Monday, March 21, 2005

Language of Animation: Part III

Carrying on with the metaphor of animaton as writing.... If you have a series of scenes in sequence to work on, then you need to keep in mind the larger narrative flow of the film. Even if you're only asked to do one scene in the middle of a sequence, you need to understand the context. This is like paragraph structure. A paragraph generally has a singular topic. Likewise a sequence of animation is building to a singular narative point in the story. So as animators it's our job to understand the context of our work, to manage the character arcs, to grasp and master the character negotiations and to use the appropriate emphases on things at the right time. So if Bob gets really angry at the end of the sequence and you're animating a scene early on, you need to know how to deftly show Bob getting miffed or annoyed, but you can't go full on PO'd. It's not time yet.

But the larger context overall is this: Who is this character? What is their story? Can we believe this character? Do we care about them? Are they being true to themselves? True to the moment?

Last year I was lucky enough to be loaned a copy of a videotaped presentation by Glen Keane at WDFA (any WDFA legal hawks, don't worry, I gave it back! Sheesh!). He was doing an introductory lecture to folks being added to the John Silver crew for Treasure Planet. The whole 2 hr tape was filled with great stuff for sure, but the thing that struck me is how much he knew this John Silver fella. I'm not talking about how much he knew how to draw him or even his mannerisms. I'm talking that dude knew Silver's soul. I get the idea he knew him even better than the directors did. I recall (roughly, the particulars of it elude me) a moment where he recounted a point in pre-production where he felt that the storyboard treatment of Silver wasn't as true to Silver as it could have been. He took his concerns (along with a proposed alternative I believe) to the directors. His solution would have required more screen time, which means more money of course. Rebuffed initially, he pressed on. As the scene was put together in story it wasn't being true to Silver. He eventually convinced the directors. The scene was expanded, the time added, the boards re-written to match his vision- his knowledge of John Silver as a character.

Now while that story is as cool as ice-cream in Alaska, I initially dismissed this as "Well, shoot. He's Glen Freaking Keane. Of course he'll win that one." But recently I revisited this thing in my mind and thought about it. Initially he hadn't won. But he pressed on, pushed back. He believed in having something worth saying for that scene, something sincere and true to Silver. He wasn't easily dissuaded. And then I thought of the scenes I had done where I felt like the boards were just not right. I may have brought up my concerns to the director, but if I was told "No", what did I do? Did I believe in the character enough to bring it up again? More often than I'd like to admit, I didn't. Why not? Is that being too bold? Don't rock the boat? Know your place? I concluded that the reason I didn't push is because I didn't know my characters well enough to care about being true to them.

To me that's not acceptable.


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