ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
Introducing an iPad app:
"The Jules Engel Biography Project"!
Jules Engel choreographed the dancing mushrooms in Fantasia, which is enough accomplishment for any lifetime, and he later worked on Bambi. In 1969, he became a Founding Director of the CalArts Animation Program, the first animation training of its kind anywhere in the world. His students, including some of the most illustrious names working today, adored the man and credit him as a major influence on their careers.
Janeann Dill was mentored personally by Jules Engel when she was a graduate student at CalArts in the Experimental Animation Department and ultimately became his official biographer (authorized). She is producing and directing the non-fiction film Visualizing Art History: Experimental Animation and its Mentor. Now, she has created an iPad app which she is generously offering for free Until January 1, 2014. All animators should know Jules Engel and his wonderful work in experimental animation, and you will not have a better opportunity than this. Click here for a free download of Animation Pioneer:Jules Engel. Wonderful work, Janeann! I am enjoying my copy.<g>
Fusion: Interesting New TV Network
ABC-TV has hooked up with Univision to create Fusion, a new TV network, and it is extremely impressive. Its target audience is the English-speaking Latino market of hip, educated young adults, and this thing snaps like a damp towel in the locker room. Generally, I don't care much what the television kingpins do because I think their time on earth is limited. This is different, and I suggest you take a look if you have not done so already. In the not-too-distant future, it will be impossible to get elected to political office in the U.S. without appealing to the audience for Fusion. Also, significantly, Disney owns ABC-TV, which means we are probably going to start seeing Latino princesses and theme-park characters pretty soon. Fusion looks a lot like the future to me, and I predict that smart money will follow it. Here's a Rolling Stone article about Fusion.
“Stand high long enough and your lightning will come.” –William Gibson
Lamest Animated Sequence in The Croods
There are occasions when an animated movie scene is so hopeless that all an acting teacher can do is show it to the class, toss up his hands and tell them, "Don't do this, okay?" If you have access to the DVD for this movie, check out chapter 18, beginning at 51:18 on the time line. Guy, the Bieber-esque cave-hunk romantic lead, has invented boots and has custom-made a pair for Eve, the smart and sexy ingenue co-lead. The sequence begins with Eve covering her eyes waiting for Guy to finish the boot installation on her feet. He tells her she can look now, and the camera follows her expectant eyeline down the front of her body, stopping on the new boots. There is a brief beat while she takes it all in, after which she lets loose a blood-curdling scream. Her arms spasm with ecstacy, and she cries out, "I LOVE THEM!" Then, overcome with sudden panic, Eve asks Guy: "Where are my FEET?" Guy puts on his best expression of masculine amusement and reassures her: "They're still there!", implying, I suppose, that her feet are inside the boots someplace.
Seriously, who writes this crap? Eve is the lead in this movie, yes? She is the "modern" and adventurous one, the Croods family equivalent of Merida in Pixar's Brave. Do you figure she was unconscious when Guy slipped the new boots on her pretty feet? "Where are my FEET?" is a lame gag line that could only have been conceived by a cynical Hollywood screenwriter who is already being paid too much. It is condescending and insulting to the intelligence of the audience and reeks of elitism. DreamWorks is capable of doing better than this. For my students: "Don't do this, okay?"
Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule
January 31st weekend, Medellin, Colombia, participating in gov't-sponsored animation education event
February 10-14, Animex Int'l Animation and Game Festival,Teesside, England
Late February, date to be determined, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania
Videogame Shooters, "Flow," and Evolutionary Psychology
According to psychologists who investigated the subject, playing violent video games makes the player feel confident, inducing "flow". The bloodier the better, evidently, with head shots awarded a special premium of achievement. What's going on here? Could it be true that we humans are simply warmongers by nature? Are we happiest when we are killing things? I'm reminded of a study I read in the 1970s, when I was working on a book for actors about TV commercial auditions. According to research, the reason aerosol bug sprays sell better than those little roach hotels with the white powder in them is that housewives like to see the roaches die immediately. The hotels kill more roaches, but the dying takes longer and is done in the privacy of whereever the roaches live, out of sight.The aerosol kills them right now, on the spot, legs twitching in the air, the entire awful scene. The result induces in the housewife a feeling of accomplishment. That is why Raid sells better than Combat, even though Combat kills more roaches.
