Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Psychological Pauses

One last Stanislavski (for now)....
On the power of psychological pauses...
"They all fill out the words. They often act with greater intensity,
finesse, are more irresistible in silence than when used in conjunction
with words. Their wordless conversation can be no less interesting,
substantial and convincing than one carried on verbally."
Psychological pauses are those quiet moments between words where we can see the character thinking, feeling. We see the drama of the unspoken internal realities shifting inside them as it plays out of their eyes, their face, their bodies. When a character is silent that is where you can find gold. Don't just do a moving hold drift-o-matic and a few blinks. It is our job to get inside their mind, their heart. Explore the shifts as they react to their world, their thoughts, their emotions. Dig deep into those pauses, those quiet moments. And if the audio track doesn't give you a pause where you need one it is your duty to pitch a pause to the director. Never forget: in animation we are the actors! No director worth his or her salt would lightly dismiss a performance idea introduced by his actors on set. They may not agree with it, he or she may not use it, but they do not lightly dismiss it. We need to defend the reality of our characters, we need to understand and expand these souls we animate. Start by looking in the dark, quiet corners of the story.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

More Stanislavski...

Another excerpt from legendary acting writer Constantin Stanislavski. This time on the power of trying to infect the actor across from you as you speak your lines:

"To speak is to act. That action sets an objective for us: to instill into others what we see inside ourselves. It is not important that the other person will see or not see the thing you have in mind. Nature and the subconscious may take care of that. Your job is to desire to instill your inner visions in others, and that desire breeds action. It is one thing to appear before a good public, reel off a few ta-ta-ta's and walk off. It is quite another to go out on the stage and act!"

While this may seem like it doesn't have much to do with us as animators and has everything to do with the voice actors, I'd suggest we'd be mistaken if we thought this way. Your character on screen has to communicate through their expressions, gestures and actions the visceral reality of what they are saying. In life we speak in order to open up for others the window into the images and emotions, beliefs and ideas locked within our minds and souls. We speak in order to infect others with this reality.
Do your characters exert this inner reality on the other characters in the scene when they move? Can we feel the energy of their communication? Can we see it in their eyes? Feel it on their face? Sense the effort and energy in their body? Or are they merely flailing limply through a series of prescribed generic motions that have some tangental relevance to the spoken words? The eyeline of the character is powerful if we use it properly. We need to feel the character almost burning through the thickness of others in the scene as they try to infect them with their thoughts and emotions. If the character has that focus in their eyes, if they earnestly play the moment to portray their inner reality through words and action on the other characters in the scene- then we start to walk down a path to some powerful performances. And if we don't take the time to work out what that inner reality even is in our characters, if we don't even know how, we will be crippled in our efforts to create animated performances that breathe real life in them.
Animate from the inside out and play the emotion to the other characters in the scene.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I've been going through a classic book on acting by Constantin Stanislavski, "Building a Character". While much of the book tends to be a rather pendantic procession through physical exercises for body control, etc, I found the chapters on speech and acting to be really interesting. Here's a fun exerpt of analysis regarding the effect and power of a performance given by their instructor. This performance was an example of just the use of intonation- without meaningful words- a performance of complete gibberish- that still communicated a sense of great emotional meaning.
"Intonations and pauses in themselves posssess the power to produce a
powerful emotional effect on the listener. "
I did some thinking of how this translates to decoding the vocal performance of a voice actor for subsequent animation. I'm always drawn to the idea of trying to unravel the intended subtext of the way the line is delivered. The way the actor hits certain words with either a rising or a descending tone, the trading of volumes and ebbing force of the delivery gives clue to the subtextual intent that drives the acting. It's more than just listening to the auditory patterns of rise and fall and working some seemingly fitting pose- there's some real life and energy running as a current under the lines. Dig deep to find where that wind blows, see how it rustles the leaves of your character's soul. Then try and capture that and bring it out with boldness and decisiveness in the story telling poses.

Monday, August 22, 2005


I'm on a mission to learn all I can about how people move their brows. Something tells me that I'm not doing a particularly convincing job of it in my own work. So that means it's time for me to start observing, studying, breaking things down. So far I'm noticing that brows do not move very much in a grand sense. I mean, yeah, they do move, but not as much as I had suspected. The power is in the subtle shifts and shades of the line. Unlocking that internal engine of thought and emotion seems to be a game of microscopic motion rather than macroscopic motion. The flesh around the eyes and mouth actually seems to be far more expressive and motile.
I like to do that every now and again- force myself to study and really get down inside of a thing. It focuses my energy and I almost always find something new and unique in that cycle of observation, analysis and assimilation. It's a good discipline, I think. We must always be students, always be looking and searching.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

RSS reminder

I'm writing this short little reminder that my RSS feed has changed recently. If you haven't made the switch in your reader, well... then your life is sad and I pity you.
OK, maybe not. :o)

But anyhow.... here's the new RSS feed location:



Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I saw these photos (taken by someone named Nancy Stadler) of some test imagery from Disney's Rapunzel Unbraided project over at Jim Hill Media.

Unfortunately I missed Siggraph this year (and I am seriously bummer that I missed out on MC'ing the big CG-Char event again. I wanted the chance to do a repeat performance of whacking Raf Anzovin in the head with a Kit-Kat Bar at high velocity! I heard my buddy Justin Barrett did an admirable job this year instead). Anyhow, apparently this stuff was shown at a Siggraph Conference by Glen Keane. I don't have much to say about the article over at JHM, and I don't know jack diddly about the movie from a story standpoint. But I do know one thing: me likey pretty renders! Yeah, this stuff is CG.
Glen is highly respected by just about everybody, so you had to figure this Rapunzel stuff was gonna look good when we finally got a look see. But this? If I were offering an employee review of this I'd check off that box next to "Exceeds Expectations". Heh. Nice, indeed. Great use of volumetric light and paint stroke technology to get that soft painterly touch. Maybe a tad too much bloom in spots, but hey, it mixes in well. You see some more of that in that American Dog snippet that was also shown at Siggraph. Looks like Disney feature's mixing up a nice flavor of eyecandy, and I say great! The current standard tech/style for photo/hyper-real texture mapping of surfaces needs a good kick in the pants to get some fresh air flowing. Nice to see some imagery that plays with the edges some more as well as going more impressionistic with the details within the shapes of the mass.

Folks at work were ogling the A Day With Wilbur Robinson animation snippets, going ga-ga over the loose, elastic, very 2d styled motion. Yummy!

The artists and techies over at WDFA seem to be having fun and are making some really nice choices. Hopefully that rubs off on their bosses.
Hey, one can hope, right?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Shining Thru The Clouds

Here's a great post over at IDFuel about the wonder of working within limitations.
The next time you have a scene and you're told all the limitations that come with it find the thrill of making it work great anyhow. I've spent most of my career in high footage rate animation. one of the things that gets lost in that environment is the polish. but you can still come up with great, unique, character appropriate ideas for gesture, motion and emotion. You may rely on a bag of tricks more, but your tricks and cheats are not your ideas. Or at least they better not be! Let the ideas rule the moment, then do the best you can to make those ideas work within the limitations. It's the easy way out to say "Well, I can't do a great job because they want X-seconds per week." Horse hockey! The polish may suffer, the complexity may not be there in the movement and it may not be as pretty or flourish-y as you'd like to make it, but you can sure as heck still think of some good acting and ideas. Let the limitations be your friend.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hold 'em loosely...

One of the realities of professional animation is being told to do something to your shot that you really don't quite agree with. Maybe there's an expression or a gesture you're trying to pull off. All the feedback you've gotten from your fellow inmates... err, "animation co-workers", says the expression or gesture is working. Folks are digging what you're dishing. Then in dailies the director says something like "Hmm. It's not clear to me what he's thinking." Then the director probably will give you a suggestion for a completely different performance beat there.

This is the point where you earn your money. Do you mentally and emotionally give up on the scene? Or do you enthusiastically adopt this new approach and try to make it work? The difference between being a pro and an "art-eest" is clear. An "art-eest" will whine and fight and pout, complain to everybody about how obviously 'clueless' the director is for not seeing his genius animation- then do a half baked job at the new performance and subconsciously sabotage the effort to be sure that his or her original idea coms out looking better. That's bush league. A pro, on the other hand, figures , Oh well. Guess that one didn't work. This new idea should be a fun puzzle. Sure, there is room for valid disagreement over how to handle a scene, and there are such things as stylistic differences. But this isn't your student short film, this is a job.

Listen, when somebody else signs your paycheck, they call the shots. So you do your best, try to offer your unique take on a scene. But when they call for something different, you shrug your shoulders, toss the old idea away and get back to it with the same level of enthusiasm and energy as when you first got your scene in handoff. It's not always an easy thing to do (especially when you're on your third "Let's try this...." version of a scene), but it's important to keep that positive vibe going. In the end you're gonna have mixed feelings about the scene probably, but there's a fairly good chance that you'll also like that scene a LOT more than if it had been bought off on the first whack. Almost invariably the scenes that I liked a lot when they get approved on my first attempt end up not being the scenes I really like with the process of time. It's the scenes where I'm pushed to find something new, find something different in a character than I thought was there originally- those are the ones that taste a bit bitter at first, but they age much better with time.

There is NO such thing as a 'perfectly animated scene'. I'm absolutely convinced of that. There are any number of 'valid ways to solve a scene'. If your way is valid, but it doesn't fit the director's vision for that moment, well, then it's your job to find another valid solution that does fit. You can like your version better, that's fine, but you better hold your precious ideas loosely. You cannot hold the opinion that it is inherently better just because it was your idea. When you think there's only one way to do a scene and have it be "right" you shoot yourself in the foot and set yourself up for a lot more frustration than you really need.