Thursday, January 26, 2006

Entertainment in Animation

What is entertainment? How do you get it in your animation? I'm still struggling with this idea myself... but here's some thoughts I've been mulling over. Feel free to comment or respond with any thoughts.

There's many ways to disect an entertaining animation. Can it be in the "timing". How bout "poses"? What about the dialogue itself? How about snappy fun "animation" for the sake of animation? Maybe it's in the acting? Well.... I think it's ALL these things!

I think you can have a pretty dull line of dialogue, but if you play with the timing... or act it out in an unconventional way... this can make an animation entertaining. I almost find it impossible to be able to explain why something is entertaining... but we all know it when we see it... why is that?

Gimme your thoughts!

20 comments:

Ninja Dodo said...

Keep drawing until your thumbnails make you laugh... sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Above all though, as you say, it's TIMING! Comedy is nothing without it and I suspect this is true just as much of other types of story.


Cheers,

Christiaan

rebecca said...

I completely agree... so much is dependent on timing!!
~reb

Gaurav said...

you can have a strong pose marred by timing. or great timing but be unable to discern it coz your poses dont work.

dialogue much less so. im working on a short which is all poses, sound absolutely zero dialogue.

the most important i think is the writing or content. without it you can have a lot of style but no substance.

Aja B. said...

Great topic!

For animation, I think first it's got to follow the principles of animation, or at least have a good reason for breaking them. Even a shot that just sort of "exists" can be really appealing if it's got great mechanics, overlap, exaggeration, timing, etc... like Pongo scratching his ear at the beginning of 101 Dalmations. It's just a dog scratching its ear, right? But it's really fun to watch. :-)

And beyond the principles, I'm thinking that a lot of what we find entertaining is contrast... a character going from sad to happy, a jolly fat man teamed up with a foul-tempered skinny guy, frantic fast motion interspersed with long slow pauses... I think we like to be surprised. So, like you say, when you act something out in an unconventional way, we're delighted by the unexpected outcome we're seeing. Isn't "predictable" one of the worst reviews you can give a film? :-)

Great stuff to think about!

Sara Wade said...

Hmmm...I dunno about the principles being necessary for entertainment in animation. For the classic Disney/Pixar kind sure, but then there are all those really entertaining things that we love to watch. Those stylized shows, shorts and films that are extremely entertaining despite the lack of the principles in execution. I am going to have to say that story and character are vital to entertainment more than the principles. Principles to me are more technique related, while entertainment can happen no matter what technique is used.

Chris said...

I love this conversation and your Animation Mentor explorations.

What's most "entertaining" about a story, whether it be animated or not, is a level of honesty. Timing and performance are mechanical tools to express honesty. We are entertained most when a situation/moment/character touches us as "true." I think that's where certain animated films of today fail-- They rely on jokes shoveled onto the characters rather than the humor coming from an honest exploration of the characters. Week after week, "The Simpsons" teeters on this line of honesty of character/situation vs. jokes for jokes' sake.

Mike said...

Hey Reb, It's cool that your blog is still rollin so that you can keep sharin' the love:)

My thoughts on entertainment is to keep it personal. If you can think of a way to approach your shot that would make it entertaining to yourself than you will put in the extra effort to convey that to the audience and it will show in the results.

I don't think there can really be an instruction manual for thinking of entertaining ideas. I think that the best way is to stay aware of what entertains you and keep those things in mind when preparing for a shot.

Keep the scope of ideas open really wide. Our natural instincts may lead us to come up with some pretty bizarre stuff and while it could feel off the mark, out of character or downright unacceptable to society (haha :)
A lot of times those outragous ideas can bring us back to something fitting and unique.

I hope that makes sense.

rebecca said...

Great thoughts everyone! I didn't think I'd get this many responses! This is such a great conversation to have. There's a lot of great ideas and opinions. All of which are right! Most of all it's when all these individual suggestions are put together that we get a truely unique and entertaining animation.

-Story
-Animation Principles *highlight on TIMING
-Staying honest with your acting choices
-Keeping it personal

This is awesome everyone, thanks for all your feedback and thoughts! Keep em coming!!

anthea said...

great post rebecca!

I would have to agree with sara about the foundations not being as important to the entertainment value of a pice, not as important as story and character. although the beliveablity of the character has much to do with how a person relates to that character and to make a character believable you have to follow the principles. hmm.

vm said...

I think great entertainment is great composition :) the way you compose your shot/scene, the way you build the moment and make it special. you need a strong idea, or ideas, and, in my oppinion, ideally... a personal take on that thing - originality. there are charismatic people, who just feel the moment very well and have an exceptional personal charm. if you happen to be one of them, lucky you :)))))) if not, at least try to be natural, I guess, which is not easy either. I find more entertainment in a natural performance than in a movie-gag. gags tend to be cheap and make me go "whatever..." (am I the only one here...?...). have the actions be dictated by realistic needs, the character's needs, as opposed to the dramatic needs. keep en eye on dramatic needs though, don't ignore those, but, ideally, have them totally embeded in the content/situation. like visual composition - you want to be focused, but not artificial: instead of showing us an apple for the sake of presenting the apple... show us someone biting it (or whichever fits the story) and the face and the apple just happen to be in closeup, but the apple is more central and has better focus. work out the story first, so it naturally fits all dramatic needs.
if having to chose between 1: natural but rather dull or 2: entertaing but rather artificial, I'd always chose "1". Hollywood will always chose "2". It's just a matter of choice, but again, ideally... there should be the best of both worlds, of course.
I'm just saying this because there's too much cliche in animation, too much "2". Keeps people away from animation by labeling it "immature", and for good reason. If it's cartoon animation, wacky and all, I buy all the artificiality. It doesn't feel wrong, it feels great actually. But if you have a serious story and a more mature material to work with, pleeeease, pleeeeeease consider giving "1" a chance.
I think there is so much stuff in the real world that hasn't been ever used in animation. Like the scratch problem, his is one of my favourites: 3D characters tend to scratch their butts... for some reason. Same old scratch, looking just as cliche as it always looked. True, people scratch their butts, but they scrach about anything there is to scratch. And most of all (!!!), they don't scratch because they have nothing better to do. It's a profooooound human neeeeeeeed. So why not scratch that character's upper-lip or corner of the eye as he/she's involved in a very focuse action, like talking (yeah, depends on the character, of course, I mean Madame la Contesse de Whateverailles would never scratch anything in front of her guests - read this with a french accent ;)))).

Clay Kaytis said...

Hey Rebecca, after spending all day on my computer at work, I decided to relax on my computer at home and now I've come across your blog. Great conversation here guys. I'll have to dig in to more posts when I have the time.

For me, entertainment is delivering the expected in an undexpected way. That may sound trite but I firmly beleive it. When I read Aja's comment I thought, "She's right! He's just scratching his ear and that's what dogs do, so how is it that I find that entertaining and, by my own definition, unexpected?" To justify my stance I've concluded that in this case it is the pose, the timing, the expression - they've all been delivered in an enhanced version of reality; in a way that allows us to see that action in a new way. It really is a beautiful shot. This isn't to say that those elements are required for animation to be entertaining. I've enjoyed plenty of stuff that looked horrible. I think the simplest way for me to boil it down (and to make a long comment short) is to say: The audience has a pretty good idea of WHAT is going to happen in most shots, but they watch to see HOW it happens. All right, I'll stop rambling now. See you guys later.

Dan Segarra said...

CONTRAST or CHANGE is something that I've noticed lately that entertains me. From the principles to the story, a good change of shape or change of emotion really engages me to keep my attention on whatever it is I'm watching.

For example 'Spirited Away'... or 'Cinderella Man' was one I just saw a couple days ago. Some fantastic contrast and change for a family struggling to live in the Great Depression. That 'hole' is deep... to climb out of something so deep and keep going until you've reached beyond the sky... THAT'S entertainment! ...well for me it is. ;)

Great topic Reb!

Brad said...

