Performance And Acting For Animators
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Craig Kellman
Visual Development and Character Designer, Disney Feature Animation, also Character Design Instructor, Gnomon Institute

Most character designers think only about design and not about character. It helps me to focus on the fact that no matter what these characters are, I should be getting inside their heads, and I should be treating them like a character that I would be acting. You have to be acting, or the characters are just going to be designs. They are going to be lifeless, or they are going to be very cliché and stagnant. You don't want clichés. You want to be looking at a character from many different angles, just as an actor would. A good actor would be thinking about not only the external character, but the internal one as well. Let's say the character is a teenage cow. I am going to think about what makes this character not only a cow but inherently teenager. Maybe he's very gawky and awkward. Visually, I might want to give him these long appendages, a high center of gravity and oversized hooves -- like a pubescent teen whose hormones are out of wack.

Courtesy of ArtToday.

I think it is important to continue to study acting, because acting is in design as well as in animation. Once a design is done, a good animator, if he's a good actor, is going to make that design come to life. If the character designer is a good actor to begin with, he's going to make the animator's job that much easier.

Jim Bresnahan
Lead Animator, Blue Sky Studios

We are doing a lot of commercial work. It is pretty obvious what the character needs to do if it has to perform for a commercial. On that level we are just concerned with how it should move. For a bar of soap, I would just do thumbnail drawings, and for a more complicated character I would act it out myself. The commercial jobs are generally not story driven and there isn't time for character transformation. We just go for what is entertaining. About three years ago we did a spot for cranberry nut cereal. We had to do a tango between a cranberry and an oat flake. We tried to do it ourselves but none of us could actually tango. So we brought in a couple of tango dancers and video taped them which was helpful. However, in most cases we don't have to bring in live models. We can find reference on tape.

One of things that I think makes a good animator or helps people animate better is to have a kinesthetic sense. A sense of your body allows you to pose characters and perform while you are sitting there in front of the computer motionless except for your hand. Like music, timing and a sense of structure in the timing of the animation is also very important. The best way to improve your animation is to develop your sense of pacing and timing. There might be something about a particular walk cycle that really feels good because it has that underlying musical structure. You might not be able to explain it when you see one piece of animation versus another but that's why something looks better. It's got an underlying musical structure whether it's based on 4/4 time or another meter.

Courtesy of ArtToday.

I haven't taken acting classes. At Blue Sky we have brought in on several occasions acting teachers. Hopefully we can do some more work with them in the future. I found it helpful. We tend to get bogged down on the technical side of animation but I think we definitely need to get more abstract and understand more about what the actor's thought process is.

Up until recently you had to drop out the subtle stuff and just go for broad gestures but with computer animation advancements there is some amazingly subtle stuff going on with the characters. It will be interesting to see who becomes a really good animator and what skills are really valued. The people who are good at acting and can convey the subtleties that you get from good live-action actors will have opportunities to shine. The people who are good animators have a mixture of having the visual eye and sensitivity toward the process of acting itself.

Daniel Robichaud
Vice President of Creative Development, Vivid Animation

It is a well-known fact, at least within the animation community, that character animation is a form of acting, and you act through your character. This is why for instance in my film Tightrope, when it was time to assign a lead animator for each of the two characters, I wanted to make sure that the personalities of the lead animators would be similar to the characters that they would have to animate.

It is a general rule that for any type of a performance you need to put yourself into the skin of your virtual character and be it. You need to be a good behavior analyst. I think if there is a common denominator to the different personalities that I have encountered among character animators, it would be that they all have an integral sense of observation. I believe that keen observation is the most important skill to have because after that it is only a question of assimilating, analyzing and understanding what you have remembered from observing and then applying it to your craft.

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