This is peripherally interesting because in for-real warfare involving living, breathing people we are advised to dehumanize the enemy. Soldiers in training are taught to regard the enemy as so many inanimate objects rather than as fellow human beings. If a soldier in the heat of battle starts thinking of the soldiers on the opposing side as somebody's brother, father, son and loving husband, he may hesitate to pull the trigger and wind up dead himself.
I began teaching acting to animators in videogame companies about fifteen years ago. Designers would inevitably ask for my opinion about ways to enhance the player's emotional game-playing experience and, knowing more about acting than games at that point, I advised them to humanize the enemy, on the premise that bad guys don't think they're bad guys in the real world. I can still recall the perplexed look on the face of the lead designer at what was then THE leading game company (it's still one of the leading companies, but I won't tell you which). "Well, Ed, we don't want to make a Band of Brothers videogame!" For the too-young-to-remember among my readers, Band of Brothers was a best-selling book by Stephen E. Ambrose that followed the experiences of a small group of WWII soldiers, up close and personal. It was by design a humanization of the battlefield experience. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks made a hit TV series out of it for HBO. The designer explained that this is why the "enemy" in so many videogames is an alien or zombie. Nobody has any moral/ethical bias about shooting aliens and people that are already dead. You can do that all day long and still feel great about yourself, even if those aliens and zombies are bringing with them a cure for cancer.
I have accepted that the status quo pretend circumstances of shooters includes the dehumanization of the other side. One of these days, some clever, profit-hungry and innovative developer will want to try something new, and I hope he'll get in touch with me at the planning stage. That is a project I would love to work on! Although the appearance and behavior of enemy characters has improved over the past fifteen years, most of them still cause my eyeballs to roll back in my head. Does every soldier in the entire enemy universe have to wear a face mask? Goggles? If you lose the masks, the animators could do something wonderful with facial expression of emotion, and the expressions alone would open up an entire other level of transactional decision-making for the player.
Regarding that feeling of confidence that comes over a player who becomes a successful killing machine, it is worth noting that confidence is an essential sensation for all humans. We feel good when we are surviving in life. Turning back the evolutionary clock, it was the confident cave man that outlasted all those hungry sabertooth tigers. An ability to detect, outsmart and overcome a predator is a basic survival skill. Confidence is not just a desirable feeling floating around out there in the cosmos waiting to land on the top scorer for this or that videogame. It has evolutionary value, just as all seven of our basic emotions do. Seen through the lens of evolutionary psychology, therefore, videogames can theoretically grow in entirely new ways if the developers want to give it a go. If their net profits decline another ten or fifteen percent, that might provide a workable incentive.
Think about this: is there a hierarchy to the development of survival skills? Why stop with head explosions? True, we first have to learn how to catch the rabbit and take it to the cave for lunch but, after that, what? In the real world, the survival choices we face are not often so brainless as "shoot the guy with the ugliest leather mask." At some point, survival depends upon recognizing deceit in others. Remember Iago? At some point, survival depends upon NOT obliterating the enemy. Those guys that flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 arguably pursued a short-sighted, zero-sum survival strategy for their cause. What they reaped, however, was continual suffering ever since, with millions of people being killed.
I'm not trying to get political, trust me. I'm just saying that all the humans in the world act to survive, each with his or her own tribal strategies and personal values. Continual war may be built into the survival model at the moment, but might there be other possibilities? Might not some smart developer make a videogame out of it? Hope springs eternal.
Until next year...
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks