Tips for action comedy

I have found some YouTube videos with some great insights to creating action comedy.

This first video isn’t specifically directed toward action comedy, but it uses a comedic scene as an example.  In How to Make a Perfect Action Scene, Patrick H Willems explains why action scenes can’t simply be a series of exciting events.  There should be either clear causation or surprising turns.  He uses the term “therefore” when one event causes another event, and “but” for when there is an unexpected change.  A video of animators Matt and Trey Parker speaking at NYU is his source for these terms.

After watching the video, I realized this is why the action scenes in the Indiana Jones movies work so well.  They have both a logical progression and unexpected changes of direction.  Rewatch the Club Obiwan scene that opens Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for a great example.

The next video is from YouTuber BigStinkyMoose.  His bio says he is a Canadian fight choreographer.  His video Jackie Chan Famous Ladder Fight Scene Analysis does an excellent job of illustrating how Jackie Chan foreshadows the use of props in his fight scenes. Basically, Chan makes sure the props he uses are clearly visible in the shots before he puts them to use.  I believe that helps the audience follow the fast action.  It only serves to reinforce Chan’s reputation as a great filmmaker.   Again, this involves comedy.

While that video is enough to explain the method, I recommend watching his follow-up video, below, that shows what happens when an action scene is shot without the same attention to detail.  I especially like his use of clips from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.  In the famous fight scene, the TV anchormen meet in an alley for a rumble, and they all produce frightening weapons from inside their suit jackets.  That reminds me of how cartoon characters can suddenly pull out a giant hammer or bundle of dynamite.

Wolf pulls hammer

It is curious that a “serious” fight scene can rely on almost cartoonish techniques, but Jackie Chan carefully prepares the props beforehand to make it believable. For more on Jackie, read my other post.




Wilson and Keppel – Sand Dance.

It’s not so common anymore, but most of us have seen a character doing a stylized Egyptian dance.  That dance is derived from the sand dance, done by a trio of music hall performers. Here is the Wikipedia intro to Wilson and Keppel and Betty.

Wilson, Keppel and Betty were a popular British music hall act in the middle decades of the 20th century who capitalised on the trend for Egyptian imagery following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Their stage act, called the “sand dance”, was a parody of Egyptian postures, combined with references to Arabic costume. The lithe and extremely lanky Wilson and Keppel, who wore long mustaches and make up to emphasize the sharp angularity of the features so as to appear almost identical, would demonstrate their impressive suppleness in adopting wild gestures and dancing in identical “stereo” movements (using gestures vaguely reminiscent of Egyptian wall paintings), while Betty watched their antics. Theirs was a soft-shoe routine performed on a layer of sand spread on the stage to create a rhythmic scratching with their shuffling feet. The act was usually performed to the familiar Egyptian Ballet (1875), by Alexandre Luigini.

And here is a video of them doing the dance.

Make fun of something

Some time ago, I went to the Makers Faire and I attended a talk by Adam Savage, of Mythbusters. He was wearing his Indiana Jones hat, and he told a story about the man who made it. The man, Marc Kitter, was obsessed with the hat from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He researched it endlessly, learning that it was different from the hat in the next two films. He wanted one exactly like it, so he learned millinery, and made it himself. This lead to a business of making hats. He became so good, the producers of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came to him for new hats for the movie. Artists begin by copying.

As a boy, long before I went into animation, my early ambition was to be an artist for Marvel Comics. Of course, I began by copying the characters I liked, and I even sent some of the drawings to the artists at Marvel, with fan letters. And I got responses! They were really nice.

I think all comic artists start off emulating their heroes. Some become accomplished artists and still create new works based on the characters they love. Fan art is huge now. I recently read an online article on how the producers of the TV series Adventure Time used fan art ideas to produce an entire episode.

There are definitely some legal issues involved with creating, and distributing, fan art. This article from THE FINE PRINT is a good look at the copy right considerations. The author, Jomo S. Thompson, also discusses the place for parody:

Due to the U.S. love affair with free speech, Parody enjoys great protection. Well executed parody will steal just the right elements from the target to make the identity clear, then let the roast begin. Even if the “core” elements are copied and the economic value of the original is harmed, a parody is still protected.

An interesting point was made by a commenter on that blog:

fan art is also looked on as a “training ground” for new talent.

Entire TV shows are built around parody. “Robot Chicken” and the “Mad” series on Cartoon Network are just two examples. So, if you are interested in creating comedic animation, perhaps professionally, and don’t have any ideas of your own you are happy with, then parody might be a good way to go. Here is a very good goof on The Avengers from independent animator Junaid Chudrigar.

Of course,

Charles Schulz draws Charlie Brown

Recently, the home of Charles Schulz burned down in the fires in Santa Rosa, California.  Fortunately, the Schulz museum was spared.  The museum is near the Redwood Arena.

When my family wants to go ice skating, we always go to the Redwood Arena. It was built by Schulz as a gift to the city he lived in. His studio is across the street, and every day for lunch, he would go to the arena and eat in the cafe. There is a table by the window with a reserved sign on it, in memory of him.

I love seeing that table, as a relic of a blessed man. He was an artist, he brought joy to millions of people for many years, and he grew extremely wealthy. That’s what we should all want to be. Here is a small clue to how he did it. He draws, and discusses his inspiration.

Why the French Love Jerry Lewis

Why the French Love Jerry Lewis is the title of a book by Rae Gordon.   I have read the book, and found it worthwhile. Here is the product description from Amazon:

Vividly bringing to light the tradition of physical comedy in the French cabaret, café-concert, and early French film comedy, this book answers the perplexing question, “Why do the French love Jerry Lewis?” The extraordinary emphasis on nervous pathology in the Parisian café-concert, where the genres of the Epileptic Singer and the Idiot Comic took center stage, and where popular comic monologues and songs included “Man with a Tic” and “I’m Neurasthenic,” points to a fascinating intersection between medicine and popular culture. The French tradition of comic performance style between 1870 and 1910 nearly exactly duplicates the movements, gestures, tics, grimaces, and speech anomalies found in nineteenth-century hysteria; the characteristics of hysteria became a new aesthetics.

Early French film comedy carried on this tradition of frenetic gesture and gait, as most film performers came from these entertainments and from the circus. Even before Chaplin’s films triumphed in France, film comics were instantly recognizable from their pathological gait, just as Jacques Tati would be a half-century later. Comedy, a genre that dominated French cinema until World War I, has often been linked to a mass public for film; the author elucidates this link by proposing a broadly generalized cultural-medical phenomenon as the explanation for the dominance of the comic genre. Comic performance style drew from a group of nervous disorders characterized by the psychological automatism emanating from the “lower faculties”: nervous reflex, motor impulses, sensation, and instinct.

Building on her previous work on hysteria, the cabaret, and pathologies of movement in the films of Georges Méliès, and drawing on over 400 French films made between 1896 and 1915, the author contributes to a new theory of spectatorship at work in the cabaret, in shows of magnetizers, and in early French film comedy. Jerry Lewis touches a nerve in French cultural memory because, more than any other film comic, he incarnates this tradition of performance style.

Some time ago, I brought this up on a physical comedy discussion forum, and one of the responses was that the French Jerry Lewis movies were dubbed by some one with a very funny voice, and that is what people laughed at.   Thanks to youtube, we can now here the voice.

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