Friday, January 25, 2008

Mark Walsh Lecture

I'm pretty much just going to jump right into the notes I took. The lecture was fantastic, very inspiring and definately set my mind back on track after getting a little lost on my recent animation endeavor. A little background first on Mark Walsh: He graduated from CalArts shortly after Pixar released Toy Story, I believe he did an internship at Dreamworks first(he was talking about some extra stuff after everyone left and this briefly came up) before landing at Pixar where he's worked on every movie except Cars(Not sure about Wall-E though). Anyways, the lecture he gave tonight was not focused on the Pixar way of doing things it's about creating believable characters with thoughtful performances. Onto the lecture:

The first point he talked about focused on how to go beyond the movement and instead thinking of the characters. In order to create this believable character you must look into his/hers' personality (general outlook), psychology(sees themselves), Philosophy(how they see the world), goals("If they had a million dollars what would they do?" Or dreams/aspirations), and in particular flaws because no one's perfect and anyone who is perfect is viewed as fake. Throughput the lecture he showed various clips of scenes that illustrated the film crew considering these points. He used The Beast from Beauty and the Beast(Disney version) to show the thinking behind the character--selfish or giving, self absorbed? mean? low self-esteem? these kinds of things. In the end it's especially the flaws that create the story. Viewers are particularly captivated by stories about characters who keep running into a brick wall of them self(where they constantly battle their flaws).

Next up character studies, he touched on the topic of character arc where the character is different at the end that at the beginning of the movie, with examples of Scrooge, Marlin from Finding Nemo, and then The Beast. He then moved to shows like the Simpsons where it's limited animation(when compared to feature films) and how the creators think about the inside of the character. And even though it's a limited budget how fantastic the characters are. Homer can basically be classified as lazy, loves donuts and beer, etc. Lisa is always trying to be the adult...these kinds of characters when strong almost write the story themselves. He also went very briefly into character design and how a character needs to be more than a pretty design, as an example he showed the animation work he did on The Incredibles (Mr. Incredibles' scenes were the focus) where there's that conflict between Bob's obsession with the past glory days and how he's missing his current glory--his family--until there's that breaking point when both conflicts finally snap(towards the end when the family gets back to the city and Mr. Incredible tells his wife how he's not strong enough to lose his family again, or when they're trapped as a family under Syndrome and Bob realizes his greatest accomplish is his family.) Mark Walsh also touched on consistency for the character by stating,"What makes a character believable are their consistent reactions based on their profile." As an example he showed us a clip from Back to the Future, in particular clips focusing on the character George McFly.

The second part of the lecture began to address the main focus: Animation. The definition he provided, "Animation is the replication/caricature of the things discussed earlier." It's essentially the artists' job to reflect society back on itself. Give it a different perspective and it usually connects with people. A couple other quotes include, "Don't have to be a sell out to be an artist." In relation to the debate of Art for money or Art for Art. And on the same subject, "Not about the money, however why make art that no one can see?" Coming back to animation, he discussed the skill set needed to be a strong animator: It comes down to principles and acting. Principles meaning the 12 principles of animation(squash/stretch, anticipation, etc.) however it's vitally important to push past JUST making a character(or anything) move. That's where acting comes in. A live-action actor(like Tom Hanks) never shows up on a live-action set with only poses in his head("Oh this'll be a great silhoette!" "Look at this hand pose!"). An actor like Hanks comes to the set with the background of the character and gets into that character's skin. For animators(though this applies to live-action as well) when approaching how to get past just movement, you must decide on- the line of thinking, illustrate those thoughts with expressions or poses, and constantly keep consistent with the character. Always acknowledging the thought behind the action(s). Lip-sync is a great example how one sometimes thinks before they speak. Animators don't want to focus solely on how synced up the mouth is, but instead focus on the meaning behind the words. He used Trading Places(the butler was the focus) as an example of this. To conclude his lecture Mark Walsh ended with, "Take your craft seriously." In relation to constantly working to better your work and to always keep studying life around you. He pulled out his tiny sketchbook he carries around and while he flipped through it told some hilariously entertaining stories about the people he saw and how he incorporated some of these studies into his animated scenes. His walk-cyle observations were dead-on brilliant. He mentioned how fantastic Disneyland is for studying people, "The levels of burnout are great studies!" Anyways, that was pretty much the lecture itself the Q/A afterwards touched on his personal animation process, stories about the old Pixar days and how when he went back to visit the old building Pixar used to use, it's now a Crime Scene Investigation place for California, his old office is now a freezer for body parts apparently. haha. He also described what it's like to be a supervising animator at Pixar and the various duties. One huge point he touched on a lot was what's lacking at Cal Arts, "You guys draw beautifully(better than when I was a student here), your stories are always getting better...but I long to see feature animation quality again! Fully fleshed out scenes with acting and thought." He talked to us about the differences between Cal Arts and other schools and how he in the end really only wants to hire Cal Arts animators because of the training/curriculum, however, a lot of the films leave something to be desired. He said that the first and second years at Cal Arts are for exploring the principles and getting a handle on how everything works so that in your final years(3rd/4th) you can really bring it home and focus on that acting. He did mention that although the environment at Pixar has changed a little from the old days, Pixar still in the end will hire based on the best performance in animation, whether 2D or 3D. Anyways, it was again a fantastic lecture and am all fired up for a weekend full of animating. :) Night!


amelia said...

It's SO COOL that you're documenting all this! Thanks so much! YAAAY!

Jennifer said...

You're very welcome! I know how inspiring and helpful these kind of notes are--hopefully you'll be able to join in on the lectures next year eh? :)

Cali said...

Heeeey buddy sorry I suck at keeping in touch! lol All the samples that you posted look so awesome! Keep it up! That lecture sounds like it was amazing, a lot of the points he made about characterization are the same methods we're studying in Acting Character Portrayal, its cool :P

Car2oon said...

Great write up! So inspiring!