Animated Acting: The Drunk Character

“A man’s true character comes out when he’s drunk.”

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin found his first fame playing a drunk. An intoxicated individual has lost his inhibitions and is, therefore, more interesting to watch. Like smoking, In Pixar’s Ratatouille, there is a very entertaining scene of Linguini rambling on with slurred speech after imbibing a bottle of wine. Bender from Futurama seems to be pretty much the same drunk as he is normally.

Back in the day, drunkenness was far more accepted in entertainers. Remember Timothy Mouse and Dumbo in Pink Elephants on Parade? Looney Tunes would sometimes have its characters get drunk. Hiccups seem to have been the common behavior.  The drunk stork delivering the wrong baby was a great way to set up a comedic situation. There was quite a bit of drinking in Tom & Jerry. This example shows Tom staggering around with some very precarious steps with no apparent trouble.

Creating a convincing alcoholic performance is difficult for actors, and probably even harder for animators. Looking for reference on youtube almost exclusively leads to people who are falling down drunk, and while it’s funny in some ways, a character in that condition is virtually useless in telling a story. So you need to see professionals who do entertaining imitations. Of course, I should start with Chaplin in his virtuoso solo performance in One A.M.

One of Chaplin’s lessons was that the lush doesn’t want people to know he (or she) is drunk. He continually tries to act sober and maintain his dignity. Here are some other tips for creating drunk characters:

  • Relax the character, keep him loose.
  • Play with balance. The character should not look stable. He should be exerting obvious effort to remain upright. Steps are short and wobbly.
  • Struggle with simple things. Like balance, they should have to put extra work into things that would normally be easy.
  • Break boundaries. Drunks are less inhibited and will move into places and spaces they wouldn’t when sober.  They are often overly friendly.
  • Slow him down. See the video of John Lasseter below.

Here are two good instructional videos on general drunken acting from actor DW Brown. But I would recommend visiting THIS BLOG POST For his text version.

Brown also describes four different kinds of drunks. If you are animating a drunk character, be sure to understand which kind he is.

  1. The Aloof Drunk. A person like this is so busy trying to appear sober they can’t really interact with others.
  2. The Happy Drunk. Someone who has lost all inhibitions, and wants to share his good feelings with everybody.
  3. The Angry Drunk is belligerent and ready for a fight. This kind of drunk could motivate some great comedy by picking fights with the wrong person.
  4. The Maudlin Drunk.  Sometimes people indulge the sadness in their lives when they get drunk.

And finally, here is an interesting lesson in this sort of behavior.  This is “Drunk John Lasseter”  He’s not really drunk. It’s just the video is slowed down, but it has the remarkable effect of making him appear to be. The inebriated brain runs slower.  Drunken characters should do everything a bit slower than a normal person would.


Osamu Tezuka’s Broken Down Film

Here is Osamu Tezuka’s short “Broken Down Film.” I saw this way back in college, and now I think it’s a little dated. I wonder how many kids would understand the joke about the hair in the gate of the projector.  There are some pauses that run a little long for short attention span types. Still, I think this is a must see for anyone for appreciates silent comedy and animation.


Animated Acting: Emotion Changes

At the Academy of Art, one of the assignments I gave was to show a character going through emotion changes. It is a simple way to get students to work at producing a couple of good poses and expressions. I have already encouraged them to try to avoid cliche acting, and make things feel motivated.

Generally, the students try to set up a situation that makes sense for the change to happen. And I found a great example which got me thinking about creating funny situations and timing. It is from the minions of Despicable Me fame.

If you watch this Banana mini-movie, you’ll notice that nearly every shot involves a minion having some rapid change of thought. In some cases it’s emotion, in many cases it’s the sudden hunger for the banana, in others it’s simply recognizing something important has happened. From the first one agonizing over whether to eat his lunch banana to the guy at the power switch ( at about 2:00) who seems to go through a half dozen different reactions to what’s happening around him.  These are characters who go through extremes. It’s dramatic comedy!

Many students do fine animation with a human figure going through some fair acting. It would be great to see something with a cartoon energy.

Staging for Visual Comedy

Staging is one of the principles of animation, and the word gets used for both scene layout and character posing.  I have created a new video about staging for visual comedy, and it is primarily concerned with scene layout, or composition and motion in shots. There are many great books and videos about composition in film. Most are filled with beautiful examples from famous cinematographers, and we can all learn a lot from them. But there is precious little available on comedic staging.  Are there funny ways to arrange and move your characters in a scene?

I have spent a lot of time watching comedies, and I have identified several kinds of staging that re-occur in live action and animated films.  These are shots that rarely happen in dramatic films.  These are upstaging, peek-a-boo, pass through, awkward sets, and crowded spaces.  Please watch the video, and in the comments below I would love to get more suggestions.  If and when I get to revise the Comedy for Animators book, I will include a new chapter on this topic.

I would very much appreciate subscriptions to my YouTube channel.  I hope to start producing these videos more often.


Lessons from runway models on how to be funny.

I was a sailor on one of the first Navy ships to have women serve on board.  One evening I was hanging out with some other guys in the machine shop when a cute girl came through, back from her evening out on the town.  She was nicely dressed in civilian clothes, and as she passed by we all took in the sight.  She strutted past with a smile on her face.  When she reached the hatch at the other end of the compartment, she caught her foot and fell right to the deck.  Hilarity ensued. Runway model fails are pretty much the same thing.

Beautiful, important, and serious people have long been the target of physical comedy. Runway models delicately perched on high heels are primed to be brought down to earth.   There are some lessons to be found.

It’s all about the ankles.

If you are beginning to fall, and want to be even funnier, struggle to maintain your balance for a really long time, recover, and then fall.

While most models try to recover instantly, you can also get to an awkward balancing pose, and hold it there for comic effect.

This one is simple and direct. Catch the foot, big key pose, go down,

If you fall once, falling a second time isn’t funny.  You have to go all the way to 3 or more falls.  Single falls are best when the model drops completely off the stage and disappears.

Or, like this woman, wear a giant headdress and appear to vanish under its weight.

Seriously, just look at these shoes. What monster designed those?

If you fall, having a cute smile and laughing at yourself about it is the best way to look less stupid.  Just own it.

This savage literally steps over the body of a fallen comrade sprawled on the runway.

Here is probably the best compilation of runway model fails.



%d bloggers like this: