Saturday, June 23, 2007

A thought about those acting ruts…

Often younger animators or students will write me asking for some ideas on how to avoid cliche’s in their acting choices. Well, the answer to that can be long winded or short.

The short answer is observe.

The longer answer usually doesn’t add anything to the short one- except words.

But there are things you can do that can help you develop your skills in seeing the difference between your own cliches and what’s more natural. In a recent email reply to a fellow animator I touched on the subject …

Sometimes to help me break out of acting ruts I will visit a site like and find a movie that I am sure I can rent or borrow, but that I haven’t seen before. Then I listen to several different audio clips from the film and I imagine they are scenes that have just been handed to me at work. I usually have a character rig or a character design in mind already- nothing special, just a specific character so that I can “see” that character acting out the scene in my mind when I listen to the audio. The idea is to develop the ability to see the performance in my head and to be as specific about it as I can be- I want to see the character doing the scene, not some generic idea of a character. Visualizing the performance is a powerful tool in animating.

Anyhoo, I listen to the selected audio clips over and over and I close my eyes and try and to see the character doing the scene. I’ll then maybe do some quick rough thumbs or notes on it and move on to another scene and do the same to that one. It’s all just planning- I don’t move on to actually animating the scenes. The point is forcing myself to get a clear idea in my mind first and then record what that idea is via thumbnails and notes. Maybe I’ll do 3 or 4 of these clips for a movie.

Then I’ll rent the movie and watch these scenes as they were shot and compare my ideas to how it was filmed. The point isn’t to see if I can guess how it was filmed, but to try and see how the professional actor approached the scene compared to how I did. I’m looking for things that maybe I missed or didn’t think of. Maybe my gestures in my imaginary blocking were all too overdone and the film scenes are more understated? Or maybe I underplayed it? Whatever, I’m looking for differences and I’m looking to understand those differences. The goal is to develop my ability to compare my stuff against natural acting and note the differences- and where applicable, adjust my acting to be more sincere and less cliche’d.

Anyhow, every once in a while I’ll do this exercise as a way to kick my acting ideas in the pants a bit. It’s a good tool for stretching my imagination as well as sharpening my observational skills and pushing the boundaries of what I normally think of for a performance.

I don’t know if that helps anybody, but over the years this little exercise has helped me. So there ya have it, for better or for worse. Enjoy!

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