Friday, October 21, 2011

Specific Heads, Specific Expressions, Specific Gestures and Mannerisms

At both upcoming animation festivals, they asked me to do a seminar and talk about and show some of my influences. Obviously I'm really influenced by classic cartoons and I love cartooniness and magic - the stuff that the cartoon medium does most naturally and better than other media.
But maybe the one thing I do differently than most cartoons is the acting. I'm not that influenced by cartoon acting. I find it too generic and restrictive.
My acting influences come mainly from live action actors and real people I've known in my life.
Real life is a lot more varied, subtle and nuanced than most cartoon acting.
Let's take Kirk Douglas as an example. He is one of my favorite actors.
First of all, Kirk has a really unique look, the equivalent of a character design in cartoons. Animation tends to reuse the same basic character designs over and over again. Everyone has the same eyes, the same mouth, the same square fingered hands etc.
Kirk as a general character design is the hero type. In cartoons most hero types have the same face and body and just wear different outfits. Kirk has a specific head shape, specific eyes, nose, chin, hole in chin and even the musculature of his face is completely unique to him. His teeth are recognizable and his lips are totally specific. Even his body - while generally being of the manly heroic type is a one-of-a-kind variation of it. He has a really wide back, skinny waist, skinny arms and legs and a giant head. So...not only is he built as a unique individual, he also moves all his unique features in original ways. For 2 reasons:
1) His anatomy physically has to move according to the way it's built.
2) He has extreme talent and is one inventive sonuvabitch.
In Detective Story, Kirk is a self righteous police detective who hates criminals and thinks they are scum. He is street wise but also has a very sarcastic side as you can see from some of his expressions here. Sarcasm is an emotion that is hard to draw and animate even in its most general form, but Kirk displays it with great charisma and confidence and in ways unique to himself.

When you watch Kirk in action, his changes from expression to expression are fluid; they go through intermediate transitions that are unique and fascinating. He doesn't just inbetween from happy to sad.

Look at that mouth shape! I like the one hanging tooth on the upper right and the group of teeth on the lower left. Who in animation would think of that? -especially for a heroic character?

Here's the Burl Ives all properly raised children know and love.
As a general type, he is the jolly fat guy, but everything else about him is totally unique-his face, his voice, his personality, his expressions and mannerisms. He's one of the most unique characters in entertainment I can think of.Even his hands are completely specific shapes.

You have to see how his tongue flops around in his mouth when he sings. If you come to one of my seminars you will.
...sorry for the cursor grabs...
Here's the evil side of Burl from "The Big Country" He's actually not evil, he's just a poor, rough hewn but ultimately noble character. That's the kind of character a writer can write with a handful of adjectives. But what Burl brings to the character is so much more - a lot of layers and specific nuances that can't be described in words. They can only be acted - and only by him.
Here's his son, played by Chuck Connors- another generally heroic type but with another completely unique character design. In this movie he plays the villain. Raised by Burl on a poor ranch he is huge, strong, handsome, a bully but ultimately a sniveling coward. Again, the adjectives don't begin to describe the gripping specificity of Connors' brilliant performance.

The chemistry between Chuck and Burl is wonderful! They should have spun them off into a TV sitcom because every scene they are in together is gold.
Here's Chuck trying to kill his loving Pop.
Here's that rough-hewn gruff powerful Dad cradling the beloved son he had to shoot down like a dog.
Kirk punch drunk. One of the most intense scenes in movie history.
Robert Ryan is another actor that I love. He is not quite as richly layered or talented as Kirk or Burl, but he is a completely unique character.
He oozes charisma and you can't take your eyes off him in his best films.
Here's a good comparison of two heroic types. Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan are both big, burly and manly but still look completely different. They are both unique physical specimens. They also act completely differently.
Robert Ryan is a lot more active as an actor than Robert Mitchum. He really thinks about his performances and colors them with very specific second layers.
Here he is having a confrontation with Mitchum. He could have just read the script and made all the expositional story points, but instead he adds a really fun layer to the performance. He uses an apple as a prop and completely violates the damn thing in front of your eyes.

You have to see this in action to get the full effect. He makes you feel really sorry for that apple.

Peter Lorre has to be one of the very best actors in movie history. He has a million subtle things going on in his head. Both on top of the skin and underneath.

I'll show you the incredible wealth of expressions Peter can concoct for just a single scene and a few lines of dialogue.