The Animator’s Sensorium: The Impact of Acting and Animation Experience on Creating Reference Performances

Kennedy, Jason
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This research provides an initial investigation into strategies for creating reference performances for animation. The term reference performance has various meanings in animation production; in this article, I use it to refer to a recording of a person performing physical and emotional cues, from which performance elements of an animated character may be derived. Beginning with Max Fleischer’s invention of the rotoscope process in 1915, animation studios began to record actors as a means to inject greater believability – that is, a “[reconciliation of] realism within the animated form” (Pallant 2011: 41) – into the movements and expressions of animated characters. While various methods exist today to capture reference performances, it remains axiomatic that the utility of the reference is only as good as a performer’s ability to produce the desired performance. While seasoned actors would seem ideally suited to the task, large-scale animation studios frequently require animators to film their own reference performances, even though the animators may have limited (or non-existent) acting experience. By comparison, smaller studios and independent productions may not have the time or ability for each animator to self-produce reference; instead, they may opt for an animation director/supervisor to record reference for every character, to work from clips available through online video sites (e.g.: YouTube), or to forgo video reference altogether. This research examines the potential for acting experience to enhance reference performances, and specifically explores three different preconditions of experience when producing animation reference: an actor with no animation experience; an animator with no acting experience; and an academic with both acting and animation experience. As an additional site of inquiry, this research explores the use of head-mounted cameras (HMCs) in the production of animation reference as a means to more fully and reliably capture the research participants’ expressive range. This research engages with ethnographic and autoethnographic research models to compare the creative choices of each participant and their ability to produce meaningful expressions, gestures, and body movements as reference performance for a short, auteur 3D animated film in a predominantly realistic style. From these analyses, the maximal performance utility of each participant is gauged. By extension, this limited data provides an initial suggestion that acting experience is an essential precondition when producing useful reference performances for the type and style of animation explored in this study. Furthermore, this article relates the acting strategies of its participants to the acting theory of Ivana Chubbuck (2004) and the theory of emotional effector patterns as described by Bloch et al. (1987). This research suggests that these practice-informed performance theories may prove useful to animator when producing their own reference, regardless of performance experience.

Acting , Animation , Auteur , Emotion , Ethnography , Head-Mounted Camera , Performance , Reference Performance
Animation Practice, Process & Production, Volume 10, Issue 1, Aug 2021, p. 95 - 116. DOI:
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