ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
It's never to late for learning something new from a 4-year-old. Meet Quinn Freeman Murphy, video game developer. What you see on screen is entirely his concept. His mom, Heather D. Freeman, Associate Professor of Digital Media at the University of North Carolina, merely provided the animated transcription while doubling as interviewer. Although this definitely is an "Awwwww..." video, I am serious about it being a teaching opportunity. Note that Quinn -- 4 years old, remember -- naturally includes conflict in his story. Nobody taught him to do that. My adult students struggle with story structure all the time, which implies that adults have to un-learn a natural ability. At Quinn's age, storytelling comes easily and is fun. Enjoy! (Lucky kid to have a mom like Heather!)
Rebecca Michaels Haugh is a popular global voice-over artist who I first met in San Francisco some years ago. She also is a smart entrepreneur who hosts and produces a very cool podcast, LoveThatVoiceOver.com. Recently, she invited me to be her guest on the show, and the result was a two-part discussion about how all things digital are increasingly overlapping with performers. We also chatted about my personal career journey -- actor to acting teacher/author, to Acting for Animators masterclasses. I had a lot of fun doing the interview, and I'm pleased to have an opportunity to introduce you to a special friend of mine. (Part one of interview; part two.)
BTW, Rebecca confided in me that she is interested in working on video games. I'm just saying.
As you no doubt have heard, Hayao Miyazaki, the Shakespeare-san of animation, announced that he is hanging up his pencil. He is only 72, though, so let's hope he gets bored in retirement. There is only one Shakespeare-san.
ACTING FOR ANIMATORS WORKSHOP SCHEDULE
September 22-23, Bowling Green University, Ohio
November 13-15 - Probably. Working on it. Swansea Animation Days (SAND), South Wales
December 3-5 - Probably. Working on it. Game Connection Conference, Paris
November? December? - Yes. Working on it. Sony Santa Monica (Playstation)
Sorry for the false start on this, folks, but it turns out that I will not be participating in in the Nov 15-17 CTN (Creative Talent Network) exPo after all.
WHO ARE THE ARTISTS?
Novelist Leo Tolstoy, in his 1896 essay "What is Art?," said that art inherently requires the conceptual transmission of a feeling, an idea or perspective on an object or event from an artist to other people who choose to consider the same object or event. Also, art has no other practical purpose than artistic expression. By that standard, animation -- an important 21st century art form -- is largely untouched. Walt Disney's "factory model" of producing feature-length cartoons was set in stone as a result of the 1941 cartoonists' strike, and it lives on today in the largest Hollywood animation studios. The primary purpose of studio-produced movies is commercial, not artistic, a priority that seems to justify the factory model. Artistic expression is a one-person activity that is compromised by group participation, regardless of what the studio PR departments want us to believe.
The animation industry is entering its post-Pixar phase. As Steven Spielberg and George Lucas pointed out during a recent University of Southern California symposium, Hollywood movie budgets have grown too big, and the risk of financial ruin too immense. The industry is looking at a likely "implosion," according to Mr. Spielberg, and with new business models blooming in the wreckage. Probably, the Internet will replace neighborhood multiplexes as the primary mode of exhibition, and television will shake off cable-packaging in favor of a la carte PPV. Regardless of distribution options, film -- live action as well as animated -- will become increasingly artist driven instead of market driven.
Animation is the only art form that keeps its most talented artists out of public view. Disney's now-celebrated Nine Old Men did not originally receive screen credit on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The only reason they were credited on Pinocchio is because Mr. Disney was forced to include them by the settlement terms of the 1941 strike against his company. Considering Walt Disney's mythologized public image, it is almost impossible to believe that he did not consider animation to be an art form, but he is on record saying exactly that. In a 1962 interview with Newsweek magazine for example, he said, "Our part in things is to build along the lines we are known for, with happy family stories and comedies. I've never thought of this as art. It's part of show business." In his 1947 testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Walt Disney repeatedly referred to the Disney Studio as a "plant" in which "my boys" made entertainment "product." He thought of the studio animators as artists in only the most literal sense: If a feature film could be considered a work of art, then the boys who put pencil to paper were de facto artists.
Animators in 2013, with the emergence of CG, have access to tools that Walt Disney could not even dream about. If an artist wanted to do it, she could make a release-worthy feature film in her garage. Technology is not what has driven the cost of feature animation into the financial stratosphere. Commerce and the free enterprise market have done that. Animation art has become nothing more than a commodity to be marketed for the ultimate benefit of Wall Street investors. The artists that make feature animation are even more invisible in 2013 than they were in 1945. As part of my research for these notes, I attempted to find out on-line who animated Carl in Pixar's Up and Grug in The Croods. You try it. Google any variation of "Pixar Carl Animator" or "Who animated Carl in Up?" or "Who was the lead animator on Grug Crood?", and see what you get. You'll get links to Ed Asner and Nicholas Cage, trivia biographical information about each character, director credits -- but no animator attribution. This state of affairs is why Andy Serkis is able to convince most pundits that he alone is responsible for the emotional credibility of the mocapped characters he portrays, and that the animators simply apply "digital make-up." The public does not know what it does not know.
Most animators I know personally tend to be modest, an admirable trait socially. That same modesty, however, can make them hesitate to call themselves artists. It sounds too much like the French word artiste, which in English implies that a person is a self-aggrandizing fake, someone asserting artistry in order to impress people. This concern is understandable given that animators have only recently come to be known as animators.The animators of yesterday were known as cartoonists, a group that was not taken seriously. Drawing "cartoons," after all, is what inattentive school boys do when they are not throwing spitballs at girls. Mothers do not want their daughters marrying cartoonists. The Disney cartoonists probably missed a golden opportunity in the 1941 strike by allowing themselves to be categorized as "labor" instead of artists. They did not draw a distinction between what they did in the feature animation factory and what assembly-line workers did in the Chevrolet factory. The strike was about salary, working conditions, screen credits and so on. The truth is that those guys -- they were all guys back then - were artists of the Tolstoy variety. The Disney animators were the first to endow hand-drawn characters with an illusion of life. But think about that for a moment. Whose illusion of life was it? There is no universal illusion of life. If there were, every animated character would have the same personality. Each of the Nine Old Men was an individual with his own perception of life, his own understanding of how the human mind works. And each of them was transmitting, through his character, his own personal feelings and ideas about life. That is art.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks