CHARACTERIZATION

22 October, 2008


CHARACTERIZATION 
(acting)

 

Character animation is the
ultimate achievement of animation art. It is a complex combination of
craftsmanship, acting and timing.

 

Characterization in animation
is concerned not so much with what the character do. The audience is conditioned
to look at human characters in human situations. In animation this can only be a
starting point. The cartoon character should not behave like a human being. It
would feel and look. Human reactions and human actions must be exaggerated,
sometimes simplified and distorted in order to achieve a dramatic or comic
effect in cartoon.

 

For these reasons the features
of characters must be kept simple, allowing for maximum facial expression. The
key positions should be efficiently expressive, and held for a long enough
period of time to transmit the message to the audience. In animation such
transmission is easier in movement than in live action. When a movement is over
exaggerated it tends to create a sense of comedy. This is especially the case in
fast movement. A deliberate exaggeration of speed, therefore, is the basis of
timing for a caricature as for instance, in the case of Tom & Jerry cartoons.
Slower pacing requires greater emphasis on expression and characterization of
the subject it requires more subtle animation and it is infinitely more
difficult to handle.

 

The Thinking Character:

 

When animating characters,
every movement, every action must exist for a reason. If a character were to
move about in a series of unrelated actions, it would seem obvious that the
animator was moving it, not the character itself. All the movements and actions
of a character are the result of its thought process. In creating a “thinking
character,” the animator gives life to the character by connecting its actions
with a thought process. Walt Disney said, “In most instances, the driving forces
behind the action are the mood, the personality, the attitude of the
character-or all three. Therefore, the mind is the pilot. We think of things
before the body does them.”

 

To convey the idea that the
thoughts of a character are driving its actions, a simple trick is in the
anticipation; always lead with the eyes or the head. If the character has eyes,
the eyes should move first, locking the focus of its action a few frames before
the head. The head should move next, followed a few frames later by his body and
the main action. The eyes of a character are the windows to its thoughts; the
character’s thoughts are conveyed through the actions of its eyes.

 

If the character has no eyes,
such as an inanimate object like a Luxo lamp, it is even more important to lead
with the head. The number of frames to lead the eyes and head depends on how
much thought precedes the main action. The animator must first understand a
character’s thought process for any given action. Consider a character wanting
to snatch some cheese from a mousetrap; the eyes will lead the snatch by quite a
bit because this is a big decision. The character needs time to think,
“…Hmm. This looks tricky, is this cheese really worth it or is it just
processed American cheese food? Oh what the heck…” he decides, and snatches
the cheese.

 

Conversely, if the action is a
character ducking to miss a low flying sheep, the anticipation of the eyes
leading the action should be just a couple of frames. “What the…” and the next
thing, he is spitting wool out of his mouth.

 

The only time that the eyes or
head would not lead the action would be when an external force is driving the
character’s movements, as opposed to his thought process. For example, if that
character was hit in the back by the low flying sheep, the force of the impact
would cause the body to move first, snapping the head back and dragging it
behind the main action of the body.

 

 

Emotion:

 

The personality of a character
is conveyed through emotion and emotion is the best indicator as to how fast an
action should be. A character would not do a particular action the same way in
two different emotional states. When a character is happy, the timing of his
movements will be faster. Conversely, when sadness is upon the character, the
movements will be slower. An example of this, in Luxo Jr., is the action of Jr.
hopping. When he is chasing the ball, he is very excited and happy with all his
thoughts on the ball. His head is up looking at the ball, the timing of his hops
are fast as there is very little time spent on the ground between hops because
he can’t wait to get to the ball.

 

After he pops the ball,
however, his hop changes drastically, reflecting his sadness that the object of
all his thoughts and energy just a moment ago is now dead. As he hops off, his
head is down; the timing of each hop is slower, with much more time on the
ground between hops. Before, he had a direction and a purpose to his hop. Now he
is just hopping off to nowhere. 1

 

To make a character’s
personality seem real to an audience, he must be different than the other
characters on the screen. A simple way to distinguish the personalities of your
characters is through contrast of movement. No two characters would do the same
action in the same way. For example, in Luxo Jr., both Dad and Jr. bat the ball
with their heads. Yet Dad, who is larger and older, leans over the ball and uses
only his shade to bat it. Jr., however, is smaller, younger, and full of energy,
he whacks the ball with his whole shade, putting his whole body into it.

 

Readability of Actions:

 

Proper timing is critical to
making ideas readable. It is important to spend enough time (but no more)
preparing the audience for the anticipation of an action; the action itself; and
the reaction to the action (the follow through). If too much time is spent on
any of these, the audience’s attention will wander. If too little time is spent,
the movement may be finished before the audience notices it, thus wasting the
idea.

 

The faster the movement, the
more critical it is to make sure the audience can follow what is happening. The
action must not be so fast that the audience cannot read it and understand the
meaning of it.

 

To make sure an idea or action
is unmistakably clear, the audience’s eye must be led to exactly where it needs
to be at the right moment, they must not miss the idea or action. Timing, as
well as staging and anticipation are all integral to directing the audience’s
eye. A well-staged anticipation will be wasted if it is not timed properly.

 

It is important that the
audience sees only one idea at a time. If a lot of action is happening at once,
the eye does not know where to look and the main idea will be overlooked. The
object of interest should be significantly contrasted against the rest of the
scene. In a still scene, the eye will be attracted to movement. In a very busy
scene, the eye will be attracted to something that is still. Each idea or action
must be timed and staged in the strongest and simplest way before going on to
the next idea or action. The animator is saying, in effect, “Look at this, now
look at this, and now look at this.”

 

In most cases, an action should
not be brought to a complete stop before starting another action; the second
action should overlap the first. This slight overlapping maintains a flow and
continuity between whole phrases of actions.

 

In Luxo Jr., it was very
important that the audience was looking in the right place at the right time,
because the story, acting and emotion was being put across with movement alone,
in pantomime, and sometimes the movement was very subtle. If the audience missed
an action, an emotion would be missed, and the story would suffer. So the action
had to be timed and paced so that only Dad or Jr. was doing an important action
at any one time, never both. In the beginning of the film, Dad is on-screen
alone and your eye is on him. But as soon as Jr. hops on-screen, he is moving
faster than Dad; therefore the audience’s eye immediately goes to him and stays
there.

 

Most of the time Jr. is
on-screen, Dad’s actions are timed to be very subtle, so the attention of the
audience is always on Jr. where most of the story was being told. If Dad’s
actions were important, Jr.’s actions were toned down and Dad’s movements were
emphasized then the attention of the audience would transfer to Dad. For
example, when Jr., looks up to Dad after he’s popped the ball and Dad shakes his
head, all eyes are on Jr.

 

Character reactions and
‘takes’:

 

A further advantage which
animation can claim over live action is the ease with which characters reactions
can be controlled and exaggerated. Without some degree of exaggeration, cartoon
animation would not look right. The success of such effects lies in timing.

 

A character makes a ‘take
when he suddenly sees or becomes aware of something that makes him react in
surprise. There may be a short or long time lag between when the character sees
whatever it is, and when he message gets through to his brain. This would be at
least five frames, but could be a lot longer depending on the character’s metal
ability.

 

The first principle is to
coordinate the character body movement with his facial expression. The legs,
arms, hands, the position of the body, all must contribute to a reaction. The
facial expression must be emphasized with adequate exaggeration, particularly of
the eyes and mouth.

 

There are of course differences
of reaction according to the type of character portrayed. A big brainless
character requires a longer time to react than a small character. This is where
character animation can excel on its own and where the art of animation begins.


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