Thursday, June 12, 2008

Acting Reference: Lost - Season 1, Ep. 1 & 4

I know, I'm kinda late with the whole "Lost" thing, but time is precious, unfortunately I can't watch all the shows that interest me. Since I hate working out (it's just really boring to me), I put a TV in front of the elliptical machine, but even that didn't motivate me enough (I know, I suck), until I started watching "Lost", now I can't wait to go work out and watch another episode. Please don't spoil anything, I'm almost done with Season 1 so I have a lot to catch up. :)

Anyway, I thought the first pilot episode had a lot of good examples of more complex physical acting choices, both broad and subtle, compositional choices, animation ideas, etc. just lots of good detail stuff which you might find useful. Here we go:

(clip) => nice composition with the plane and background. You can treat the look of your set like a "golden pose", that one pose which tells the story in broad strokes. It would also be neat to use it as an establishing shot (similar to what I mentioned about the "Sleeping Beauty" shot). Everything is moving except Jack, making him stick out, which is an effective use of contrast both in terms of movement and color (his dark suit in front of the lighter plane shell).

(clip) => "... On account of three!" Because it's so loud it's okay to act out the line (showing the "three" count with his fingers), otherwise no (you might get busted for using an audio clip with hard to hear voices though).

(clip) => Jack hears the girl screaming, looks around and sees her screen right, she is positioned looking screen left. So in context, they are looking at each other (for a broader explanation, see the "Acting Reference: Die Hard" post).

(clip) => the way he runs is cool and interesting because of the set. It adds variety,complexity and a purpose, which is better than just a generic run cycle.

(clip) => I would avoid the "jump-fall-with-big-explosion-in-the-background-thing" with your characters. Might just be me, but I think it's overused (just like the lower eyelid twitch), unless you are going for a very intentional cheese factor.

(clip) => Charlie doesn't react the way the audience would expect - toying with people's expectations keeps it interesting - within this episode it also acts as a contrast to all the serious moments, giving the audience a moment of relief through unexpected comedy (sheesh, sounds so important...)

(clip) => Hurley falls and sand is sticking to his face - nice detail incorporating the environment. Definitely something to be done AFTER your animation is polished ad nauseam, but I'd love to see detail work like that.

=> Locke staring at the ocean. I know, simple, but I like the composition because it is so simple and clear. Sometimes less is more.

=> the girl is in a horrible, desolate situation, yet she paints her nails, making her look superficial since the most important thing to her is her appearance instead of gathering food or helping wounded people; or it's her only way at the moment to cope with the situation, maybe a way to distract herself, or it's a relaxing thing to do (again as a distraction or coping mechanism), or she is so sure that help will come that she isn't worried and passes time (still revealing that she cares more about herself than others) - there are many interpretations possible, but my point is that this moment reveals part of her character (whatever it may be). Touches like that can make your shot much more interesting and stand out. So let's say you have a dialogue clip (a monologue or dialogue) and it's fitting to have your character(s) stranded on an island, I think most beginning animators would have the character(s) act out the scene standing up, probably with broad gestures (which I think is a natural thing to do as you start out, since you want to "show" that you understand the animation principles). A shot with one or two guys sitting around, doing nothing, just talking, might not exactly scream "demoreel material", but to me would be much more challenging (and rewarding), more interesting to see and it's less of a cliché. Now imagine that the (or one of the) character(s) is painting her (or his?) nails while delivering the lines, that would add even more character and also contrast with the setting (doing something mundane in a scary situation).

Long story short, present the character with a conflict and show the audience the choices he/she/it makes in order to deal with that situation. Those choices will reveal their true character (and make your shot much more interesting).

(clip) => an unexpected punch line - just as the audience thinks the shot is done you give them one more thing (can easily drift into cliché territory though (someone gets eaten by a creature and just as you think the shot is done the creature spits out a single bone), so use with care).

(clip) => foreshadowing - I only recently started with "Lost", nearing towards the end of season one. As I was watching the pilot again (because I wanted to write about the sand-sticking-on-Hurleys-face part which now grew into a bigger post), I noticed this shot and Kates reaction to Jacks plane model. (no worries, I won't spoil anything in case you haven't seen the show and plan to). Her distressed face makes sense within this sequence, but it is also foreshadowing an event that happens toward the end of this season. Foreshadowing something in a single shot can be very difficult, but it reminds me of something else (in a roundabout way) that you can use in your shot which I don't see too often, the fact that the audience knows more than the character in your shot. Chaplin was a master of that. It's a great way to create tension and comedic situations.

(clip) => break up the timing - watch how she shakes her head, how it is not an evenly timed left right left right, how the rhythm keeps changing (even though I doubt that you would see a character do so many head shakes in an animated feature, but let's just talk in terms of principles).

(clip) => the ice cubes! Observe real world situations and incorporate interesting details into your shot - yes, yes, animation comes first, make sure your story is clear and that your animation is readable, BUT... Once you're in polish land it's time to add the fun details. So free yourself from the computer and observe the real world. Try to find moments which let the audience connect with your character. This can be character traits or set interactions which give the audience a "Hey, I know that feeling!", or "That happens to me too!" moment. So in this case, as Jack downs his drink, at a certain tipping point the ice cubes roll over (giving you those cold and wet lips, which just happened to me with my glass of orange juice, in a plane as well (yes, I wrote this on the flight back to SF)). Might just be me but I enjoy those moments in movies ("The Incredibles" had many moments like that with Dash reminding me of my son).

(clip) => guide your audience - you are in control and you can manipulate the audience's focus in many ways using light, colors, composition, sound, movement (or lack thereof) and in this case through depth of field. I see this technique used on the AM showcase reels every now and then and I always like it because of it's "professional" look. Again, detail stuff, worry about the animation first, but it's easy to do in post using After Effects and gives your shot a more interesting look.

=> interesting reveal - not that you want to have just fingers in a shot for your reel (although if it is a short shot within a sequence it could work). Let's say you have multiple characters in your shot, it could be neat to reveal one of them in an interesting way (or if it isn't a character it could be an important object)

=> it's all about timing! Locke mentions something and smiles, and as the audience realizes the importance of it, so does the woman, but she doesn't want to spoil the moment by laughing or commenting on it, yet she wants to know how the other guy reacts to Locke's comment. So that eye dart is more of a sneaky type, a bit more tense than a usual look around, hence no eye blink. The timing is also great, with her eye dart happening after her smile, so that the audience can linger on her face and register her smile, which tells us that she understood what Locke meant, but it's all very subtle. (this part is from episode 4, season 1)

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Anonymous said...

there is some problem with the quicktime video's, they are not showing up.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Yeah, Internet Explorer is weak. Works fine with Mozilla.

It worked at first in IE, but after a republish something changed. I'm out of town though, that's why I haven't fixed it yet.

Sorry for the hassle!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Should be all fixed now. So annoying how different the post look between Firefox and IE.

Anonymous said...

thx man! now everything is perfect!

Anonymous said...

Awesomeness to the extreme!

Yes, the real 'Anonymous' is back and in full affect leaving comments, enuff respect!

Wish I was actually funny.

OT but just started reading Comedy Writing Secrets so maybe I will improve.

jeff said...

great that tip about golden poses for your set.

Jean-Denis Haas said...


Daniel said...

Good stuff Jean-Denis. If you haven't read it already, you will nerd out on Richard Pepperman's, "Film School".

In it, he refers to the audience knowing something the characters don't as Dramatic Irony.

Check it out. It's a good excuse to watch 50 new movies. :)