Ollie Johnston was a master of creating appealing animated performances. As Glen Keane analyzes Ollie’s work, he shows us how Ollie would find the “golden poses,” or strong, appealing poses, and use them to define the animation as he crawled into his characters.

Great Key Poses

“Look for the golden drawing and use your time around it.”

Finding good key poses are half the battle of good animation. Key poses are first and foremost filled with clear personality. Personality and clarity create strong poses. Most animation scenes usually contain only a small handful of these key, golden storytelling poses. The  keys surrounding those golden poses will be good poses that play a supporting role. They support in 3 basic ways. First, they lead into the pose from the previous pose. Second, they enhance the pose by giving the golden pose duration, variation, or strengthening it by going to an extreme. And finally, third, they lead out of the pose.

What does this mean in terms of animation?  Once you find that pose you must then consider how it will “live” in time. Unless the pose will be held rock solid, which is rare, you have to think about how this pose will move. We call it a ‘moving pose.’ A pose has a life of 1 frame (or 2 frames in 2D animation) and it needs tol extend long enough to do it’s job in telling the story. Sometimes it’s as simple as pushing it to a more extreme poses. Longer duration’s of life will require variations of the key pose, which means you must decide how the character will live in that pose by coming up with subtle acting business or secondary action.

Using motion capture gives you a starting point.  You can usually identify the key poses in motion capture and massage the data to better serve the story.  Since we must still animate the hands and face we must still think of this animation in animation terms. The face and hands carry at least 50% of a character’s performance.

“Each golden drawing is used to strengthen the one that follows.”

The poses that lead into and out of the key golden pose can either weaken or strengthen that pose. How one gets from point A to point B is very important.  Arcs, timing and secondary action convey weight and emotion. Used well they will create solid personality-filled characters.

“Crawl into the heart of your character”

The characters you animate must feel like they have heart.  They must come across as living, thinking, feeling characters.

What matters is your ability of identifying with the heart of your character.

Your characters are not robots who follow a predetermined series of movements. The only way to move from robot animation to character performance animation is to crawl into the heart of your character. What are they thinking and feeling at this very moment in your scene?  What are they anticipating? What are they hearing from others and what do they think about what is being said? Are they afraid, and trying to hide it? Are they tuning someone out, as if they’ve heard it hundreds of times before?  Are they trying to contain their excitement for the sake of “proper behavior” when in reality they want to run and jump and dance?

These two principles go hand-in-hand

In order to find great key poses you must get into the heart of your character.  When you can identify with them, or feel how they feel, you can channel your emotion into good poses.  Great poses come out of trying to get under your character’s skin.