Friday, April 6, 2012

Doran Meirs, Acting and Animation

I found this awesome article about Acting and Animation from Doran Meir.
Unfortunately the link was broken for the second part of the article but I was glad to see that I could find it on another animators website.

Find Article part 1 Here

Thanks to for having the second half of the article

Acting and Animation
Part 2

Doron A. Meir Offers Some Guidelines for Achieving Convincing and Interesting Acting in Animation

In the first part of this article, we discussed the basics of good acting, and helped define the ingredients of convincing acting. This week, we review the second part of the equation:

II. Interesting Acting:
The golden age of acting in animation took place around the end of the 1960's. This was the end of the Disney's giants age - the time of the "Nine Old Men" - and the people who worked on those films were the ones who practically invented and developed the art called "animation". They also animated for about 40 years. That was the time in which classic masterpieces like "The Jungle Book""The Sword in the Stone"and "The Rescuers" were made. Anyone who watches these animated films and uses his eyes and brain, sees more than an interesting story (in fact, in some of the films - like "Sword in the Stone" - the story is not really interesting). These films are made of interesting situations, with unforgettable characters and superb animation.

In modern animated films, by contrast, the mission of keeping the audience interested is put exclusively at the hands of the scriptwriter. It seems that the animators are primarily responsible for not spoiling it; certainly no one expects them to add some flavor to the stew. "What happens" took center stage, while "how it happens" was pushed aside. During the last few years, almost every time I've watched an animated feature, I left the theatre with the feeling of someone who, after eating in an exclusive restaurant, was left with a taste of plastic in his mouth.
I take comfort in the notion that, having two distinct eras of animation, one which is excellent and the other problematic, enables me to analyze the differences and understand what makes the animation of the golden era so brilliant. I did my best to leave out anything that concerns directing, scriptwriting, character design and so on, and concentrate on the animation itself.

Uniqueness. When I was a kid, we lived in an old building with stairs made of stone. When someone walked up these stairs, he could be heard clearly inside the apartment. I remember I could easily identify my father's steps. This was very fortunate, giving me enough time to quickly tidy up the living room before he got in. The moral: if you're a messy kid, live in a building with noisy stairs. Another moral: every person moves, walks and talks in his own special way - so much so, that you can even identify the sound of his steps.

In "The Jungle Book", Baloo the bear moves in a fun, jumpy, somewhat clumsy way, a "one of the guys" sort of motion. Bagira has smooth, catlike movements that stand for dignity and discipline: the perfect gentleman. Shere-Khan also has a catlike motion, only with a totally different character - that of power, self-confidence and arrogance. The animation perfectly fits the personalities of these characters, and at the same time makes them unlike any other character we've seen until then and since then. These are truly unforgettable characters.
Baloo, "The Junfle Book" (From "The Illusion of Life"). One of the guys.

Sometimes, when we spend a long time with someone else, we find ourselves "borrowing" his/her sayings, facial expressions or moves. We all have certain gestures and mannerism that are special to us. In Disney's"Robin Hood", Prince John is especially rich with such mannerism (maybe even too much) - for example, the crown is too big on his head and keeps falling over his eyes; and every time something bad happens, he puts his thumb in his mouth, holds his ear and calls mom.
Just like you can identify a person's voice, you can also identify his movements - and just like you can imitate his voice, you can imitate his movement. In his standup film "Raw", Eddie Murphy imitates Bill Cosby with such talent, that I felt he was actually becoming Cosby. What he imitated, other than the voice and patterns of speech, were the movement, mannerism and expressions. Conclusion: one is not defined only by the look of his face and proportions of his body, but also by his mannerism - and that should be the case for an animated character as well.

I therefore suggest a small test that can help check whether the acting of a certain character is unique. The test is: could a good imitator imitate the character? With any truly unique character, it should be possible. Every character in "The Jungle Book" passes the test. So does Aardman's Wallace and Gromit. No character from "Pocahontas", for example, passes. The same goes for "The Lion King""Hercules", and even good movies like "Toy Story" miss that point.

Secondary Actions. There is a lot of confusion in the animation world concerning this term. For example, in a well-known (and quite good) article by Michel B. Comet, we read the following explanation:"Secondary Action is an action that occurs because of another action. For example if a dog is running and suddenly comes to a stop, its ears will probably still keep moving for a bit."

