Thursday, February 15, 2007

are you an Actor, or a Technician?

(I add this pic because it's guys like this that have inspired
the thought to this post)

This is something I feel that within the last year I've really had to come to grips with myself as an animator. If you're like me and known you wanted to be an animator since you were 9 you've been hearing for most of your life "animators are actors". You would have heard that if you could focus on one thing it should be performance. You've been hearing that animators are actors with pencils and all the other cliche things to be said. WHY then do so few of us really understand or impliment this? No doubt I include myself in this list.
We all have to come to a point in our artistic lives where we sit down with ourselves and have a very brutally honest heart to heart. We have to ask ourselves "Am I REALLY an actor/artist, or am I just a good technician?"
It's painful... growth, however necessary can be extremely painful at times. Growth shows us where we were/are weak, and sometimes it's embarrasing that we didn't see how weak we really were/are at the time. I bring this up because i feel like being vulnerable is a key elemant to personal growth but also the growth of others around you. We have to be honest with ourselves: are we really good actors, or can we just convincingly move stuff around. Understanding good weight, spacing, drawing things well or even convincingly ISN'T ENOUGH. It's something i feel like exists a lot today unfortunately (animation that is merely technically pleasing)... I wish i could say i have not contributed to it. There are so many animators out there (and I am talking specifically hand drawn although this does not solely apply to the hand drawn animation) that are very technically sound animators who blow you away with there tech. prowess. They understand drawing, and spacing, control their volumes well, blah blah blah. But they don't tell you jack squat about the characters they are performing. They don't THINK about their characters, instead they overindulge in squash and stretch, through in fancy smear drawings, flaunt their beautiful arcs... all at the price of a better pose that could have told you something important.
I think this can be partially attributed to the fact that we as a generation stand on a lot of brilliant work from the past guys to look at and be inspired by. And if you're like me you could sit around all day staring at Milt or Frank drawings/animation. It's our blessing and our curse-- we subconciously revert to what we know will work, we play it safe. That's how acting patterns begin, and cold sterile art is born. Ironically the old guys had NOTHING to look at (animation wise) and found their inspiration from life or other areas of art.
This is a tough thing to do (not copy the past)-- I am not just talking to students, I am talking to every animator: Pro, amateur, retired vet, whoever... no once escapes this question. But here's the GOOD news, no one has to create only technically pleasing art. You absolutely can create a moving performance. YOU have something special to say in a way that only YOU can say it. That is what will set you apart... the challenge is can you call a spade a spade and realize that maybe you've just been a good technician all these years/months/whatever! I know I had too and still daily ask myself why i am doing what i am doing.
The real turning point or inspiration for me was actually being rejected. I applied and was rejected from Pixar. No pity party here man, it's what woke me up! It hurt my pride a little, but that isn't necessarily bad. More importantly it showed me that I wasn't focusing on what really makes animation work, I was a technician who was fascinated with charts, solid drawing, interesting design, fun timing... so what man. So what... if none of that has something personal behind it, it's just mechanical. It set me straight--
I share all these thoughts not to discourage and get down on anyone, but to encourage everyone that they can be amazing! The trick is are you willing to look at yourself in the harsh light of day and really ask yourself this horribly honest question? I know if i want to do something special with my art, I have to every single day. NOW GO KICK SOME BUTT!

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!