Animation Tips - Hands & Acting

Don't think about it too much. 'I hear that there’s a common refrain among beginning actors when they first get onto a stage or in front of a camera. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my hands!”' Find out more @ Animating Naked.

Ergo, if animators are actors, do we have the same problems with what to do with the hands?

'"An animator is an actor with a pencil", goes the oldest and truest animation cliché... Believable acting means that the audience feels that the character's actions are the result of (the character's) own inner motives, and not the animator's inner motives; that the character feels, thinks and reacts consistently according to its personality and mood.' More @ Animation Acting.

Our homegrown thespians, Mitch and Zac, will be wondering what all the fuss is about. And it is widely rumoured that Daniel gets his classmates to act out the sequences he needs to animate. But what do the normal people think? Do you need to be a good actor to be a good animator? And what do you do with the hands!?

Acting in the ARC


Ian said...

The post about hands is great, I could do a post about hands myself, I'll add it to the list.

The second post didn't sit so well with me. Not that it was wrong as such, its a common enough premise, animation need to think about acting more, that’s true. There was the line about actors abandoning acting, that grated on my nerves, its just not fair to the artists.

Many people I respect often talk about the importance of acting, but it’s a bit different. They (generally) talk about its power, the positive impact it can have, they try to reach out and appeal to the creativity inside us. But it’s a bit different to say it has been abandoned. Here is the reality, jobs where you will be paid enough to have time to think about acting will be rare as hens teeth, in Australia people (clients and producers) consistently underestimate how much time and money it takes to make animation.

Chances are if you are finding time to think about acting in your work its because you devoted large portions of your unpaid time to make that possible, not because the production schedule allowed for a day of sitting on your but thinking about acting. Its one thing to outline the benefits of acting, to highlight it, push it to the front of our minds so that we feel inspired to take on the challenge and push ourselves further, but its another to accuse us of abandoning acting. Its hard to focus on acting when the producer is breathing down your neck, or the future of the small production you’re a part of pivots on having something finished yesterday. These are the real circumstances that potentially await us in the biz.

Maybe he was being intentionally provocative, I guess I could see the logic in that, I would be guilty of employing similar tactics myself in the past.

I was listening to part 2 of the James Baxter interview on the Animation Podcast today (absolutely brilliant). I was marvelling at the way he talked about closing the door to his office and removing all noise for a day or so while getting into the scene. What luxury. I haven’t seen a single animation studio in Australia where the animators even have doors to close. Even at Disney in Sydney which was incredibly opulent by our standards you only had a cubical. The only way to escape the noise was to replace it with another noise from your headphones. Even so James managed to get me totally inspired and revved up about acting without accusing me of abandoning it.

I’m going to give animators the benefit of the doubt on this one. I’d like to think that most animators would love to be focusing more on acting, but rarely find that they can create the opportunity. Id even do so far as to say that I also believe many Australian animation employers would love to enable their employees to focus more on acting, to give them time and private spaces in which to work on such things. But those things cost money, and often it’s a huge struggle just to get enough money to make the animation at all.

Ian said...

Anonymous said...

As one of the afore accused thespians ( yes it's me, DARTH ZAC!), I think it is important to menatlly envisage what you want your finished image(your pose or entire piece) to look like before you start to create it. I feel it's especially true in the case of 3d software. It's one thing to start messing with a rig and 'figure it out as you go', but I honestly believe that if you 'attack' the animation project with a finished product envisioned at the forefront of your mind, the acting should be naturally resultant from your efforts. Ian would agree that strong poses and potent use of timing should more than compensate for a lack of many years 'fine shakespearian acting'. Anybody can act, all you have to do is think about what you want your prestation to look like, then do it!

Ian said...

Here here! Nice to see you commenting Zac. Maybe we should mention your name in posts more often :)

In situations where there isn't much time, you have to try to work time to consider acting into your work procedure. This can be hard to communicate to students as they have 100 times more time than you would in a local studio. So Zac is correct, it has to be something you think about early, not later. If your pussyfooting around trying to improve the acting later it takes a lot of time and won't be as good anyway. Do this in a paid position and you will be out on your ear in half a hake of a tridend (nod to Zac). Or with a trident up your beeeehind.

frank said...

Ian, Look forward to your 'hands' post.

frank said...

I think it's also important to consider the present as well as the future.

Currently there's a small bunch of animators in 2nd year of their diploma. We do have a more generous allowance for time.

In that sense the consideration for acting can be seen in a different light and included in the planning stages of a narrative animation.

In that case, where in the planning, in the importance of all the things that go into planning, should the acting performance be put?

Near the top? After character design?

Ian said...

Fair point Frank. I agree that Acting is important. Its my favourite bit of animating, an your right, students do have a generous amount of time. Just felt the generalisation there was too broad.

Now I'm thinking if you can make someone be an actor. And I'm trying to remember it I've ever successfully coached a student who wasn'i "into" acting to seriously take it on. . . . . . thinks . . . . . . . mmm thats too depressing to go into this late on a Sunday night.

