ACTING for ANIMATORS
Andy Serkis is still talking "digital make-up"!
What part of "collaborative creation" does Andy Serkis not understand? Thanks to director Peter Jackson and the Gollum character in Lord of the Rings, Mr. Serkis has had the opportunity to be a motion capture pioneer. After he portrayed the ape character Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he started lobbying for a Best Actor nomination in the Academy Awards. That was when he started explaining that he does all the acting for his characters, and the animators merely "apply digital make-up."
Well, he is still at it, still trying to minimize the role animators play in the creation of a sophisticated digital character like Caesar. He appeared at this year's FMX event in Stuttgart introducing clips from the newest soon-to-be-released chapter in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Based on the clips I saw, the movie should indeed be fun, but Andy Serkis seriously needs to learn that he is not a one-man-show.
A new Academy Award category for Best Digital Character is what we need. When the winner is announced, the actor and the animators that collaborated on the character should all go to the podium to accept the award.
Frozen -- An Acting Analysis
I prepared an acting analysis of Frozen for CartoonBrew.com a few weeks ago. In case you missed it, here is a link. I am pleased with the way it came out. Despite the fact that Frozen is the highest grossing animated film in history, Disney released it with significant structural and character problems.
"We never make sport of religion, politics, race or mothers. A mother never gets hit with a custard pie. Mothers-in-law-yes. But mothers, never.” -- Mack Sennett
"A company like DreamWorks, all we do is make product. That's all we do. We don't own distribution. We are purely in the creation of content." -- Jeffrey Katzenberg
"He wasn't Bugs without the gags we gave him." -- Tex Avery
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
July 3-5 Animation Revelations 2014, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
July 25 Kelowna, BC, Disney Interactive - Worlds (Club Penquin)
September 26-28, Animex Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
September 30-ish, Singapore, Nanyang Technological University School of Art, Design, Media
Walt Disney was not a sophisticated man, nor did he have much formal education, but he had an intuitive feel for what works in storytelling -- and what doesn't. Lately, in connection with a new book I am working on, I have once again been studying Mr. Disney and his famous cartoon movies. Based on what we know about acting and screenplay structure today, films like Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are inconsistent, containing more than a few sequences that lack conflict, for example. Nonetheless, they work like gang busters. What Disney cartoons had was charm, and that makes all the difference. Uncle Walt's campfire voice, and the obvious pleasure he took in telling stories, is almost tangible. He never took his eye off those of us who were sitting erect and wide-eyed around that campfire with him, and that made us feel that we were part of the storytelling process. To be succinct about it, Walt Disney's audiences were not treated like fat-wallet lurkers being herded to the ticket window.
And this collaborative storytelling posture extended even to the gags in his cartoons. Unlike the situation today, where gags are often sprinkled into a narrative like red pepper flakes on a pizza, Walt Disney insisted that an audience "know" a character before he would approve a gag. He understood, as did his contemporary Charlie Chaplin, that the humor was not in a character getting his foot stuck in a bucket; the humor was in the way he tried to get his foot out of the bucket while trying to maintain his dignity.
Although I doubt Mr. Disney could have written a thesis on the topic of gag psychology, he knew in his gut that he was correct. He sensed that gags are about human limitations, and they don't work unless the human part is there before the gag is triggered. We laugh at the bucket joke because we have all, at one time or another, had an encounter with a metaphoric bucket.
With this in mind, take a look at this sequence from DreamWorks' The Croods. It comes early in the movie, just after the title appears on screen, and lasts for about five minutes. Keep track of the gags. I counted twenty-four of them, trips, slips, pratfalls, collisions and so on. I will wait here while you watch the clip.......tick, tock.... tick, tock ....
Okay? Did you watch it? Walt Disney would never have approved that sequence because the gags are not organic. The audience is supposed to be amused just because characters are falling on their respective faces.
Now, watch the flypaper-stuck-on-nose sequence from Playful Pluto(1934). Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston talk about it in their essential book The Illusion of Life. The flypaper gag begins at 5:58 on the YouTube time line and runs for a little over two minutes. Again, I will wait here while you watch the clip..... tick, tock... tick, ock....
So. Why does the flypaper gag work while the gags in The Croods do not? After all, we do not yet "know" Pluto, this being the very first time he appeared on film. The explanation is that we spend two minutes with Pluto alone and, by the end of the gag sequence, we do indeed know him. If Pluto had been joined by a backyard cat, a couple of chickens and a squirrel when getting caught up in the fly paper, the gag would not have worked. It would have been a group gaggle, like in The Croods, and it would not have worked.
Significant historical side note: The Pluto sequence was animated by Norm Ferguson, but the storyboards were created by Webb Smith. Walt Disney credited Mr. Smith with the invention of storyboards, and Playful Pluto was the very first time they were used. That is why Pluto's thought process is so clear and distinct. It was storyboarded. This sequence is generally acknowledged to be the first time an animated character was endowed with a thinking brain.
Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops were popular 1905-1920 and were full of Croods-style wall-to-wall physical gags. Take a quick look at this 1906 short, Pickles and Peppers. After screening the short, you will understand why The Kops wound up in the ash can of movie history. Mack Sennett did not understand comedy on a fundamental level, not like Walt Disney did. When Charlie Chaplin came along to make comedy empathetic, that was the end of the gag-rope for Mr. Sennett and his Kops. Walt Disney studied and was deeply influenced by Chaplin. Had he studied the Keystone Kops, The Croods might be more important.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks