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Step 1 – HONESTY

Jun 1, 2012

in 12 Steps

Honesty has so many places in animation with so many meanings.

First off, in the context of an addiction, excepting that you, as well as I, are geeks and proud of it.
No, don’t fight it. We love cartoons and all the silly things that go along with it, be proud, be heard: I am addicted to cartoons and am okay with it.

When it comes to Honesty in animation, well, I am afraid that things become a shade more complex and open to interpretation. Your goal is always to bring an honest and real portrayal of a character to life, no matter what that character might be (i.e. female, male, dog, cat, etc.). The real challenge comes in the face of being able to bring something real, not something that we have seen before. Something that is unique and original.

Much like the artists that are responsible for our addiction today, the animators who helped bring the artform to life based their work not on animation which came before them but on what they saw in real life. They based their acting choices and the physical movement of their character on studies that were done in studio by actors or stand-ins of live action footage.

Alive in Wonderland live action referenceAlive in Wonderland live action referenceLive action referenceLive action reference

©Disney.
Left to right: Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty

Here’s a side by side comparison on a shot from the Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid live action referenceLittle Mermaid stills
©Disney / Little Mermaid.
Left: live action reference. Right: animation still shot.

In any case the shot lives or dies on two things, the idea and the execution.

Below is a side by side comparison of three scenes from 1982 Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIHM and its live action “inspiration” – The Vikings, 1958. Unlike Disney Feature Animation who shot their own live action reference, Bluth decided to base the climatic final battle on a pre-existing footage.

The Vikings, 1958 / 1The Secret of NIMH, 1982 / 1The Vikings, 1958 / 2 The Secret of NIMH, 1982 / 2 The Vikings, 1958 / 3 The Secret of NIMH, 1982 / 3
Left: The Vikings, 1958. Right: The Secret of NIMH, 1982 (Director: Don Bluth).

The first thing you should always ask yourself when watching and analyzing your reference is: Is your acting choice believable and relatable? – would you act that way around your friends and family.

Regardless of the style of animation or how broad it is, it should always be genuine and believable. Something that when you watch it – you get lost in the performance, and end up forgetting it’s a CG puppet, lines on paper or a stop motion armature.

Execution of the shot is a skill that changes with the medium of animation: in the 2D-days it was mainly how well you could draw; in CG it comes down to your control of a rig and understanding the science of splinning (something we will dive further into later on). Either way, Honesty’s roll in animation is ever persistent and a reminder of the challenge that is set before us.

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