Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Thinking Character

I remember one day Tom told us in the dailies, "This character does not look like he's acting. He looks alive". I think the difference between "acting" and "alive" is all about "what the character is thinking". If the character looks like they're acting, then maybe the character is thinking about his performance (which sometimes works, for example, a shot with a cocky actor acting in cheesy way on a stage). All the movement and action should have a reason. Think about the thought process and show it through the characters. I just found good article about this by John Lasseter.

When animating characters, every movement, every action must exist for a reason. If a character were to move about in a series of unrelated actions, it would seem obvious that the animator was moving it, not the character itself. All the movements and actions of a character are the result of its thought process. In creating a "thinking character," the animator gives life to the character by connecting its actions with a thought process. Walt Disney said, "In most instances, the driving forces behind the action is the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character—or all three. Therefore, the mind is the pilot. We think of things before the body does them."
To convey the idea that the thoughts of a character are driving its actions, a simple trick is in the anticipation; always lead with the eyes or the head. If the character has eyes, the eyes should move first, locking the focus of its action a few frames before the head. The head should move next, followed a few frames later by his body and the main action. The eyes of a character are the windows to its thoughts; the character’s thoughts are conveyed throught the actions of its eyes.
If the character has no eyes, such as an inanimate object like a Luxo lamp, it is even more important to lead with the head. The number of frames to lead the eyes and head depends on how much thought precedes the main action. The animator must first understand a character’s thought process for any given action. Consider a character wanting to snatch some cheese from a mouse trap; the eyes will lead the snatch by quite a bit because this is a big decision. The character needs time to think, "...Hmm...This looks tricky, is this cheese really worth it or is it just processed American cheese food?...Oh what the heck...," he decides, and snatches the cheese.
Conversely, if the action is a character ducking to miss a low flying sheep, the anticipation of the eyes leading the action should be just a couple of frames. "What the...," and the next thing, he is spitting wool out of his mouth.
The only time that the eyes or head would not lead the action would be when an external force is driving the character’s movements, as opposed to his thought process. For example, if that character was hit in the back by the low flying sheep, the force of the impact would cause the body to move first, snapping the head back and dragging it behind the main action of the body.

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