ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
RE: BRAVEBecause Pixar's Brave has failed to lift the stock of the Walt Disney Company, some Wall Street analysts are worrying out loud that Pixar may be losing its magic touch. The film received only luke-warm reviews, and this comes on the heels of Cars 2, which was unmercifully panned. With Wall Street anxiety in mind, take a look at this interview Tasha Robinson skillfully conducted for AVClub.com, with director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian the day before Brave officially opened. They were both in an upbeat, promotional frame of mind and proudly described the Pixar formula for movie excellence. For me, the take-away from the interview is Mark's explanation about how the movie was given a green light:Mark Andrews: "It wasn’t a story; it was an idea about a character. Pixar is a filmmaker-driven studio, so it comes from us, from the directors, stuff that happens in our own lives. So Brenda [Chapman] went to John [Lasseter] with an idea about her own relationship with her daughter. She had this very willful, speaks-her-mind 6-year-old, and she projected ahead and said, “Okay, I’m having problems with this, what’s she going to be like when she’s a teenager and all hell breaks loose?” And John loved that idea, that core idea, so that’s what kicked off the story. Setting it in Scotland, Brenda loves Scotland; it’s all write-what-you-know..."The studio prides itself on an all-for-one-and-one-for-all kind of culture in which anybody and everybody has the opportunity to give an opinion about what might be done to improve the movie. As admirable as the sentiment may be, it strikes me as a perfectly awful way to develop a US$200 million film. The sketchier the concept at the start of development, the greater chance there will be for it to go off the rails. When there are too many cooks in the kitchen, the result may be the movie equivalent of a church picnic rather than a romantic dinner-for-two at La Grenouille. The creation of a story is a singular activity, emerging from one person's mind, and the truth is that there was not a story when John Lasseter gave Brenda Chapman the ball to run with. No story! A script may be re-written by subsequent screenwriters, but the story - beginning, middle and end - really should be there at the outset. In future craft notes, probably after the DVD is released, I will have specific notes on Brave. An obvious flaw in the script is that Merida does not directly deal with her mother's demands that she be a lady. Her response is to run away on Angus the horse. Then, Angus suddenly - and temporarily - develops the ability to think like a human and delivers Merida to the witch, who will be the key to a major plot transition. That is significant. The horse made the decision, not the girl. It is the girl's story, and her horse made one of the most critical decisions in the movie. Merida did not even know where she was. When she finally comes face-to-face with the witch, she petulantly asks for a spell to be cast on her mom, to teach her a lesson. It is the kind of foot-stomping, bratty, acting-out thing an 8-year old might do, not a young woman of marrying age. Nonetheless, that is what Merida does in this movie, and then she spends the rest of the running time trying to clean up her own mess before mama is trapped in bear-dom forever. She is her own un-witting antagonist. The director's stated intention is that Merida learn big life lessons in the process of reversing the spell. But, think about this for a moment: She has only two days to get the job done. Two days. She is emotionally infantile on Monday and then, on Wednesday, she is wise. This is neither a reasonable nor credible evolution for the character, even if you believe in magic.There is also a cast of poorly conceived supporting characters. Other than Merida and her mom - and maybe Angus the horse - the entire cast seems to be dim-witted rejects from some medieval version of Deliverance. And what is going on with the idiot suitor who looks like Prince Charles? That will amuse them a lot in the UK, I imagine.Very smart and talented animators tell me from time to time that "animation is different," that animated movies cannot be made the same way that live-action films are. I acknowledge the point, but good storytelling is good storytelling, regardless. And lately, Pixar has not been telling good stories.ACTING FOR ANIMATORS WORKSHOP SCHEDULEJuly 12-16 Shanghai, China, International Comic and Games Expo 2012CRAFT NOTESVarious Ways To Use GestureAnimators have barely tapped all that can be done with hand and arm gesture. It is one of those things that we take for granted, like blinking, and many animators will just stick some in there so that the character doesn't appear odd. But on closer inspection it turns out that there are several different kinds of gestures, each with its own unique purpose. Some gestures are intended to communicate and others are intended to obscure the truth. Some gestures are used to help the speaker think. When a person's hands are restrained from gesturing, she has a harder time with reasoning and math. A person that is born blind will gesture even though he has never seen gestures, and he will do it even if talking with another blind person. When you talk to someone on the telephone, you will use gestures despite the fact that the other person cannot possibly see them.Humans gestured long before language developed. It is therefore innate for us to talk with our hands. In fact, hand gestures are perceived by the same part of the brain that hears speech, not the part that perceives physical action such as reaching for a salt shaker. The impulse to gesture occurs simultaneously with the impulse to speak. In my Acting for Animators masterclasses, I talk about the "psychological gesture" being an indication of a deeper emotional truth than might be apparent from a speaker's words. Our sense of sight is many times more powerful than our sense of hearing. Whatever the audience - or game player - sees is going to take precedence over what the character is saying.Let's go through the various kinds of gestures.ADAPTERS or EXPRESSIVE MOVEMENTAlthough the PSYCHOLOGICAL GESTURE falls into this category, most ADAPTERS are not generally considered to be gestures at all. Examples would be fidgeting, toying with a pencil, drumming your fingers on the arm of a chair. This kind of movement has no purposeful communicative value but is an excellent visual barometer of the person's underlying emotional foundation. The late comedian talk show host Johnny Carson displayed ADAPTERS a lot. Here is a clip of him talking with Doc Severinsen, band leader on Carson's "Tonight Show". Watch his hands. Notice that, on the surface, he is professional and polished. Underneath, there is a constantl bed of anxiety.Watch this amusing compilation of women receiving surprise - and public - marriage proposals. Twenty-four out of twenty-five cover the lower part of their faces the instant they realize a proposal is imminent. This is a strong PSYCHOLOGICAL GESTURE. Do you think we would be seeing the same gesture if the marriage proposals were private, perhaps after dinner and a moonlit walk on the beach?SYMBOLIC GESTURES or EMBLEMS do not rely on words. A thumbs-up, a “raised fist”, flipping the bird, etc., are purposefully communicative SYMBOLIC GESTURES.Here is disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon boarding the Presidential helicopter for the final time on the White House lawn.This Chilean coal miner is being rescued in October 2010. At the :45 mark, he gives a thumbs-up gesture with both hands.GESTICULATIONS are hand movements that accompany speech and are related to the speech they accompany. Example: Bill Clinton television interview in which he gets angry. There is an over-abundance of gesticulation, all of which is intended to amplify the meaning of his words.In the Clinton clip, there are also examples of MOTOR MOVEMENTS known as CONVERSATIONAL GESTURES. They bear no obvious relation to the words spoken other than to emphasize or to set a conversational "beat". Watch this televised debate between British politicians Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown. Note that each of them uses the same kind of gestures when it is his turn to talk. The gestures are definitely setting a “beat”. Politicians and motivational speakers conceptually develop the habit of using this gesture because it makes them appear authoritative, decisive and knowledgable.LEXICAL MOVEMENTS are CONVERSATIONAL GESTURES that are non-repetitive, complex and changing form. They are definitely communicative. Here is Richard Feynman explaining what “jiggling atoms” are. Start watching at :58. His gestures are visual representatives of what he is saying. They simplify and distill a complex subject into visual images. The subject is complicated, and we understand his explanation better if we watch the gestures. Try watching this same clip with the sound muted. Notice how his gestures are almost like mime?Now You Do ItAnthony Hopkins was a guest on the televison program "Inside the Actor's Studio," and I would like for you to watch a bit of the interview, starting at 3:00 and ending at 6:15. During that brief time, he uses all of the different types of gestures we have been talking about. Note in particular what happens with his gestures when he becomes emotional, verging on tears. Keep your finger on the PAUSE button, and I will watch the clip with you, deconstructing the gestures as we go along.3:15 CONVERSATIONAL GESTURE “Points” toward birthplace on imaginary map.3:21 CONVERSATIONAL GESTURE “Points” toward host.3:35 ADAPTER Absentmindedly touches his forehead. Notice this accompanies a mental transition in which he reflects on Welsh culture.3:59 – 4:06 PSYCHOLOGICAL GESTURES indicate underlying anxiety about publicly reciting poetry that is too personally meaningful. Notice the quicker rhythm, the contrast between facial expression and gesture.4:07 – 4:19 He restricts his hands from gesturing, probably because he knows they are telling too much about his emotions. Even though his hands are held still, that is a PSYCHOLOGICAL GESTURE.4:20 CONVERSATIONAL GESTURE “Points” to the line of poetry on an imaginary script in front of him. Very quick gesture, after which he returns to the restrictive hand clutch. He holds that gesture until his recitation ends at 4:34. This is a good example of what actors know as “performance anxiety”. Hopkins is displaying his virtuosity and, even though that is what he does for a living, he is not hiding behind a character and feels vulnerable in a more personal way.4:35 SYMBOLIC GESTURE meaning “voila!”4:43 ADAPTER It is interesting that he is once again reflecting on his own youth. Similar to the gesture at 3:35.4:52 LEXICAL GESTURE illustrating what flour does when it blows all over a baker’s face. He likely went to this gesture to make certain he was not misunderstood by his reference to “white man’s grave”. Notice how the gesture amplifies the intent of the spoken word precisely.4:55 Returns to CONVERSATIONAL GESTURE, vaguely indicating where the flour gets into the throat.More of same ….5:36 – 6:14 He prepares to recite poem by William Butler Yeats and, immediately, we see the PSYCHOLOGICAL GESTURES for performance anxiety. Watch what happens when he comes very close to crying. The gestures are protecting his vulnerability from too much exposure. Then, when he realizes the gestures are exposing too much in themselves, he again locks his hands to restrict movement.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
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