To me entertainment is about the elusive animation principle, 'appeal'. You're speaking of an animation being entertaining or interesting to watch, it's about appeal. appeal in design, appeal in the color, appeal in the movement. For me, the best scenes work on appeal in evrey possible element, so that there is complete control over ever bit and everything is saying the same thing in terms of an idea. So it's got appealing shapes, line quality, tone, texture, timing, rythem, music, movement, etc all working together to say : "this dog is scratching his ear." and we find it appealing beacuase its a chourus of voices singing the same song.

rebecca said...

This is amazing you guys! Thanks so much for posting your thoughts! It's keeping me thinking especially now while I'm planning my next animation test.

I think Dan and Clay's comments are pretty similar... it's contrast! Telling the "story" (in animation form) in a way that the audience is not expecting! I've never quite thought of it this way... but now that it's brought up... wow... it's pretty eye opening to me... I can almost look at any scene I think is entertaining (animation and live action) and see this thought in it! One that pops to mind right away is in American Beauty when they are all having dinner and Kevin Spacey's character reaches his breaking point grabs a plate of food (in a very controled way) and slams it agains the wall... this get's the families attention and they all abrubtly pay complete attention to what he's saying now. I could never really put my finger on why this was entertaining... or engaging... but now... I realize it's cause we know the guy is angry and wants to be heard... but it's the WAY he get's everyone's attention that makes this scene work and have so much power. Just like Clay mentioned, the audience know's what's about to happen... they just don't know HOW it's going to happen... this is where we as animator's add the "entertainment", "appeal" (as Brad mentions) and "contrast" factor into each scene!

Pretty cool conversation everyone! It's really eye opening for me! Thanks!!
~reb

erica said...

Hi all;

Wow, great thoughts! Going off of what Brad said about "appeal," I think audiences tend to look for things that they can relate to in a character. Things like seeing the dog scratch his ear, or the way a character reacts to a situation, these are all occurences they may see in real life, things that a friend or even they themselves may have done (or in the case of throwing the plate of food, thought about doing). And it becomes appealing because of that relation. Finding Nemo, for example, nailed it in two ways: one, for having realistic "fish" movement for the characters while swimming, and two, for including very "human" quirks like rolling eyes, touching their lips while thinking, etc. etc. The audience is pulled in by seeing Dory or Marlin and perhaps thinking "hey, they act like me!" while at the same time thinking "hey, they look like real fish!"

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and I consider one of them to be the "wow" factor. You know, shots like dragons swooping out of the sky while breathing fire or spaceships engaging in a space battle, stuff that is appealing because it is never seen in real life. But I think those things start to become stale after they've been shown 10 or 20 times. The same swooping motion, the same phasers firing. You have to work harder to make a space battle engaging these days.

But watching a character scratching their neck while looking at the ceiling and thinking of how best to lie about something they're about to say? That will never get old. :)

vm said...

life is appealing, I think, and therefore entertaining. if something is alive we tend to be attracted to it, it's in the human nature (not that we don't hate cetrain living beings too...). life is detailed and the thing is that we experience it with all our senses, which makes any artificial experience (such as watching a film or a play) only relate to the real thing, more or less, but never feel real. so again, for me, life is most appealing when it unfolds naturally, and that translated to animation, I think, looks better than any cartoony cuteness. yes, there's lots of talking about how exaggerated posing and motion looks better on animated characters. I think that applies to 2D, and I'm more and more inclined to believe that... it doesn't apply to 3D at all. 3D looks (and moves) best as organic, detailed - even cartoony characters, in 3D, feel more appealing if they deform in a complex way and move realistically. (in this respect, pixar animation is great, being so detailed and capturing reality rather accurately, but pixarish characters suffer from simplified/un-detailed deformations. well, it's a style... now, imagine the opposite: complex deformations but simplistic animation - we wouldn't be talking about pixar animation anymore, would we?). the only reason why motion capture sucks, I think, instead of being super-awsome, is the pipeline, the primitive technology of today: it can't be done right with this technology, so it needs cleanup. if motion capture would be accurate and if it would translate well along the pipeline to inteligent tols taht would use it efficiently, it could create absolutely realistic output.
in other words: if a walk seems like it doesn't have enough weight on it, and you feel like you need to exaggerate here and there, that's not necessary always an animation mistake. dress the character and make it deform realistically (get all that secondary motion in there and the texture moving) and it might look good. (on the other hand, it could be an animation mistake that lies somewhere else, like you don't have the right amount of twist in the upper body - and you increase the up-and-down motion unrealistically for nothing.)

vm said...

also, pushing poses to the extremes seems to give more life, more power, but it's actually just plain unnatural and gives you cartoony animation (which works great in a cartoon!). again, I think that what worked for 2D doesn't always work for 3D.
so, to sidetrack, if you want to make people laugh, there's a lot of stuff you can do, and you don't need to bother at all about being natural or realistic. show people a finger and they'll laugh, it's that easy :)
for me the most appealing images/motion have nothing to do with cartoons and funny business (well, that's me). why should animation be limited to funny business? there's great appeal in the real life all around.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Good Lord! How did I miss this? I never thought I'd say this, but damn you RSS feeds!

Anywho, on entertainment.

Today I saw a video of some of the old great cartoonists talking to eachother about animation and cartoons these days. One of them said that a big problem with cartoons (the newspaper/magazine type ones, not films) is that the gag's eather are in the writing, or in the drawing. While the most entertaining usually is writing that in itself doesn't 100% work, with a drawing that in itself doesn't 100% work, but when put together it's just amazingly funny!

And I tend to disagree about the motion capture thing. The reason why it doesn't work, is that it doesn't communicate. One thing I've come to realize lately is that animation = entertainment through communication. Things have to communicate as clearly and believable as possible! Mocap will only work if - like he says - the technology really improves a lot, and only when used on completely realistic characters. The human body has so many subtleties that right now, you can't capture them yet, but even if you could, that also can't be shown if your character design is a cartoon design. So you want to exaggerate, you want everything to read to the audience as fast as possible. That's why everything you see on the screen needs to relate, and why you have to push things.
Another thing to look at is comedians. Why are they so funny? How come they are so entertaining? Not because they act natural... they don't. They act almost crazy. But it isn't because they act crazy eather. It's because that crazy acting is an EXAGGERATION of natural expression of emotion. And this doesn't just count for "funny" acts eather. The plays/stage acts I've been most touched by, most emotionally involved in, that've stayed with me, were always comedies. ALWAYS. Those acts are so fantastic, and so memorable, because they give you a laugh, a smile and a tear.

To me, this really goes for every field. Not just comedians, stage acts and animation. Exaggeration of natural emotion and human behaviour is THE base of entertainment for me (entertainment in its full scope, not just comedy). My favorite movie of all time is Mangolia. In that film, somehow, everything that happens seems real. Even the frogs falling from the sky. Even while you know it can't be. That's becausse everything's EXAGGERATED. Not necessarily the acting... but the characters, the writing, the storyline. Every character has exaggeration of certain emotions and characteristics we all can relate to. Thanks to all this we get so involved in the film, we were so grabbed and emotionally touched by it. That's why it works. Even frogs falling from the sky. Everything in that film is based on the exaggeration of human emotion, behaviour and society.

To me, contrast is really essential to all this. Cause contrast communicates. Changes keep the audience engaged and thinking. It works two things against eachother... one thing becomes more clear, because what came before it was so far opposite of it. It's like straight to curve in drawing. A straight will enhance the power of the curve. Contrast is a tool to exaggerate emotion, thought and storyline. And you can even exaggerate that contrast - eather visually or through writing - to further enhance the clarity of the emotion, thought or storyline at play.

I hope I'm not to late with this comment... or that it all made sense :-)

PS: I deleted my previous comment because of some confusing spelling mistakes

Kate said...

Well I have to say it's the idea, something that makes you laugh just thinking about it way before thumbnailaing, timing and all the other stuff.
An idea that has you jumping out of your chair to act it out in front of the mirror or to friends and family.
Not to say the other stuff isn't really important to, it's like icing. Cause cake is nice but it's sooooo much better with icing.

Well thats my take on it anyway.