Mitch said...

Nice topic Frank. ^_^

Yeah I've got to say, alot of the work my drama teacher did with my class was all about getting rid of your inhibitions. We can all physically act, we just have to put more emphasis on movement instead of words.
Of course having said that, it'd be alot easier for someone who's studied acting to visualise dramatic poses because you've put in the extra effort, but it's not out of reach by any means.

One thing thats come to mind that I'll be doing later on, is setting up a webcam next to my microphone, so if I'm ever recording anything for an animated piece, I can study my facial expressions for reference. And to stay true to the nature of this blog post... record your hand movements as well. I've read somewhere that alot of animators do this, and I'm thinking to myself... christ, with todays easy access to mindblowing technology, we can set this up right next to our computers.

And this gets me to thinking, (this is aimed at Ian) that maybe if you REALLY wanted to burn the importance of physical acting in animation into the eager minds of animation students to come, maybe you could get them to work on some sign language pieces through maya. I can't imagine hands would be any harder than half of easy-man to set up. And then later on they've got a 3D model of hands to get reference off.
Lets face it, the human wrist wasn't designed for the curiosity of animators. A nice, explorable 360 degree rotation of easy_hands (easy_man's new friend) would be refreshing.

Also thanks to Frank's thoughtfulness, I finally got to see the iron giant, and I noticed in a fair few scenes the importance of how they could portray this giant metal robot to be a soft caring thing just by how he tried to physically interact with other things with his hands. And you might notice... the scenes where he seems most like a human (and it's hard for a 100" robot to look like a human) it's got alot to do with his hands.

I think there's more to this hands business than meets the eye.

Mitch said...

AH before I forget... it's a little silly, but the website has weekly updated podcasts about some crazy guy who thinks he's a ninja... but you might want to check it out anyway because he wears a mask, and when you wear a mask, you gotta make your body movements more extream to compensate for the lack of facial expressions.

Mr. Saeton said...

no you dont. the-ask-a-ninja ninja just does that because it's ninja-esque to wave your hands around in martiall style moves. i mean, it looks like he's trying to belt the camera around half the time. but they're still funny though. also hands only move when people are naturally moving or speaking, without inhibitions. so, the more passionate a character is, the more likely he is to make motions with his hands, an extra communicator, as it were.

Mitch said...

He's still using his body as a communicator. It's not because he's a ninja, (ninja's don't make scenes of themselves). Have a look in the special features in Ice Age, its the same deal there, they had a problem with Manny's speaking because his trunk covered his mouth, They had to use other movements to compensate for the mouth movement. The only reason horton hear's a who doesn't have the same problem is because they had better character creators behind Horton to make sure they wouldn't have to deal with the same crap. The whole reason behind Comedia DeLate was to over act with physical movement because all the characters wore masks. And it's not like they were over the top for the hell of it, each character had their own individual walk, talk, stance etc. Ask A Ninja Ninja is just another masked character using a physical repetoir of tricks to portay his high status and strength. Hugo Weaving had to do the exact same thing when he was hiding behind the Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta, he would move in a melodramatic mannor to get his point across when talking to people.

But, you might not be completely wrong, The Ask-A-Ninja Ninja might just be an entertainer savy bastard, and just act over the top on a hunch that people might like it more if he did. Although this is very unlikely.

frank said...

Just a comment on the camera or mirror for facial expressions.

Be mindful of this technique and these tools.

As students we need them, but maybe we shouldn't get too used to using them?

I read recently about an experienced animator who eschews the use of video referencing of his own acting or mirrors for acting purposes.

In his case he found he was animating his own movements, he was animating himself, not his character. His preference was to animate his characters based on the character design.

I guess it would be OK to animate your movements, if you were the same grand design as the character that was being animated.

Have you ever seen an interview with Nick Park and then checked out the mouths on his Aardman characters?

The 7 P's said...

"7. Performance I find that it is often helpful if an animator has some experience in some form of performing art, especially one that stresses meticulous control of the human body: Gymnastics, dance, martial arts, diving, mime, acting, etc. Folks with such skills tend to have a better understanding of anatomy/physiology/kinesiology and can more effectively break down and evaluate individual body motions at varying levels of detail. Also, such folks tend to be less inhibited when it comes to jumping off their chairs and publicly acting out a performance to more effectively study how their animation should play out. Performers realize that it is okay to dance around like a maniac in the interest of becoming a better animator, and any co-worker who points and laughs is doing so out of jealousy for being too self-conscious to ever do such a thing them self!"

Damien said...

I would like to say it's great to read all these posts from such passionate animators. Also I would dare to say if you care enough to contemplate you are already half way there. Most acting can be done just simply by exercising your ability to focus, I mean really focus. Go have a crap or something but be alone with thoughts just long enough to really emerse yourself in the process of character and performance analysis. Then find your ref or take a vid but make sure you've thought about it first. Basically just think before you act! It goes a long way.....

ps - love the blog Ian.