Saturday, November 12, 2005

Character Supervisors revisited

I've talked about this a bit in the past but I've not been sure which way I go on the issue. If we have 25 animators then by nature we have 25 interpretations of the character. The goal is to have a single character on screen with a measure of consistency of performance so that we get to feel for them in their world. We really don't want 25 versions of a character, that doesn't serve the story very well. So what extra energies are required to keep all the interpretations in line? Would these energies be better spent elsewhere? Is there a better way than the way we've done things for the last little bit?

Chicken Little was run in the standard Disney shop style where animators were put into teams that were dedicated to a specific character with character supervisors over those teams. Many other shops work where the animator does every character in a scene. But Disney stuck with their old way of having dedicated teams of animators working on a single character with a character supervisor who is the expert and master of that character. From what I saw on the screen with Chicken Little I thought they were very successful in getting consistent performances from their characters, especially Buck Cluck. Runt as well, very solid, very consistent from an emotional and mannerisms standpoint. And I felt that this consistency actually opened doors for depth of performance. It appeared to me that the energies that would otherwise be spent to keep the character performances consistent were now free to be spent in digging deeper. Those emotional scenes with Buck were flat out awe inspiring. I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that those are perhaps some of the best animated scenes (from an acting standpoint) as we have seen in the last 30 years.

I think my preference is definitely starting to tip toward the Character Team approach. We've seen it work for decades in the old Disney studio. Now I'm seeing how much it brings to the table in CG. I think that all things considered that this is a good system. It understands one of the more troubling challenges in animation and mitigates it some by reducing the number of "interpretations" of a character by limiting the number of animators responsible for portaying that character.

Sony Picture Animation is apparently following the same cue with their film Open Season. I'm curious to see how well they do with this. But the success with the animation in Chicken Little has certainly done its part in making me lean toward the character team approach.
Let the disagreeing comments begin. :)


Drew said...

hey keith,

i think that there are upsides to either approach. again, as a novice i don't have any professional experience to draw from, but humor me a minute. with the team approach, you get a consistent character with less struggling (potentially) but with a shot by shot approach, you have the potential to assign shots to animators based on their individual skills, potentially allowing the acting to be stronger.

another point is that a lot of these films (let's face it) will have sequels. so who's better off in that situation? the studio that has played to the strengths of the performance, or the studio that has gone for a consistent character? dunno myself, but with hollywood pushing so hard for sequels, it's something that should be considered.


Keith Lango said...

Interesting thoughts. Hwever a good supervisor knows enough to make sure they get animators of all skills and strengths on their team. So casting still happens in a character team environment.

As for sequels, who knows? I don't know that one way or another favors the successful milking of a cash cow. Heh.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Actually, I believe Disney doesn't work like that. They had character supervisors that worked solely on their character, on the most important shots (with one or two exceptions). Nick Ranieri for Buck Cluck, Jason Ryan for CL, Tony Smeed for Ugly Duckling, etc. Then there was the animation team, who just animated all characters in a shot on a shot by shot basis, and turned to those supervisors for advice on each character. I know that some would prefer to do it the way you've described it, but I don't think they're doing that right now.

And about the strong acting vs. consistent character. First of all, a supervisor is going to give his shots to the animator best suited for the job anyhow. Secondly, if you spend months and months and months working on one and the same character, you'll get to know it so much better, imo, and they'll start to act it out for you. I've heard that Glen Keane says this, that there's a point where his character turns real for him, and that he can almost see him walking around the room, and that the acting then becomes natural.

Victor Escardó said...

Keith, my question is related to your article: Which kind of Facial expresion model sheet are using CG Animators doday to keep the character expresions consistent during production?

Keith Lango said...

In CG often times a facial or phoenetic shape library for a character is created by a lead or senior animator, then approved by the animation director/supervisor. This shape library is then used by the animation team in production shots. It's like soup stock. You're not going to just mix up chicken broth and serve it, and in the same way you're not likely to just use the shapes from the library as is. Instead you'll use them as a starting place, a default basis from which you can customize the face or speech for a specific shot.

Anonymous said...

The character/team system is actually pretty loose on Open Season.

Ward Jenkins said...

If you go to Michael Barrier's site, he talks about this subject regarding Disney back in the day. His most recent entry (from September) refers to an August 26th entry (he doesn't have individual links to his posts) on multiple actors performing one character. There's some more in his posts, but you'll just have to poke around. Very interesting conversation, I have to say.