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.


Walter Lantz on directing cartoons

Here are some fun videos of Walter Lantz describing the method of creating animated cartoons.

Here is a fun look at Lantz working with new characters.

And finally, this fun documentary made to show the public how cartoons are made.

Invisible Instruments

I just read about Jerry Lewis performing a musical scene in the Tashlin film “Cinderfella”. It’s him alone in a kitchen miming to an instrumental track.

I was going to post just that video, when I noticed this next video by Rowan Atkinson. He’s doing his popular “invisible drum kit” act.

Hopefully you can see the amount of character that is put into the performance, making it about the performer, and not the music. For contrast, here is a real drummer mimicking his art for a mildly entertaining music video.

So that made me think about invisible instruments, which of course lead to air guitar. I found this short montage of the top three performers at the 2011 World Air Guitar Championships. I appreciate how some of them inject some character into the act, rather than just pretending to shred. Of these three, the third person was the winner. I liked the first two better, but what do I know about this.

Disney Acting Reference for Alice in Wonderland

Here is fantastic bit of acting reference from the production of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, featuring the greats Ed Wynn, and Jerry Colonna.  More evidence of what great comedic actors can bring to animated charaters.  Look at this reference, and compare it to the recording booth videos of big name stars we see today.   These men get in costume and use their full talents.  The Youtube title says they used the actual audio from the reference.

The poster image for the clip shows a split screen comparison of Jerry Colonna and the March Hare.  I notice they followed the basic hand gesture he used, but changed their relative position in order to get a better silhouette.


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.




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