ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
ANIMATORS - THE NEXT GENERATION
Stage actors learn their craft by getting up on their feet and doing it - trial and error with a heavy focus on the latter. Most animators have a built-in aversion to getting on their feet and acting like stage actors, but they nonetheless have to learn how acting works so they can endow their characters with an illusion of life. Either way, acting is a right-brain activity, and both stage actors and animators are, as Artonin Artaud famously put it, “athletes of the heart”. It looks to me, based upon teaching and interacting with some thousands of animators, that CG is putting even further distance between what stage actors and animators do. Manipulating pixels requires a left-brain aptitude in a way that traditional animation does not. There is a more direct connection between hand and brain when a person sketches than when she taps on keys. The challenge for computer animators is to master the technical (left-brain) skills to a point that it can be used effortlessly to express the heart (right-brain).
I have noticed that an ability to draw is increasingly irrelevant for admission to some animation programs. A few schools – Cal Arts, Ringling, Gobelins and the like – still insist on a strong portfolio, but they are becoming the exception, an endangered species. We are moving further away from the kind of mentoring that a new animator might have expected in the days of Uncle Walt, but it does not yet appear that the industry is providing a replacement model. With this in mind, I have a few suggestions for animation educators.
1. Give students more exposure to storytelling and story structure. Unilaterally, regardless of the country, weak storytelling skill is apparent. A big part of the challenge is that animation students look to Hollywood and the Academy Awards for a standard of excellence, and that measure is often unreliable. In Hollywood, the goal is to make a lot of money, to hit the jackpot, to walk the yellow brick road, so a story is deemed to be good if it is commercially successful. This yardstick is a manifestation of the capitalistic American culture and is only loosely correlated with the elements of classical storytelling. Remember The Iron Giant? From an industry perspective, it was a failure.
2. Include more right-brain exercises such as improvisation. They won't teach an animator about scene structure or the rules of acting, but they are fun and liberating, and participating in them loosens up that right-brain. Singing, dancing, anything like that is useful. Just keep in mind that animators are not training to be stage actors. The point is not that they learn to do these things competitively. They are animators, not stage actors, and this must be kept prominently in focus.
3. Require them to draw. I know from personal conversations that a lot of students have little interest in drawing. Make them do it anyway. They don’t know what they don’t know. It does not matter much whether they can draw well, just as it doesn’t matter whether they can dance or sing well. The educational value is in the act of doing. The point is to stimulate creativity.
It is time to consider the industry that new animators are entering. I can argue that this phase is roughly equivalent to the late 1940s, when the Golden Age of studio movies began to fade. Television was coming in, and contract actors were opting to be free agents. The studio moguls were slowly and steadily losing control of the steering wheel. Pixar, according to a talk I attended last year at FMX, no longer hires “generalists”, which is what defined the studio in Toy Story days. Now they have a production “grid”, streamlining the simultaneous production of three or four movies. Pixar is part of Disney, and Disney is more oriented to merchandising than making movies. The bottom line is that the industry is in a state of flux, and the opportunities for this next generation of animators will include lower-budget productions that are intended for specific audiences. We will be seeing fewer US$200 million movies designed "for the entire family." Television and the Internet have already married, and it is obvious that there are going to be a lot of children.
Animation training ideally will prepare an animator for the kind of career he or she will, in fact, be facing. Only a small percentage of today's students will wind up working a grid. Animators, like actors, are shamans, storytellers and keepers of the tribal flame. We need to hear their voices.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks