A friend who is a professional TV series animator was telling me yesterday that he wants to attend a body mechanics workshop rather than an acting one. My answer was unequivocally to do an acting one instead.
Acting is the most difficult skill in animation and being a professional animator, one already have a grasp in body mechanics, substantial enough to support any performance.
If what you want to end up doing is acted performances and you are already a professional animator, don’t waste time and focus right now on producing shots that will show the recruiter you can do the job you want to do. With all the feature animation gigs going on right now, there is an urge to jump on those opportunities. In one year time, those productions will be finished and it is very likely that you will be facing the competition of hundreds of seasoned feature animators who took those opportunities when you didn’t.
I just came across that video by pure luck some time ago and it showed me how little I knew about acting. Too be fair we don’t all want to create that kind of performances in animation but it is a good wake up call. I am adding the Captain Underpants theme song as ….. we don’t all want to end up doing serious animation after all!!! ;-)
Using yourself as a reference when animating is great but can be very limiting as we can only refer to ourselves and our experiences. Also, people react very differently when in a crowd like in the following examples so there is nothing better than going online to look for ideas.
A while back, Buzzfeed posted some amazing references of people being scared at when visiting “scariest world famous haunted house attraction in Niagara falls”.
Here are just three examples. See how some people use their friends to shield themselves by grabbing them, have a gander, it is pretty hilarious.
Some time ago I was asked to animate kids and I know how different kids move compare to adults or teenager but I didn’t dare looking for references on Youtube and risking to be flagged by the Internet police ;-)
Fear no more! I just found “Hajimete no otsukai” a great TV show featuring kids asked to run some errands for their parents while secret cameras are recording them ;-) Perfect reference!
Here is one video and you can find several episodes at the following link:
I had never seen such a good example of how much the ears can move up and down when the face stretches. We are talking about nearly 1 cm here!!!
I just discovered some really fun and catchy music videos based on News footage with very colorful characters and doing a bit more research on how those were done, I realized they were using a music software plug-in called Auto-Tune which allows to tweak the pitch of an audio clip.
So I am not going to talk about Auto-tune, instead, I want to share with you a nice video clip where X-factor’s Simon Cowell does a great “Take” following a contestant’s attack on one of the jury. This is almost a “double take” and it is so cool to be able to see his thought process so clearly and more than anything, the fact that it happens at the same time he was finishing his previous action (he was lowering his “cold pop”).
Obviously, I also have to share those other fun music videos I found. Those are real characters!
We hardly ever hear how stand up comedians and comedy writers work out their jokes so this is a short but pretty interesting video I think where Jerry Seinfield explains his thought process.
The video is pretty short but offers a starck contrast with an other New York Times interview where Seinfield’s co-creator Larry David explains his work practices. Skip to 7mins20 to hear his explanation ;-)
I wouldn’t be able to give you a clear answer to that but I think we can all agree that the following example is a really fine piece of acting starring child prodigee Henry Thomas during an audition for 1982 Spielberg’s E.T.
The video just surfaced on the internet at the same time as an interview for Esquire magazine where he explains how he approached the audition.
“I read a scene from some early version of the script, and then I was asked to do an improvisation. I think the gist of the improv was, “You found someone, and they’re going to take them away from you, and it’s your friend, and you really don’t want your friend to go away.” So I started crying, and really going for it I guess.”
According to the Huffington Post, legend has it that Thomas drew his inspiration for the scene from a deceased family dog.
Okay kid, you got the job!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV0vYQcmWK0
I don’t normally watch TV but yesterday night I was so exhausted by a long day of doors sanding/painting and gardening that I only felt like switching on the evil box and got very lucky!
The evening started pretty badly with a weakly acted French TV series featuring an OCD striken police inspector reminiscent of Monk, then I found out that Dustin Hoffman was playing on two channels at the same time!
I had never seen “The graduate” but I loved it. It is a very light hearted movie with a fun spirit that reminded me of the French New Wave cinema for it’s very creative use of editing and reaaaalllly long shots. As noted by Mathieu Kassovitz in an after movie discussion, at four hundred, the amount of shots is well below the usual thousand to two thousand shots. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Nichols got some inspiration in watching Jean Luc Godard 1960′s “Breathless”.
