ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
Rango is a Game Changer
Rango is, by a very wide margin, the most successful blending of live action with animation to date. It zips past Mr. Cameron's Avatar and all of Mr. Zemekis's performance-capture films (Can you say, "Mars Needs Moms"?) like they are standing still, and it did so with no rubber suits. This is a major achievement that points the way toward an exciting new, but still optional, dimension in animation.
I prefer to talk about what this movie represents to the industry rather than critiquing the film itself but, in a nutshell: It looks awesome, and the characters' eyes are extraordinary. The script is a little too long; it did not require that strange screenwriter-POV prologue having to do with needing an "event" in order to come up with story conflict. The movie is aimed squarely at intelligent adults, with kids being a distant secondary consideration. And I have to say that the plot involves the most unusual application of the Heimlich Maneuver I have ever seen. (No, I'm not going to tell you.)
As was the case with Lord of the Rings, Rango was directed by a live-action director who has zero animation experience. Gore Verbinski did not know how to follow in DreamWorks or Pixar's footsteps, so he didn't even try. He worked things out using his own common sense. If you have not already seen this clip, take a look at how Gore Verbinski recorded dialogue for the film, because it is a revelation.
The standard procedure for animated features is to record actors in isolation, only occasionally bringing two or three of them together to record in unison. I understand the economic and logistical reasons for this arrangement but, from a performance perspective, it is inherently problematic. An actor that is providing voices for animated characters steps into a sound booth alone because that is what the Animation Director and Producer ask him to do. This line-by-line, one-side-of-conversation-at-a-time recording procedure allows the people in the booth to have maximum control. But there is a price to pay for that control. Look again at that clip of the Rango recording session. Note that the actors are not only working very hard, they are playing with one another like kids at recess. This is why plays are called plays, and it is an aspect of digital storytelling that is often lacking. The dialogue for Rango zings and bounces around like the pinballs in Monster Bash because acting is not only "doing"; acting is also "reacting". An actor in an isolation booth can only indicate reaction to whatever dialogue other actors have recorded in isolation. Dialogue recorded this way will never sound as bright as that in Rango. Mr. Verbinski not only recorded the cast all at the same time and place, he arranged for them to rehearse for twenty days. The environment in the recording studio is that of a summer camp. And the ILM animators took that track and ran with it, which is a large part of the reason the characters look as good as they do. Emotion tends to lead to action and, when actors work together, that is the natural flow of things because that is what actors do.
Another important distinction for Rango is that Gore Verbinski put the development horse in front of the cart where it ought to be. He first got his script the way he wanted it, made storyboards and then made the movie that he had planned. It has always amazed me that mega-budget animated feature films will go into production before the script is polished, but it happens all the time. The explanation is that "this is just the way that animated movies are made." Well, okay then. But from a storytelling perspective, it is best to get the story down first, and then begin telling it.
There will be studios building on what ILM and Gore Verbinski have started here. Rango marks what I would designate as the fourth transitional point for the industry. Mickey Mouse, for obvious reasons, was the first; Toy Story, first CG feature, was second; Gollum in Lord of the Rings was third because that was the first digital character created in collaboration with a classically trained actor in the mocap suit; and now Rango, the first time a full cast of voice performers was handled in a live-action fashion, complete with rehearsal, and recorded in group.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks