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!
[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.