ED'S NEWSLETTER for ACTORS
AN INTERVIEW WITH ED HOOKS (me <g>)
When I was participating in the (Video) Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last month, I was interviewed for an on-line industry magazine, Eyes-For-Games - About Games and Development, and the results have been posted on line. Jerry Kline, the editor who did the interviewing, asked good questions.
FACIAL ANIMATION PRIMER FOR ACTORS
The smart actor really should make it his business to peek behind the animation industry curtain. This presentation by one of the lead people at Nvidia Face Works lets you see what the state of the art is presently in photo-real facial animation. The speaker is talking to animators, so some of the terms may seem foreign to you, but it is a very excellent presentation that you will easily be able to follow. Enjoy!
"YOU ARE A BORN ACTOR!"
This may not make your life much easier, but I thought you might like to know that you were born to act. The inclination for it arrived along with you in the original package. Developing the knowledge, craft and discipline necessary to turn this inclination into an art form is another matter for other articles; today, I want to explain why you - and all of us - are drawn to acting in the first place.
With this kind of subject, it is probably a good idea to start at the end and work backward. The bottom-line conclusion is that the essential and unique human tool of survival is the brain, and the way we develop knowledge and survival strategies is by telling stories to one another.
Every species has something. Turtles have hard shells, elephants have their massive weight, rattlesnakes have venom. Take a look in the mirror at your naked self, and it is apparent that we humans are tasty morsels in a world of omnivores. How come we are not extinct yet? We may muck up the survival thing yet, blowing ourselves up or over-heating everybody, but if that happens, it won't be because we did not have access to the tools that could have been used to prevent our demise.
All animals practice survival skills through juvenile play, but a human is the only one that can play by pretending to be somebody other than who she is. When little kids play dress-up, they are pretending to be mom and dad. Dogs, lions and squirrels can't do that. They play games like "catch the prey", "kill the prey" and "trick the prey", but a lion will never be able to have fun pretending it is a dog.
In order for us to make and grow babies, we must live in social groups. The isolated loner is more likely to die alone and leave behind fewer babies than his tribal brethren. But living in groups is tricky because each person within the group is an individual with his own personal values and a need for his own space. The way we negotiate cohabitating with one another is through empathy. We have built-in emotional barometers that allow us to continually monitor the state of mind and mood of everybody around us. If the fellow sitting next to you at the screening of Iron Man 3 is twitchy and distracted, you will conclude that it might be a good idea to move somewhere else. The fact that you cannot accurately label the emotions underneath the man's twitches is the red flag. Non-identifiable emotions short-circuit your emotional barometer. If you want to survive and have babies, don't sit too close to the twitchy guy.
But let's turn back the clock on your Iron Man 3 screening, to the point where you were first buying tickets at the box office. What's up with that? Why do you figure seeing movies appeals to you (us)? Because they are entertaining? Yes, exactly! And why is that? Why isn't it entertaining for us to, say, polish our shoes or Swiffer the floor? The answer can be found in that factoid a couple of paragraphs back. We humans are able to pretend that we are someone other than ourselves. What that means is that we are able to figuratively put ourselves in somebody else's shoes. We have the built-in capacity to see a given event from several different perspectives, almost simultaneously. Novels, movies and plays present safe ways for us to identify and rehearse survival strategies by mentally trying on another person's perspective.
It is in our nature to learn about life from other people's stories. When watching or reading Romeo and Juliet, we mentally rehearse the possible real-world consequences of tribal conflict. We take note that being together and having babies is more important than which tribe is on top politically. (We also are reminded by Romeo and Juliet not to trust old guys who assure us that the poison in the vial is really a harmless sleeping potion. You wake up dead, for starters.)
Literally, minus the acting and the telling of stories to one another, our human species is evolutionary toast. That is why we are drawn to acting in the first place. Our survival strategies are learned from the stories we tell. Therefore, we feel good when we are pretending in play. Polishing shoes and Swiffering, not so much.
Knowing this, do you still want to act professionally? Great! That is the kind of passion and commitment you will need to succeed artistically and financially. To be clear, I am not talking about succeeding on reality TV. Anybody can do that, no training required. In fact, that is the appeal of those shows, a kind of televised voyeurism. Gain some weight, hoard some newspapers, marry a random rich guy in Beverly Hills, maybe build up your abs and over-do the face lift, and you are automatically in the reality TV game. Go find yourself an agent and start hitting the interviews. First thing you know, you can be producing your very own sex tape.
Acting as an art form is about pretending to be somebody other than who you are. It involves empathizing with and truthfully portraying characters who have different personal values than you. It is the artist in you that holds up the mirror to nature, the storyteller on steroids. An actor is a shaman, searching for the common denominators in our human tribes. How are we all the same? Why are we all individually unique? How do we all get along? And, by the way, what makes that twitchy guy so twitchy?
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS SUBJECT...
Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman
On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction
by Brian Boyd
I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World
by James Geary
The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human
by V.S. Ramachandran
Until next month...
"Actors are Shamans!"
Note: the Ed Hooks Newsletter for Actors, though published only irregularly at present, can still keep you abreast of Ed's activities and important happenings in the industry. Just sign up on the Subscribe page.
And don't hesitate to check out the Acting for Animators monthly newsletter - it's chock full of craft and industry notes from a slightly different perspective!
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