The Actor With A Pencil
“Animation is about creating the illusion of life. And you can't create it if you don't have one.”
The illusion of life. It’s the meaning of animation plainly put. So, what then is an animator? The technical definition is as follows:
“An animator is an artist who creates multiple images, known as frames, which give an illusion of movement called animation when displayed in rapid sequence.”
We can go down the rabbit hole of defining terms of what is an artist, and then what is art, but at the end of it all is that we, as ARTISTS, are creating the illusion of life on the screen. If we compare animated films to live action films, animators are actors. Actors with pencils. Actors who draw their emotional and physical actions on a page rather than in front of a camera.
Somewhere in the digital revolution, we lost that idea. We lost it because we’re too busy thinking about the tools we use, the setup of our office, the alluring excuse of eccentric behaviour. Schools don’t teach artists to portray their emotions. Schools teach students how to use their tools. Some schools teach students how to YouTube. We’re so caught up in what the tech we forgot what it means to breathe life into an object whether a lamp, or a person, or a dog.
Being an animator is more than just a job title. It’s more than pushing pixels and nodes, bezier curve bending, or scribbling action sequences that look cool. As an “Actor With a Pencil,” your job is to act. And act well. Make me - the audience watching your performance - believe.
“First, for me, an actor is good if he makes me believe he's actually going through whatever his character is going through. I'm talking somewhat about physical stuff (“He really is getting shot!” “He really is jumping off a moving train!”) but mostly about psychological stuff (“He really is scared!” “He really is in love!”). If an actor seems to be faking it, he's not doing his job.”
- Marcus Geduld (Slate. This is a fantastic read by-the-way.)
While I understand that it can be fun to squash and stretch or choreograph a fight sequences (I love seeing a great action scene just like the next dude); more often than not, this is done with poor execution of basic cinema, story structure and animation principles. Overacting, or as I call it, “Glenn Keaning,” does not an animator make.
How do we remedy the lethargic state of animation? How do we make our acting in animation better? There are two ways we can make a change. Neither of them are exclusive from one another, and in fact, would be best when combined together.
Change in Perception
When you think animator, what comes to mind? A Hawaiian shirt and a desk littered with action figures? What about hard work? We don’t think about the years of dedication behind each new drawing, do we... The idea of the animator is a cartoon representation of an eclectic and eccentric artist with non-existent social skills. Being eccentric isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s part-and-parcel of being an artist. What we should be focusing on is celebrating the effort and strain it takes to become one. To bring an air of respect and reverence to the title.
Being an animator is more than just a job. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of being. We study the world, break life down into small components, experiment and reflect. It’s more than watching our favorite anime or cartoon show. It’s more than simply sitting in a dark room with a glowing screen. It’s a way of observing the world and expressing. Can’t create life without having one.
And stop worrying about the damn tech.
Take an improv or acting workshop, volunteer for community theater or just go to a live performance. Get involved. Learn how to give a performance. Sure you’ve gone to school - or YouTube - to learn about the 12 principles, to learn how to use the tools. But as stated, being an animator is essentially being an actor. Learn what it means to act in front of people, what it means to make them believe your emotional action. Learn to be comfortable with being emotionally naked.
While I think the state of animation as a whole has come to a peak of mediocrity, it doesn’t have to stay there. There’s loads of animators worldwide who are breaking the stigma daily.
We need to change the way we think about animators. A motion-graphics artist, a pixel pusher, a node nudger… Those are more suitable titles than “Animator.”
The title of “Animator” for those who deserve it.