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.

 

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.

Animated Acting: Lose Control

stooges 5

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.

 

The Body Out of Control

People have a fascination with human movement that defies norms. Often it is the beautiful and extraordinary, such as dance or acrobatics, but it can also be the ungainly and strange. When we see someone moving oddly, we stop and try to comprehend what is going on.  Spasmodic, or erratic, motion has always had a certain use in comedy. The staggering drunk is probably the most common.  Jerry Lewis had an awkward running style that was one of his signature actions.  But lets focus on characters who really are not in control of their motor functions.

This music video for Fatboy Slim is both slapstick and really cool.  It was created by the Swedish firm Traktor. Plus it has cartoons in it!

Obviously their are wires yanking their bodies around and then the wires are removed in post production. But the effect is wild. It’s not unlike some moments in Ratatouille when Remy is manipulating Linquini.

Strange movement is one of the reasons zombies are so interesting to audiences.  I will confess, I have not seen the either of the Weekend at Bernie’s movies.  As far as I can tell, at some point the dead Bernie is re-animated through some sort of voodoo ritual. His odd motion became a dance craze.

And we must remember this modern classic. It has over 27 million views on YouTube for the very reason I am describing.

Animated Acting: Playing the Trickster

If you are looking to create a fun animated character with a strong visual acting style, consider the trickster.

I recently re-watched the 2013 Chinese film, Journey To The West.  It’s directed by Stephen Chow, who is my favorite working film maker.  The story involves a young demon hunter, and one of the demons he sets out to find is the classic character from Chinese folklore, the Monkey King.  The Monkey King is a trickster, and the actor portraying him here gives an excellent example of how a trickster acts.  Tricksters are not necessarily good or evil, but are almost always self serving.  The trickster is false.  The trickster has no reliable character to play, he acts in whatever way he thinks will serve his purposes.  The character falls outside the bounds of what is commonly seen in modern cinema. They are ancient characters, and will always have the potential to be entertaining.

In this movie, the Monkey King has been caught and imprisoned in a cave by Buddha.  His goal is to escape. When the young demon hunter enters, the Monkey King first sets out to win his confidence.  I really like his movement in this first clip.  His excessively graceful posing and gestures are a classical way of demonstrating good character.  His goal is to get the young man to take away the seal that prevents him from leaving. (BTW, the dubbed voice is awful, try to watch movement and not think about that.)

 

The young man is too simple and kind to fall for the trick.  He is not suspicious at all, he just doesn’t do what’s expected.  When the first trick fails, the Monkey King then tries to intimidate him with tall tales. His demeanor turns serious and threatening.

 

Again, the trick fails. The young man isn’t easily frightened, which is why has no reluctance to be a demon hunter.  After that scene, the Monkey King tries to escape, but the magic holding him in causes him to be painfully whipped by the clinging vines.  As he is down, he turns to acting pathetic, to win sympathy.

 

The pretty girl that just showed up has a strong romantic interest in the young man.  The Monkey King now has someone else to try to trick into helping.  So he resorts acting like a flirting man in a disco trying to win over the pretty girl.  Again, his physical acting is very strong.

 

The next clip is a spoiler, in case you are interested in how this section of the movie turns out.

Finally, the Monkey King simply mentions that he hasn’t seen the full moon in centuries.  The young man chooses to do a good deed for him.  At that point, we see the Monkey Kings true character.

 

I am not the first person to point out that one of animations greatest characters, Bug Bunny, is a trickster.  All the trickster needs someone to trick. Where the Monkey King had the young demon hunter, Bugs Bunny  had Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, or some other dupe.  To be in control, Bugs has been known to act like he is dead or dying:

He has pretended to be someone he’s not.

Sometimes he’s dressed in drag.

He will be pathetic if it might help.

He has even resorted to begging.

The trickster is a fun character who has over acting built into his or her style.  You don’t have to hold back.  The antagonist can also have interesting reactions, as seen above.  We need more tricksters.  How deep is your bag of tricks?

 

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