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• Acting generally comes from some kind of interaction, either with other characters, objects, creatures or our environment. • We respond less readily to characters’ individual actions in isolation; it’s only when characters are placed within an environmental or emotional context that we become more interested in them and it’s interaction that provides the interest.
• The dynamic of an animation that involves interaction between two or more characters will shift throughout the sequence, at one point the action being led by this character and supported by another and then subsequently being led by the second character and being supported by the first. • Many great screen events have been dependent upon dynamic and sometimes fiery partnerships. • This important to remember the passive characters within the scene and to keep your characters alive. Overanimate them and they can distract from the main thrust of the scene, underanimate them and they can appear like wooden blocks, which in itself can become distracting. • It is also not necessarily the character delivering the dialogue that is the one you want your audience to be watching. One character could be delivering the dialogue while the other does the movement, perhaps in response to what is being said. His actions could be more revealing about the inner emotions and thoughts than the dialogue.
PLANNING A SCENE
• A well-crafted scene containing a good animated performance is not something that happens by accident. It demands structure and planning. • To ensure that the scene you are animating meets the intended aims and is in line with your storyboard and animatic, you need to carefully plan the animation performance and stage the action correctly. This will ensure the pacing of the film is correct and avoid any continuity errors.
• You also need to locate the action and drama within the sequence appropriately before you commence animation. This should allow the narrative to flow freely and in a natural manner. You will find it useful to have a copy of any voice track at hand as you make the animation. • Don’t allow the planning to restrict the performance. Thoughts will occur to you during the animation which may mean changing things slightly. This needs to be allowed for and there should be some leeway in the storyboard to accommodate this. • If the structure is too rigid it could leave you missing the opportunity to fully exploit an excellent performance.
The six stages of planning a scene
• Think. Don’t just get down to the work, think it through first. It may sound obvious, but I have seen far too many pieces of animation that are simply going through the motions, a kind of animation by numbers, get character, place within 124 Animation: The Mechanics of Motion. Some thoughts on possible actions Perhaps the first character collapses after passing on the object and the second character shows off his superior strength. Perhaps the second character slaps the first one on the back after taking the heavy object. Perhaps the characters drop the object and it lands on the toe of the stronger figure.
• Aims. Know what you and your characters are trying to achieve within the scene. Understand how this scene fits alongside the other scenes before and after within the sequence and how it fits within the dynamic flow of the movie. This is important not only to achieve the practical aspects of continuity throughout the animation, ensuring that if a character has a hat on his head at the end of one scene he also has it in place at the beginning of the next, but to ensure that the flow of the entire sequence is maintained.
• Objectives. You should understand exactly what the scene must deliver. Establish if the character has to achieve certain objects, undertake certain tasks, and be at a certain emotional or spatial point within the movie? Identify those issues of continuity that must be considered as above by checking the scenes that precede and follow the one you are working on. • Options. Explore the options open to you. How will your character do what it needs to do? Even a simple action of getting out of a chair will have a number of variations. Establish which is the most appropriate for the scene; this is not always the most taxing or challenging. Remember, your animation must fit within the whole film; not every scene will offer the opportunity for you to showboat.
• Personality. How is the personality of the character you are animating being expressed to the audience and is it in keeping with the character? Would the character you are animating behave in this way? • Clarity. Your audience must be able to see what you are trying to do not only in cinematic or graphic terms, but also in terms of the performance of your character, its objectives, motivation, shifting dynamic and relationship with other characters. What are you trying to say in this scene? Is it clear to you? If it isn’t, it won’t be clear to your audience either.
PROPS AND COSTUME
• The use of props and the costume associated with a character’s movement will not simply affect the movement of a character, but will often determine the action. We have looked at howheavy objects will affect the action and balance of a character, but a certain prop may also affect the way a character performs.
• Props and costume can be used to enhance a mood and exaggerate characterization. They offer the opportunity for true character-based animation, business as Disney used to call it. Consider a young child wearing her mother’s dress and shoes. What does she become, how does it alter the way she moves, even the way she speaks? There is a lot of business to be had from the simplest of props. • Props do not need to be complicated. The manner in which a man could use a simple prop such as a hat can be very telling. Charlie Chaplin used his famous hat and cane to exactly that effect.
• None of this can be learned in a vacuum. Observation is the key to the exploration and development of character-based animation, so it would be good to get out and simply observe. Take a walk in the park, have a cup of tea at the café, and look at the different types of people and their individualactions you’ll see there. • It’s surprising how their personalities start to become clear to you, how they are expressed even in the little things they do, even in their body language. And study film, not just animation but live action too, but don’t let the footage just wash over you in waves. Deconstruct it, try to analyse what makes for a good performance.