ACTING for ANIMATORS
Recently, I spent a couple of intellectually stimulating hours in conversation with Rachael, Dan, Chris and Yvonne, the hosts of the podcast, "Animation for Adults." The recording quality is sketchy (I sound a little like I am speaking from an echo chamber), and the conversation is quite lengthy–over 1.5 hours if you listen to it all at one time. But you can fast-forward and skip around if you want. Even with technical glitches, I think you will enjoy the show. Thanks to all at AFA, and enjoy the podcast!
My wife and I are selling a lot of household items on Craig's List. If you live in Los Angeles and could use a lovely dresser or cedar chest, or a 6-piece set of Crate & Barrel metal lawn furniture, or an extra flat-screen TV, let me know. One of the good things—maybe the best thing—about an international move like this is that the cost of shipping is so high you are forced to survey your life. Which possessions are important enough to take with you? I will take my framed The Incredibles poster because Brad Bird signed it ("Mr. Hooks, we meet again!"), and of course I will take my Iron Giant Talking Bank, but I can live without my Aeron desk chair and matching desk lamps. I will take Ray Harryhausen's autobiography, My Animated Life, because he personally autographed it for me; but I can replace Miyazaki's Starting Point, 1979-1996. At this stage of my life, traveling light is a winning policy.
I have learned a new word: "Apostille". It is not enough to carry with you a notarized copy of your birth certificate; the U.S. State Department has to certify that the notary is not a fake and that the document itself is legitimate. Any document issued by a government agency, even a marriage certificate, must be apostilled if it is going to be used overseas. All of this adds weeks and months to the process of applying for visas, which means I probably won't be officially living in Lisbon until early February. We're working on it and have almost all of the required documents for the Portuguese Consulate in San Francisco.
As the song lyric says, "That's What Friends Are For", and I am very fortunate to count among my good friends the ever-in-transit international duo Nancy Denney-Phelps and her husband, Nik Phelps. Having relocated from San Francisco to Belgium some years ago, Nik and Nancy have walked this path of the logistics of migrating, and their advice on the subject has been invaluable. Thanks, guys! I'm looking forward to soon being your neighbor.
Monstra: Lisbon Animated Film Festival is scheduled for March 16-26, 2017 in Lisbon. I will be there.
“And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face,
and what was the point in wiping them off?
Or pretending? He let them fall.”—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Hollywood Feature Animation and
Brad Bird observed, in a recent video interview, that animated characters too often do not face the consequences of their actions. It's true. They fall off the tops of buildings and do not die. Although Brad did not make the connection, this is exactly the same way that television commercials work. Nobody gets a disease that can't be cured by an advertised drug. If you drink advertised beer, you will never be lonely. Couples don't get divorced in commercials, and all their children are cute. Mega-budget Hollywood animated feature films are designed to sell product, not to reflect real life. They are part of a giant merchandising operation. Real-life consequences can be brutal, not at all conducive to marketing. But Mr. Bird is absolutely correct in his observation. We need more feature animation in which the characters face real consequences of their actions. Put another way, it is time for more adult animation.
Why Do We Cry?
Early in Pixar's movie Inside Out, when the infant Riley starts crying the emotion Joy introduces the audience to the emotion Sadness. The implication is that tears are always a result of feeling sad, but the fact is that Riley's cry at that particular moment is an expression not of sadness but of anger. Infants do not experience the emotion of sadness because they have not yet acquired any values to be sad about. Sadness is a complex emotion having to do with one's expectations coming into conflict with the reality one is experiencing. An infant has nothing yet to be sad about because she recently arrived and has zero expectations. She is happy when you hold and feed her, and she is angry when she is wet or physically uncomfortable. Period. And she expresses discomfort with loud crying. Later in the film, when a much older Riley runs away from home and, while sitting on the bus, suddenly misses her parents, she feels sad. She anticipated that running away to Minneapolis would make her happy, but she discovers that love for her family is the higher value. When she reunites with them, she breaks into tears because she nearly lost them altogether.
Inside Out was on my mind when I came across a November 29th Washington Post article, "Dear Science: Why do we cry?," by Sarah Kaplan. In it, she explains that a baby's primal cry has evolutionary value because it "speaks" to adults. Nobody—especially not a mother—can ignore a baby's cry, because nature has hard-wired us to take care of babies if we want our species to survive. This is the key element in acting theory: All humans are bound together by an effort to survive. Our differences are only in our survival strategies. When you animate a character, you are telling the audience your personal opinion about how that character is surviving. You are making a statement about that character's values.
Inexperienced actors frequently cry too readily in performance. Adults in the real world, when they feel the urge to cry, tend to resist it. That's because tears and neediness seem to go together, and adults do not generally want to be perceived as helpless. Helplessness will get you hurt or killed in a dog-eat-dog adult world. So, the acting lesson is that, if you want to show that a character is sad, then he should try not to cry. In general, we act to control our emotions. Like Walt Disney said to Don Graham: "The mind is the pilot."
Have you ever noticed that female characters in movies tend to cry more than males? This implicitly suggests that females are more emotional—and perhaps weaker—than males. That would be a false conclusion because women are definitely not weaker, but it is true that females are more hard-wired than males to respond to a crying baby.
Crying is a fascinating topic, one that is a mystery even to many psychologists. We all do it, and we all have feelings about the very fact that we do it. In evolutionary psychology, you learn that every human attribute has an evolutionary purpose. A yawn stimulates the brain, saying in effect, "Stay alert! Don't fall asleep!" A kiss mimics the behavior of a nursing, trusting baby. The empathy we feel for the people around us functions like emotional radar that helps us distinguish friend from foe. The human laugh is a social signal that celebrates being alive. And crying is an expression of need. When you feel sad, you are in some way—not always conceptually—not getting what you think you need. Reality is clashing with expectancy, hope and anticipation.
A psychiatrist in New York explained to me some years ago why people cry at weddings. Getting married is a happy occasion, after all, not one that evokes sadness. What he said is that there are two things happening simultaneously in a wedding. First, the couple is launching on a grand adventure in life, which is joyful; but, second, they are now officially adults and must leave the innocence of childhood behind.
That is sad, and so we cry.
Until next month...
"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none."
(All's Well That Ends Well, I, i)
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ed Hooks