The world’s best animation tutorial

This is the world’s best ani­ma­tion tuto­r­ial. Or maybe its’ the worst. You decide.

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The Four Kinds of Laughter

John Wright is a the­ater direc­tor and act­ing teacher whose approach to per­for­mance fits in with the pur­pose of this blog.  I have his book Why is That So Funny?: A Prac­ti­cal Explo­ration of Phys­i­cal Com­edy (Soft­cover) and I have found some use­ful items to post here.  I would rec­om­mend buy­ing his book to get the full value of what he has to offer.

The pur­pose of com­edy is to elicit laugh­ter from the audi­ence.  But peo­ple laugh at things for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.   Wright has named four dif­fer­ent types of laughter:

1. The Rec­og­nized laugh.

2. The Vis­ceral Laugh

3. The Bizarre Laugh

4. The Sur­prise Laugh.

Wrights descrip­tion of the Rec­og­nized Laugh involves more sto­ry­telling than I want to recre­ate, but I believe I can para­phrase.  One of Char­lie Chaplin’s most ana­lyzed per­for­mances is in “The Pawn Shop”.   A cus­tomer enters and asks Char­lie to look at his pocket watch.  The watch isn’t work­ing, so Char­lie inves­ti­gates the prob­lem.  All his move­ments are derived from those of a doc­tor per­form­ing a diag­no­sis.  He per­forms the oper­a­tion with such accu­racy we rec­og­nize what it is he is doing.   If he were to SAY, “I’m a watch doc­tor and I’m going treat the patient”, it wouldn’t be funny.  But as he begins the work we dis­cover it in our own minds, and real­ize how odd, but appro­pri­ate it is.  It relies on the  per­form­ers choice of action, and qual­ity of the act­ing.  Sim­ply put, good mim­icry is funny.

The Vis­ceral Laugh may be the sort most pur­sued by ani­ma­tors.  It involves energy and impact, flight and falling.

The action in a car­toon film fol­lows a sim­i­lar pat­tern: a sneeze can blow a char­ac­ter across the room, through the win­dow and into a tree where he could spin round and round a branch and end up stag­ger­ing dizzily about the road in a dis­ori­ented dance until he’s squashed by a pass­ing car.  Come­dia is the the­atri­cal ver­sion of a cartoon.

Wright goes on to explain how the per­former must be able to con­vince the viewer of what he is see­ing, such as slip­ping on a banana peel:

We’ve just got to believe in that trip.  If it looks even slightly pre­med­i­tated, even slightly hes­i­tant or set up, then nobody is going to laugh.  If we believe in the fall, then we enjoy see­ing you out of control.

Wright gives the exam­ple of Monty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus as a source for “The Bizarre Laugh”  It is sur­real, non-sensical, and defies logic.

The clown lives in a world of baf­fle­ment where one thing leads to another.  It’s a state of per­pet­ual free asso­ci­a­tion where we no longer have to ask the ques­tion “why?”  The bizarre laugh is the exact oppo­site of the rec­og­nized laugh.

Finally, The Sur­prise Laugh, is the most basic of all.  Wright reminds us of the Jack-in-the-box, and the infants game of peek-a-boo.

I remem­ber watch­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion when, at a cru­cial moment, we heard a vio­lent noise at the back of the audi­to­rium and every­body turned around to see what was going on.  When we turned back again, the scene had been changed.  We laughed because we’d been caught by a sim­ple and effec­tive lit­tle trick.

When Tex Avery’s wolf trav­els to the other end of the globe to escape Droopy, only to dis­cover Droopy has arrived before him, we are hit with the sur­prise laugh.

I plan to post more items from John Wrights very use­ful book.

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Christmas minions

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Jackie Chan: How to do action comedy.

Thanks to my friend Johnny Turco for putting this up on facebook.

I pre­vi­ously posted Jackie Chan tips for ani­ma­tors, which includes a ten part video of Jackie explain­ing his work. This fol­low­ing video is a great analy­sis to aug­ment that.

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Character… or personality?

When I intro­duce dia­log to ani­ma­tion stu­dents, I point out that the word “per­sona” is derived from the latin words for “through sound”. It is through the char­ac­ters voice that we can dis­cover the per­son­al­ity. Actors in ancient Greek drama wore masks, but with open mouths to allow the actor to speak.


Per­sona is the Latin word for the masks used in the Greek drama. It meant that the actor was heard and his iden­tity rec­og­nized by oth­ers through the sounds that issued from the open mask mouth. From it the word ‘per­son’ emerged to express the idea of a human being who meant some­thing, who rep­re­sented some­thing, and who seemed to have some defined con­nect­ed­ness with oth­ers by action or affects. (We still use ‘per­son’ to con­note this: we say of an infant who begins to show aware­ness of self in rela­tion to oth­ers, ‘He’s becom­ing a per­son.’) A per­son makes him­self known, felt, taken in by oth­ers, through his par­tic­u­lar roles and their func­tions. Some of his personae–his masks–are read­ily detach­able and put aside, but oth­ers become fused with his skin and bone.”

(Helen Har­ris Perl­man, Per­sona: Social Role and Per­son­al­ity. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986)

Char­ac­ter, on the other hand, refers more to the thoughts and beliefs of an indi­vid­ual. Char­ac­ter is how a per­son makes choices, how they decide what’s right and wrong. It is what guides their direction.

So, a per­son can have a great per­son­al­ity, but a weak char­ac­ter. He or she can have pos­i­tive inter­ac­tions with oth­ers, but make poor deci­sions. Con­versely, a per­son may be per­ceived as grumpy and antag­o­nis­tic, but is actu­ally fol­low­ing the right path.

Char­ac­ter is inte­rior, per­son­al­ity is exterior.

When cre­at­ing “char­ac­ters” it’s use­ful to under­stand this dif­fer­ence. We tend to make char­ac­ters who who express their think­ing through their per­son­al­ity. The hero has a great per­son­al­ity, the vil­lain is dis­lik­able. But of course, his­tory is filled with charis­matic indi­vid­u­als who have brought great evil. And, the world is filled with mis­un­der­stood indi­vid­u­als who care deeply about oth­ers, but don’t know how to express it.

When design­ing the visu­als for a char­ac­ter, remem­ber that the appear­ance may be a mask for what is under­neath. The “gen­tle giant” is a good exam­ple of a fig­ure that is impos­ing, but is actu­ally kind. On the other hand, female char­ac­ters have often encoun­tered a hand­some admirer who turns out to be a cad.

The point is, the mask can be mis­lead­ing, It is a fixed image, while the voice is alive, and can reveal who is the char­ac­ter really is.

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