Acting in Animation—Part I

I recently discovered an article called Pulling Faces: as cartoon characters get more sophisticated, how do animators keep pace?" by Chloe Veltman that appeared in Sight & Sound, January 2003. It makes some really helpful observations about acting and animation that definitely got ME thinking! Here are some highlights:

• Walt Disney is credited for discovering in the 1930s that thinking leads to action and emotion. Cartoon characters, in order to be believable, had to move based on what their brains directed them to do.

• Animator Bill Plympton: "acting is the most important skill an animator can have with draftsmanship second and design, storytelling and entertaining further down the list."

• Animator Andreas Deja seconds Plympton's ranking of animation skills. My favorite quote from him is, "But at the end of the day, people respond to acting. They do not respond to a beautiful thing that doesn't have a soul." 

• Konstantin Stanislavsky is credited for being the first who "outlined a technique for harnessing inner impulses to motivate outward actions. The transference of energy between thought and movement is what separates a believable, immersive performance form plain, bad acting."

• Animators have a fundamental difference  from actors when creating a character; actors usually work from the inside out while animators often start with something outward—a voice track or storyboard—and build a character around it.

Ultimately, it's about inhabiting a character's head. The article ends with concerns about the acting skills of animators decreasing along with the decrease of nurturing young artists and mentoring.

After reading this article, I began to understand why I've been distant from my project for several weeks. I realized that I wasn't genuinely feeling the motivation of all of the characters in my film. I was approaching them too outwardly and not individually inhabiting them to truthfully communicate their emotions. I was focused on staging the scenes clearly—which is important—but I was losing the feeling.

I'll direct you to another article about animation and acting in another post.


  1. do you mean you wasnt conecting to them caues you couldnt hear them?
    Like i know for me often i find myself drawn to a voice that helps me move my character along

  2. Kay,

    I don't think I was truly listening to the characters. I had them and the overall story in my head but I was resorting to generic and stock actions and expressions. I hadn't taken the time to see them as individuals. I hope to hear that voice that you mention.