May '10





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Animation without acting is just a technical exercise. A good animated performance creates the belief that the audience is watching a living character whose actions are a result of its own thought processes. The animator's technique should aid this, not upstage it.

 I think that a book on acting for animators is needed since the only other book on the subject was written by an actor and was based on human performance. Animation is not restricted by the limitations of the human body.  There is a lot of controversy -- needless, in my opinion -- over whether Motion Capture is Character Animation. Character Animation is based on the imagination of the animator, not the movements of an actor's physical body. Kaj Pindal said it best, and I quote him on the opening page: "Animation begins where live action gives up!"  I'm pleased to say that most of this book is devoted to animal and fantasy characters. It's not possible to 'act out' most of the exercises with your body (you must use thumbnails and imagination!)  There is very little duplication of subjects covered in other books.

Nothing in animation is real and it doesn't need to be 'realistic'. Animation is moving, living art. It is the most exciting artistic medium I know of, but from the beginning it's been a strange marriage of art and technology. Audiences come to see a story that is told by appealing characters. This doesn't mean that animated actors must be 'cute', only that they are believable enough to not be upstaged by eye candy. Animation is not dependent on a program or a medium or whether it is drawn or whether it is in 3D. Audiences come to see a story, but they must believe in the characters and take an interest in what happens to them.

There is more animation around than ever before, and it is no longer produced in a few large cities or studios. You can make a film in your apartment and distribute it all over the world.  Features, TV shows, and short films, whether independent or sponsored, usually have character performance convey the story.

I was fortunate to study and work with some of the all time great animators. I took copious notes in classes and interviewed people and kept their letters. These men and women loved the art and did not want their knowledge to die with them. I am passing this knowledge, and things that I learned in a long career as an animator, along to others now.

 I got my first interview on tape with Art Babbitt in 1979. My most recent interviews with Ellen Woodbury, Carlo Vogele, and Jamaal Bradley were done via email in 2009. I referenced my notes, letters, and memories and had some excellent help from director Yvette Kaplan, the 'subject expert' who read the manuscript and made valuable suggestions on what I needed to

cover. This was a much easier book to write than my first one, “Prepare to Board!”,  since it's easier to discuss how something moves and conveys emotion than how to 'come up with story ideas'! (That chapter in PTB was the hardest to write.)

“Animated Performance” is not a book for beginners since I don't discuss basics like walk cycles, bouncing balls, and simple squash and stretch. This has been well covered in other books. It is intended for the intermediate or advanced student, or young professional animator, who already knows the technical basics and has the standard books. I do discuss overlap, follow through, primary and secondary actions in one chapter simply because I was startled to see that even Frank and Ollie didn't solidly define the first two concepts. There is absolutely no difference between feature, short or television acting. It's not the number of drawings/frames that matter, but the way they are posed and timed. While there is no 'one way' to do anything in animation, these will act as rough guidelines for the perplexed. (Or they could become more perplexed, who knows?)

I see some marvelous work in today’s animated features, like the Dragons (particularly Toothless and the Monstrous Nightmare) in "How to Train Your Dragon", that show exactly the sort of blended actions I like to see in character animation. Dragons don't exist, so you can have them behave like cats, or bats, or insects, or all of the above, and they will be quite believable. But animated humans (I'm speaking generally here, not referencing a specific film) are often tied to 'realistic' movement--and they don't need to be. An animated human is no more 'real' than an animated dragon is. 

Character acting sometimes shows stock expressions and gestures that I've seen in many other films or books. If the animator bases the performance of a character on someone he or she knows, rather than on an animated film he or she has seen, the performance won't be cliché. In one chapter I have a character slam a custard pie into the face of another who is wearing “Stock Raised Left Eyebrow Expression #1”.


To illustrate her point, Nancy created the bad vaudevillians Fairleigh Obvious and Sadleigh Obvious as negative animation examples.

In a way, I started this book thirty years ago with that first interview with Art Babbitt. The actual writing was done during most of my summer vacation in 2009. It went fairly quickly. It will be released in August by AVA Press, and it's already listed for preorder on Amazon.com. Editor Georgia Kennedy tells me that foreign language editions are planned. I'm not sure which just yet, but we had to leave room on the page so that translators could fit their text in!

I'd call this book a sequel to “Prepare to Board!”. I have some storyboards (drawn by one of my Sheridan Students) that I break down into thumbnails, so the animated performance develops from the storyboard's guidelines. “Prepare to Board!” showed how to tell a convincing story. “Animated Performance” shows how to create convincing animated actors in a story context.

I think Lewis Black was right when he called book authorship 'homework every night'. But I'm glad that I got the notes, tapes, emails, and crazy stuff written down. I hope you like it.


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