Friday, January 22, 2010

Glen Keane Guest Lecture

Just got out of the lecture and my head is spinning from the past few hours. So because I'm a little too tired to actually go animate(which I'm dying to do after watching Glen animate), here are my notes/summary of the night:

A quick introduction for those who might be new to the name, Glen Keane. He attended CalArts before there was even a Character Animation department--at that time it was Film Graphics under the Experimental Animation department---and has spent the past 35+ years animating at Disney. He has been the supervising animator on characters like Ratigan(Great Mouse Detective), Ariel(from the Little Mermaid), Aladdin himself, The Beast(from Beauty and the Beast), Tarzan himself, John Silver(the cyborg from Treasure Planet), etc. There are so many scenes that he's worked on that have had a very big impact on me. Some of the first pencil tests that I found online were his and that really opened my eyes to the notion of pursuing animation as a career(along with a couple other incredibly talented artists).

Tonight, he came and drew/animated for us. My notes are primarily when he'd emphasize a point or just say something I wanted to remember while I animate on my own film. So here are these points and I'll do my best to put them in context:
"Push boundaries or you're not taking advantage of being an animator." Essentially, don't settle for what has been done before, or "safe." These are drawings, you can animate your wildest fantasies----you're not bound by any rules of real-life reality(or even live-action film), and as an artist you're able to "become" a savage beast, or a princess with 70 feet of hair! These characters can inhabit any habitat whether inside a wall, or in some deep region of the Twilight Zone. So shoot for the moon!
"The more action is related to the emotion, the more interesting it becomes." Always think of a way to put a more interesting perspective on an emotion. Glen had us shout out various emotions, then actions, and he randomly combined a few to create far more interesting descriptions. One of the example he drew out was, "fear"--well it's very easy to just go with a run of the mill pose--sweat, teeth chattering, eyes bugged out, shoulders hunched up to the ears. Usually something everyone has seen before. However, when "Eating" is added, in this case, "Fear of Eating"---you get a very character specific scenario...Glen drew a guy cringing at the very idea of actually eating a scorpion that was on the end of his fork. Much more fun to watch right? So find ways to link an action with an emotion and the animation will benefit greatly. Another one that Glen drew out(just one drawing that summed up the whole idea) was, anguished dancing which was hilarious---just think of Seinfeld and Elaine's spaz-like dancing and you come close to what was drawn out.

A very key point that came up, and is something that definitely applies towards this year's film is: Setup a goal and hold it back from the audience for as long as possible. Let it be known what the character(s) is after and just milk every second before they achieve their desire. The example Glen shared was a scene from Avatar---when Jake is trying to tame/fly those flying creatures. First Jake has to find the beast, keep it from killing him, connect his hair to control it, and then actually fly. That whole scene is prolonging the ultimate goal of that final flight scene between Jake and the creature--the goal is clearly established, but every task is difficult, nothing is easy and it makes the audience feel very satisfied once Jake succesfully achieves his first flight. Another example that I found that I think fits this idea is from ol' Wile Coyote(aka. Road-Runnerus Digestus):

Just a short segment from the full piece, but the artists are just playing with that gag. It's a little different then the scene in Avatar. Everyone knows the roadrunner will never be caught, however everyone knows that the coyote's attempts at catching that roadrunner always fail. The coyote doesn't just plummet straight to the ground like he does in some other gags, but instead has a very round about way of falling--and that whole time you know what's coming, all the setup is there---the rocks, the ground that's coming up(though off-screen until the very end, you know it has to appear), etc. Very fun to watch and think about.

At this point Glen sat down at the animation desk with a huge ream of animation paper and started animating. He was still following the point I mentioned above about prolonging the goal. In this case, it was a baby going from a seated position to learning how to stand. He worked out what poses would really hit home for the audience---to really feel the baby's struggle. Absolutely amazing to watch.

Anyways, that pretty much covers the night. I'm still soaking in everything he talked about. It was a fantastic way to start the weekend---myself and I'm sure the rest of the department will be spending tomorrow hunkered down and animating like crazy! Thank you again to Glen for the lecture and to everyone who helped make tonight so memorable. :)