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Acting For Animators

Veteran animation director Paul Brizzi reviews Ed Hooks' book, which combines his years of theater and teaching experience to reveal principles Brizzi says ring true.

An animation movie is just like any other type of movie. It runs at 24 frames per second, there is a script, a director, a producer, an artistic team, technicians, editing, post-production, etc., except you don't have actors, right? Wrong! The actors are working in the shadows of small rooms and cubes. They are the animators who give life to their characters. To reach this goal, they will spend days and weeks to find the perfect attitude, behavior or facial expression just for one scene. There is no doubt that they will be interested in Acting for Animators by Ed Hooks. As it says on the cover, this book is a guide to performance animation. While I do not know if it is really complete (these skills take a lifetime to learn), it is definitely an attractive and very interesting book. It is written in a way that categorizes every aspect of acting, from concepts to techniques. It is easy to read because it talks to one in a simple and direct way, and when it comes to theory, Ed Hooks always brings concrete examples to demonstrate his points.

Two Essentials

I have been seduced by the two essential points that Hooks makes in the book, and constantly comes back to, for my entire professional animation career.

First point: it's all about emotion! Because the audience will be watching the characters on the screen, they will only be interested in them, if they care for them. They want to know how the characters feel about things, and this brings me to the second point: empathy. Ed Hooks also insists on this concept, because the audience will be satisfied and moved if they can relate to the situation and emotions that the characters have to go through. It is all about identification.

Animation: The Ultimate

The goal of the book is to create a bridge between live-action actors and animators. I would say that this virtual bridge already exists unconsciously as soon as one begins animating. The animator knows that when it comes to emotion, the audience doesn't make a distinction between live and animated characters. Like Ed Hooks says, he noticed that screening live-action film clips to animators makes the greatest impact. In this regard, I regret that there is an aspect of animation, a point, that is not mentioned enough in the book. It is related to a skill that animators have, which gives them a certain superiority when one compares it with the talent of a live-action movie actor. This is the particular ability to exaggerate a simple attitude using body language, enhance a sensitive moment in the arc of a movement or at the peak of an emotion, thanks to the media of animation. You can call this expressionism, caricature or "milking the moment," but it is the fabulous power of drawing and the animation art form. This point was not brought up enough in my opinion, especially when one considers the amazing possibilities it gives the animator. When one animates, one is in total control to make each and every point, to create everything.

Nonetheless, this book will be very useful to animators. They will find it to be a very interesting resource with numerous references and a judicious acting analysis using examples of particularly successful scenes from The Iron Giant. There is also a CD that contains illustrated acting concepts. This is a library must have!

Acting for Animators: A Complete Guide to Performance Animation, by Ed Hooks. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing, 2000. 125 pages. ISBN: 0-325-00229-0. ($18.95).

Paul Brizzi is an animation director at Disney Feature Animation. He and his brother Gaëtan directed the last segment of Fantasia 2000 "The Firebird." Previously, they both were sequence directors on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Born in Paris, they began their career in 1973 as animators and created their own animation company in 1982. They directed and produced shorts, commercials, TV series and directed a feature for Gaumont in 1985, Asterix versus Cesar. In 1989,they sold their studio, Brizzi Film, to Disney TV and in 1992 began working for Disney Feature Animation until coming to live in Los Angeles to work in the Burbank studios in 1996.