ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
Empathy vs. Sympathy, a short animation
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (the RSA) is an enlightenment organization committed to finding practical solutions to today's social challenges. You will appreciate this animation from Katy Davis, of a lecture by Dr. Brené Brown. It illustrates perfectly the distinction between "empathy" and "sympathy" and is really good stuff.
In the December 2013 newsletter, I wrote that Jules Engel "animated the dancing mushrooms in Fantasia" and properly got my ears pinned back by several respected Disney scholars. In fact, Art Babbitt animated the dancing mushrooms in Fantasia and Jules Engel did some choreography sketches which Babbitt used for reference. The error was mine alone and should steal no thunder from Janeann Dill's tireless work on her Jules Engel Biographical Project. Mr. Engel, Founding Director of the Department of Animation at California Institute for the Arts, was an important figure in the evolution of modern U.S. animation. Art Babbitt was of course a legendary cartoonist and, incidentally, played a key role in organizing the 1941 strike against Disney studios.
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
January 31st weekend, Medellin, Colombia, participating in gov't sponsored animation education event
February 10-14, Animex Int'l Animation and Game Festival,Teesside, England
February 20-21, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania
April (working on it), The Animation Workshop, Viborg, Denmark
"The fault lies not with the mob, who demand nonsense, but with those who do not know how to produce anything else." – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
My wish for the New Year is that the CEOs of Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks consider measuring a movie's success by more than box office receipts and strength of tent pole. I realize I might as well wish that I would sprout wings and fly, but it is what I wish, nonetheless. Animation is the most important and underused new art form, and the work I do in my Acting for Animators masterclasses is best applied by animators who see it that way too. Similarly, videogame developers have vast stretches of virgin wilderness in front of them, ripe for artistic exploration.
Disney's Frozen is closing in on the US$500 million mark, according to yesterday's BoxOfficeMojo.com, which makes it a good bet that John Lasseter (2013 net worth, US$100 million) is sorting through sequel pitches as he sips his holiday eggnog. If the goal is to please Wall Street analysts, I suppose that a sequel is a smart and low-risk bet. Deadline.com is reporting that Disney CEO, Bob Iger, earned US$34.3 million in 2013, down 14 percent from 2012 but still, as the Disney Board of Directors puts it, "...below the median of reported compensation for Media Industry peers." He's definitely going to be enthusiastic for Frozen 2, if only so that he can keep his head high over at the Riviera Country Club (US$250,000 initiation fee). Maybe my New Year's wish should be that animators, too, receive a little financial consideration, for they are the artists in the trenches, the ones whose kids might not have the wherewithal to purchase their own private islands in a world gone politically and economically off the rails. Animators are shamans, and the tribes sorely need to hear from them because the situation is getting out of hand. We need stories that are meaningful and helpful, as well as profitable.
Which brings up the artistic merits of Frozen. To me, it is the cinematic equivalent of Britney Spears' new Las Vegas act – flashy, slickly produced and helped along by Brit lip-syncing previous hit songs. Three thousand years from now, when archaeologists return to earth and excavate what used to be Hollywood, California, the Marketing Department for Disney Animation Studios is sure to be a celebrated find, and Frozen will make a nice exhibit on the educational tour. Really, it was not a good idea in the first place for Disney to adapt the Hans Christian Andersen book The Snow Queen. Andersen's story is about Christ, Redemption, the Devil, salvation, damnation, and that kind of thing. Frozen is a contrived twist on the boy-gets-girl paradigm. The creative team started with a watermelon and tried to make a banana split with it. The movie has neither an antagonist nor a compelling protagonist. The two sisters at the center of the story have precisely one empathy-inducing scene together, when they embrace and the tears melt the ice, shortly before the final credit roll.
On the plus side, this is the first Disney feature film I can recall that has a flat-out sociopath in the cast (Hans, voiced by Santino Fontana), which would be more interesting if the movie were about him rather than the cookie-cutter sisters. Actually, the most memorable character in the film is Olaf the little snowman who dreams of living in a warm environment. Unfortunately, Olaf has nothing whatever to do with the development of the Frozen narrative. He was obviously inserted to provide slapstick comic relief, which is a kind of waste of a good idea. (Think about it: A Macy's Christmas window snowman who longs to own and operate a beach umbrella rental concession in the Bahamas... It almost writes itself!) There is not very much actual acting in Frozen, if Stanislavsky is your measure. There are plenty of high-spirited "situations" and "confrontations" in which characters wind up sitting in snow with surprised, embarrassed, delighted expressions on their faces, but actual acting – in the sense that I teach it – requires the pursuit of provable objectives and the overcoming of obstacles.
For my readers who want a solid take-away from these craft notes, here it is:
Every character in a story is a story-within-a-story. Every character – even one in the background – has a life, a family, a sense of humor, favorite foods, secret things he or she does when nobody is watching, dreams, hopes and fears. As Stanislavsky famously observed, "There are no small roles, only small actors."
One more eye-roll, and then I'll stop. Forty minutes into Frozen, Anna describes, for hunky mountain man Kristoff, the events that unfolded on screen less than fifteen minutes earlier. Screenwriting 101 dictates that you do not have to tell the audience in words what it has already seen on screen, but she tells him all about it anyway, about how she met this really cool guy (Hans, the sociopath) and agreed to marry him within hours of their first introduction. Kristoff is surprised, of course. "You were going to marry this guy after just meeting him that same day? You don't know him well enough!" Then he delivers the line which clarifies for us the reason this scene is included in the movie. "What if he picks his nose?" (Beat. Wait for it...). "And eats it?" Disney Animation has started adding nose-picking jokes, folks. Can farts be far behind? Uncle Walt is spinning in his grave.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks