Audience feedback

Some people might think that audience testing is something new, something thought up my marketing departments rather than artists. But it’s not. Silent film greats like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin also did testing, and would often sit in theaters to see how audiences reacted. They were accustomed to instant feedback on their work when they were on stage, and learned to live and die by it.

Here is an example. Buster Keaton finished a version of “Seven Chances” and screened it for a test audience. In the film he was being chased downhill by a horde of women in bridal costumes, and he accidentally kicked loose a few small stones that tumbled along next to him. The audience laughed at that. Keaton decided to give them more, so he went back and reshot the sequence, and this is the result:

Animators tend to want to do their work until they like it, then release it upon the world and wait for the appreciation to come rolling in. I suggest you get as many eyes on your work as possible, especially from regular people who don’t know you.

In Praise of Funny Voices

For many years my focus has been on visual and physical comedy, like that found in old silent movies.  But recently I learned a good lesson about the value of voice in a character.

One evening I went to the Circus Center in San Francisco, to watch a performance of students in their Clown Conservatory.   It is interesting to watch novice comedians, because it is such a contrast to professionals.  The pros have done their acts perhaps thousands of times.  They have everything down, and proceed with a natural ease.  The students are clearly working hard.  In that regard, none of the students stood out.  But one of them did snag my attention.  It was because of her voice.  Her voice was a little funny.  I hardly recall what she said, but the unusual quality along with her delivery and timing helped to separate her from the group.

Here is a little piece of trivia I tell my students who are choosing a clip of dialog to animate to:  the word “personality” comes from “persona”.  The root words are “per” which means through and “sona”  which means sound.  Personality comes through the sound of the character.

For animators involved in dialog exercises, like 10/11 second club stuff, I would recommend putting some serious thought into the voices, perhaps even more than what is being said.  Many dialog exercises use clips from movies, featuring regular actors with regular voices.  It would be worth finding some voices with real character.  We all have to admit that Mel Blanc was a major contributor to the success of Looney Tunes.

Wild Lines: The Art of Voice Acting by CarlStallingEnthusiast

Rowan Atkinson interview

I found this great audio interview with Rowan Atkinson, where he explains the difference in his two most successful characters, Mr. Bean and Blackadder. He also describes the genesis of Mr. Bean, which includes his inspiration by Jacques Tati. This serves me well in partially explaining what this blog is about.

Blackadder is comedy created by writers. Mr. Bean is comedy created by a performer. Animation is performance. If you want to write jokes, become a writer. This blog is dedicated to performers.

An additional interview where he discussed Bean and Blackadder has embedding disabled, but is available on youtube here:

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