ACTING for ANIMATORS
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
February 10-14, Animex Int'l Animation and Game Festival,Teesside, England
February 20-21, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania
March 14th weekend, Medellin, Colombia, Ruta N
March 26, Epic Games, Cary, North Carolina
April 21-24, FMX Stuttgart, Germany
April 26, The Animation Workshop, Viborg, Denmark
Late September, Malaysia (animation industry event—stay tuned)
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist as he grows up." — Pablo Picasso
Actors take acting classes to acquire "technique,” not to learn how to act from scratch. They—and you and me and everybody else in the world—already know how to act. Acting classes are for people who want to be paid for doing it on demand. Even if an actor is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, when he hears the director shout "Action!" or the stage manager call "Places!” it is time to go to work. Even if he is having a sudden episode of stage fright or has spent the preceding hours nursing a headache, he is expected to perform—with 100 percent enthusiastic commitment—on cue. "Sorry, I'm not in the mood" is not in an actor's vocabulary.
Does it surprise you to learn that you—and me and the rest of the world—already know how to act, with no training at all? It's true! Take a look at this YouTube clip of a 5-year-old girl pretending she is an adult balancing career considerations against a fresh marriage proposal. Here is a clip of a 3-year-old pretending to accept a Best-Actor Academy Award. Every human baby is born with an innate ability to pretend. In fact, we are the only animal that can pretend to be somebody other than who we are. If you believe in evolutionary adaptation, as I do, then you know that there must be a good reason why we are born knowing how to act. And you would be correct. We pretend and tell stories to one another in order to acquire survival skills. Dogs, cats, tigers and kangaroos can play, but they can't pretend to be anything other than what they are at the time of play. A two-year-old rabbit cannot pretend to be a six-year-old rabbit or a gerbil. Nature has given us alone the ability to pretend like we do. We can see a movie about a character who survives in outer space when trapped in a damaged NASA space shuttle ("Gravity"), and we learn a lot about survival by empathizing with the actor (Sandra Bullock) playing the character in the story.
Constantin Stanislavsky didn't invent acting. He developed what he called a "System," which is another word for technique. Lee Strasberg adapted Stanislavsky's System into his "Method," i.e., his own technique. A "Method" actor is applying Strasberg's technique. Sanford Meisner did not like Strasberg's Method, so he broke away and invented his own approach, known worldwide as the "Meisner Technique." You can think of an acting class as a place to pick up an operator's manual for a car that you already own.
TECHNIQUE FOR ANIMATORS
Now you know why my Acting for Animators masterclass is designed like it is. Animators do not need the same kind of technique that actors do. Actors learn technique so they can act on cue in front of an audience or camera. Character animators (who, yes, have to go to work when it is time to go to work) are never seen by the audience. That means they can go to work even if hung over or sniffling with a cold, and nobody will ever know, just as long as the animated character's performance is good. In animation, it is the animated character that interacts with the audience, not the animator.
Most professional actors, if they are fortunate, play a wide variety of characters during their careers, which is why it is essential for them to have technique to rely on. What does an actress do if she is going to portray a woman (Medea) who murders her own children? Her gut response is understandably going to be, "I would never kill my own children." But she understands that, if killing her kids is what the character does, then she is going to have to find a way to justify doing that. Her technique will guide her to a truthful performance. And next month she can portray the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe, a totally different kind of challenge. (Some actors, of course, spend their entire careers playing the same kind of character and have little need for the kind of technique we are talking about. A few that come to mind are Jennifer Anniston, Sofia Vergara and Paris Hilton. These women don't play characters requiring the emotional range of, say, roles typically played by Meryl Streep or Cate Blanchett. In a broad sense, if you know you are only going to appear on Sesame Street for your entire career, why bother learning what to do about Medea?)
THE HOLLYWOOD FACTOR
Which brings me to the challenge faced by Hollywood-based animators, arguably some of the world's most talented artists. Even a cursory glance at the evolution of feature animation in the United States reveals a lack of thematic diversity. Walt Disney started out making movies for children, and that is still pretty much the situation today. For one brief moment in history, it looked like John Lasseter and his Pixar crew were going to break the mold. "Toy Story" was for adults, as was "Monsters Incorporated,” "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille.” These movies worked for the kids in the audience, but they had adult themes and featured characters with adult wisdom. Pixar gave Hollywood animation a real Camelot moment. But then Disney bought Pixar, and we are back where we started, with movies for kids. The stories invariably are about good vs. evil, virginal first love or non-life-threatening bravery. There is definitely sufficient talent in Hollywood to handle tough adult-world issues, but there is more money to be made with kids' movies and their tentpole merchandising opportunities.
Disney animators are skilled at applying Disney formula to whatever is in front of them. They work with a shoe box full of interchangeable parts, from which they pick and choose what is right for "Bolt,” "Frozen,” "Tangled,” whatever. Remember the brouhaha that resulted when a Disney Animation Supervisor on "Frozen" talked publicly about the difficulty of animating a full-blooded female character who must also remain unilaterally Disney-princess "pretty"? I felt truly sorry for that guy because he was only then learning the distinction between shoe-box formula and true acting technique. In terms of technique, keeping a character "pretty" is a non-issue. For formulaic Disney, it is the issue.
Since its acquisition and the end of its Camelot moment, Pixar also works from a shoe box. "Brave" was advertised to be about female empowerment, but if you look at it carefully, it remained formulaic because the suits in the board room had an eye on the tentpole. "Cars 2" and "Monsters University" are shoe-box formula. DreamWorks, after dipping a brave toe in adult waters with "Kung Fu Panda" and "How To Train Your Dragon,” is back to basics with its brain-dead "The Croods.”
I HAVE A DREAM...
My dream is that one day Hollywood's animators will make stories for adults. I wish for Hollywood animators that they, like their stage-actor counterparts, might one day face the optional challenges of animating a Medea character. Animation, especially since the advent of CG, is the most exciting new art form of the 21st century and, in Hollywood, it has been commercialized, neutered into nothing more than product designed to please Wall Street investors. The world's most talented animators are well paid but invisible and anonymous, laboring on assembly lines in animation production factories, and they deserve better.
This month's colorful new header is the work of the fabulous Tom Hardy. He managed to make me much prettier than I looked last month, and I love the little yellow animator balloon about to float into a blue, shamanistic sky. Nice work, my friend!
Until next month...
"Happy New Year of the Horse!"
Jan 31, 2014
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks