"The Animator as Actor -- it's a simple concept, a statement complete enough to require no explanations beyond its own words. But somewhere this simple concept has been lost, or forgotten, or possibly never even considered by the public, and, more importantly, by the press which gives the public much of the information upon which it forms impressions. When the general press runs an article on animation, it is almost inevitable that the main point made, the "news" imparted, will be that there were, "Over so many odd thousands of drawings made to complete this film." Then everybody goes "Oooh!" and "Ahh!" and shake their heads in wonder as if they were being told how many hairs there are on a centipede's leg. The impression is made that an animator is only and just an individual who does a tremendous -- possibly a tremendously silly -- amount of drawings that are somehow strung together to make a "cartoon." Animators are seen almost as manual laborers -- ditch diggers with pencils -- with brows covered with sticky sweat instead of (as it actually is) the furls of creative concentration. This, of course, is all wrong. For as Chuck Jones has said, "Animators do not draw drawings, they define characters."For the record, the films screened were Mighty Mouse Meets the Jekyll and Hyde Cat (Terrytoons, 1944), The Natural Thing To Do (Fleischer, 1939), Hello, How Am I (Fleischer 1939), Little Rural Riding Hood (MGM, 1949), Mouse in Manhattan (MGM, 1945), Pest in the House (Warner Bros, 1947), A Bear For Punishment (Warner Bros, 1951), Ragtime Bear (UPA, 1950), The Country Cousin (Disney, 1936), and The Pointer (Disney, 1939). The program also included a panel moderated by Leiva with guests Frank Thomas, Chuck Jones and Richard Williams.
"Drawings for animators are simply the instrument through which they act, emote, mime, dance, and create characters as real as any devised by nature. Their successive drawings are their instrument in no less a way than a "live" actor's body, a singer's voice, or a pianist's piano are their instruments. But no one ever seems concerned over how many individual moves an actor makes to complete a scene, how many notes a singer hits to complete a song, or how many keys Horowitz strikes during his playing of Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. The concern is over how well they acted, sang, or played; how they -- as artists -- interpreted the scene, song, or composition. It should be the same for animators. For it is not really the drawings that matter, or how many there are, but, rather, what matters is how well the animator succeeds through successive drawings in breathing life into the characters his lines define. The animator plays drawings, utilizing "movement scales" rather than musical scales to realize a desired effect. The animator mimes action, but he does it on paper, instead of with his body.
"Exactly how the animator does this cannot really be explained. But neither can it be explained exactly how Horowitz so brilliantly interprets Rachmaninoff. You can't just say, "Well, he hit all the right keys at the right times." It is something more wonderfully mysterious than that, something more interior. And so is animation. You cannot just report the thousands of drawings it takes, and feel that you've explained it. You have to try for a deeper understanding.
"As you view the classic character animation in this program, realize that what you are seeing are not drawings that move and act, but rather, movement and acting that is drawn."
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The Animator As Actor
In 1979, as part of the Los Angeles International Film Exposition, there was a program called The Animator as Actor, coordinated by Steven Paul Leiva with assistance from Mark Kausler. What follows are Leiva's published introductory comments.