[update] Simple tip to break a W pose: Have the character hold a prop!
As Frank and Ollie expressed it in the “Illusion of Life” in 1981, “Twin, is the unfortunate situation where both arms or both legs are not only parallel but doing the exact same thing”. (p.68)
The typical example of a twin is the most dreaded pose in animation, the W pose. A pose where the character is standing straight with both forearms raised up, forming a W with his arms.
Carson Van Osten, a famous Disney comics artist illustrated it very well in his 1973 “Comic Strip Artist’s kit” and the illustration was reused in “The Illusion of Life”
Having been taught by some of the best animators in the industry during my training at Animation Mentor, I always try to avoid the W pose and find it really hard. I sometimes find myself wondering if there couldn’t be some exceptions. Don’t we, “twin”, in real life? Aren’t there any situation where the W would be acceptable?
Ron Clements seems to be thinking the opposite and in the same chapter of the “Illusion of Life” was quoted saying: “If you get into acting, you would never think of expressing an emotion with twins anywhere but somehow, in a drawing, when you are not thinking , it creeps in time and again”.
That’s not of much help is it? So what to do?
Well, when in doubt, I usually refer to my masters, the good people from Pixar and other feature animation studios but doing a fair bit of research I didn’t expect such an outcome. What a shock, their work is full of twins or at least the trailers I found on Youtube.
I made a funny animated gif to illustrate my findings. I hope no one will be offended, this wasn’t my goal, I could probably find similar examples in other studio’s work but those were the only trailers I had on my hard drive. Ultimately who am I to make fun of Pixar.
The most surprising is the Ratatouille trailer where Rémi is twining for a long series of gestures. Wasn’t Brad Bird, Milt Kahl’s protégé, directing the movie?
So what to think of it?
Well if a Pixar director who started at Disney when he was a teenager is not bothered by twins I don’t think they should matter much but I would still refer to Andrew Gordon’s Splinedoctors’s article about cliché gestures.
W poses, with the neck rub and the elbow hold, are some of those cliché gestures that first come to the mind when thinking a performance and we should try to avoid them as much as we can.
If after exploring other acting choices they still feel adequate, then, we can probably use them but they should always, be the last option, not gesturing being the first.
Like listening to music while animating, keep in mind that you should avoid it but if it works for you or if this seems like the most natural thing to do, just do it.