By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationGeneral

The following is an excerpt from Acting and Performance for Animation by Derek Hayes and Chris Webster. This book is a practical guide to the variety of performance techniques relevant to animators. Here, Derek and Chris teach you the Stanislavski’s System.

Stanislavski’s intention was to put together a kind of toolbox that actors could use to create a truthful performance and to that end came up with a set of principles that could become the basis for such a thing. Let’s go through them and look at their relevance to animation.

It is obvious that, as we grow up, we develop our own particular way of moving and talking, things that our friends recognize as part of our personality. Our body language, although it might contain universally understood nonverbal signals, will be modified by our own particular physique and emotions and contains things specific to us. Obviously, if an actor fails to take this into account when on stage, his performance will be undermined by the presence of physical actions that do not relate to the character he is playing.

As animators we can’t just walk on stage to perform, we have to learn the skill of making things move in a believable way, so we might think we are already ahead of the game here. However, if we are honest, once we have started to learn how to make things move, there is a great temptation to rely on those principles for everything we do. Sometimes it can become easy to recognize one animator’s work, no matter what the character he is animating, and he therefore loses the particularity and thus the reality of that character. We all need to keep observing real life and finding ways to incorporate it into our animation, even if we are creating imaginary characters, so that there is always something real there.

FIG. 2.2 “Going Equipped”, from the Animated Conversations series, is a brilliant use of a real conversation as the basis for an animated performance. An early fi lm from Peter Lord and David Sproxton of Aardman, it is totally real and believable performance of an almost documentary kind. “The clues”, Peter Lord says, “must come from the voice.”

Emotional Memory
One of the techniques that Stanislavski developed required the actor to find something in his own life that would allow him or her to understand what was going on within the character. But even further, by looking back at an incident that had triggered sadness in her own life, the actor could not only understand what the character might be feeling but, by calling that memory up in preparation for going on stage, or actually on stage, the performance would come from a much more truthful place than if the emotion was merely imitated.

Stanislavski felt that performances needed to come from the inside as well as the outside and developed a way of using physical actions to help generate internal feelings. His focus was on the way in which internal feelings and external, physical actions are linked in a two-way communication and the way in which any psychological experience will give rise to a physical display. Therefore, a man waiting impatiently for the cab to take him to an important interview will manifest that impatience in actions that might include pacing, drumming fingers, an annoying whistle, or even rearranging the magazines on his coffee table.

How might these ideas be useful to animators? Well, as we explore later, to create a performance that works, and is convincing, we need to be able to get inside the character and understand his mental processes and, in the case of Empathy, we have to look at our own experiences to find a way of connecting with what drives a character. If we can call on a memory of some incident in our own life that gives us a purchase on the motivation of the character we are animating, we might be able to find some specific of that experience that will inform the performance and change it from something obvious into something with that extra spark of real life.

Excerpt from Acting and Performance for Animation by Derek Hayes and Chris Webster © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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