Animators by day Animation teachers by night.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Michael Caine Videos

One of the Readers (Jeremy Hopkins)was kind enough to email me the location of a bunch of Michael Caine on Acting Lectures. I'm sure there is some good stuff in there. Here are the links...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not much right now except to wish everyone a pleasant holiday. After the break we'll be posting some new thoughts. We've figured out how to attach YouTube clips to our posts so we'll now be able to provide reference clips for some of the ideas we're discussing. In addition, we've got some ideas for a couple new splinecasts which we hope to get going after the holidays. This crunch is probably the craziest we've been through, so we continue to ask for your patience. Also, feel free to comment on things you're curious about. Perhaps a teacher has given you a note on your work that you don't quite understand, or maybe there is something that you notice you're having consistent trouble with. By posting a comment we can better shape the topics of the next few posts. Most of our brains are elsewhere right now (or mush), so help us help you. Have a great Thanksgiving everybody! I know I'll be thankful for a couple of days off.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Revisiting the mission.

The mission statement that is. The tongue-in-cheek genesis of this blog was an attempt to pass on information about the great masters of animation's past to a generation of students who spend more time learning software than they do the principles and history of their craft. In an attempt to reinforce what this blog was created for, I'd like to share a little about an evening I had recently with a wooden puppet, a dog, and a doorknob.

My teaching partner Mike Wu and I were in class last week giving a lecture on dialogue. It wasn't so much about mouth shapes or the technical aspects of animating dialogue, as it was about the "phrasing" of your animation in a dialogue driven performance. For those unfamiliar with the term, animation "phrasing" has a similar meaning to it's grammatical and musical counterparts. It is the composition of movement used to communicate your ideas to the audience. In addressing several principles and old guidelines (some of which we can post about later) we showed several clips that we felt showed what we were talking about better than we could ever explain it.

The first was from Pinocchio. We were talking about the design of your mouth shapes being consistent with the expressions and attitude of the character. We showed the sequence of Pinocchio and Lampwick shooting pool together on Pleasure Island. The shape of Pinocchio's mouth had a great asymmetrical smirk which worked with the vocal performance and reinforced the idea of that young, forced bravado and trying so hard to sound grown up. Next, after talking about designing mouth shapes and maximizing their appeal, we showed the doorknob sequence from Alice In Wonderland. This is one of my favorite classic Disney performances. Frank Thomas took the challenge of animating a talking doorknob and designed it and handled it in a way that was not only entertaining to watch, but made you believe it! The artistic choices he made for mouth shapes using the key hole were inspired. Then, discussing phrasing and clarity, Mike Wu brought out some big guns. Lady and the Tramp. This oft-forgotten movie has some of the most brilliant character animation ever done on film. We watched the sequence of Tramp warning the neighborhood dogs of how things change for a dog once there is a baby in the house. This sequence, animated primarily by Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas, has scenes in it that as an animator took my breath away. I felt like I was watching it for the first time the other night in class, or perhaps with different eyes. In the context of our lecture it demonstrated that animating dialogue is more than properly articulating mouth shapes to an audio track. It is about whether or not the character "feels" like he is delivering the dialogue.

What made the biggest impression on me at the end of class was how high the 9 Old Men and other Golden Age animators had raised the bar for us with what they achieved, and how rarely contemporary animation comes even remotely close to that bar. There are certainly diamonds in the rough out there, but by and large we still have so much to do when it comes to living up to the legacy of those who forged this medium. Take the time to watch and study the artistry of some of this classic stuff. Also try to remember, that when these great films were made it was a new and exciting technology. However, in order for these films to resonate with audiences they need to go far beyond a bunch of moving images. Funny how some things never change.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Let me hear your body talk!

Leave it to the refrain of a campy, Oliva Newton John, 80's pop hit to clearly lay down an important principle of strong acting. Body language. It is something that I've been looking at and paying more attention to in my own work over the years and is something I find consistently lacking in student work. Mike Wu and I gave a talk in our Pixar 2 class at the Academy on this very topic not too long ago. How a character holds him/herself physically provides a tremendous amount of information to the audience and provides the real truth in a scene as to who your character is and how he/she is feeling. The body language may support dialogue being spoken or, in appropriate circumstances, completely contradict it. Of course, in situations where there is no dialogue the body is your only means to communicate to the audience how your character feels. Why do you think news shows bring in body language experts after presidential debates or press conferences? It's because when it comes to communication, the truth is always in the body.

Having said that, bear in mind the context and content of your scene. The rookie move I often see is to start adding a bunch of extra poses and peppering the animation with arbitrary gestures that don't support or, worse yet, take away from what you're trying to communicate. Start from the ground up. What's going on? A guy is asking a girl for a date. How does he feel? Nervous. What graphic elements could I put into my pose that will help communicate that? Concave curves. A sunken or deflated line of action. How is he holding himself physically? He can't look her in the eyes. He's holding his arms in tight around himself. How is he moving? He can't stay still. Just as your animation should build in a layered fashion, working from the root outward, so should your performance build. Start with content and context, and gradually layer elements which help support those ideas.

Mike Wu showed a clip in class from "Godfather II" that shows a brilliant example of skilled, well choreographed body language. It takes place shortly after young Vito has killed the old Don of the neighborhood. He is now speaking with a landlord on behalf of a friend "asking him for a favor". Watch it with the sound off like we did. It is obvious that Vito wants something from this man and the landlord is very clear about his dismissive attitude toward this thug who has the audacity to demand something from him. Now, in the very next scene, when the landlord learns from the neighborhood who Vito is and what he has done, the physical changes are sheer poetry in motion. The landlord has completely changed his physical demeanor. Vito, on the other hand, has what amounts to be a single pose that says more about how he feels than any line of dialogue ever could. Absolute gold!

Study similar examples and bear these things in mind as you work out the foundation of your performances. The eyes can't do it all. Factoring in these elements is what separates the great acting from mediocre or bad. Now, as Olivia would say, "Let's get physical."