Sunday, September 03, 2006

Acting and Animation are not the same thing

Here is some clarification on my last post about Carlo Vinci and believable human acting:


I like some Disney cartoons: Bambi, Blame It On The Samba The Nutcracker Suite, the dramatic scenes in Sleeping Beauty and many more.

Cartoons have many ways of entertaining us.

I analyze everything I watch and try to figure figure out what is making me like it. Then I share my discoveries for free with you. In Disney, it's color, music, staging, mood and other things.

Hardly any cartoons in history had specific customized acting in them. It's not what cartoons do best. Tex Avery didn't use much acting in his cartoons (more than Disney) but just enough to make the gags funnier. I love Tex Avery cartoons. I don't enjoy Tom and Jerry as much because it's just the violent gags without the acting.

The few cartoons that DO have some non-generic acting in them stand out and I write about them and show them to you. Clampett had the most specific acting in classic cartoons. Jones next. Popeye has some.

What I find interesting about the acting in The Flintstones as opposed to older style cartoon acting is that it's very human, not stylized funny animal "sufficient" acting that the same animators did for decades on fully animated cartoons. It's what people today say the new prime time cartoons are trying to do, but don't.

I guess the classic animators had just never thought of doing believable human acting because they never animated humans in human situations and now all of a sudden they had to.

It looks to me like they had fun doing it and that makes the cartoons fun for me. They are sincere. It's like a bunch of highly skilled regular Joes were making cartoons about guys like themselves. They weren't filtering their expressions and poses by asking themselves "Gee, would Walt understand this? Or will he think it's too weird?"


I'm not comparing the "animation" to the fluidity of Disney animation.
And I also wouldn't compare the "human" acting in The Flintstones to the real acting in The Honeymooners which the Flintstones is imitating. An animator can never act realistically as funny as a skilled and funny comedic live actor can. It's impossible. But it is fun to add some of that element to your cartoons if you can. I do it all the time-but I wouldn't rely on that alone, because I couldn't do it as well as The Three Stooges or Robert Ryan, Peter Lorre, James Cagney and many of my actor heroes.


Acting and animation are 2 different crafts. Sometimes they can be done together but they usually aren't and that's ok too. I love Betty Boop cartoons and there isn't much acting in them. They are wildly imaginative and funny and pretty. What's wrong with that?

I am just separating the elements that make up my favorite cartoons and then letting you know what inspired me and my own style.

Analysis is a useful tool. It can help you build your own craft. I don't blindly accept opinions I read in books. I check the source and compare it to what I practice myself and I pay attention to my sensory organs. When I sense something I didn't sense before, I've learned something new and improved my faculties, which is always a thrilling experience for me.

I don't expect people here to blindly accept all my opinions. But unlike the books we've all read, I explain in detail the reasoning behind my opinions and then use lots of illustrations and clips to back them up.

I used to think all 30s cartoons were primitive because I was so used to the 40s style and how slick it looked. I believed what the books told me. Then I saw Swing You Sinners and was blown away. I realized I had been looking for the wrong things and then started watching other 30s cartoons and discovered tons of great practices that got lost or were abandoned by the 1940s animators. Lately I've discovered early 30s Terrytoons and I love them. They have some animation styles I've never seen before and I would love to use them myself if I can figure them out.

35 comments:

Dr. Strange-Q said...

I really enjoy watching "Naked Beach Frenzy". It's a good example of what I love in a cartoon. It was totally fun, not complicated, crazy characters doing crazy things. When Stimpy does the Shampoo Master bit, It reminds me of Curly doing the oyster soup routine with that weird wide angle lens. I always considered those scenes to be the equivalent of a guitar solo in a song. Look, Curly's doin' a solo! It makes for a better day. Mr. Horse's acting in "Stimpy's Pregnant" was insanely great. He's one hell of a character...I gotta go mow the lawn...oh ya, Weird Al looks like a freakin' Spumco character.

The Butcher said...

Despite the lack of acting, the MGM Tom and Jerry is one of my favorite old cartoons because it's so solid and of course the violent content rocks. Of course, it doesn't hold a candle to Popeye and and Clampett's WB cartoons.

