Face to Face with Chris Landreth’s Masterclass on Facial Animation
The next part of the course, somewhere around 30%, focuses on cg – fundamental rigging of the face, modeling expressions, blending shapes and studying the slippery slope between great animation and the Uncanny Valley. As they say, one bad smile can not only ruin your entire day, it can ruin your entire film. At the conclusion of this section of the course, students will have a basic rigged face from which to animate.
Animation labs and exercises makes up the final segment of the course. This is where the clinical study and detail of the rigging and modeling are merged with the emotional charge of acting. Students will think like actors, not like puppets. The first exercise is a study in the complexity of simplicity – a face that isn’t doing anything while it actually does a tremendous amount. As Chris describes this section of the course, you can’t force motion. There is a tremendous amount going on with a face that is technically “not doing anything.” Eyes blink and move constantly; they roll around, nostrils flare, cheeks move with every breath. There is a lot going on. The students do a 4 frame blink exercise - by this time, they have a sense of why the face moves in certain ways even though there is no “action” going on at the time.
Next, they move to expressions, lip-synching and other facial movement. Chris uses the examples of the work of clowns, highly expressive comedians like Lucille Ball and Red Skelton, images of how people scream. He also makes ample use of video clips of famous actors – Orson Welles, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman are just a few. When Chris mentioned Orson Welles, I reminded him of a presentation he did in Germany many years ago, how he showed a clip from Citizen Kane where Orson Welles tore apart a bedroom – the assumed emotion behind his violent rage seemingly contradicted by an absolute bland, almost blank expression on the actor’s face. The entire presentation was fascinating but in particular I remember being mesmerized by his use of film clips and images of famous artwork to illustrate in great detail what he was “thinking” when he did made certain decisions in his films.
I have always been impressed by Chris’ ability to make an audience feel like they’ve been let in on some trade secret or insider information as he walks them through his process. It’s more than just good teaching. He’s giving you access to his intuitive thought process, not just the steps of his production pipeline. His focus and sheer intelligence brings an audience right alongside him as he explains the very essence of how he looks at the world through the eyes of an artist. I have only met a handful of people who have sheer smarts coupled with the ability to make sense when speaking of highly complex issues. I know many really smart people – most couldn’t explain how to make microwave popcorn, let alone get the package out of its wrapper.
The final lab involves taking a favorite sound file and piece of acting, then putting them together into a full facial animation. In total, there are 42 hours of masterclass broken into 3 ½ hour classes, 3 times a week, for 4 weeks. I’m not an animator and I don’t play one on TV either. However, after walking through this class with Chris, what he’s trying to teach, what he feels is important for animators to learn, I’m ready to sign-up myself. There’s no doubt this is a class that serious character animators should go out of their way to attend.
Complete information on the upcoming masterclass at Sheridan can be found at:
Chris Landreth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Sarto is the Publisher and COO of Animation World Network. He’s also obviously a fan of Chris Landreth. And rightly so.