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.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tell 'em What You Told 'em

I really like when I watch movies and television programs that have messages that apply to animation. The one that helped me most recently was from the movie Seven Pounds with Will Smith, in which he is explaining a type of presentation to a company.
He says that you must be clear and:

          Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them
          Tell them
          Then tell them what you told them

This presentation technique reminds me of anticipation, the animation principle that we need to show the audience that something is about to happen. Then it happens and they can follow it because they saw it coming and were ready for it.

Another one of these messages I found in Futurama, in the episode Godfellas (S4_E8), when a race of tiny people worship Bender as their God. Bender tries to help them, and accidentally kills them, he tries not helping them and they end up killing each other. Then Bender runs into the real God, and he tells Bender “Being God isn't easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch.”  God then goes on to say,

”When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all.” 

This is the statement that stuck with me. When I think about animation this way, about how we are trying to create the illusion of life, that when we do our jobs right, the animator's hands will go unseen as the characters live out their lives on screen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Character Consistency

Same actor, different animators, different characters. We realized we were all animating the same character this week, but our performances were dividing our lead into different characters. Each performance had strong acting and good animation, but they weren't the same character. So this week we're aiming to, instead of one of us animate Tex Avery's Bugs, another of us animate Bob Clampett's Bugs,  and so on, we're all just gonna try to animate Chuck Jones' Bugs.