The movie also features some really fun sequence transitions similar to what Ronnie Del Carmen boarded on “Up”, with the environment changing while the camera tracks the main character in the middle of an action. We see for example Hoffman leaps out of the swimming pool to lay flat on the bed of his lover ;-)
So! Such a long introduction to a very short shot that could have probably lasted few more minutes. I still think it is a great reference for Take/Thought process as it is very well acted and shows a clear change of thought. Beware, this is the very end of the movie so it contains a big spoiler.
The scene only starts 3 mins 56 into the clip but I created a bookmark just before so you don’t miss the very comic shot with the entire bus starring at the youth. A shot that probably summarizes part of the movie. Here is the bookmark http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahFARm2j38c&t=3m46s followed by the entire clip.
Ken Fountain just released “Attitudes and Acting Beats”, a new video tutorial at the incredible price of $10.99.
Judging by the official blurb and teaser, that one is probably more about acting and motion analysis so it should appeal to everyone from beginners to professionals.
If you want to become a good animator, do no hesitate to buy that tutorial. At $10.99, don’t come up with silly ideas and tell me you can’t afford it! Ken Fountain worked on many movies at Dreamworks, graduated from Animation Mentor and is a current teacher at Ianimate so you are getting way more than a 90 minutes video.
I haven’t seen the tutorial yet but seeing all the effort he put into the last one, that one is a must buy.
Here are the official blurb and teaser:
The new video is officially released! Whew. My intent was to be able to focus on some of the specific areas of my process that people had asked me to elaborate on, and hopefully introduce some new ideas as well. So, in that light, this 90-minutes of lecture/demo is devoted entirely to the planning, video analysis and blocking processes, and the tools and concepts I use to execute these phases with consistency, clarity, and hopefully emotional appeal.
This video is heavy on analysis. I get very specific regarding the structures I use to breakdown a performance and turn it in to pose-able emotional moments; like text, context and subtext, a structure I use to really understand my character and their circumstance; and the pillars of my workflow – attitudes, beats and textures – to create the right body language and interesting rhythms I need to engage my audience. I also take the opportunity to go deeper in to the concept of character centers and how that can greatly effect you character’s movement as well as the graphic quality of your shot’s staging. And, as usual, you can watch my approach to staging and posing for a specific shot; one that I will carry through to the next two videos.
Thanks again for all of your input. I hope to be able to address it all over this 3-part series. And keep them relatively affordable (only $10.99!).
According to NLP, 55% of communication is made by gesture and body language. Watch this video and you will be amazed by how easily you understand Italian without any previous knowledge ;-)
Great reference for gestures or give personality to your characters.
Alfredo Cassano posted a nice series of illustrations on his blog. Make sure you see the three of them and maybe buy his book!
Desmond Morris “The human animal”
I was watching a documentary on the Sherman brothers and found that really good eye dart video reference with two actors only few inches away from each others. It is striking how much the actress’s eyes move around when she is looking successively at the left and right eyes then at the mouth. Also pay attention to the timing of the darts, it is between one and two frames and the eye lid seems to be delayed by one frame at time.
Browsing Youtube is usually the best way to waste your time and kill your productivity but once in a while some great references emerge.
Check out that collection of Kids reactions when they ear their parents ate all their Halloween candies. It is hilarious and a precious reference to animate similar shots.
Take – video reference
While doing some research for my Character Design workshop I found that great acting moment in the Hammer’s 1960 adaptation of the 1886 Scottish novel where Dr Jekyll’s doctor friend start realising that the character standing before him is none other than his dear fellow.
Ideally we want to find real life references but those are really difficult to find and we usually don’t have a video camera rolling when we experience those moments so that sequence could be a great one to refer to when animating “takes” or when we try to conveying thought process.
Pay attention to how he relaxes the muscles around the eyes when in shock then contracts them with a subtle shift of the head as if to get closer and focus. Also notice the really interesting things he does with his lips, 10 then 12 seconds into it.
Hit the link for a quicktime version as usual and find the full movie below. It is an interesting take on the original story and it features the great Christoper Lee as the doctor’s wife lover. The featured sequence takes place around 1h26 into the movie.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mkemP1TuCw
Here is the follow up to my planning with two animatics and a composited full body video references. This is a quick post as I am pretty tired from a freezing sunday sketchcrawl.