I really like the part in Firedogs 2 where Ren lays about 4 or 5 punches to Stimpy's face in the span of one second right before he says "Do something you idiot! Or we'll lose everything!" I wanna see something like that but crazier and longer. Make some crazy cartoons with more beatings! Then throw some titties in there for no apparent reason. Sex and violence, horray!

Looking forward to your post on Popeye.

Wewelsburg said...

Relatively off-topic, but:

I just purchased the first season of _Ren & Stimpy_, "uncut". While I understand it's not 1000% of the original enchilada, I am very grateful that you helped make nearly all of it available to fans of the unbutchered originals. They remind me of the early WB pieces which were far more daring in tone and expressiveness then the later "safe" offerings.

That said, (Spumco-era) Ren & Stimpy pushed the medium much farther still, and it's gratifying to see much of the original vision come to life. *Real* cartoons.

So, a small word of thanks from a grateful fan. :-)

(Back to your regularly scheduled debate...)

David Germain said...

Hey, John, if you like James Cagney's acting then you should check out my latest blogpost about the man.

I don't really care said...

Make some crazy cartoons with more beatings!

LOL! I just thought it deserved to be seen again.

Despite the lack of acting, the MGM Tom and Jerry is one of my favorite old cartoons because it's so solid and of course the violent content rocks.

Nobody can deny their commitment to mean-spirited gags. There are some I just love. I was surprised to find they weren't higher on John's greatest list, but now I understand why. Like Disney they draw a lot on the acting rudiments of the silent film era, but unlike Disney, it is to greater effect, and look how gloriously mean they are. Any releases still have the black lady in them? Laserdisc?

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

"you will see something that hardly ever happened in classic fully animated cartoons-not during the Golden Age and certainly not now in the huge budgeted animated features churned out by the big 3 studios"

If you don't think animators like Glen Keane, James Baxter or Sergio Pablos act naturally, or that films like The Incredibles rely on stock poses, than I just don't know what to say anymore. I definitly agree a lot of today's feature animation is bland and uninspired, but to say all of it? God no.

JohnK said...

All that stuff is completely unnatural. It's all "animation acting". Tricks handed down through the ages.

JohnK said...

The one modern animator that animates naturally is the guy who animated the girls in Hercules, Tarzan, etc...I love his stuff.

Jorge Garrido said...

Ken Duncan?

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

What "tricks" are you talking about?

Ian M said...

Maybe the problem is the way you put things in a very black and white manor. Hearing you talk about Robert McKimson almost makes it sound like you hate Chuck Jones, which you clearly don't.
I guess some people aren't used to the idea of comparing two or more things one enjoys with sometimes unflattering light, but it really is neccessary for critical analyisis.
It can be a little confusing at times, but I'd suggest that people need to pay more attention to what you're trying to show us as a learning tool more than anything else.

Eric C. said...

Hey John,

How come you it's not only more fun to watch the old classic cartoons but you can actually sit through it all and todays cartoons you can possibly stand less than 5 min. of it?

Is it the writing, the acting, the animation, the crazy ideas or it is all of those things?

How do you organize everything and determan if something is too much or not enough?

Eric C. said...

And John, If I can ask another question. I've noticed that the new Ren & Stimpy is more better quality animation and most importaintly more cartoony.

Where you working up to the goal of getting more cartoony each time you've done an episode through time?

JohnK said...

Yeah, Ken Duncan!

He's great! He actually observes how girls really move and the expressions they make and then he caricatures them in his animation.

JohnK said...

>>How do you organize everything and determan if something is too much or not enough?<<

I don't. I just watch and if I'm having a good time, I want to know more about it.

JohnK said...

>>Where you working up to the goal of getting more cartoony each time you've done an episode through time?<<

Actually, on the whole it's probably less cartoony because we were trying lots of new and difficult things.

I was trying a lot of more human and specific acting, which tends to make it less cartoony.

As I get used to new techniques I loosen up and then get more cartoony again.

Watch the Tenacious D music video when it comes out! Much cartooniness.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

"He's great! He actually observes how girls really move and the expressions they make and then he caricatures them in his animation."

