Performance And Acting For Animators
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John Canemaker
Director of the animation program, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts

Action analysis and acting are just as important to study as the technicalities. You have to create personalities, and you do it somehow through a combination of physicality, psychological points and emotion. How is the character feeling? Who is the character? For classical character animation, where the plot revolves around the personalities created, I think it is essential to know all of the areas -- acting, action analysis, story structure, traditional animation. I want the students here to have knowledge of that. That's what the action analysis classes are for and that's why I brought you in. I brought you in to help give the students a "feel" of what it is like to reference their own bodies and then to project that into their puppets, computer characters, or drawings. [Editor's note: Judy Lieff taught a movement workshop for John Canemaker's Action Analysis Class.

Courtesy of ArtToday.

Many of the greatest animators knew their bodies very well and how they could stretch beyond what normal people do with their bodies just through their athletic prowess. Grim Natwick who lived to be 100 years-old was a track runner. Ollie Johnston was a runner. I think a lot of animators are well coordinated physically. If they don't know it through sports or through performance, they may know it through dance. They said Freddy Moore had incredible balance. Like his animation, he might find himself off balance, fall over backwards, but then end up in a great storytelling pose. Norman Ferguson was not a performer, but he's the one who really started to create animated characters that could think (Playful Pluto, 1934). Ferguson was a great fan of vaudeville as was Ward Kimball. Vaudeville is throughout all of Ferguson's work, and he claims it as a big influence. There were a whole bunch of these people who had performance experience.

Walt Disney created his own educational program and it included action analysis. Don Graham was hired from Chouinard to put these classes together. They examined the films of artists such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, frame by frame and discussed how the gags were set up and how they communicated with the audience. They looked at all kinds of films including German Expressionism, films by Leni Reifenstahl, sports films, Hollywood films, nature films, documentaries. They used bits and pieces of everything, and learned communication principles from that.

In the `30s there were a few instances of dancers being referenced for characters. Danilova of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was brought in to the studio to pose for the Ostrich in Fantasia. Snow White's model was Marge Champion, and you can see her balletic grace in the character's posture and mannerisms. Marge Champion was also referenced for the blue fairy in Pinocchio and for the hippos in Fantasia.

I was an actor for about 10 years. So I knew about performing and communicating and posing. I am trying to get people who may not have had that experience to do these things. I encourage students to take acting classes. I encourage them to look up the method, or study Uta Hagen, or go see a musical comedy, or watch mime performers. There is a world out there that we can draw from literally and figuratively.

Because body language and expressions in great classical animation are so refined, direct and expressive, it isn't necessary to hear the sound track to understand what is being portrayed. In classic Disney films you understand just through the movement, how the characters feel and relate to each other.

Courtesy of ArtToday.

Brett Varon
Assistant Director, Fox's Family Guy

I took acting in high school but not at CalArts. The best way for me to stage a scene is to act the scene out myself. If I act something out, I invent things that I wouldn't have done drawing. I think an animator has to have a sense of physical comedy and acting. There has to be an interest in expressing an idea visually, like dance in that way. A dancer, like an animator, has to be a physical imitator. I think everything you do helps in animation. If you can, and you have access to it, an acting class is a really good thing.

Watching references is one thing but then doing it gives you a more thorough understanding. It takes things to the next level. The more you research and the more time you put into something the better it's going to be in combination with the talent you have.

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