ACTING for ANIMATORS
I have a fresh idea I'd like to discuss with you personally about how your university can include Acting for Animators — and yours truly — in the new school year. The idea involves running a one-time, intensely affordable pilot program. It is time for us to work together! If you'd like to cyber-kick the idea around, drop me a line: edHooks@edhooks.com. ("Pssst… and if you’re an Animation student, please forward this newsletter to your favorite professor...")
Understanding the Creative Mind
by J. Schuh and Bennett Litwin
It's not too early to start thinking about stocking stuffers! My friend in Texas, J. Schuh, and his writing partner, Bennett Litwin, have put together a fun but often serious collection of musings on the general topic of creativity — what it is, what inspires it, even how much exercise it requires. They get into mindsets, mind-mapping, radiant thinking, Flow, the ups and, yes, occasional downs and frustrations of creativity. Brilliance is one of those perfect bedside table books that everybody can enjoy. Recommended!
Chuck Jones' Genius, à la Tony Zhou
Chuck Jones is, of course, an animation legend — Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny and too many crazy others to name here — and we can all learn something new and worthwhile if we study his work. Tony Zhou has put together the following marvelous 9-minute tribute and analysis of Mr. Jones' approach to character acting.
Anyone who has taken my Acting for Animators masterclass will recognize immediately that Chuck Jones is applying the formula: "Action, in pursuit of a provable objective, while overcoming an obstacle". He does not use that exact terminology, but when he says a character needs to "know what he is doing", he is referring to the pursuit of objectives. A BIG cyber knuckle-rap to Tony Zhou for this outstanding video!
"We'll never do Hamlet." Walt Disney, in a 1938
Cecil B. DeMille
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
July 11-13 Technicolor, Bangalore India
Sept 5-6, Animex Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
Oct 7-10 BIAF, West Java, Indonesia
Aristotle, Stanislavsky and the Disney
Aristotle, in his Poetics (350 BC) and again in his Nicomachean Ethics (300 BC), observed that every human action has a purpose. Constantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938) built on this idea when working out his “System” at the Moscow Art Theatre, teaching actors that a theatrical action should seek an objective and that the larger arc of a character’s story could be broken down into ever-smaller actions and objectives, with the “super objective” being the controlling and most far-reaching one. For the past fifteen years, I have taught these same principles in my Acting for Animators classes. This is the stuff of artistry, and it has not changed for thousands of years. We have merely acquired more perspectives (evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, dynamics of storytelling, mirror neurons, mechanisms of empathy, micro-facial expression, how emotion works, etc.) about why Aristotle was correct in the first place, and we have developed new art forms, like live-action film and animation.
Novelist Leo Tolstoy pointed out in 1896 that a hallmark of art is how the artist, through her work, communicates an idea to others, plus her personal feelings about that idea. When, for example, you study and enjoy Van Gogh's painting of the old discarded shoes, Mr. Van Gogh is talking with you, telling you how he felt about the man that may have worn those shoes. You pick up his emotion, which expresses his values, and you empathize with him across the distant years. That, according to Tolstoy, is how art works.
The challenge for an animator today is how to express himself as an artist while holding an assembly-line job in an industry that was born and primarily developed in the capitalistic, profit-oriented west. An animator might consider himself very fortunate to be hired by Disney Animation in Burbank, California, since the gig comes with a steady paycheck, smart and talented co-workers, tasty lunches and a state-of-the-art desk computer to play with. But he will soon discover that the bosses think of the movies they produce as animated widgets. To stock-option management, feature animation is a commodity, content, something to be merchandised and made into a "tent pole" that produces multiple "streams" of revenue. Neither the director nor a movie's Head of Animation is very interested in helping the animator express his inner Van Gogh. Time is money after all. Management may admire the artist's talent, but he is being paid to move current projects along toward pre-announced, Wall Street-anticipated, much-ballyhooed release dates. Long-time Disney CEO, Michael Eisner said it bluntly in a memo to his staff: “... We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.” (See The Keys to the Kingdom, by Kim Masters, 2001, Harper Paperbacks)
What is the serious animation artist supposed to do? How does one maintain ones artistic integrity while paying her rent as part of a gigantic marketing organization like Disney, or DreamWorks, 21st-Century Fox, Sony, Paramount or Pixar? We can't all be self-employed like Bill Plympton, right? The key, I submit, can found partially in your self image. Do you see yourself primarily as an animation technician or an animation artist? There are plenty of animators that are very happy working as animation technicians, and I do not want to steal their thunder. If you are happy to be a well-paid animation hired gun, then good for you! Being an artist is a calling, not a choice. Artists in all fields often wish they could turn off the artistic impulse and just enjoy life. Art does not always feel good, and the true artist is a restless soul. No, I am not talking to the happy craftsperson here. I am talking to the self-acknowledged artist that is trying to make a living and not sell out.
Aristotle had it right. Every human action has a purpose, and the artist's purpose is to communicate ideas and feelings. When you animate a character, you are drawing a circle in the dirt and calling the tribe together. You are saying to them, in effect, "This is what I understand about this character's values. I am not just manipulating colorful images here! I am not just punching the clock! I am using my artist's brain to make a statement about human survival." A small sequence in a US$200 million movie is the same as Tolstoy's War and Peace, artistically speaking. It is an opportunity for you to tell a story about how a character is surviving in the world. We are storytelling animals, and your animation tells a story. The way a character glances nervously at a nearby door is a story. It is your story. Another animator may have that same character glance at that same door in a different way, telling a different story. Every artist is unique, as is every story.
I wish for you that one day you — like Walt Disney in 1937 and Chuck Jones in 1940 and Brad Bird in 1999 — have the opportunity to tell a BIG story, one to which you can sign your name and come out on stage for the standing ovation. Until then, I wish for you a sizable paycheck and as much artistic expression as you can muster. The further payoff in this deal is that, if you express yourself as an artist while working the assembly line, the bosses just might notice there is something "special" about your work, that your characters "live". And that just might get you a raise.
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks