There’s a reason good actors make astronomical sums of money — they can make or break a show. Think about your favorite films or TV shows. What do you remember the most? Usually it’s the character performances.
After watching Fiddler on the Roof last night, I can’t imagine that show being a success with any other actor than Chiam Topol. He made Tevye. His performance defined that character and made him interesting. In fact there were a number of potentially dull and long moments in the story that could have easily died on the screen, but his acting made up for weaknesses in the story. His performance carried the show and made it memorable, and we come away from the story feeling like we’ve come to know a very interesting person.
I can’t imagine Lincoln being made with any other lead than Daniel Day Lewis. The Lincoln script was filled with lengthy monologues and heavy dialogues of a political nature. Try reading the script. Had the screenwriter gone through the normal channels of having to get past a reader to get consideration the Lincoln script would have been passed on. It breaks all the rules and guidelines for getting a script considered. It contains massive blocks of dialog and exposition all the way through — deadly material in most hands. Spielberg’s genius was in assembling a stellar cast, which he himself has said is 50% of a director’s battle.
An actor’s performance can make a mediocre script into a great film. But the contrary is true as well: an actor’s performance can make a good script into a bad film.
The same is true in animation. Character animation performances can make or break a show.
Many animators will take acting classes. Many others would read Stanislavski, Meisner and Michael Caine. Having mastered the mechanics of animation they would voraciously pursue the development of their character performance skills.
As animators we need to think like an actor. We need to approach our scenes with the primary consideration of what our characters are thinking and feeling, what they are hoping for, what dreams are being compromised, and what they are anticipating next. Why do they react as they do? Why do they say what they say and do what they do? What is the nature of the conflict they feel? What do they hope will happen by responding to the conflict in this way? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself as you tackle you scenes.
Find the motivation. Create the motivation if one is not readily apparent. The goal is to create a performance that will entertain the audience rather than bore it. Boring the audience with a generic plain Jane performance is not an option. Find the entertainment value. Find the character. And finding the character means you bring thoughtful specificity to your performance. When you begin to see that you would animate Joseph one way in your scene, but if it were Eli you would do it much differently, then you are beginning to think in terms of character not mindless motion.