The Illusion of Life". Written by two of Disney's "Nine Old Men". A must have book.
And here's what Ollie Johston and Frank Thomas (authors of "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life") think of the same term:
"A sad figure wipes a tear as he turns away. Someone stunned shakes his head as he gets to his feet. A flustered person puts on his glasses as he regains his composure. When this extra business supports the main action, it is called a Secondary Action..."
A secondary action, according to the second (and correct) explanation, has to do with rich acting (the first explanation relates to overlapping action, a purely technical aspect of animation that has to do with the physical phenomenon of inertia). Secondary actions make for unique and natural acting, add complexity and charm to the movements, and spice up the animation. Anther thing they can do is cause a film's budget to skyrocket. Is this the reason modern animation movies use them sparingly? Maybe. What certain is, that in the old movies secondary actions were used generously but tastefully, and the results were a rich and enjoyable animation, and interesting acting.
Timing. One of my complaints toward modern animation has to do with what I call "snapimation" - pose-based animation, where the transition from pose to pose happens very quickly. This is an easy solution, because it enables the animator to work less, be less inventive, and have less skill. That way, instead of variations along the timing scope, we get a monotonous "quick/slow/quick/slow" motion - and monotony, as we all now, is the good friend of Mr. Boredom. In addition, the "snapimation" method disables secondary actions, making the acting boring and dull.

Complex Stereotypes. [This refers to more than just animation. Achieving a "complex stereotype" must be a combined effort of both animator and scriptwriter].

Animation is usually a caricature of reality - in all respects: design, movement and acting. In most cases, the characters in animated films (and films in general) are very much based on stereotypes, which enables the viewers to quickly get to know the characters and have a general idea of their role in the plot. Contrary, perhaps, to common belief, stereotypes contribute to interesting animation - simply because caricatures are generally clearer, more interesting and more expressive than an accurate representation of reality.
The problems begin when the character is the stereotype. One of the worst characters of all times in that aspect is Clayton, the bad guy in "Tarzan". We understand immediately that he's wicked, but almost all through the film we don't learn anything more. What does he want? Why does he want it? We don't know. The man has no personality at all: he's just a bad guy and that's it.
By "Complex Stereotype" I refer to a character that, while being based on a stereotype, also has a unique personality. Contrary to Clayton, the golden era movies allowed us get to know the character: they unfolded it before us bit by bit, and as the movie plays we're being exposed to different aspects of its personality

Rojer (right) and Pongo, "101 Dalmations". One of the most natural, interesting and lovely characters ever. Original cel
For example: Baloo is one if the coolest animated characters, a careless guy who enjoys life and can't be bothered. So it seems, but later in the movie - when Bageera convinces him that Mowgli's staying in the jungle endangers him - we find out not only that Baloo has feelings and doubts, but also that he can reach a responsible, mature and difficult decision. Another example, and a truly wonderful one, is Roger from "101 Dalmatians". In spite of being a secondary character in the film, Roger is to me one of the most natural, interesting and lovely characters ever. Evil Clayton can only be jealous.
Personal interpretation. As mentioned, the golden era was the most mature stage of the people who, with their own pencils, invented the art of animation. Naturally, they had only one resource to draw from, and that is the real world. The animations they created were their personal interpretation, their caricature of motion and acting.My feeling is that many of today's animators prefer to rely on other people's animation as a primary source of inspiration, instead of studying the world around them and produce their own interpretations. What we get is a set of clichés, a caricature of a caricature; a pale reproduction that fails to excel to the level of freshness and novelty of the great era of acting in animation.

* * *

Apart from being a grand technical achievement, Pixar's Oscar winning short "Geri's Game" is an excellent example of good acting - and can also be viewed on the internet. Another thing that makes it the ideal sample for the points I have raised: it has one character acting two contrasting personalities. Comparing the "two" characters, one can learn a lot about acting - eliminating the sometimes confusing factor of appearance.

And most important - remarkably for such a short movie (around 4 minutes), Geri's Game encapsulates all the points I brought up in the article:
Feel. Think. React. Consistency. Personality. Mood.Uniqueness. Mannerism. Secondary actions. Timing. Complex Stereotypes. Personal Interpretation.
Geri's Game

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