‘Bambi’, ‘Shrek’ and ‘Toy Story’ are just a few of the animated movies that have captured audiences’ imaginations over the course of the 21st century. The success of these and other similar films shows that the appeal of animation has never been stronger. Animated movies – from Walt Disney classics to modern, digital masterpieces – can make us laugh, cry and gasp in wonder every bit as effectively as their live action counterparts, and in most cases even more so!
Animation can be used to inspire, educate, inform and entertain, whilst at the same time showing audiences the world from a new perspective. Animation can also make the complex simple, and is able to communicate a variety of messages across a wide range of cultures and ages.
As a result, the world’s top brands are increasingly choosing this medium as a tool to effectively communicate their messaging, as the unique combination of sound, movement and colourful visuals makes it harder to ignore. An engaging animation is often able to hold a person’s attention for a crucial few additional seconds, during which time the decision whether or not to engage is made.
Mastering the art of animation is no small feat. Over and above the requisite artistic and technical skills, aspirant animators need to develop a broad skill set in order to effectively breathe life into their characters. Much like actors, animators need to become seasoned observers, keenly making note of human reactions and emotions so as to realistically inform their creations.
In fact, character animators are often described as ‘actors with pencils’, performing their roles in a virtual environment rather than on the stage or screen. Successfully infusing animated creations with thoughts, emotions and personality is something that can only be achieved by those with an innate understanding of the human psyche, and this is something that no amount of expensive classes can teach.
Technique is something that can be mastered with patience and dedication, but the world’s great animators are those who breathe in the life around them, and execute their art in deference to this. So how can one go about achieving true excellence in this ever-growing digital discipline?
Learn the art of empathy
No character you create will be just like people you know, and even fewer will be just like you. To infuse a wide range of characters with genuine human characteristics, you must be able to empathise strongly with them and understand their context. You need to put yourself in your character’s shoes, and ask yourself what he or she hopes for, dreams of, thinks about and fears. This will give you invaluable insight into what it is that makes them tick.
Observe the world around you
The world’s best animators are keen observers, with their creations being directly informed by their surroundings. Most great animators can tell you how light reflects through water in a glass onto a table cloth, or describe the shape a hummingbird’s wings makes as they beat in slow motion. You have to be obsessed with how things work, look, move and react to light. Simply put, the more you take in, the better your output will be.
Develop your own style
Whilst it’s important to understand and appreciate the work of others, it’s equally vital not to conform your delivery to the obvious and the mundane. Find your own voice. The best creative works are imbued with honesty and sincerity, but also with a unique and personal flair which ultimately resonates most strongly with audiences the world over.
Human truth and the emotional connection
Animation is enduringly appealing to both young and old due to its ability to depict exaggerated characters and situations. However, what separates great animation from the rest is not its technical brilliance, but rather its capacity to convey authentic human truth, and connect with viewers on an emotional and psychological level. It all falls flat unless you can move your audience emotionally, and to achieve that one needs to tap into a universal truth with which we can all identify.
Paul Meyer is managing director of Luma