Thumbnails and video references come hand in hand during my planning, I don’t shoot video references without trying out some thumbnails first but I might also go back to my thumbnails after shooting my references.
It is very likely that the acting will call for a specific framing but I also need to think about overall motion/choreography as I want to use the visual space to its full potential but also the set and the props as much as possible to create a specific performance and avoid clichés gesture or twinning. This is what thumbnails allow me to do.
I would actually recommend reading Nick Bruno’s excellent “How I approach my shot” blog post.
A great mistake with that kind of shot would be to have both characters standing up and gesturing for the entire shot as this would have created a really boring performance. I then remembered “Brazil”, a great shot by Jeffrey Engel where the speaker walks past behind the second character and decided to incorporate that. This is something I had seen in Ratatouille a while back and always wanted to use in my work.
I ran out of ideas for the end of the shot then realized that I could just cut to a close up with an over the shoulder shot.
In the video you will also see that I wasn’t too sure what to do with the second guy then decided that he would have his cap on at the beginning of the shot then take it down after Palpatine points at it when saying “hard work” and “disco Santa Claus” as to show that Anaking his ashamed of his situation.
One sequence that might not be clear in the video ref is when Palpatine lifts Anakin and straighten him up on “you need charisma” but the blocking will show that a bit better.
Alright, here are the different elements of my planning, the second animatic was a test to see how the shot would play out with Palpatine being on the other side and ending up leaning on the box. As you can see, I am still pretty unsure about the framing of the first shots, wide shots or medium shots? we will see in blocking.
This is what you need, gathering references
When looking for great acting I usually refer to boring and austere black and white or pre-1970s movies but once in a while I am amazed to find great performances in contemporary blockbusters or mainstream shows. The “Lost” TV series being my first source of reference at the moment but more on this later.
I am currently working on a shot involving two characters and a story plot based on Star Wars Episode 03 and while looking at the original movie and a specific scene with the Senator Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker, I was amazed at the performance of Scottish actor/theatre director Ian Mc Diarmid. To be fair, a movie featuring a 60+ years old stage trained shakespearean actor is very likely to present some exceptional acting moments. Everything from his body posture to his face and voice are outstanding. Loot at that subtle hand shake on the wider dramatic shot. Hayden Christensen’s acting seems cartoony and, as my friend Richie would say, almost grotesque in comparison ;-)
Here is the full keyframable quicktime video sequence between the sly Palpatine and candide Anakin followed by a series of screenshots to highlight the key moments of that very impressive performance where he reaches his goal after a series of tactical advances in the manner of a chess player.
Even without the audio you would be able to witness his emotional beats and get a good feel for his manipulative strategies, shifting between parental, authoritarian, cynical and sheepish attitude. What a little snake! ;-)
Notice how much a head rotation, squeezing of the eye lids, contraction of the nasal muscles can affect the expression. It is amazing how much he is able to communicate within the same body posture.
You can also pay attention to the asymmetry of his mouth in 4b and 4c and finish with a good look at that priceless fake smile on 9c that can only be detected by the fact that the eyes muscles don’t get involved in the upward motion.
I would highly suggest you to check out the HD version at the following address:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSy7nvRZ1E8&t=1m08s
I think this could be a nice add-on to the Jeff Gabor interview I featured few days ago. If you don’t have outstanding drawing abilities, there is no way you could work out and plan a similar animated scene in sketches and thumbnails. Using edited video references seems like the best option for subtle acting shots.
[update with the trailer video]
ohhhhhhh. It just came out!
Dreamworks animator extraordinaire, Ianimate mentor and Pencil Test Depot writer Jamaal Bradley just released an Acting shot walk through now available on the JRA webinar store. For those who don’t know, Jamaal previously worked at Sony then on Disney’s Tangled where he did some of the most impressive shots.
The video is only $29.99, I just bought it myself and can’t wait to receive the download link!
I just found that great showreel from Stefan Schumacher, a Swiss AAU graduate
Really, really nice stuff. What really stands out is the guy’s use of secondary action. Those character don’t only deliver their lines, they belong to a story, they are alive.
I would also recommend you to check out all the links from his links page.
