In live action film, we think of the actor as being central to a role. Marlon Brando is Vito Corleone in The Godfather. We understand that the script, direction, lighting, costuming, etc. all contribute to our perception of the character, but while we can’t quantify how much Brando contributes, we have a gut feeling that he is responsible for the majority of the impression that the character makes on us. Replace him with another actor and the character is different. It’s Brando’s body, voice and movement whenever the character of Vito Corleone is on screen and most of all it is Brando’s brain driving it all.
In other cases, such as the James Bond films, we can easily see how changing the actor affects the character. Sean Connery is different than Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, etc. If you use the TV series Bewitched as an example, two different actors, Dick York and Dick Sargent, both played the role of Darren Stephens yet nobody confused them. They were different while playing the same character.
Imagine watching a dubbed film. The on-screen actor has performed the role in the usual way. The voice actor, adding his or her voice after the visuals have been created, is constrained in several ways. The timing and the emotions are dictated by what’s on the screen. The voice actor has no control over the visuals and has to work within their limitations if the dubbing is to be successful. The on-screen actor has no control of the sound that will come from his or her character in the dubbed version. Neither actor has control over the character; the unity of actor and character which audiences take for granted has been broken. The single character has become a collaboration.
While dubbing is fairly common, let’s extend the problem. Assume that a production has a tight shooting schedule. In order to meet the schedule, a producer hires several actors who closely resemble each other to play the same character. This way, several scenes can be shot simultaneously on different sets. As the actors will be photographed simultaneously, how can the character’s behaviour be defined? If the actors are each allowed their own interpretation, it’s unlikely that their various scenes will cohere into a consistent whole. The only solution would be to establish the character’s behaviour before the actors step before the camera, but while that may minimize the variations, there is no longer any hope of unity.
While this is a ridiculous way to shoot a live action film, it is the standard method of creating an animated feature or television series. It stems from a basic difference between the two forms. One of the fundamental aspects of live action film and video is that motion is observable in the real world and recorded in real time. Ten seconds of continuously recorded film or tape captures ten seconds of motion. In animation there is no observable motion to record. The motion is constructed from still images a frame at a time. The illusion of motion only exists when these images are displayed rapidly. As the creation of these images does not occur in real time, ten seconds of animation might represent a day’s or several week’s worth of effort.
By itself, this fact would not necessarily change the nature of creating an animated character. One animator could be responsible for a character for the length of a film much as a single actor performs a role in live action. However, because animation is forced to fit into formats and release schedules that were created for live action film and TV, animators rarely have this luxury. The speed at which animation must be created to accommodate the marketplace has, to a great extent, determined the structure of animation production and defined how animated characters are realized.
Producers have found it more efficient to spread a character among several animators in order to speed up production. As this inevitably leads to a lack of consistency in a character’s behavior, much of the control of characters has been shifted to pre-production, further eroding the animators’ influence. The contrasting needs for efficiency and coherence in the portrayal of animated characters are irreconcilable and continue to shape the creation of animated films.