Welcome back! Last month we talked about multiple character shots, and in particular, about how important it is to keep your secondary characters doing secondary actions. How you usually want to try to have only one primary character in any shot at any given moment, and to use your knowledge of composition, staging, and motion to lead the eye of the audience through any shot, no matter how many characters are talking, or how busy the scene is.
If you've read more than a couple of these, you know I'm just jumping randomly around to whatever happens to seem interesting to write about each month, so sticking with tradition, this month we're making a big random jump out of the "practical application" world and taking a short detour into something a little more conversational. A little more intangible, I guess.
This month I want to talk about acting just a little bit.
Not how to do it, but why it's important to try.
Here's a little pop quiz: raise your hand out there if you're an actor...
Okay, well - that's sort of a trick question. If you are an animator, you *ARE* an actor. If you want to become an animator, then you're signing up for a lifetime of studying acting, and I think it's important that you think of yourself that way.
TIP #6: A great animator IS a great actor, and that needs to be a goal for each and every one of you.
Don't believe me?
Okay, what is an actor's job? An actor's job is to become their character so completely that they can deliver a performance that an audience can believe in. An actor's job is to take the direction from the Director, and to deliver the required story-points, emotions, and actions -- all without any dialogue or narration, if necessary.
How is that any different from an animator's job?
We have to do the same exact thing, only on top of the actor's job we also have to be masters of body-mechanics, physics, and artistic presentation (composition, staging, silhouette, etc.) In fact, I'd argue that our job is often more difficult than an actor's job, because we have to do almost everything an actor does, and then on top of that, we have to have the ability to break that performance down into tiny 24-frame-per-second increments!
Actors have the luxury of living in the real world. They have real props, and real actors to interact with. If an actor is going to storm out of a door, he gets into the character's head, tries to feel the emotion of his character as truly and deeply as he can, makes sure he knows where his marks are, and that's it! Off he goes, storming through the door, angry as all get-out, and slams the door behind him.
That actor doesn't have to think, "Okay, I'm really really mad, so I'm going to storm through that door. So, hmmm... Okay, first, I want to take a step with my left foot, so I better shift my hips over my right foot, and rotate them on the x-axis so my right hip drives upwards as the weight of my body comes to rest completely on that right foot. Oh, and I better remember to counter that with the shoulders, and offset the overlap of the arms as I swing around to take that first step, or I'll probably just fall over."
NO! An actor just thinks "storm through the door" and that's it! His body will automatically do all of the things you have to truly break down into minute individual (but deeply inter-related) actions.
Animators have to create a performance (hopefully) every bit as evocative as that actor, AND be a master of how the body mechanics will work and everything else besides.
It isn't an easy job, but boy is it a fun puzzle to tackle, and so satisfying when you really nail it.
Here's the thing - people don't give animators enough credit.
Remember the first time you saw that T-Rex in Jurassic Park busting through the trees, almost on top of the jeep? The whole theater screamed! Afterward, people were talking about how scary that T-Rex was.
What? What T-Rex? It wasn't real! The T-Rex didn't scare anyone! The *ANIMATOR* made them all scream! Sure, the music, and directing add to any scary moment, but the animator is the single person who brought that dinosaur to life to such an extent that a theater full of people screamed.
How cool is *THAT*!?
Or what about Buzz and Woody from Toy Story? How many times have you heard kids talking about how funny Buzz and Woody are?
But Buzz and Woody never made anyone laugh. They never made anyone cry, or scream, or feel inspired. Buzz and Woody are only ideas. They're a bunch of math, and that's it. They're a file full of bits and bytes and ones and zeros!
The Pixar animators breathed such life into Buzz and Woody, that children all over the world believed, truly believed - even if only for those 80 minutes, that those characters were truly alive. That Buzz had real feelings. That Woody had real dreams.
That's some pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me.
It's the closest we've got to real magic.
Sometimes, as an animator, you might wish for some recognition, or dream of the day when a poster trumpets the fact that a character was animated by Glen Keane or James Baxter, rather than pointing out that Mr. Bigshot Celebrity spent two whole days recording the voice track.
Will that ever happen? Maybe. I doubt it, but who knows. Either way, it doesn't really matter, because in the end, the magic of this animation stuff doesn't have anything to do with individual recognition. It inspires kids! It spreads laughter around the world. It gets people thinking about things they normally might not think about. It lets people of all walks of life recognize universal truths about themselves and their neighbors. At the very least, it lets people escape their lives, no matter how hard those lives are, at least for a couple hours.
The point, I guess, is this: if you don't make a conscious effort to study at least the rudimentary basics of acting, you will NEVER imbue a character like Woody with the life that Woody's audience so wants to see. They WANT to believe in him. They WANT to identify with him. You only have to give them a real chance! If you don't truly become your character when you're filming your reference, you are short-changing the audience, and whatever performance you come up with will never be as powerfully evocative as it could have been.
If you ignore the principles of acting, you might be a good animator, but you will never be great. In short, you will have blown it as an animator. You will have squandered an opportunity to help entertain, inspire, and touch people, even in that small way for that short period of time.
And honestly? If you aren't gunning for becoming "great," then you might as well just give up now, because you'll never get past "mediocre" with that attitude.
Am I the best actor? Am I "great?" Of course not! Not even close. I have a ton to learn about acting (and always will - yet another of the many facets of our art form that are far too complex to ever completely master), but I do know enough to know that the pursuit of acting skills is as important to my animator's toolbox as any nice figure-8 arcs are.
And I also know that getting lazy, stopping your learning process, and saying "okay, I'm good enough" is Step 1 in the "How to Become a Washed-Up Burned-Out Has-Been Animator" manual.
Will I ever be a "great" actor? Will you? Beats me. That isn't the point. The point is that I'll spend the rest of my career trying to push my art to that level, and even if I'm never the Greatest Actor/Animator On Earth (which, come on - let's face it - probably isn't ever going to happen), at least I'll know that I spent every day trying my best to get there.
And in the end, isn't that what truly matters? Isn't that what will give your life, (and by extension, your work) that feeling of satisfaction, growth, youth, and fun?
I should apologize for how preachy that got. I just think acting is such an important and overlooked skill for animators. Future articles might get into more practical "acting tips," but then again, I never really know until I sit down what I'll be blathering about, so who knows.
Whatever the next article is about, I promise it'll be more practical!
As always, keep animating, and have FUN!