Performance And Acting For Animators

by Judy Lieff

"Animators should focus on the acting...make the characters think and act...start with the body first, next focus on the eyes, and last focus on the mouth. When reviewing reels we look at the acting first." -- John Lasseter, November 4, 1996 during a lecture at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

Courtesy of ArtToday.

The actor and the animator may approach creating the life of a character in a similar fashion, but while actors transform themselves into their characters, animators have an additional challenge of maintaining a subjective, as well as an objective, approach to characterization. Therein lies the challenge of finding a form of acting training that will be particularly useful for the animator.

For actors, and particularly for animators, it is useful to develop a keen kinesthetic sense and a thorough understanding of music and rhythm. Frank Gladstone, Director of Training at DreamWorks SKG, feels the animator is responsible for creating characters who not only fit their own voices, but ones who can perform without vocal cues as well. The more keenly developed a kinesthetic sense an actor, dancer, or animator has, the more capacity that artist has to portray various characters and exhibit organic nuances and gestures appropriate to that character.

Researching a number of animation curriculums from academia to commercial studios, and conducting interviews on the subject of acting and performance, as it relates to the professional animator, has shown unanimous agreement on the importance of acting classes for successful animation training. However, there has yet to be any course of study for investigating acting and performance that specifically relates to the expanding requirements of animation. Not only do animators have to understand the process of acting in order to create a character, but they also have to be able to direct and communicate with actors for projects involving live actors for reference or motion-capture.

"Animation is the kind of medium that is such a combination of other mediums that the more you know about music, art, film, choreography, literature, or current events, the better you are going to be. You name it, and it is only going to make you a better animator or better storyteller for animation." -- Craig Kellman, Character Design, Disney Feature Animation

What follows is a series of excerpts from some of the interviews I conducted addressing acting and performance as it relates to the professional animator and his training. From historians to television and feature film to motion-capture and voice actors, I have gathered a number of viewpoints on this critical issue.

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