ACTING for ANIMATORS
Because so many friends have expressed encouraging astonishment about my upcoming move to Lisbon, Portugal, I thought perhaps some of you might enjoy following a "Hooks Moving-to-Lisbon Diary." Nothing really formal, just random snapshots of the transition process.
My wife, Cally, will be in Lisbon for a week at the end of November, opening a bank account, making sure gas and electric are functioning in the apartment. She'll also shop for some basic furnishings, including a bed. The place is unfurnished, and international shipping costs are prohibitive. We will be taking with us only our most precious and personal possessions, plus computers, my Aeron desk chair, that kind of thing.
Sorting through stuff in the garage. If it isn't something that might be itemized in a Last Will and Testament, it will be sold, donated or tossed. YouPackWeShip.Com is the best deal we have found for moving. They charge US$2,300 to ship a container of 79 cubic inches (48.5" x 48.5 "x 72") from Los Angeles to Lisbon. Takes 6-8 weeks to get there.
Monstra: Lisbon Animated Film Festival is scheduled for March 16-26, 2017 in Lisbon. I will be there.
"It's important to travel and move and have a
continual set of experiences so you've got
more to feed back into your work. For me,
it's a natural thing." Cate Blanchett
Some Sensible Advice About
How To Launch Your Career
Huffington Post's Business and Technology Writer Rahis Saifi wrote a smart blog entry a couple of weeks ago, about how to get started in an animation career. He makes good sense, suggesting that you create an on-line portfolio, look for an industry mentor, check for jobs on line. He also warns about losing your enthusiasm, getting discouraged and dealing with the realities of the biz. Here's a link.
What Is Acting?
Walt Disney gave Mickey Mouse a human brain. Once the Mouse had that, he could think, form conclusions, develop personal values and express those values as emotion, living beyond the cartoon-gag range-of-the-moment. He may be physically a rodent, but he possesses human cognitive attributes. This is what Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston are referring to in their essential book, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.
"It is more than a drawing and more than an idea. Possibly it is the love we feel for characters so heroic, so tender and funny and exciting -- all of them entertaining, yet each different, each thinking his own thoughts, and experiencing his own emotions. That is what makes them so real, and that is what makes them so memorable. It is also what gives them the astounding illusion of life."
The Illusion of Life, p. 507
Back in 1934, endowing a character with the illusion of life was a brand new eye-popping novelty and was enough, all by itself, to sell movie tickets. Today, audiences expect all animated characters to have an illusion of life, and every entry-level animator is expected to be able to deliver it. However, the illusion of life is not the same thing as acting. A character may be thinking and expressing emotion and still not be acting. There is a difference between behavior and performance. Acting is a purposeful, structured expression of art. Art, as defined by author Leo Tolstoy, ("What is Art?") is about one person expressing an idea, plus his or her feelings about that idea.
Acting is a perplexing art form because, when it is done well, it appears to the audience that the actor is doing nothing at all. This is why so many non-actors think they can do it, too. And it is why so many animators misunderstand what acting is. Student animators send me :11-second animations all the time, asking for feedback, and the biggest mistake I see by far is that the character in the animation is simply not acting. Yes, he may be expressing emotion like crazy, and yes, he may be thinking deeply. But that doesn't automatically mean that he is acting. Aristotle pointed out in his Poetics that "every human action has a purpose." All of acting theory is built on that premise. Acting has structure: The character should be playing actions in pursuit of a provable objective while overcoming obstacles. Acting always involves physical action, but it doesn't have to involve a lot of physical action. A shifting glance is often sufficient physical action. Miyazaki understands this.
If a sculptor carves in marble, you can see chisel marks; if a painter paints with oils, you can see brush strokes. When an actor acts, the audience is swept into the theatrical moment with him, and the whole thing feels effortless. If you lift the hood of a powerful acting performance, however, you can see a complicated creation involving objectives, obstacles and actions. An actor must find in herself the potential to truthfully do whatever the character in the script is doing. Meaningful acting is extremely difficult. As author Willa Cather put it in My Antonia, "The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is." When Walt Disney and his animators were initially creating the Illusion of Life, they did not yet know how to lift the hood of a powerful performance. Stanislavsky had not yet been published in English. They astutely figured out that it was important to animate emotions and thinking, but they did not conceptually come to grips with precisely what is involved in a theatrical transaction. They did not understand the part that the audience plays in creating theatrical magic, what "the willing suspension of disbelief" means.
Another challenge animators face today, particularly in the United States, is that dialogue is generally recorded before animation. The animator sits there with those headphones on and tries to make the on-screen character fit the dialogue, manipulating tongue, teeth and lips to do the right things. This, plus the tendency of the big studios to give star billing in marketing to the voice-actors, can easily lead to thinking that the dialogue must therefore be the most important thing in a performance. The reality is that acting has almost nothing to do with words. Our human sense of sight is many times more powerful than our sense of hearing. You can tell an audience one thing and show them another, and what they see will override what they hear.
A couple of years ago, I was a judge for a short animation competition in Shanghai, China. There were three or four judges, and my job was to rate the entrants based on performance. As it happened, there was very little acting of any kind going on in the animations entered into the competition. The other judges - each one a Chinese animation instructor - selected as the winning animation one that had an intricate wristwatch mechanism featured in it. The animated watch featured what seemed like hundreds of spinning cogs and turning gears, and it was an extraordinary piece of work. The other judges turned to me and said, "Look at that, Ed! Just look at that great performance!" I replied, "There is no performance at all in this animation. It is a wristwatch, a mechanical device." "Yes, but the animator gave a wonderful performance because he animated all of that." If I had been holding an ice cream cone in my hand at the time, I would have smashed it into my forehead.
Acting is doing. Acting is purposeful. Acting is something only humans can do. Acting is storytelling. Acting has objectives, actions and conflict-obstacle. Acting is art. Endowing your character with the Illusion of Life is where acting begins, not where it ends. You have to teach your character how to act.
Until next month...
"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none."
(All's Well That Ends Well; I, i)
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks