there really is something that that department is looking for.
“…it comes down to having good idea. And good sensibilities. It’s not about having a perfectly polished walk cycle; it really comes down to the ideas and the acting ideas as well.”
“With my department (animation) we’re looking for people who are great actors or that show tremendous potential. If they have some serious acting skills, we will take a chance.
That’s half the battle you know, really finding those types of people.