Animated Acting: Lose Control

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Suppose you are given a choice of animating one of two scenes.

The first is a serious conversation between two people.

The other is a character who is enraged and clashes physically with everything around him.

If you chose the latter, then this post is for you.  You probably would love to animate Popeye gulping spinach and going ballistic.

Consider this scene from Charlie Chaplin’s great feature “The Kid”.  Charlie has taken care of a boy he found abandoned as a baby.  The authorities have come to take the child to the orphanage.  Charlie is having none of it.

Wow.  It’s an extremely dramatic moment, isn’t it?  Charlie manages to be both violent, and throw in some of his trademark silly movements.  As with any performance the challenge is to maintain what is specific about your character.  In comedy there may be no better way to create a performance that is both funny and dramatic.  The contrast within the scene makes the violence more surprising and the comedy even funnier.

In planning a performance I tell my students to answer 3 questions.

1. What is the character doing?  In this instance, getting extremely angry and perhaps fighting.

2. Why is the character doing it?  This comes from the story.  It’s the motivation.

3. How is the character doing it?  Here’s where the acting starts.  What makes this version of rage specific to this actor/character.

This next scene from the Three Stooges features one of Curly’s great freak outs.  Something sets him off, in this case it’s a mouse, and the only way to subdue him is with the smell of cheese.  It’s a way for him to lose his mind and overcome the more powerful bad guys.  Throughout the scene, he remains Curly through and through.

If you haven’t seen “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,”  it may be Hollywood’s greatest all star feature.  It features lots of great actors in stressful situations who have to deliver matching performances.  Here is Jonathan Winters going nuts:

While considering animated characters who do this, not so many sprang to mind.  Popeye, of course, conquered Bluto/Brutus with his spinach powered outburst.  And each time it was a fresh twist on the same idea.  Here is Roger Rabbit having a drink.

And few characters get angrier than Ren Hoek.

Think about other characters, animated or not, who lose control, and please leave a comment to help me build up the collection.


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