Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Eye Darts and the Social Triangle

Eye darts are one of those things that you don't see a ton of in Traditional animation. Why, I'm not sure. I certainly don't believe that it's too subtle for hand drawn-- lotsa people have proved that wrong, but i would say it is much MUCH more difficult to pull off in hand drawn.
More than how you pull it off though is WHY you pull it off. I've never had a director tell me this but i have had friends that have told me some directors will just tell them as they are finishing their shots, "looks great, now throw some eye darts in there and it's done!" OK, but ummmm, why? The funny thing is that when i do it in hand drawn most directors ask me to take them out. Weird--
There are many different feelings about eye darts-- Some people say they weaken the character, some people say without them the character looks dead. You can always go too far in either direction so I lie somewhere in the middle. It's always about the story your telling-- as an animator you tell stories in Micro form, shot by shot. There may be a time when a character is tense and very serious about something. That could be a time to hold those eyes still, like laser focused! Remember ever being yelled at by someone who was dead serious and they lock eyes with you so you know they are not kidding? That's what I'm talking about--
Sometimes though your character might need to be pondering something or reading someones expression. This is where the social triangle comes in. I thought a great way to teach this would be by looking at someone with the body of a greek god, and the face of an angel. It was an easy choice--

OK, soooo-- Social Triangle. It's exemplified below as the the first things we look at on other people to read how they are feeling about us, about themselves, what they are thinking... just reading them in general.
Generally when i do eye darts, especially in conversation bits, I dart them back and forth from left to right. If the character is right handed I start on the other characters right eye and work to the left and back again. If the character is left handed I will do the exact opposite--
The last thing we read on the face is the mouth. So at times i will alternate down slightly in between the left to right motion.
The thing about this stuff is knowing when to use them-- I love qoutes and I'm gonna butcher this one but it's a really neat one my friend Tony DeRosa told me. He said Mark Twain said this about writting, "The difference between finding a good word and the exact word to explain something is like the difference between a firefly and a lightening bolt!" What's that have to do with eye darts? well, eye darts aid in acting, and (an animation as a whole) is about distilling life to it's essence. When you see a good caricature of someone, it might take you a minute to get it then you forget it. But when you see an Al Hirschfield caricature it's like that lightening bolt man! It hits you because he's captured the essence of the person. Acting should capture the essence of the feelings of the moment. Eye Darts are one of the many tools to help you do that. This little post was more just to explain why and how to use them-- hope it helps!


Benjamin said...

Eyedarts as a tool to capture the essence? Usually, it's my feeling that eyedarts are something that will make the performance even better (when justly used), but is rarely essential. Especially the social triangle eyedarts. Seems to me that eyedarts have the most effect when used in cases like Mr. Incredible drying the books and trying to hide his comeback to the superhero world from the Mrs. But even in that scene, I'm thinking most (if not all) of it would work with just the staging, body attitudes and expressions.
To me, one of the great things about animation is how you have ultimate control... specifically over graphic shapes. Where animation loses subtleties from live-action, it gains strength in the way we can talk to the audience through exaggeration and graphic shapes. I guess that's one reason why I feel that eyedarts are more the sugar on top rather than part of the essence itself.

Matt Williames said...

I guess more what i meant Benjamin was if you are trying to capture nervousness or something like that, the essence of that COULD be in eye darts. Or, sometimes it's in a hand gesture or whatever... I am not saying rely on eye darts to capture the essence, i am saying that if you are watching carefully sometimes that could be the essence of what makes the shot work.
I do agree with you that typically they are sugar ontop, I was simply trying to point out that they can be more than that on occassion. thanks for your thoughts though!

C.G. Leow said...

Hi Matt. Interesting post. Could you elaborate on what you meant when you spoke about the character being left or right handed? Thanks.

Matt Williames said...

c.g.: Sure man! I guess what i was getting at is that depending on whether you are right or left handed you will favor either the left or right eye to look at first. I've observed that depending on whether you're a righty or lefty you will choose things based on that basic characteristic (no the best word but you know what i mean). Like, if you could choose a fork on your right or left, right handed people usually choose the right side for obvious reasons. It's natural to them, and the opposite is typically true of lefty's. It's not a law, it just adds method to the madness.
I know a lot of people feel like this is splitting hairs, and certainly no audience member is gonna know or care about what eye the character chooses to start with before the darting begins (if it begins), but for me I have to know why i am doing what I am doing to give an honest performance. I feel that research on such subtle things is what makes acting so real. If it's accurate, yet subliminal, hopefully people will feel as those that character is real. Did i explain that clearly?

crylic said...

first off i cant get over your aana drawings...outstanding stuff matt. I love leaving here and not only being inspired but having truly learnt something, you and mark kennedy are true pros whose knowledge is stellar, thanks for sharing man, i love it!


Matt Williames said...

Hey man, thank you so much! I appreciate hearing that someone likes my Anaa drawigs. I admittedly suck majorly at design. It's sloooowly getting better though :)
Mark's a great teacher. I don't know him but he seems like he's a great guy too!

C.G. Leow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C.G. Leow said...

Thanks for the explanation Matt. This topic has been very enlightening.

FleaCircusDirector said...

Eye movement and lying

Matt Williames said...

cg: my pleasure!
Flea: thanks for that link man! I think i saw it on sewardstreet once.

Alex said...

I interpreted eyedarts always as part of a thinking process or "thinking time" of the character. And if the audience believes that the character is thinking, it is one step that the character becomes "real". But I must admit that every 3D movie is using "eye darts" very often. I think they disrated it to a cliche. It's pretty tough to do such subtle things in traditional animation. I think they did it pretty well in Sinbad. Anyway the "ultimate control" that you got in animation is one reason why every gesture becomes "necessarily" meaningful. I mean that's what they teach you in school to keep it simple and clear. But than you sacrifice the room for interpration in the mimic or body language. It's something I really like about live-action film and what I miss mostly in animation.

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