I am thrilled that Jackie Chan gets so much appreciation from film fans and makers of YouTube video essays. His work is being studied and there are many lessons for animators to soak up. Here is a recent video that makes a case for Chan as the fourth great silent comedian. It features some excellent examples from Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Chan studied their work and applied it to his own.
I can’t believe I haven’t seen this before now. It’s exactly what I like. It’s a non verbal comedy packed with great gags. This Way Up was released in 2008, and was nominated for an Academy Award. It was created by the directing team of Smith & Foulkes at Nexus in London. The story features a pair of undertakers retrieving a body for burial. It’s a grave situation (pardon the pun) and that allows for humor that is both dark and slapstick. Like my Floyd the Android character, these two don’t give up until they complete the job.
Except for the poster image below, the two almost never smile. Undertakers by nature are quite serious and respectful. The straight faces give the impression of them being a pair of Buster Keatons. (Buster Keaton as an undertaker may have been a missed opportunity.) The film is 9 minutes long, but moves along so efficiently it feels shorter. The bizarre ending features a truly death defying stunt that is very Keatonesque.
I have a previous post about character entrances, but I have put a lot more thought into it. The result is my first Comedy for Animators video. 10 types of comedic entrances looks at various funny ways characters can enter a scene. I have found at least two examples from both animation and live action films to demonstrate each one.
The term “entrances” covers a few things. It can be a character walking into a scene. It can be the very first scene where a character is shown to already be. It can be a scene about a character entering another place. A character can be revealed when something in the scene changes. Basically, it is the shot where you, or someone in the story, first sees the character and the effect it has in the telling of the story.
The ten different types of comedic entrances are:
1: The big entrance. This is an attention grabbing entrance. It should emphasize the character’s style and have an effect on the other characters in the scene.
2. The downtempo entrance. If the character has a low energy style, you may want to create a story that begins with a high energy. By clashing with the situation, the character will stand out as unusual. A low energy character in a low energy place would be inherently uninteresting from a physical comedy point of view.
3. The surprise entrance. The character is hidden in some unexpected place.
4. The misleading entrance. The character enters the scene in some way that leads the audience to make assumptions. Then the reality proves to be very different. Such characters usually go on to prove they are not what they seem to be.
5. Bad timing. The character enters at a really bad moment. Prior to the character entering, the situation is set up for them to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
6. Exit as entrance. We first see a character as they are being kicked out of some other place. Often, they are literally flying out the door
7. The disguised entrance. The character enters the scene in some disguise that is comical in itself.
8. The subverted entrance. This is a scene about a character entering, but the entrance does not go as planned. It can be seen from the entering character’s point of view.
9. The strange, surreal doorway. A character simply walks into the scene, but it is through some very strange doorway.
10. The forced entrance. The character is forcibly brought into the scene or story.
And there you have it. If anyone can identify a type of entrance that I have overlooked, I would be very happy to hear about it in the comments.
In the history of physical comedy, there is a special place for the use of hats. Hats are a very convenient costume prop to work with, as they are so available and easily located. During the heyday of silent films, it was common for people, both men and women, to put a much higher value on headwear than we do today. Hats were an expensive part of the outfit, and having a fashionable hat meant you were a respectable member of society. Because of that value and symbolism, the hat became a target for comedians. When an character’s hat was lost or damaged, the audience knew he would take it seriously. Wearing the hat wrong, or wearing the wrong hat, can simply make the actor look funny. To demonstrate their skill, comedians could also perform simple tricks by manipulating their hats in entertaining ways.
Hats are underused in animation. Character designers, as well as animators, may not understand the value of the hat. In what might be the first in a series of posts about hats, I’ll begin with Buster Keaton. Keaton’s signature look included what was known as a “pork-pie hat.” He would sometimes throw in a short gag using it as a prop. Below are a handful of examples. Notice how Keaton almost never looks at it. These are quick gags, and he doesn’t make a big deal over the “business” of it unless it’s part of a larger sequence built around the hat, or hats, as you’ll see later on.
In this scene, a bullet knocks off his hat. Where another comedian might pick it up, put his finger through the bullet hole, and pull a funny face, Buster hardly lets it affect him.
Here is the same gag, but in a more mundane situation.
He didn’t always catch his hat. In The Navigator he lost several hats to gusts of wind. It became a running gag.
In comic strips, when a character is surprised, he can have a big reaction that includes his hat popping off his head. This is known as a “hat take.” Here, Keaton uses a gimmick to simulate that. Since he limited his facial expression so much, it did provide a bigger effect.
It was unusual for Keaton to use wacky effects like that. He sometimes snuck in surreal effects, such as this moment where arrives at work, slaps his cane again the wall and somehow makes it stick. Then he simply hangs his hat on the handle.
Most of the time, he preferred to display his skill, as in this simple gag.
Keaton didn’t always wear a pork pie hat. If the time period of the story called for it, he could go with a different fashion. In Our Hospitality, set before the US Civil War, he wore a very large top hat. So large, it caused problems in the little carriage he was riding in. He has just met a pretty girl, and doesn’t want to look foolish. The hat isn’t cooperating.
When he gives up and goes to the pork-pie hat, it’s a nod to the audience that he can’t escape being Buster Keaton. In Steamboat Bill Jr. the hat makes a brief appearance in an entire scene is built around Buster trying on all kinds of hats. He is a stylish young man, and his father is a serious old steamboat captain. They haven’t seen each other for years, and this scene serves the purpose of illustrating how they relate to each other. They each have very different opinions about the function of a hat. This is also an example of the “Keaton circle.” He goes through a whole bunch of motion, and eventually winds up back where he started.