Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Contextual Review

Adam Thomson - MSc Animation and Visualisation 10/14/10
Research Skills and Methods - The Contextual Review

Research Title: Research developing character and personality through movement, action, appearance and performance.

Throughout my search most of the books I have found that claim to be about character animation, especially those focused on computer animation actually have very little content on the process and techniques of animating. They instead deal with the technical side of building and rigging characters for animation. Content, which is much more, like that of a text book or software manual.

Anyone wanting to know about the basics and actual process of animating would need to go back to Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston's book The Illusion of Life that sets down the 12 basic principles of animation as used by the Disney Animation studios since the 1930's. A version of these principles has been adapted for computer animation by John Lasseter in 1996 but the process of developing a character performance using animation isn't really catered for in either of these texts. Ed Hooks book Acting for Animators stands out as the only book covering this topic. ‘When we speak of the illusion of life in animation, it boils down not to mannerisms and naturalistic movement, but to emotion.’ (Hooks, 2003)

Ed Hooks main influences stem from the acting methods used by Konstantin Stanislavski that were later the basis for Method Acting developed by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

Although the techniques used at the studio can vary between teachers in essence they are to help the actors get into the mindset of their characters, create believable emotional responses in an effort to develop lifelike performances.

An animator could look to these methods too but may struggle to find a way to make the techniques apply to animation. This is obviously due to the differences between the way an actor and animator work. Actors have an extensive rehearsal period before performing the material before an audience or camera. Even when this happens an actor can adapt their emotional performance moment to moment being able to respond dynamically to the other actors and situations as they demand. On the other hand, although the animator does go through a preparation process there is no actual physical performance for the animator, they have to create a performance in their head and then apply it to a series of drawings or a 3D model. When it comes to creating the animation the animator has to be able to hold a moment or emotional thought for hours or possibly weeks at a time depending on how long it will take to complete the scene they are animating. Where for an actor the moment is continually changing and moving onto the next.

What Hooks understands is that there is a clear ‘distinction between the way animators perceive and apply acting theory and the way stage actors perceive and apply it.’ (Hooks, 2003) What he is trying to do with this book is teach animators techniques and exercises to be able to apply acting methods for creation of believable character for use in their animations. Although he is not an animator or has any experience animating, on the whole it is quite successful. The main strength is that he has been applying and refining these techniques as an actor and acting teacher for over 30 years and working closely with animation and games companies specifically on the topic of acting for animators for over 15 years.

Given that the techniques outlined by Ed Hooks are rooted in improving the animators ability to add emotional performance and meaning to their animations, this is something I am very interested in as an animator. The work I plan to create in the future is very much based within the context of researching and producing animation to help me develop my understanding of character performance and then apply this to short character led narrative animation.


Hooks, E. (2003) Acting for Animators: a complete guide to performance animation. Revised Edition. Porstmouth, NH, Heinemann

Hooks, E. (2000) About Ed [Online] Available from: [Accessed 13th October 2010]

Hirsch, F. (2001) A method to their madness the history of the Actors Studio. 2nd Edition. Cambridge, Da Capo Press

Lasseter, J. (1996) Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation [Online] Available from: [Accessed 13th October 2010]

Thomas, F. and Johnston, O. (1984) Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life. Popular Edition. New York, Abbeville Press

Choi, J. (2004) Maya Character Animation. 2nd Edition. Seoul, Korea, Sybex, Inc

5 Keywords
Character Animation Acting Performance Techniques

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