Animators by day Animation teachers by night.

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.



Blogger Rocky said...

guys!when r u gonna put that interview with DOUG Sweetland.I cant wait for it...

12:05 AM

Anonymous davidbernalr said...

tahnks once again! Awesome!!!!
I remember from lady & the tramp when lady is caught and put into jail, there is another female dog thet helps her out, part of her face is covered by hair when they first show her, makeup (the eyes) is light blue and pops from behind, it is just brilliant, the look of her, how she moves and uncovers the hair is soo alive! Every time I see these ladies is like BAM!! It remembers me "The banger Sisters" this girl from jail is Suzzette (Goldie Hawn)!!!
the scene is just awesome!! I´ve seen them side by side and it is amazing, they have the same personality, like the same look, the same way they look from the side, I dont know, I may be nuts but goldie hawn captured the performance of that dog, and The lady is like Susan Saradon, she is a high calss lady, fears to get mudy,...and Suzzette is the oposite, wakes her up and shows her they are dogs.

5:45 AM

Blogger Dr. Gordon said...

Keep your panty hose on. Its up to him... sooner than later though... It is looking like it will be a splinecast. So it may take some extra time.

9:44 AM

Blogger Weston said...

Thanks for the remedy Dr. Burke, I'm feeling much better now. I may need some refills though to pull through this one!

10:04 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great posting! I had completely forgotten about the doorknob sequence....I think I'm gonna have to go and dust off the old Alice in Wonderland.

10:38 AM

Blogger shopkeeper said...

You'd think animaters would have more patience given the nature of our work.

Give the guys a break and stop pestering them or in future I imagine we wont even get a sniff of the good stuff they might have planned for us!

3:42 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this post, as I just spent today in a class about animating dialogue, went along similar lines. I have to say that it certainly felt about time, as I'm in the third year of a degree and the dialogue stuff is only starting now. I suppose it takes two years of learning discipline within the principles of animation before one should even try dialogue, but I feel like it's the first time I've ever been motivated to approach animation with an actor's sensibility. I know that acting is much more than talking (Just look at Chaplin and Keaton) but there's something extra fun about sinking one's teeth into dialogue for me...

I've met a few others in my course who absolutely hate dialogue, and not just from a difficulty view. Some of them feel it isn't 'pure' animation if it's conveying dialogue, and others simply say it limits a piece's international appeal. Just curious, what's your opinion? Which is more fun to work with, verbal or non verbal? And should dialogue be avoided in animation?

-Daniel R (Will soon get a blogger ID... someday)

3:51 PM

Blogger Dr.Burke said...

Hey Daniel,

Thanks for your question. I don't think one type of acting should be avoided over another. It all comes back to what the story demands. I agree that there is a tendancy nowadays in animation to be dialogue heavy, but I think that is a case of bad film making rather than bad animation. I'd be hard pressed to believe if you'd pose the same question concerning a live-action film. A dialogue driven performance in live-action is not less valid than one done in pantomime. It's about what the scene needs and how does it fit the story you're telling. Also, I think it's more wise to shoot for universal appeal as opposed to "international" appeal. Once you start spending energy trying to please everyone who might see the film, you end up diluting the vision and end up pleasing no one. Be as honest as you can with what you're doing and hope people embrace it.


4:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the reply, yeah that makes perfect sense.

A few days ago I started pre-production on a 1 minute short film project at college. All of my previous shorts were either dialogue heavy that used editing to make the lip synch work minimal (quite a few reaction shots) or had some kind of voice over, and that was probably because I saw myself as a writer as much an an animator. But now I'm approaching things a little differently after I came across a short story by Ernest Hemmingway that was 6 words long that he claimed was his best work. ("For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.") I was confusing good exercises in writing with verbosity. I'm looking at the short film format as a challenge in brevity now, and it's really helping.

Been loving the blog since the get-go, it's been really insightful and helpful, and I've shown a few posts to my lecturers, and they've been very well recieved. I also look forward to seeing more work by your students, it really inspires me to get my own act together.

-Daniel R

6:08 PM

Blogger Dave said...

Great post! Very inspirational - Your blog helps keep our priorities straight :D

5:50 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Adam,

Thanks for this nugget of information. I remember those scenes vividly.

Just a foot note,
I think we should use voices that work for the characters, and not for the sake of box office sales.
So tired of Robin Williams.

You know an Actor goes home after work, but an animated character lives in the film. There is no private life. I just think that it's time to move on with the who's playing who line up of actors to sell a film. If it's crap it's crap and no actor in the world can save it. I just feel HollyWood has been dipping into the same old well and coming up with the same stereotypical stuff it's been leaning on to sell a ticket for way to long.

9:49 AM

Anonymous Spike Dupont said...

I have to admit, that those clips were awesome and literally left me full of awe. I walked home that night thinking hard. I think when you're an audience member you know what you like and you don't, but when you are a craftsmen and an artist, the truly good art is that much more beyond comprehension.

Because of that class, I rented all three of those movies with my girlfriend. We frame by framed a few parts, but most often I was so into the story I would forget to look for arcs and gesture.

A couple particularly well animated sequences we did notice (all the scenes were well animated....) were the crazy mad gesture stromboli makes when he shakes the caravan, and the Alice and Wonderland moment when she finishes falling down the hole and gravity reverses.

Really good stuff. I hadn't seen any of those movies in 10 years. They really knew how to set the bar higher.

12:49 PM

Anonymous feryache said...

Indeed I agree in every word it is said in this post. Many poeople working in the animation business today take so much for granted knowing programs , animate in 3D etc, etc , and they really forget the classic stuff that not just the Nine Old Men, but other animators and studios have done long before computers were used in the animation business...
The best way is to learn from the old classics, read about the people who made them and all the different stories they told and are printed on books and images on DVDs or videos.

11:49 PM

Anonymous Dorothy said...

I found a great deal of helpful info here!

9:56 PM


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