Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Performance Context

Animation should be believable and interesting. I’m sure there are many interpretations for believable and interesting as these terms are relative. So I want to begin discussing them by giving you some insights into my sense of their significance. As an animator, perhaps the most exciting aspect of creating is the joy of watching your creation come alive. When you look at a piece of animation that you have created and you suddenly believe your own characters actually exist, that is the sense of believability about which we are talking. Not that they are realistic, but rather that they have transcended into having an acceptance of being. If you as the animator can perceive of their existence then this will translate to the audience. If their actions and behavior take on meaning and provide an opportunity for us to relate to them naturally, then they become believable.

Believable means that the audience feels that the character's actions are the result of its own inner motives. That the character feels thinks and reacts consistently according to their personality, situation and mood.

You might be asking yourself at this point “I just want to learn to do a head turn or a walk cycle, so what does believable and interesting have to do with animating those actions?” The answer is everything. To only learn mechanics or technical aspects is to learn your craft out of context. You need to approach your work as more then following the steps in a recipe. Animating is bestowing a sense of reality and life. Yes, there are technical aspects to how this can be done, but there are equally important aspects where you as the animator are striving to communicate emotions and feeling and how the character is responding and relating to their world. You are in fact giving a performance. You have to get inside the character and translate your attitudes and how you are experiencing situations as them, animating is a performance art. Sure you want your character to move naturally and to conform to a sense of physics, at least cartoon physics, but characters aren’t non-organic. Without regard to the physical appearance of the character, you could have a character that started out as a pencil, but if they are to be a character that is alive then they have to think and respond like a living being.

Beyond just imparting a sense of believability an animator wants their characters to be interesting. To me interesting relates to those aspects that make the character unique. I could have two characters and both could be believable but they need to be more than just believable they need to be unique. Every character moves, walks and talks in their own special way. This is a way of communicating their personality. Ideally characters should exhibit contrasting personalities but that is a different matter related to producing interesting stories. For this discussion we are focused on a single character and our desire to endow them with life. If you observe people you soon will notice that each person has certain gestures and facial expressions and ways of doing things that belong to them as individuals. The way they talk and move is unique to them and also what adds interest to them as characters. A character is not defined only by the look of his face and proportions of his body, physical attributes, but also by his mannerisms.

As we progress in our discussion of The Craft of Making Animated Cartoons, I believe that it is important to keep these aspects in mind so that we don’t lose sight of the overall goal of producing believable and interesting cartoons. We will certainly be exploring techniques and technical methods here but we also want to keep our discussion in a more performance oriented context. We will return to this perspective often.

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Blogger Jimmy said...

Hi JK, you make so many good points here, it's definitely a wake-up call for me. It makes total sense that at some point, you have to stop focusing on the academic exercises and get on with trying to create a performance and tell a story. I confess that I've resisted the suggestions you've made to me because I've found it easier to just focus on the mechanics. With the book exercises I've done, you get a lot of hand-holding. But I realize I might be doing things backwards - maybe as I learn I should be focusing on animating characters in situations and deal with learning the mechanics as I come across them instead of learning a head turn and stuffing it my bag of 'tricks' to be used when needed.

9/22/2006 4:26 PM  
Blogger Jerry Keslensky said...

Jimmy, it is only natural when learning a new skill to be focused on learning the fundamental techniques and of course it is always easier to follow a series of lesson steps. You can't short cut the learning curve, but in learning anything it is always a good idea to establish the context around which that thing is based. So recognizing that animating is ultimately a performance art just helps us to establish a better foundation for what we are trying to accomplish.

9/22/2006 7:01 PM  

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