The Weight Of The World
Years back I was loitering around the offices of Klactoveesedstene*, the animation studio set up by Oscar Grillo and Ted Rockley. I’m not sure how we got onto the subject – maybe some showreels had recently come in – but Ted went off on one about how so many of the bright young things, fresh from the animation degree courses, didn’t know squat about defining a character’s centre of gravity.
Dick Williams, one of our greatest contemporary animators, echoed his sentiments, making it clear to the fresh meat that defining the weight of any particular animated character is important because it defines their characteristics. Not being one of these graphite-smudged pencil monkeys, I could only commiserate with them and agree that it was utterly shocking.
Nowadays there isn’t much 2D animation around. There’s The Simpsons, obviously, and the output of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, thankfully. And whatever else is being mass-produced, cheap and colourful because they are “you know, for kids.”
Instead the trend is for 3D because... well, it works for Pixar. The only problem is that not every company has the same wealth of talent as Pixar. Even though pixels have replaced pencils, the most noticeable defect in the lower end of the scale computer-generated animation is, still, the lack of weight in the characters.
Although the trailers from the new TMNT movie had the occasional decidedly dodgy moment, in recent years, the biggest offender by a country mile has been the new Captain Scarlet, which pitched up on ITV. In this instance replacing puppets with pixels, both the characters and vehicles used had so little weight to them that they could have easily had guy ropes attached to them and floated above the Macy’s Day Parade.
Catch the first episode and you’ll soon notice that the characters show no signs of exertion when interacting with various heavy ‘props’, that vehicles taking part in an extended chase make no effort to hug the ground. Most surprisingly was discovering the show used motion capture in the animation process.
Without someone like Andy Serkis, who literally threw himself into the part to create the basis for Gollum, the MoCap crew employed for Captain Scarlet probably brought in a few extras to simply go through the motions with Styrofoam or cardboard props. The data was passed on to animators, possibly fresh from a Maya or Lightwave course, who routinely failed to extrapolate the information and put more emphasis into the actions.
Animation isn’t about simply making characters move, it’s about bringing them to life. There is a big difference, believe me. It distinguishes between the good and the bad, the adequate and the exceptional.
Think about how that affects your writing.
* Yes, Oscar is a huge fan of Bird. And I don’t mean he’s a twitcher.