Animators by day Animation teachers by night.

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."


Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Yes! So many (student and non-student) animation relies on just gestures these days. Here's a quote from Roger Ebert's review of "Memory of a Killer" that says it all: "Watch Jan Decleir's performance. He never goes for the easy effect, never pushes too hard, is a rock-solid occupant of his character. Everything he has to say about Angelo is *embodied, not expressed*. That line really hit me, and made it clear to me what I should strive for.

3:42 AM

Anonymous Matthew said...

Check out "Body Language" by Allan Pease.
I started reading it about a month ago and alot of things started clicking into place. The book talks about arm/leg barriers, palm gestures, etc.
For me it clarified why we do certain things. While some of it is terribly obvious, i found others that weren't so much.

4:49 AM

Blogger BrandonBeckstead said...

I love reading this stuff! It isnpires me every time and I learn alot from you guys. Thanks for posting about body language, and please keep it comin!

8:38 AM

Anonymous kate said...

This is all good stuff - thank you for sharing. You mention layered animation - I've heard a few animation sites on the internet refer to this, although I've yet to discover anyone talking in depth about it. I'd be really interested to know more about this method, if someone could take the time to enlighten me...

3:48 AM

Blogger Dr.Burke said...

Thanks for your comments, Kate. When you hear the term "layered animation" it is most likely refering to the method of using as few controls as possible to refine the main movement of your shot and adding secondary and ancillary movement once that primary or motivating movement has been nailed down. For example, if you're animating a basic run, you could pull in just the root Tx and Ty (forward and up/down) and perhaps add a little Rx for some forward lean and just animate those 3 controls and refine the basic rhythm and timing of your run. Once that has been polished, start working on your footfalls, then overlapping rotations, then the arms, and so on. Where most models have hundreds and up to thousands of controls, it is vital to work as cleanly as you can to avoid animating against your self. It's counter-productive to try to polish the arm swing of a run if there are hitches in the main up/down movement of your run. Hope this helps you to understand the concept.


10:27 AM

Anonymous kate said...

Cheers Adam - that approach makes a lot of sense. Thankyou for enlightening me!

1:08 PM

Anonymous davidbernalr said...

Awesome!!! tahnks very much Dr. Burke!!

7:10 PM

Blogger donnachada said...

That's a lovely picture of you Adam. I especially like the head band.
Good to see you joining the blog.

12:58 AM

Blogger Chintan Shah said...

Dr. Burke

Thanks once again for your detailed explanation on "Layered animation" it makes more sense now to first work and correct the primary movement.


11:36 AM


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