ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
NO WORRIES, JOHN WILL FILL IN THE BLANKS LATER....
Disney CEO Bob Iger has announced release dates for Pixar and Disney animated features through 2018. What caught my attention about the press release is that, in addition to the inevitable sequels and prequels, eight of the announced release dates do not have any movies to go with them. In other words, Mr. Iger is calibrating the production line for Wall Street, and John Lasseter will have to come up with some titles later. All we know for certain at this point is that all six will be in 3D. Movies for Disney - and evidently for Pixar now as well - are assembly-line product. Leo Tolstoy wrote a powerful essay entitled What is Art? It is worth re-reading after you finish excitedly marking your calendars:
3/4/16 (Disney), 6/17/16 (Pixar), 11/23/16 (Disney), 6/16/17 (Pixar), 11/22/17 (Pixar), 3/9/18 (Disney), 6/15/18 (Pixar), 11/21/18 (Disney)
SKETCHES AND CARICATURES!One of the fun perks of teaching acting to animators is that my students tend to be unnaturally talented artists who occasionally use me as a sketch model. Luckily, some of their class creations land in my hands. It is my pleasure this month to share the work of FELIX ZEHENDER. He did this during the FMX workshops in Stuttgart this May. Cool, Felix! (See more of Felix's work here.)
ACTING FOR ANIMATORS WORKSHOP SCHEDULE
July 9-19. Beijing, Communications University of China (CUC)
July 20-24. Shanghai, DeTao Masters Academy
Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs —
The Five Emotions
The cast of characters in Walt Disney's 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs express only five of the seven human emotions. The two that are absent are Contempt and Disgust. Grumpy comes closest to expressing Contempt, but he never reaches that threshold. He, along with the rest of the dwarfs, Snow White, the Evil Queen, the Huntsman and the Prince, get by on Happiness, Anger, Fear, Surprise and Sadness. Walt Disney was of course a master storyteller, and he was leading the world's most talented team of animators. By most biographical accounts, Uncle Walt was not the most sophisticated person at the party. He was what we can call a "natural," a person who could make creative decisions because they "feel" right and hit the target 99 percent of the time. He had a gut understanding of how to tell a story to kids. I doubt he could have itemized the basic emotions or explain what empathy is and how it works, but it didn't matter. Genius is genius, and that is Walt Disney in a nutshell: Genius.
In preparing this month's craft notes, I took a fresh look at the film, read a transcript of the Disney screenplay and re-read the original Grimms' fairy tale from which the movie was taken. Walt made this movie for an audience of American children, and he removed from the Grimms' tale anything that might require too much thought to understand. The Evil Queen, for example, is a stone cold non-empathetic sociopath in the movie, a certifiable nut job. Although the movie implies that she is Snow White's birth mother, Walt clearly did not want to delve deeply into real-world family dynamics. In the Grimms' story, Snow White's mother dies during childbirth, and the Evil Queen is her stepmother. If Walt had included that information, it could have raised questions that were better left unexplored for the time being, like why a woman might die while having a baby. American children in the 1930s were not as knowledgeable about the baby-making process as children are today. Remember your initial reaction to the news about what mom and dad were doing in the bedroom? That's right: "Yuck!", "Ewwwww!", both expressions of disgust. Walt also eliminated from the movie the Grimms' sequence in which the Queen cooks and eats what she erroneously thinks is recently murdered Snow White's lungs and liver. Dining on one's daughter's internal organs is grim indeed, maybe a little too Hannibal Lecter. "Ewwwww!"
Psychology was still primitive in Walt Disney's pioneering years, and it is unlikely he could have explained why it was smart to leave out Disgust and Contempt from the emotional spectrum when making a movie for children. We know now that those are the final emotions to fall into place during a human's development. If he had included all the elements of the Grimms' tale, as originally written, all the kids under eight or ten years old would have simply been uncomfortable, maybe a bit mystified. Children do not need Disgust and Contempt. Those are for adults who must make their own choices in life and live among other adults who develop opinions and make value judgements. Walt Disney was right on target; he just wasn't able to explain himself very well in an academic way.
Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston made a great step forward in their book, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (1986), but they were also of a generation not yet conceptual about how and why humans do what they do. They knew that emotions are central to life, and they knew that a person on one side of the room would be moved by the emotional display of a person on the other side. So, in explaining the Disney approach to animation, they included plenty of advice about emotions. On page 507 of the book, there is a seven-item boxed bullet list headlined "Points to Remember When Animating Emotions." It is worth reviewing, especially point number two:
The thought process reveals the feeling. Sometimes it can be shown with a single, held drawing or a simple move. Other times there should be gestures, body moves, or full action. Determine which is best in each case.
We know now that thought and feeling are a two-way street. Feeling also reveals thought. Even more to the point of animation performance in 2013, physical action reveals emotion which, in turn, reveals thought. Frank, Ollie and Uncle Walt himself understood that "the mind is the pilot," the key that unlocks emotion, which is the thing that binds us together. Therefore, they made special effort to animate thought and emotion clearly. They did not, however, understand an actor's craft. They had a wonderful and natural feel for it, and action most often springs from emotion in their movies. Today, we can codify why they were right, and we can stand on their shoulders to create animated performance with even more of an illusion of life than was in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We understand something about Contempt and Disgust, and we know that empathy is caused by mirror neurons in our brain. We understand that we can read micro-emotions in one another's faces. Emotion does not have to be huge in order for us to empathize with it. In fact, we empathize all of our waking hours with everybody that passes by. Empathizing is so natural to us that we are unaware of it.
It is fun to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs again, as an adult show-biz professional. Walt Disney was right when he observed, "There is a kid in all of us."
Until next month...
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks