Friday, April 27, 2007

Acting-Expressions-Ralph and Norton act surprised

Ralph and Norton act surprised
Uploaded by chuckchillout8

This is an example of live actors approaching a similar acting problem that McKimson did in that last post this week. Henery Hawk's father was consciously acting something out - he was overacting on purpose, as Ralph and Norton are here. In the animation, the scene was done with strong body poses, but not much facial acting and no extra layering of subtleties that happen so easily and naturally with skilled live actors performing in real time.This is actors making fun of normal people - non-actors trying to act. This takes a lot of observational skill and insight, especially to make it so funny!

"Pardon My Glove" (1956)


There are so many levels of thought to pulling this off. They have to make their actions seem "natural" in this sense: A normal person pretending to do something will be a bad actor. He won't be believeable. All his expressions and gestures will be simplified caricatures of what the normal thinks is natural.

Actually, it's quite similar to the way many feature animators draw their acting when they are sincerely trying to be realistic or wanting to wring pathos out you-very unnatural and cornball, but we are so used to seeing animated characters move in artificial ways that we don't question it much. Most of us, anyway.

If we ever saw real people acting like typical animated characters we would think they were from space.





Feature animators like to "keep things alive" so they have their characters randomly wave their arms and bob their heads around. It doesn't matter what character, whether it's Stromboli, Cruella DeVille, Ludwig Von Drake or that kid up there - they all move the way Art Carney makes fun off Norton trying to "act". The kid's facial expresssions are copied from Cruella and Mowgli and pasted onto his bobbly head.Here, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney make fun of how not only "normal" people and cartoon animators might act something out, but how two very specific normal people would act something out.

In Norton's case, he is acting out how he thinks Ralph should act which adds even more levels to the farce.

Art Carney is playing Ed Norton playing Ralph Kramden.

These guys are so brilliant that they can make us believe that them acting unnatural is natural!

This is a real brain twister to figure out. It would be murder to pull off something with this much layering in animation!

If I had a feature budget I would sure aim for some of it though.

Hey, I don't expect every animator to be a brilliant actor. Certainly not a serious actor. It's not something that cartoons are naturally good at. There are so many things that cartoons easily do better than other art forms, that I wish we would do more of that.

I love old musicals, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies. I bet a lot of animators do too. But does anyone go to them to see the acting?

Many people suffer through the story filler and bad acting just so we can see the brilliant dance numbers. What is this fascination that Hollywood has with filler? Just give us the entertaining parts!

If I wanna see good acting I'll watch movies with good actors, which I do all the time.

Once in a blue moon there are rare talents who crossover to more than one skill. James Cagney is a great actor and dancer! Well, that's a wonderful combination and I can enjoy a dance movie with him both acting and dancing and singing, because he can actually do all those things.

Ever see Brando dance? Or Clark Gable or Cary Grant? It's hard to take seriously, but they are all fun to watch acting. Why should we expect every animator to be a good actor?

Jerry Lewis is a hilarious comedian and a great dancer-but terrible at serious pathos stuff.
It's torture to sit through the heartwarming scenes in his movies. Or when he sings!!! You just want to get to the scenes where he makes fun of the handicapped-the good stuff!

Someone in our past came up with the crackpot idea that animators have to be "actors with a pencil" (probably Walt) and it makes animators ashamed to be animators and cartoonists first. Every entertainer wants to be taken seriously now. Comedians wanna show their sensitive deep inner selves. The cartoon feature writers write all kinds of shameless contrived pathos and dramatic scenes and make the animators try to pull them off, rather than let them make cartoon movies with stories that show off what animation can really do better than every other medium.

I love good acting and I love good funny cartoon acting and I'm a zealot when it comes to adding specific acting in cartoons. But I've never in my life seen convincing "serious" acting in even the most expensive features. I don't say it's impossible, but the animator who could actually pull it off doesn't seem to have visited earth yet. So why do we keep writing for it?

Anyway, obviously the kind of stock acting we have in features is never going to go away. It's too ingrained in our business, but I just want to plant the idea in young animators' brains that there are other and more fun ways to do things. Maybe someday we'll have an alternative to what we get now.

Being a cartoonist and animator is already a lofty profession by itself. It's full of creative challenges and magical ways to entertain.

If we really want to add good acting to what we do we have to study good live action acting to see what it actually is, analyze it and then find ways to adapt it so that it works for animation. ...rather than studying the Rescuers over and over again and copying unnatural "animation acting" that we have already seen in 200 animated features before and since!




