What do you bring to your animation that is unique and personal to you?
I once listened to an interview with Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles, where he said something to the effect of “You can’t create the illusion of life unless you’ve lived one.”
This quote stuck with me and, over the course of my career, I’ve found it useful to remind myself of this truth.
In animation, our primary goal is to breath life into a character. We can learn the technical side of the process through books or instruction. We can even learn about the theory of acting and performance but the final, elusive, part of the puzzle comes from within.
The work that you create will never be the same as that of the other animators around you. Your performance choices will always be influenced by your own unique life experiences. You may draw inspiration from people you know or have met, but you will also always put a little of yourself into every performance.
A film or tv series is typically animated by a large team and part of the responsibility of the animation director is to ensure that the characters have consistency. In the eyes of the audience, each character should appear to be a living breathing character who acts and reacts in a believable way, consistent to that character’s personality.
Even when the team is striving to create these consistent characters, it is fascinating to see how much of the individual animator’s personality is evident in their shots. On each of the productions I’ve worked on, I’ve been able to pick out the work of specific animators based upon the way they animate their shots. It may be the use of certain gestures, poses, or expressions. Sometimes it’s the sophistication of the acting choices. Sometimes there’s just something unique about the performance that reminds you of the animator behind it.
Try as we might, we just can’t help putting a little bit of ourselves in everything we create. When we are striving for the consistency required by TV or film this may seem like a bad thing, but we need to remember that this inconsistency is exactly where the magic comes from.
These personal moments come from the unique lives of the animators crafting the performance. Without these additions, the characters can feel flat and two dimensional. The trick is to recognise those unique traits which add to the character and those which detract. Often that will be the responsibility of the animation director since it is so hard for us to spot in our own work.
Going back to that Brad Bird quote, I would ask yourself, what else you can bring to the table from your life that can enhance your work?
Taking time away from the computer may seem counter intuitive when you are trying to learn and improve at animation but it is exactly that time away, doing other things, that will give you the unique life experience which can be woven into your work.
Taking time to travel, enjoy hobbies, or learn new skills is all valuable and you never know when these experiences may be directly applicable to your work.
Over the years I have animated countless scenes where I could draw from my own real world experiences to enhance the believability of a performance. This has included things as varied as rock climbing, mountain biking, photography, and even piloting a plane!
Maybe you have different experiences or talents. Dance, martial arts, musical skills, all of these things are relevant and can set you up to animate specific characters or for roles on certain productions which can make use of that unique knowledge.
Whilst many of your life experiences will subconsciously become infused into your work, I would suggest that you also share what you do beyond animation with others.
If you are applying for a job, include other interests and experience on your CV or resume. These things won’t be considered unless your animation is already strong enough but, you never know, it could help to swing a job in your favour or become an interesting talking point in an interview.
Once you have a job in a studio, if it is known that you hold a black belt in karate, who do you think will be getting the bulk of the martial arts shots to animate!
Give yourself permission to live a life outside of animation so that you have the material required to create that elusive illusion of life.
Sharing your animation online can be really beneficial but it's not for everyone.