Friday, April 13, 2007

Acting 5 - Ren and Stimpy "realistic" sitcom acting

I don't expect everyone to want to do specific or realistic acting in cartoons.

I sure don't want to have only realistic human acting and expressions in cartoons.

We can't compete with live action by only imitating what live action can do. Real people can act real and make real detailed specific expressions and move with real weight and physics a lot easier than we can draw them.

Our drawings are flat colors bordered by lines. Real people have light, shadow, and lots of facial muscles that can make barely imperceptible shadings and super subtle differences that can convey a lot of nuance that is impossible for pencils to capture and more impossible for CG it seems, which I can't figure out.

Actors can do all this in real time.

By the time it takes us to animate 10 seconds of screen time, an actor can have acted a whole half hour show full of tons of original expressions poses and mannerisms. And if we tried to merely imitate realistic humans, we would fall pitifully flat by comparison.

Cartoons can beat the hell out of live action by doing funny impossible things though:

With all that said though, I still like to add some ideas from other mediums to my cartoon toolbox . I never want to abandon what cartoons can do that nothing else can, but there's no reason to not supplement our magic pencils with amusing things we observe all around us.

I've always thought real people were funny. Real specific people who have their own unique mannerisms and funny ways of doing things. I try to put a lot of that into my cartoons.

I think adding the dimension of reality to the characters makes the unreal impossible world they live in -where anything can happen because it's a cartoon- seem all the more accessible to the audience. It's like "Wow! What if I could live in crazy world like this? How would I react?"

Actually, now and then live action takes cartoon ideas and mixes them in with real people and gets hilarious results-like Monty Python and Green Acres.

So I combine cartoon expressions and poses with human expressions and poses. It's fun to do and more challenging than always relying on the same stock animated acting that is so prevalent. I've been yelled at it many times too! I had to do a lot of convincing to powers above that cartoon characters could make expressions that they had never seen cartoon characters make before.

I would go nuts if I was forced to draw expressionless drawings all day:

Here is Ren with half a cartoon expression and a bit of reality. Stimpy is almost pure cartoon:
Here are some frames from a scene that is an homage to classic live action comedy on purpose. I love the Honeymooners and the 3 Stooges. They depend on many scenes that contrast the relationship between an asshole and an idiot.

Moe is the asshole, Curly is the idiot cartoon character.

Ralph is the asshole, while Norton is the surreal idiot character that drives him nuts.

Ren is the realistic character who is constantly driven nuts by Stimpy's unreal cartoonish antics.

In scenes like these, some of the comedy comes from the clownish character doing his clownish antics, but the silliness is enhanced by the mean character who is enraged by silliness.

This kind of classic comedy happens all the time in the real world. It's like when your Dad explodes at the dinner table because you and your friends are having a laughing fit, while you should be at the serious business of chewing your asparagus into a pasty bolus.

Moe Howard, Ralph Kramden, Oliver Hardy are all masters of the slow burn. It's part of Ren's charm too.
This starts out like many classic comedy shorts with low class characters trying to act polite and debonair, and quickly the scene reveals their true boorish nature.
Ren's expression here is purely realistic. I know because it's my expression when Eddie tells me a theory I disagree with.

Stimpy is making cartoon expressions. Ren is real. I posed in the mirror for all these Ren expressions. Katie drew the final scenes.

Because we are so unused to seeing cartoon characters making realistic faces it makes the cartoons seem extra weird. I think that had a lot to do with Ren and Stimpy's success. People thought they were looking at something weird even when something very real was happening.

Here Stimpy has an expression that is obviously impossible, but it still reads in context.

These Stimpy expressions are based on Eddie's pose in the storyboard. This is how Eddie acts out in high society when we take him to the opera.

Ren and Stimpy decide now that they are part of the "upper crust" they must learn to go around with their zippers up.
How sophisticated!