23 comments:

peldma3 said...

Just curious, what are some of your favorite movies , old and recent, if any..?

Emmy said...

Iron Giant was a poor choice to show "bad cartoon acting" because Hogarth was acting like any normal kid would. Kids are always pulling weird faces, and they got it spot on. Kids overact. Cartoon kids should too.

And if you can't put weird faces in CARTOONS, then where can you put them??

"If we ever saw real people acting like typical animated characters we would think they were from space."

If I ever met someone who acted like they were in a 1950s sitcom, I would think they were absolutely batshit insane too.

Benjamin said...

Great post... makes it much more clear to me what you meant with many of your previous posts.

Josh Lieberman said...

I see a lot of kids here at school who are only into Disney (especially more modern disney). And it shows in their work, which is unorginal, unatural, and flat out boring.
Every character they draw stock, and one i've seen in every disney movie. Half of them don't even know what a "Stock" expression is. The critiques are so boring because veryone's characters are the same, either a ordinary disney character or a poorly drawn and horribly structured Anime character.

I'm leaving school after this quarter John, and moving to Burbank to pursue a career in animation, storyboarding, and writing. any adivce? (I think you left Sherdian didn't you?)

Kali Fontecchio said...

What a thorough post! I whole-heartedly (not blindly) agree with everything you said here and then some. Once I get out of school in a week I'm going to write about my views on Hollywood filler, musicals, and dramas, and how they all can't be compared to each other etc.. This has me all psyched! Thanks John!!!

Kali Fontecchio said...

James Cagney ht: 5' 6"
Buster Keaton ht: 5' 5"

Hmm.... I have a new theory!

David said...

I guess there's some idea that feature length animated films must have serious emotional scenes in order to make them dramatically satisfying and sustain the extra length. But Laurel & Hardy's WAY OUT WEST, Buster Keaton's THE NAVIGATOR, and the Marx bros' DUCK SOUP don't have any serious scenes at all, and they work fine.
I liked the first TOY STORY for trying to be funny all the time: it still had emotional stuff but you were allowed to laugh during it. That seemed at least a noble attempt. But it would seem obvious that a CARTOON feature should certainly be able to be nothing but funny all the way through.
But I quite like Fred Astaire's acting, Ginger was a BRILLIANT actor/comic, and those films usually featured great supporting comics too, like Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore.

zoe said...

Emmy, you call THOSE faces weird?! When I was watching that clip (both today and a while ago when Eddie Fitzgerald posted it), I was disappointed and infuriated.

I hadn't realized before how completely unrealistically TV/movie kids act -- cartoon kids are the absolute worst, mostly because most of them are played by adult voice actors. They're all "attitude," weird sarcastic one-liners, or screaming hyper enthusiasm when they're supposed to be happy or excited about something. Real kids can be very subdued; also one of the fun things about them is that the way they use language awkwardly. They don't really use their hands to gesticulate like this, it's very incongruous.

I have worked as a teacher with kids the same age as Hogarth is supposed to be. Real-life 10-year-olds don't act like this, and it isn't even an exaggeration of the way they DO act. It's an adult's idealized archetype of "Boy", lifted right out of the unreal pastiche that Frank & Ollie invented.

Emmy said...

"Emmy, you call THOSE faces weird?!"

No I don't, thats my point.

Uhg, don't get me started on kids SHOWS these days. I agree that they suck.
But Iron Giant is an awesome MOVIE.
I dunno, maybe i've been exposed to too many hyper children who watch too much TV, but I deffinately know kids who over-gesture like that, pull faces, and generally struggle with acting like themselves.

I do hate when adults voice kid characters.
I think the best animated kid ever is the kid from Adventure Time, even though the style is really simplistic, the kid is the most kidliest kid ever.

Raff said...

>> If I ever met someone who acted like they were in a 1950s sitcom, I would think they were absolutely batshit insane too. <<

I did, and I did.

>> Kids overact. Cartoon kids should too. <<

I agree...well not every kid.

The problem is not the weird faces; that demo reel shows a particular stocky school of acting that's getting tiresome. If you watch it without sound, it looks like the characters are making fun of Jews. It's a familiar set of animation "tricks that work", and individual characters are more interesting than "tricks that work".

That said, the tricks do work, and I like Jackie Mason and Lewis Black. :)

Vanoni! said...

If you watch it without sound, it looks like the characters are making fun of Jews.

Ha!
Funny you say that because while I was watching that clip I was thinking, "When did Hogarth turn into Richard Lewis??"

- Corbett

Gabriel said...

Iron Giant was a poor choice to show "bad cartoon acting" because Hogarth was acting like any normal kid would

no, he was acting like mowgli, or wart!

Jim Rockford said...

Another great post.
I have that Jerry Lewis LP,and I agree with you,he's a horrible singer,That Lp is a great way to get rid of unwanted guests though,even the termites will leave!
I read that he was trying to compete with Dean Martin after they broke up and prove how well rounded he could be and that he could sell records.
Its seems that was part of being a star back then,trying to show how versatile an actor could be.Why else would people like William Shatner ,Jerry Lewis ,Stuart Margolin and Leonard Nimoy try their hand at singing,hell even Dean Jones released a couple Lp's.
Most of them cant sing to save their lives.
Jerry had a fixation with being the next Chaplin and loved to inject his characters with pathos,believing it would endear him to his audience,and offset his spastic antics,but I agree ,the tearjerker scenes bogged down the storys in most cases and were painful to watch.
The pathos and singing ruined the delicate delinquent.but the scenes with the insane proffesor who kept flip flopping between building a Frogship and a cure for the common cold was great.
In the disorderly orderly,there were many great sight gags like the one with Jerry chasing after Fat Jack and winding up wearing the straight jacket that was intended for him and being outpaced by a snail,or trying to fix the "snow" on a patients TV,that made them seem like live cartoons.
I think that the only time the sentimental side really worked was in "The Nutty Professor" because it was in character for Julius Kelp

NateBear said...

The only time real kids act like cartoon kids is when they are imitating them. I always cringe when i see children imitate scenes that were horribly acted in the first place. I cringe even more when they imitate stock expressions in order to express themselves. Then i go into an even deeper heart-choking cringe when adults find it endearing and encourage it.

Does anybody else encounter this with children?

Sometimes I even see adults imitate stock expression. I just get sad. :(

So my point is that stock expressions don't just make bad cartoons, they start to infiltrate real life. (Life imitates "art"). Therfore as the quality of cartoons decline so does the quality of life. In the end we mus task ourselves, "Would I rather have my life resemble Shark's Tale or 'Sven Hoëk'?"

Roberto González said...

"If I ever met someone who acted like they were in a 1950s sitcom, I would think they were absolutely batshit insane too".

I kinda agree with that and other things emmy pointed out. It's true that Hogarth in that scene has some unnatural moments, though. But what about Kent Mansley? I think he acts pretty much like real people.

Roberto González said...

I forgot to add that you actually should love the second scene in that reel, it's very cinema noir-esque and I think both Hogarth and Kent act pretty natural in that scene. The relationship between these two characters actually reminded me of Robert Mitchum and the kids from The Night Of The Hunter.

Jason Tammemägi said...

Personally, I love The Iron Giant. There's much more to the film than the acting and that, as your post shows, gives something worth regardless of areas they can fall down on.

The problem here is very simple and it's rampant - this happens when people take animation ideas and explorations and make them into rules. This example has my biggest beef of all (most recently seen in a Transformers clip which was meant to blend with live action) - the abuse of the anticipation. The idea that everything bounces and, when you talk and move your head up, you must first move it down in anticipation and then down again at the end in a settle. Then you antic the antics. What you end up is this seasickness-inducing speech that haunts most Disney movies, Bluth movies and now most CG movies.

Worst part about this is - if you ask a classical animator who does it why they're doing it, they'll swear blind that it's because that's how people move.

Robert said...

Whatever its flaws, I still left Iron Giant thinking "OMG, that was an actual movie, not a calculated mix-up of elements drawn from previous animated movies dictated by focus groups and studio executives who, at the outset, had no notion of what a movie can be."

paul etcheverry said...

Hi John -
Check out the DVDS of Martin & Lewis on the live Colgate Comedy Hour shows for the primo primo Jerry. These guys toned their acted down for feature films.

Astaire and Gene Kelly were amazing. I particularly like
THE BAND WAGON and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN.

he said said...

John, weren't you going to do a post about Joanna Quinn?

Tom Dougherty said...

That shot of Lewis in the hat is hysterical, by the way.

Kliph Nesteroff said...

Jerry Lewis pathos is bad enough but when you bring the members of KISS into the mix WITH Jerry Lewis - the results are even worse:

http://classicshowbiz.blogspot.com/
2007/04/colgate-comedy-hour-with
-guest-buddy.html

Jamie said...

So what's your opinion of the acting in Pixar's "The Incredibles"? I'm an animation student and am trying to learn what good acting looks like.
Thanks!