Which is exactly what all the *good* ones do... Keane, Baxter, Pablos, you name it. It's not because Duncan's (great) work appeals more to you personally, that the work by the others suddenly isn't natural acting anymore.

The Butcher said...

The part in Ren Seeks Help right before Mr Horse flips out and Ren is about to light a cigarrette (more specifically when he nods at Mr Horse after being asked, "You really wanna know what's wrong?"), is that an example of your attempting to do specific human acting? Either way, I really, really like that part. Weird how the build up for an intense scene can sometimes be better than what it's leading to.

JohnK said...

Disney acting animation for the most part is extremely unnatural and inbred. I'll prove it in a later pose.

Especially modern Disney.

JohnK said...

By the way "unnatural" doesn't always mean bad.

JohnK said...

>>The part in Ren Seeks Help right before Mr Horse flips out and Ren is about to light a cigarrette (more specifically when he nods at Mr Horse after being asked, "You really wanna know what's wrong?"),<<

Most of that sequence is "natural" acting. It's human expressions and poses, rather than stock animation moves and poses.

Mr. Horse has always been a man.A regular guy.

Jesse Oliver said...

Hey John

I just love the acting from Mr. Horse in "Ren Seeks Help" and "Stimpy's Pregnant". I hope that if you get to make more R & S cartoons in the future most of them will have Mr. Horse.

Yes sir, I like him.

bardhol said...

Hey John (and anybody else who animates),
Is there a particular brand of animation paper you would recommend (12 field)? It'd be especially helpful to know the pros and cons of different types, but a one-word answer would do just as well. Thanks!

k9_kaos said...

John K. said:
"When I sense something I didn't sense before, I've learned something new and improved my faculties, which is always a thrilling experience for me."

Me too, I love it when I see or hear something I like in cartoons, music, etc. that I've never experienced before. All too often artists today rely on generic "tried and true" methods of expression that don't develop the art form. Such people seem to think that they've perfected the art form, and that it's fruitless or unnecessarily risky to try to improve it. Nature takes risks with genetic mutations, and coupled with natural selection, this is why evolution occurs. If nature treated the genetic code of a species like dogma and didn't modify it, the species wouldn't evolve. Even if it didn't need to evolve, like if it was perfectly adapted to its environment, that doesn't mean that it would have reached the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection; it could in fact be truly primitive to what it could potentially become. If an unintelligent process can create such a wide diversity of life on Earth, why can't supposedly intelligent humans do likewise with art?

Hammerson said...

John, I'm glad that you discovered the early '30s Terrytoons. I've been watching them a lot lately, and agree with you - these are really interesting and unique cartoons, much better than their reputation suggests. Some of my favorites are the 1932 cartoons like "Bluebeard's Brother", "Radio Girl", "Romance", "Sherman was right", etc. They have very original and cartoony animation, strange lip-sync expressions, amazing walk cycles, and totally unpredictable stream-of-consciousness plots that barely make any sense. Even the routine cartoons have some funny and amazing bits. For their pure strangeness, I'll rank them very close to Fleischer and Lantz "Oswald the Rabbit" cartoons of the same era.

Donald S. said...

I generally enjoy good human acting in cartoons as long as the acting is exaggerated in context to it's surrounding. Matching the drawing of the character's exaggeration, and the voicing of the character.
If it fits the gag and is amplified in the right spot. I laugh. And loud too. Sometimes I hurt my side. But that's just me...

Kevin said...

The natural acting in Ren and Stimpy is what got me hooked. I would see an expression on Ren that I've never seen drawn before. Expressions that everyday people use, but fall between broader categories like "smile" and "frown."

I think my favorite one from APC is Ren's reaction to Stimpy asking for a cuddle session in Stimpys Preg. Ren makes this awesome face that is so real. It looks like something John K may have drawn himself too. It's just too perfect.

I could sit here and talk about my favorite expressions in John K, and other classic cartoons all day. Those are the little things that make a cartoon great. If you just simply watch how the character's faces keep changing, it's almost funnier than anything else. Thats why I love R+S

Kevin said...

by the way, the best way I can describe Ren's expression in that episode (it happens in others too) is kind of like a proud, "im too good for that"ish type of expression with a slight scrunching of the lips and chin. its awesome

katzenjammer studios said...

