Learn the simple skill which will help to improve your animation performances throughout your career.
I’d like to talk about a topic which will be of ongoing and increasing benefit as you grow as an animator, but that you can get started with at any experience level.
Animation is an art form based upon creating an illusion of life. The foundation of that illusion will always come from a solid understanding of the more technical aspects of animation, the principles and mechanics, but the true magic comes from the performance which we layer on top.
This performance layer can, by itself, take many years to master. Acting, after all, is a dedicated profession. As animators, we are trying to create the same, believable, engaging, and moving performances as actors, we simply do it one frame at a time.
So how do we get started with learning the performance side of animation?
Obviously, there are acting classes. Any formal training that you can do in acting will undoubtably be of benefit when it comes to the quality of your animated performances. But, for many, the thought of taking part in acting classes can be terrifying! Often people turn to animation as a way of staying behind the scenes rather than taking centre stage.
An alternative is to study the work of other actors. By watching films or going to the theatre you can start to get ideas for your own animation. The risk with this approach is that your animation performance choices can become limited and prone to cliché.
The best approach that I have found is to become an avid observer of the world around you. If you want to create the illusion of life, what better source material can you work from than life itself.
Become a people watcher. If you are sat in a café, or waiting in a queue, take time to study the people around you. How do they move? How do they sit or stand? What do these things suggest to you about the person? Notice how much variety there really is between the way different people do these everyday things.
Amongst your friends and family, take time to observe those small behavioural quirks that help to make us all unique. The more we train our brains to closely observe the world around us, the greater our mental reference library becomes, and the more options we have to draw from when we are crafting our performances.
It’s amazing how much we often see but fail to really notice. One of the joys for me of animation, which is also true of all visual arts, is how it can help us to develop our observation skills and make us more present in the world around us.
Inspiration for a performance can truly come from anywhere. I once remember standing in a dentist’s surgery when I noticed the unique way in which a receptionist was gesturing with her hands. Whilst it had no use for the performance I was currently working on, I immediately noticed it’s worth and logged it away for the future.
These small, everyday, real world observations are the elements which can elevate your animated performances to something truly unique and believable.
The great thing about this approach is that it’s free, easy to do, and you can genuinely get started straight away.
Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is crucial to animate a strong performance.