ACTING for ANIMATORS
Hooks Analysis of Frozen
I wrote an acting analysis of Disney's Frozen for Cartoon Brew and am pleased with the way it turned out. Take a look. The film may be the highest grossing animated feature film in history, but it has serious structural problems.
Attleboro High School Getting It Right
Attleboro is a city of 60,000 citizens located fifty miles south of Boston, Massachusetts. The city's high school offers a fine Digital Media program under the leadership of Allen ("Big Al") Makepeace, and I'd like to give Mr. Makepeace and his fortunate students a shout out.
My primary criticism of animation education in most schools is its myopic focus on software, the technical aspects. Attleboro H.S. is doing something different. First, the only software they are using is Caligari True Space, which is more flexible for beginners than Maya and has a more manageable learning curve. Also, instead of getting quickly into walk cycles, bouncing balls and such, Big Al's students are encouraged to tell stories, to express themselves. The most important thing is being creative; the software is a tool. Here is an overview of the program design. What I like most about it is the latitude the students are granted regarding technique. This is from the program description:
One of the first decisions students must encounter is to find their artistic voice, or their style. This “voice” is usually determined by whether they like to create complex stills or animations.
Knowing what they will produce allows the artist to determine how they will create their artwork. If you are a “still person,” you will create your work to be viewed from only one camera angle. If you are an animator, you will need to be able to show the scene from many angles. An animator’s artwork is moving and therefore they might need to have simpler shapes and/or textures to allow the audience to clearly view the scene quickly and with no distractions. Inversely, a still artist may want to have as many complex and detailed areas as possible so that the people viewing their work will be enveloped by it.
My hat is off to Professor Makepeace and the Attleboro digital media students. I wish for them a fulfilling and creative life journey. They are all shamans, and the world's tribes need to hear from them.
Here is the Attleboro student work anthology for 2013.
World Animation Masterclasses
I will be joining some high-voltage animation pros in Birmingham, England, May 23-25 for an event being produced by Lee Murray, World Animation Masterclasses (WAM). Birmingham is a part of the UK that doesn't get a lot of this kind of thing, and I'm looking forward to making new friends there.
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
March 14, Medellin, Colombia, Ruta N
March 26, Epic Games, Cary, North Carolina
April 21-24, FMX, Stuttgart, Germany
April 26, The Animation Workshop, Viborg, Denmark
July 3-5 Animation Revelations 2014, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
September 26-28, Animex Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." —Aristotle
Disney's "Illusion of Life" Reconsidered
"From the earliest days, it has been the portrayal of emotions that has given the Disney characters the illusion of life."
—The Illusion of Life, by Frank Thomas and
Ollie Johnston, p. 505
Every animation student is rightly encouraged to purchase and closely study The Illusion of Life, the definitive account of how Walt Disney Studios first achieved its animation magic, charmingly told by two of the legendary Nine Old Men, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Disney's secret ingredient, they wrote, was the endowment of characters with "an illusion of life," by which they meant that the character would seem to have human thought and emotions. Once thought and emotion were in place, the audience could identify with the character, relate to it as a cartoon member of the human family. Today, I would like to amplify a bit on that.
Thought and emotion are indeed key attributes for appearing human, but they are not enough if you want your character to give the equivalent of a stage or movie performance—in other words, if you want your character to "act."
Acting is a structured art form more than two thousand years old. It has an inherent special purpose that requires the willing participation of an audience. Once you endow your character with an illusion of life, you must then teach it to act! Back in the 1940s, when Frank and Ollie were creating iconic cartoon characters like Dumbo, Goofy, Bambi and Pinocchio, audiences were charmed by the simple fact of animation because it was so novel. As Walt Disney observed, "there is a kid in all of us," and it was through a kid's eyes that everybody, including adults, watched Disney's early feature animations develop.
Today, CG is the preferred currency of the big animation studios, and Disney releases two or three expensive animated features every year, like clockwork. A new movie is no longer the special event that Sleeping Beauty or Fantasia was. The audiences for animation have been kicked around by life. They have endured half a dozen major international wars since Walt Disney gave Mickey a brain. When a bad person in China or Ghana burps, school kids in San Diego, San Dimas and Milwaukee know about it. Innocence, today, is an attribute as rare as rhodium. What I am saying is that animators cannot depend on audiences buying tickets just because they are charmed by the art form. It is time for animation to stand on Frank and Ollie's pioneering shoulders and go to the next level. Animation needs now to take its place as a fully developed art form next to dance, music, painting and sculpture. The Illusion of Life was a stepping stone, a building block. It is not the final destination.
Acting is behaving believably in pretend circumstances for a theatrical purpose.
Shakespeare was referring to "behaving believably" when he included this in Hamlet's advice to the players:
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature . . . (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2)
He would have applauded Frank and Ollie's dictum about endowing characters with emotion, but he would have known that that is just a part of what is necessary. The purpose of acting (telling stories theatrically) is to show the audience an on-stage reflection of its own self. Each one of us, whether we realize it or not, has the potential to be a scheming Iago or an enraptured Juliet, a Caesar or a Lear, a Hitler or an Elizabeth the Queen. An actor's job is to get the audience to empathize with the character being portrayed, to recognize the on-stage behavior as a reflection of reality.
Acting is Doing
Frank and Ollie write about Norm Ferguson's famous 1934 cartoon sequence in which Pluto gets entangled with a sheet of flypaper— Playful Pluto (the specific sequence is at 5:30 on the YouTube timing chart). Their description (pp. 100-101 in The Illusion of Life) focuses entirely on what Pluto is thinking and how he feels about what is happening. What they could not yet codify was that it's what Pluto is doing that makes the endowed thinking and emotion meaningful and relevant. Study the sequence carefully, moment by moment, and you will see two important rules of acting, neither of which was ever enunciated by Frank and Ollie: (1) Thinking tends to lead to conclusions while emotion tends to lead to action. (2) Play an action (in pursuit of your objective) until something happens to make you play a different action. Pluto first gets the flypaper stuck on his nose and he tries to blow it off with his breath; blowing is an action in pursuit of his objective. That doesn't work, so he tries another action, using his paws to pull the flypaper off his nose. That causes the flypaper to shift from his nose to his paws. So now he has to try yet another way of getting rid of it. And so on and so on, for the entire sequence. One hundred percent of the time, you can freeze-frame Pluto and ask him, "What are you doing?" and he will be able to answer in terms that are theatrically valid: "My objective is to get the flypaper off of me; my action is to (push, pull, blow, whatever) the flypaper; my obstacle/conflict is with the situation (the flypaper is sticky). By my count, Pluto plays eight different actions before he is swept up by the window shade.
This classic sequence is crack-up funny and theatrically brilliant. Thinking and emotion are part of the equation, but it is the doing, the actions in pursuit of the objective, that make it work. Emotion—the illusion of life that Frank and Ollie were referring to in their book—would not be enough.
Acting is not emoting. Acting is doing.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks