Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Acting It Out

I know that many people hate hearing the analogy that animators are like actors. The only difference is that an actor in the theater, TV or in movies gets to use their own body; their hands and facial expressions. To be a good animator you need to perform, but the audience doesn't get to see you, they see your art. They look at your drawings, so it's a matter of how well your drawings work to express how you feel.

As an animator you are taking your feelings and putting them into your drawings. Through your pencil you are able to project yourself on to the screen. The challenge that an animator has is to mentally get past the point where you’re thinking in terms of drawing. You are no longer drawing on the paper or the computer screen. It's not a process of drawing. You have to transpose yourself into the cartoon and exist in that space that is now a “real” world. So then you can start to draw a character moving in space and you're not thinking so much of perspectives and all those technical things. Instead you're thinking "How does it feel? How do I feel in this moment in this cartoon world?" Hopefully you get into it, otherwise the animation has a very technical and studied look and it isn’t as believable.

An animator that can really project into the character that they are drawing is creating stuff that lives. Is it easy, heck no, it takes lots of practice. It has to become instinctive and intuitive. It is often a good idea to have a private space when working on an animation because you need to be able to allow yourself to not feel inhibited as you take on your role. Nothing is probably stranger to a casual observer than to see an animator gesturing and performing in front of a mirror or their computer display as they get into the moment and act out what they are trying to capture in their drawings. You can't be self conscious, your work space is your stage and you are giving a performance.

It is actually a desirable situation to be able to totally immerse yourself into the fantasy of your character’s world. Any good actor will tell you that they strive to become their character and ideally lose their own reality while performing. They want to think and feel not as themselves but as the character. And, this is equally true for the animator. I realize that to many of you this may sound a little odd. But that’s your goal, to become the character and to draw how you feel as that character.

I like to watch The Actor’s Studio program that plays on cable TV. It is very interesting to hear from some of the more famous actors how they prepare for a role and how they lose themselves in a part. If you want to become a good animator you need to employ many of the same mental exercises that actors learn to overcome the barriers to being able to project into a role. That is also the reason that it is so important to draw a character as many times as you can in planning your work. You need to get to the point that the drawing is instinctive so that you don’t have to focus on that aspect. It is a strange and liberating feeling when you and your character are in sync. It would be nice if the only prerequisite was being a little loopy; unfortunately it is a difficult skill and requires a lot of dedicated effort to achieve.


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