Hey John!

I think it'd be great if you really defined and gave examples of what "stock animation acting" is. The term is a bit ambiguous. Do you mean cliche poses? Superfluous gesticulation during dialogue? Etc. It would be important for the upcoming animators to be aware of this stuff so we can at least make the conscious decision to avoid or embrace such stylistic choices.

To me, the thing that makes cartoons really funny is when characters do stuff they can't do in normal life. If you want great human acting, why not get a bunch of actors?

Kevin said...

damnit, i meant to say ren makes that awesome expression in Stimpy Gets Pregnant when he says "oh yeah, you think he'll look like me" while contemplating being a father. Ren makes this awesomely real face that looks like something John would have drawn himself

I don't really care said...

To me, the thing that makes cartoons really funny is when characters do stuff they can't do in normal life. If you want great human acting, why not get a bunch of actors?


Human acting as I understand it doesn't mean acting just like humans, it means expressing unique and specific things in response to what is specifically happening and what the characters should be feeling about what is actually happening, such as humans naturally do. It can still be cartoony or exaggerated, and is completely compatible with cartoony physics.

Look at most current shows, especially the flash ones, and you see nothing. You see completely artificial motion. You see characters moving only because it's not a cartoon if they don't. You see the same motion formula applied to every action.

Turn on Nick or CN and see how often you see either cartoony physics or any kind of acting. Even "stock animation acting" is often missing. They just jostle the characters to emphasize dialogue peaks. Most of those shows I can't even watch for an entire minute. If I had 5-year-olds at home, I'd let them watch pornos all day before I'd sit them in front of that stuff.

Craig D said...

My daughter was big on Winnie the Pooh earlier this Summer, so I ended up sitting through multiple screenings of "The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh" recently.

While there was lots of awe-inspiring animation stuff happening, as far as moving masses around the screen, staging, design and drafting etc., but there were a couple of niggling things, too.

The "acting" as John has defined it, was either non-existant or very generic. Facial expressions, in many cases were very bland or of a "stock" variety. In at least one maddening case the lip-synch was so soft as to be non-existant.

What's amazing is that the stories came across as well as they did; but after all, this was crafted by the mighty Disney veterans! My daughter enjoyed it and we all know "Pooh" sent on to become a very successful franchise. And if you can market a product called "Pooh" then you are a good salesman, indeed!

cemenTIMental said...

Great post...

I've been seeing a lot of really amazing animation acting in some recent Japanese animated films and series... Masaaki Yuasa's astonishing feature "Mind Game" and his new series 'Kemonozume' both have some really great moments of observational human movements and expression and in a really appealingly sketchy and off-model style.

Also Satoshi Kon's stuff (especially "Tokyo Godfathers") - very much in a 'realistic' non-cartoony style but contains some amazing and subtle acting as well as some more exaggerated moments.

I don't really care said...

If you want great human acting, why not get a bunch of actors?

P.S.

If you want to see some brilliant "human acting" from a very cartoony character, watch the pencil test from SVEN HOEK, if you have it. Ren is not doing the typical broad acting of most cartoons. Stock cartoon acting could never sell that scene visually. If that scene was done by most other modern cartoon shops, they would simply let the voice actor try to sell it, while the character just looks generically angry or frustrated. It would still be somewhat appropriate, just missing the specificity and the joy of the viewer in watching it. It would just be a diagram of a scene, istead of actually being one. Without real acting, a scene that talky does not even belong in a cartoon. That never stops these hack shops from letting their characters talk and do nothing all the goddamn time.

Mark Borok said...

I thought the acting in "The Incredibles" was very natural, but now that you mention it I think it was only 1) a bit more natural than most of the other stuff that's out there and 2) a lot more natural than most other 3D animations. The broader gestures were generic, but some of the minor tics gave the characters added life.

I don't even mind so much, so long as the acting at least matches the character's inner state. Too many characters, it seems to me, manage to go through a dozen different emotional states in a single line of dialogue, and somehow none of those states expresses what the character is supposed to be feeling.