Friday, August 31, 2012

Acting Notes (1)

Acting is such an elusive beast and is something I'm constantly struggling with yet forever fascinated by.  I've been taking notes on the subject, compiling it for myself and thought it might be worth sharing.  I figured it would be good to start from a big picture perspective and dig deeper as the posts go on.

Sidenote:  Here are some articles on the subject worth reading.

The Building Blocks

We start off with the ever-cliche pyramid.

This is something I indirectly learned from an instructor at Animation Mentor, James Chiang.  I'm not sure if this is 100% the way everything goes, but I believe it to be true enough for my own path.  Before we can get to acting, we need to have a solid understanding of the principles (fundamentals) and body mechanics.  If we try to act without these skills, our animation will crumble without the foundation.  And to me it makes sense.  How can you show how excited someone is if your posing is weak.  How can you show anger if your spacing is always off.  How can you show exhaustion if your mechanics aren't strong.

The point of the artform (exceptions exist of course) is to present ideas.  Each block informs the next, so I highly encourage starting from the bottom, up.  Many times, students seem to forgo the foundation and "challenge" themselves by shooting for the craziest ideas.  And in most of those cases, they've end up hurting their progress more than helping because it's so easy to get lost.

Acting Hurdles

Acting is hard.  Maybe that's just me, but I find it extremely difficult.  One of the more common hurdles that I struggle with  (hopefully I'm not on my own here) and that is the idea of letting yourself go.  When I shoot video reference for my shots, there is this feeling of embarrassment that looms over me.  There is a bit of a fear, a bit of discomfort, a lot of vulnerability.  And it's only natural right?  When we get up to act these bits, we start to reveal ourselves in a way that most just aren't comfortable with.  For some, even just putting up your animation for a critique can be nerve-wracking, let alone putting your actual self out there.  The solution for me is pretty straight forward though... get over it.  Easy for me to say, but when you think about it we're just goofing around.  It's playtime and we need to realize that screwing up, feeling scared, and generally being a fool is perfectly fine in this instance.  Just relax and enjoy.

Now the other side of things is the vulnerability part.  It's a very personal thing to allow everyone access to your true self.  When we animate these characters, we imprint a part of us onto them and share a bit of ourselves with the world.  A lot of these imprints come from a real place, a personal place.  There's a really cool story from Director Lee Unkrich that tells of this very topic.  I think this explains it better than I ever can.  It takes a lot of guts to tap into your own life, but I feel that's how we inject believably into our characters.


To get into character is to truly understand their situation.  It requires us as the animator to get into their headspace and inhabit their story.  If you understand their thought process, you will understand their motives and their motivation for every action that takes place in your shot.  I call that the emotional blueprint, a stream of thoughts through-out your shots to keep your acting choices in check.  Even if the character does something by accident, we have to understand where their thought process is at to then try and portray their action as an accident.  So on our end, everything is done on purpose.

My take on acting is that we can present entertainment through sincerity.  This is me vaguely saying "be true to the character".  Certain characters do things in a very specific and particular way.  Secondary action in a lot of cases is what really describes character.

When Pepe Le Pew waits for his lady friend, he doesn't just check his watch.  He isn't bored, he isn't impatient.  He looks suave while grooming in preparation for the girl to show up.  That's such a Pepe Le Pew thing to do!  And it makes sense that he would do so... cause that's what's on his mind!

In this clip, there is a very particular way about how Coral responds.  The quality of movement is something that just seems so believable as a fish.  This goes back to fundamentals / mechanics.  The animator here, Shawn Krause, sells the acting really well all the way up that pyramid we spoke of earlier.  It may be deemed a "simple" shot, but it sparks with life.

During my time over at Reel FX I was lucky enough to be able to listen to Glen Keane give a talk at the studio.  Something he spoke of really struck a chord with me.  He mentioned Ariel and how he was contemplating a certain acting choice.  He would mull over it constantly until he realized how it wasn't even up to him anymore.  Ariel exists as her own being and would do this particular move this way because of these reasons.  My interpretation of it was to let the character breathe through you.  Become the conduit of which these existing characters can be revealed to the rest of the world.

Fun clip from Victor Navone:

There is a lot to view here, but something that Victor mentions on his blog in this post, is how he injects some very minute but characteristic bits to the animation.  She still feels feminine though she's a floating egg, but she still has attitude.  Notice how what her eyes do when she lights up the light bulb, and how Wall-E rotates the rubix cube after Eve quickly solves it.

... more to come.


  1. Awesome stuff, Tony! Thanks for sharing it!

  2. I realized my blog is highly neglected...
    Love all the info Chauzer! Thanks for posting :)