The Use of Subtext in Character Animation

When an audience views a scene in an animated film, they are experiencing the emotions that a character reveals as the character negotiates its way within the shots throughout a film. When done correctly, 2D and 3D Character Animators can add detailed layers of emotions into their animation to subconsciously enhance the impact of acting within the shot on the audience. The use of subtext in character animation is an excellent tool from your animator’s tool box to do so. The definition of subtext is the content underneath the spoken dialogue. Behind the dialogue, there can be conflict, sadness, sensuality, pride, disdain, or other ideas and emotions that are pivotal to a story. Subtext is the unspoken thoughts and motives of your characters, it is what they really think and believe. Subtext essentially is an element that carries a second level of meaning, and can be set decor, color, or other elements that can be designed into an animated film to help tell a story. In this post, I want to talk more about the body language and dialogue aspect of subtext. You have no doubt seen this being used in live action and animated films before, so let’s look into how you can approach an animated scene using subtext. Below is a clip from a website called The acting teacher Paul Barry does an excellent job describing the use of subtext. The use of Subtext in character Animation is used whenever you need to clearly show the essence of your scene. There may be times when the dialogue isn’t giving you the range of emotion that is needed for the scene, or we need to give a visual clue to the audience about an internal monologue that is playing out inside a character’s head. Here we see an excellent example of subtext used in Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles.  Start the clip at :31   This scene from the interview teaser trailer shows Mr. Incredible talking about how difficult it is to be a super hero. He goes on to say the line” Who wants the pressures of being super all the time”. While his dialogue says one thing, his body language says something completely different. The Animator has Mr. Incredible animate into a pose that seems to show his true inner feelings. It shows that he actually does love the pressures of being super which we learn in the film later on. Part of the beauty of Animation is the complete control you have as a character animator to mold and shape a scene to tell the story that you want. Now let’s look at a clip from one of my favorite films It’s A Wonderful Life by Frank Capra. In this scene, we see George Bailey having a dinner conversation with his Father. George goes on to express his feelings about moving on from Bedford Falls to pursue his dreams.  The Father tells George that he wants him to go and get that education, but only after asking him if he would reconsider working for the Building and Loan family business. George’s Father can be seen staring straight ahead in a stiff body posture. We can see his hand clenched and “wringing” showing us his real feelings about George’s decision, but being a good Father, he hides his disappointment so George can move on. We learn later that George’s Father passes away and this scene sets the audience up to understand George’s sense of responsibility to his community and continue his Father’s vision. Start the clip at 2:26   Use your character’s body language to clue the audience … Continue reading

Going to animation school? 5 animation tips that you can do over break to improve your skills!

What can I do over break to get ready for animation school?  This is a question that I get asked quite often, usually by perspective students, or friends of friends and family that don’t know exactly what to expect when starting an animation school, or wanting to improve over break. When I first got to CalArts, I remember how overwhelming it was to be surrounded by so many talented students. At first I felt out of place, with so many of the students from the LA area that had grown up near the animation industry. There were so many talented students, and some students even had formal life drawing training at their high school. At most, I had gone there with a general idea of how animation was made. The best info I had gotten was from picking up the original copy of book The ILLUSION OF LIFE , and read it from cover to cover. Maybe you are a high school student, or a college student attending an animation school and about to go on break.. How can you use your time wisely to be better prepared for what you will face as an animation student?  At this point you probably are not sure what to expect, and perhaps not sure what aspect of “animation” you are interested in the most.  Don’t worry; you have some time for that. Not everyone becomes an “animator”.  I will outline in a later post some of the different disciplines within the animation field, but the following list of animation tips are meant to be a catch-all that will prepare you regardless of which route you go later on whether it is an animator, technical director, or 3d modeler. Here are a couple of boiled down essential things that you can find the time for to be better prepared and know what you are getting into. This To Do List is written in a specific order to build each skill upon the next. Build up your drawing and observational skills. The first and most important on the list is to begin keeping a sketchbook!  I know what you are thinking: “But I just want to do 3D Animation…”  Bear with me. The sketchbook is an exercise that will build up your skills regardless of what aspect of animation that you are interested in.  You’ve probably never had to do this before and it will be a new experience for you, and every animation school will have you do this. I always had scraps of paper stuck in a folder and always wished I had done this growing up. I spent a lot of time drawing cartoon characters which helped as well, but there is nothing like gesture drawing the people, animals, and locations around you to improve on your skills for a career in animation. It is a great morale booster to look at your stack of sketchbooks from when you started to see the progression of how you are actually improving. Go out and buy yourself an inexpensive sketchbook. I always prefer the spiral bound type because they are easy to flatten out, and make sure that it is not too small. It is best in my opinion to get one that is at least 8.5 x 11 to 11 x 14 size sketchbooks.I know that some people like to draw small, and perhaps you may be afraid of being spotted drawing someone but trust me, your drawings may suffer in a smaller sketchbook and your work may tend to look stiff. Now that we got that out of the way, what … Continue reading