Performance And Acting For Animators
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Jim Duffy
Director/Creative Producer, Klasky Csupo

At Klasky Csupo, we believe to be successful, directors and storyboard artists should possess strong acting and composition skills so recently we've offered acting classes to enhance their work. The classes aren't meant to teach them acting as such but more to increase their awareness of what motivation and emotion a character might be experiencing so they can better construct each scene.

When an artist gets a script and voice track, they begin to envision composition as well as what actions the character might be doing. To engage an audience, the scene must be interesting to watch. Today, we often see animation that's simply talking heads with little acting and boring composition. Like live-action, the job of the director and artist is to enhance the actor's vocal performance with more visual clues to what's happening in a scene. We hope the classes we're offering can support our artists, giving them more tools with which to work.

Courtesy of ArtToday.

Frank Gladstone
Director of Training, DreamWorks SKG

The voice performance can establish the timing for your character. If there is a pregnant pause or a rush of words or something like that, then it gives a hint to the animator of what the character is going to do and what his or her emotions are. Animating becomes a kind of a pantomime synchronized with a voice. The voice gives a lot of the timing and much of the character's attitude. The animator is responsible for making a performance that fits the voice. The interesting thing happens when there isn't a voice and the animator has to deal with a scene or a sequence where they are acting true pantomime. That's why the animator has to get to know the character, so that not only can they perform when they hear the voice of the actor, but they can also perform when there aren't any voice or timing cues.

We have acting coaches come in. Whether you are animating a horse, or a buffalo, or a human being, you still have the same considerations with timing, expression, pose, silhouette, lines of movement, choreography. If a school only teaches people how to operate a computer and they don't teach fundamental principles, meaning fundamental art principles as well as fundamental acting principles, then they are doing a disservice to their students who want to be animators. I'm not talking about students who want to work on the technical side of things or students who want to light scenes, construct or render environments, composite images, etc. Whatever their specialty in animation, whether traditional or cg, artists must have a well developed knowledge of design and composition.

Courtesy of ArtToday.

It's generally much easier to train a traditional character animator to use a computer than it is to train somebody who uses a computer to understand what it is about animation that makes something alive and makes people think that this character is real. The computer is not a magic box. It's as good as the soul of the person working it.

In terms of acting, what we look for are teachers who understand what animators need. Our teachers have been pretty eclectic in their approach, and they often tailor their workshops for the project at hand. If you are an animation student, I suggest going to the theater department and taking Acting 101 and 102. If possible, try to get on stage and do a play.

Randy Nelson
Dean, Pixar University (PU)

Animators don't want to become actors. They want to know what an actor knows and how an actor prepares. But being able to do it as a real-time performance skill is not as important to them as knowing the kinds of things that an actor would do in approaching a role and building a character. In general we concentrate on schemes of physical movement, and techniques and mechanisms at the literacy level. What everyone should know and the mastery kinds of things come out of the internal teachers. We tend not to go outside because we are so rich internally.

One of the things that we think is very powerful here in the studio is the way that we do dailies. The approach here is that everybody from the least experienced animator, the greenest kid, to the most experienced director -- everybody -- every day gets together in the same room and sits and looks at the material together. Unlike the model in traditional animation where a single animator will be responsible for every bit of a particular character throughout a show, we are looking to find the best match between the character and the performer/animator per scene. The animator is responsible for a particular scene in which he or she animates all of the action in that scene, all of the various characters, and when they finish that scene they get another scene. It brings a fresh eye to the material but it's difficult keeping continuity and that's just what the dailies process gives us -- the best of both worlds, continuity and the fresh eye.

Pixar is made up of a diverse group of people but the one thing that ties them together is that everyone is a life-long learner.

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