There are some purely impossible cartoon gags in this scene too, but Eddie asked me if he could post about them, so I deferred to his theory greatness.

The Honeymooners, "Pardon My Glove" (1956)
Here is classic asshole and idiot situation comedy done by two geniuses in real time. I'm so jealous of this aspect of live performance!

Ralph wants a bite of Norton's pizza....


rex said...

That R&S dinner scene has the best specific acting in a cartoon ever!

Anonymous said...

now that you mention it, it makes sense that Ren & Stimpy looked "weird" because of the realistic expressions going on. i think i can finally put a finger on why i love your cartoons so much, realistic acting.

Thras said...

Speaking of CG, what does make CG animation so uniformly awful?

Anonymous said...

You've pointed out the same feelings Tex Avery had about the greatness of good live actors and how hard it is to compete with them. And the examples you've shown of his work explain why he went the direction he and Clampbett went in, and why their cartoons are my favorites from the Golden Age.

I think the question you ask about why CG can't capture that live action feel can be answered with one word -"EYES". It seems they don't know where or how to put the iris on some expressions and the cost it would be if they tried matching the "floatiness" of the irises that we have has humans. I feel that is why CG suffers in general from the mannekin look, with a few exceptions.

colin said...

Greg Stainton animated that scene at Carbunkle. He had deft touch some how animating between those poses.

Just thought I'd say.......

akira said...

thanks john!
learned a new word!

bolus: 3. A soft mass of chewed food within the mouth or alimentary canal.

chubirka said...

"Sven Hoek" my absolute favorite scene ever... well and that break down Ren had during Space Madness.
Loved when you did the voice for me :)

JP said...

After seeing Ralph and Ed in their fraternal-order-outfits over and over so much these last few days, while I don't want to detract from John's point about facial expression and acting...

What strikes me funny about the caps from the Honeymooners episodes is what they're wearing -- The garish and gaudy epaulets, the silly Davy Crockett hat, they're both dressed up as cartoons.

Just another detail to what makes the funny,

Jason Tammem├Ągi said...

Thras, you're asking about CG animation and I thought I'd chime in with my own theory. There is the potential for good 3D animation (in my opinion). However, what's going on currently seems to be divided into two camps - a) cheap CG animation that is farmed to production line technicians tweaking bad motion capture and b) huge budget movie stuff. The problems with a) are obvious.

b) has several problems that are too big to go into on a blog comment but, to put it simply, most "high quality" 3D animation is trying to emulate classical animation and falling into the same pitfalls of being parody of parody. More anticipation than action and routine expressions. That's coupled with the hard structures of a CG model and none of the fluidity of a drawing.

The other issue (which I believe to be part of 2D's problem too) is that the budgets are so large and production is so long that there are too many people working on them - nobody knows what everyone else is doing. As a result, the acting has to be made conform to a basic list of expressions or else there's be total chaos.

Naomi Fearn said...

Ooh, just to show you how bad it can be: My comics aren't known for their amazing facial expressions, and I tend to do the pull and squish (because I am a little bit lazy and go outside instead of practicing) when I signed on to do a big comic book, I thought, wow, now this will make me practice (I regularly feel chastized by John's blogposts). I delivered the first 18 pages and the feedback came saying the characters were all grimacing and "Couldn't I make them look more like those other comics, 'Prince Valiant' and 'Little Nemo'.Um, sure I'll draw a comic that looks like it's a hundred years old and has no expressions whatsoever, the kids will love that...(sobbing quietly)

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

An extremely interesting argument, well supported by the pictures! Acting is the future of the animation industry!

Tibby said...

"Draw not what you see, but what you FEEL about what you see."

Basicly what I think Sensei Krisfalusi is trying to say. A very powerful lesson for everyone who makes cartoons.

We should be exagerating real life acting examples - yes? Take the base expression you want to emote in your toon - and engorge it with the intended feeling you wish to convey with the character. Make your characters contrast, while still complimenting each other in a quirky way.

I found an Anime' that you might be interested in viewing. It has all of the above - I sure wish more American cartoons could be like this one. Mr. K and the japanese get it - why can't American cartoons do the same?

Pani Poni Dash

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

One of the things that impresses me the most about the Honeymooners clip is the way Carney conveys the act of snipping a tiny piece of pizza. It is brilliantly acted and staged. A terrific lesson in commuication.
Thanks John!

Jeff Read said...

A big problem with animu (that includes the one tibby linked to) is an over-reliance on a generic library of stock expressions. True, they are different from the American cartoon expressions in many respects, but just about every anime I've seen has the ^_^ one, the XD one, the sweatdrop, etc. The output from esteemed studios like Studio Ghibli and GAINAX tends to be much better in this regard.

It seems to be getting worse instead of better; compare the new Robotech movie (which was actually animated at a Korean studio) with some of the old Macross footage that was used for the old Robotech. It seems as though the focus in Japan has shifted from making characters that are semi-realistic and charming based on their human qualities to making characters which are generically "cute", glossy, and marketable. This is not surprising, as only rich societies can afford bohemians, and there has been an economic downturn in Japan since the old anime of the past was produced. My theory is that with anime and videogames being significant cultural exports the emphasis has been to monetize these cultural assets as quickly as possible both in foreign markets and at home (by catering to the otaku crowd).

Also, I really can't see how anyone who's ever seen Toy Story or The Incredibles can say that CG animation is "uniformly awful". I'd say that a more accurate assessment is that CG animation is very, very hard to get right and very, very easy to mess up.

Stephen Worth said...

the budgets are so large and production is so long that there are too many people working on them - nobody knows what everyone else is doing. As a result, the acting has to be made conform to a basic list of expressions or else there's be total chaos.

What you are describing is a film with no Director. It's the Director's job to make sure everyone is working in the same direction. If he does that by applying formulas, he's either being prevented from doing his job, or he isn't a very good Director.

See ya

ZSL said...

Did you ever watch the television program "Frasier", John? The entire program's premise was basically what these scenes somewhat represent.
Two characters, who believe themselves to be "elite" attempting to mask their lesser and more carnal urges, and failing, especially as all hell breaks loose.
While the jokes of the show might not have appealed to everyone, many of the scenes between Frasier, Niles, and their grumpy father have some absolutely perfect acting.

Man I miss that show. :C

Jason Tammem├Ągi said...

"What you are describing is a film with no Director. It's the Director's job to make sure everyone is working in the same direction. If he does that by applying formulas, he's either being prevented from doing his job, or he isn't a very good Director."

What you're saying is absolutely right, Stephen, in terms of how things should work. However, unlike live-action, unlike animation shorts or in-house produced low-budget animation, when productions get to a certain size, a director ends up being so far removed from the details that many (if not most) animators and other staff are working seemingly alone. They shouldn't be. That would seem to imply a bad director and maybe that's exactly what it is, but that's what happens.

I've seen it happen in person on one of the feature examples that John used in this series of posts. Every animator was working to do their best but, ultimately, relying on those conventions and symbols became more important than really exploring the acting to get those scenes to sit together.

The comparison with live-action is difficult because, in live-action, one actor plays a role. In animation, whole teams of people play that single role.

Rafi said...

that is SUCH a great scene. every second is bursting with entertainment and appeal. thoroughly engaging and pretty much timeless because it's character based comedy, not pop culture references.

the gags are also physical, so quite universal (like the scissors).

silhouettes read super-clear and don't feel contrived. all actions within character, man this is of such a high standard. humbling and inspiring.

great commentary too. amazing posts lately John.

Raff said...

>> A big problem with animu (that includes the one tibby linked to) is an over-reliance on a generic library of stock expressions. <<

Stock everything come to think of it, down to the word "Huh??".

It's true - the people you know make the best expressions to copy.

As I tried to do here.