It’s amazing how different Norman can look in those reels…
Avatar’s producer Jon Landau made a very interesting comments some time ago and a lot of people failed to understand what he was talking about.
Here is an extract from the article published in the Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/titanic-director-james-cameron-grabs-films-holy-grail-in-new-film-avatar/story-e6frg8pf-1225766563195
To me, it’s the exact opposite,” Landau says. “Our goal on this movie was not to replace the actor, it was to replace the animator. If you think about it, what a great actor does and what a great animator does are antithetical to one another.
“A great actor withholds information. Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men can sit there and do nothing. No animator would ever allow that, they would put in a twitch. So our objective was to preserve Sam Worthington’s performance and have that be what you see in those characters.”
As animator we find it difficult to keep our characters completly still. Because we get paid to animate and because we love to see animated things we feel compelled to add twich, eye darts, shoulder raise. Top Disney animator Mark Hen made a similar comment in one of the Animation Mentor lectures and more recently the good people from the “Speaking of animation”.
The reason I am bringing this topic today is because I found a very cool clip that will illustrate something very similar.
The modelling industry has very specialised professionals called “Body parts models”. Don’t believe me? Hit the link (http://www.bodypartsmodels.com/home.html). Those people get hired for photo-shoots mainly when nice looking hands, arms, shoulders, bums …. are required. They are obviously cheaper than full body models but do the trick for close ups. Now the problem is that very often those “body part models”, similarly to animators, just… just overdo it! Instead of “straight acting” their part, and just display what they are supposed to display, they feel compelled to “hit the pose” and come up with the most over-the-top gesture or poses that will justify their pay check.
Now I have a very cool clip where you can see one of those models illustrating this perfectly. Pay attention, well, how could you not pay attention to the silly hand gestures of the woman holding the Emmy award on the right hand side. It is so over the top that Ellen DeGeneres can’t help mimicking her towards the end of the clip.
No matter what you think about PC/Macs, I have to share the new Microsoft ad with you. I can’t help smiling while watching it. There is so much emotion coming out of this ad that I can’t help loving those 2 characters.
If we study this ad on an animation point of view we can see so many great touches. It is obviously a bit wacky with Seinfield explaining that he has a shower with his shoes on to save time or when he asks if Microsoft will every gonna come up with something that will make our computers moist and chewie like a cake but there are some more interesting elements.
1. Seinfield and the churro. He holds it, bite it, offers it to Gates. At the end they both walk out, each holding their churros.
2. Gates and Seinfield softening the sole. Seinfield has a very accurate gesture while Gates can only ackwardly mimic him.
Both action happen while they are talking about something else and are still not distracting but help them to look more alive. They are real characters in a real store, not two actors delivering lines.
Timing and pacing
The beats in the add are dictated by the delivery of the lines. There is a lot of talk but there are also some long moments of silence filled with emotions like the “what is it?” “the leather” sequence. The beats slow down, accelerate, stop and start again. Isn’t that a nice texture?
Now on a marketing point of view I think it is very clever. A lot of people are commenting negatively on it saying that they don’t understand it but the advert is not a soap advert hammering that the microsoft products are better and shinnier, it is much more clever than that. They have already tried the soap marketing campaign and it only partially worked so why not trying something a bit more “wacky”? Don’t forget that it is only the first one of a series of advert so let’s wait and see what else they have in store.
What they are trying to do here is to portray Bill Gates as a really simple guy, someone really down to earth with really simple values in which most people will recognise themselves.
He is a very rich person but still buys his shoes at the discount shop in the shopping mall because that’s the only place he can find the best price for value products. Shoes like computers are a commodity, they shouldn’t become a lifestyle and paying a high price for them is silly.The message is quite clear: he doesn’t like to be ripped off.
There is one little details than hardly anyone will notice and that the ad company probably placed there for a reason. I am not too sure why exactly. Maybe to show that Bill Gates hasn’t always been the straight guy we know but just like everyone made some mistakes in his life? If you don’t know, the picture on the Platinium Shoe card is the one from his arrest in 1977 for a traffic violation.
I was supposed to write some notes regarding the Ed Hooks masterclass but never got around doing it.
In the meantime, here is a great link from you on the Indian website cgtantra.com:
52 Acting tips by Ed Hooks