Thursday, April 12, 2007

Acting 4 -SUBTLETY- Specific Expressions-exposition scene

Using subtlety and broadness together creates richness and entertainment.

"Pardon My Glove" (1956)

Variety is what makes things seem alive and certainly interesting. Some commenters have called this comedy acting "broad" and I have to challenge that. Yes, it's partly broad when Ralph screams and hits Norton, but even within the broad gestures there are very subtle nuances in the facial expressions and body language that make Ralph a specific character, not just a generic blusterer as you see in many cartoons.

Now these expressions are very obviously subtle to me but some would call them extreme, just because they are noticeable at all. We are so used to blandness today, especially in cartoons, that anything that makes a clear statement is considered broad or extreme. I disagree.

Subtle means nuanced to me. It means very slight twists and turns of details that add rich information to the main statement. The difference between "mad" and "sarcastically pleasant while trying to convince Norton that Ralph is not mad so he can lull Norton into blind trust and then strangle him".

That second emotion cannot be made simply. It can be done with a single expression though that you can recognize in an instant, just as fast as you can read "mad". But it's a lot funnier and interesting. Here is cartoon mad:

Gleason's mads have subtle nuances in meaning and appearance. And he has a million different ways to be mad.

And on top of that, an entertainer such as an actor or cartoonist has to do more than achieve merely a rich meaning with his skill of subtlety. He has to make it entertaining.

That's what Jackie Gleason and Art Carney do that the average person down the street can't and even 90% of professional entertainers can't. That's what makes them great and lasting. And cabable of extreme subtlety. They have a wide range of specific expressions, gestures, rhythms, vocal control and on and on. That's why they have lasted 50 years and are still laugh out loud funnier than most other sitcoms.

If you don't believe these expressions are subtle, tell you what. Try drawing them and see if you can capture the nuances in the expressions. Then post your drawings and we can all start to see why it's so hard to get specific acting in animation.

I know someone who could probably do it:

Kristen not only caricatures real people's heads, she caricatures their specific expressions. She oughta be an animator, if she isn't already.

It's admittedly very hard to animate subtle specific nuances, but I'm not sure why so few have tried. I don't expect every animator to even want to. Animation is primarily about motion. Acting is another thing to add on to all the skills it takes just to move something smoothly at all.

But I'm hoping that once animators start to see the difference between specific and generic acting, some may be interested enough to want to add specific acting to their own characters.

What makes a character a specific personality?

Specific personalities are only specific in the evidence that our senses take in.

Personality cannot be explained in words as richly as it can be shown in actions by a creative skilled performer. You can promise in your script that a character has a rich personality, but someone has to prove it with evidence that our senses agree with.

Visual evidence. Audio evidence. An actor and an animator has to tell the story with pictures and some of the time, with added sound.

Their design, their unique and varied mannerisms, but first of all their expressions are what the visual evidence is. This has to work in context and coordination with the dialogue- the sound evidence.

These artificial artistic signals have to relay a clear and entertaining message to the audience. It can be broad like most classic animation, subtle like some old animation, or a combination -like the best of Warner Bros. cartoons, or it can be extremely bland, limited and formulaic as in most of today's cartoons. (Yes, you can find exceptions but too few.)

Animation tends to re-use the same expressions over and over again, many of which are not even general human expressions. Instead we rely on "animation acting" which is very limited because we animators blindly choose it to be. Probably not even on purpose. We are just so used to it being done the same way over and over again that we don't stop to question it.

The expensive studios even spend a lot of money pretending to study from life, but then make the final decisions to just animate and design things the same way they did in the last 15 pictures.

I put this live action acting up to show how much higher we have to aim if we truly want to have our animation heralded as good acting, or "realistic" acting.

This is great acting. It reminds me of many real life incidents I have personally been part of or have witnessed-with the boring parts cut out. That's what entertainers and artists ought to aim for- relate something about their view of the world to you in their style, but cut the damn boring parts out.

Great performers are also great editors. If they were perfectly realistic, then what would be the point of them? You can sit around the house and watch realism all day.

All this applies equally to "serious" actors but I'll leave that for another day...

Look what Gleason does with exposition. Exposition is generally considered a bad writer's sin, but in some comedy it can be very funny. Moe Howard was great at reading exposition; he made it funny and obvious that he was just telling you an elaborate setup for a great payoff.

Tex Avery started almost every MGM cartoon with the boldest exposition, just to get the idea of the story over with fast so he could get to the jokes.

Clampett made many of his setups entertaining without exposition ... through character, atmosphere, music and tension.

In this great episode of the Honeymooners, Ralph just tells Norton (and the audience) the setup for a gag, and he does it with such entertainment that we aren't bored by it. At least I'm not.