Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mike Makarewicz Reader's Digest Style: Part III - Acting and Performance

Last week, Tea Time had the pleasure of welcoming Pixar Directing Animator / Animation Collaborative founder Michal Makarewicz to our stage for a third time -- as per usual, it was a humbling and inspiring experience. Though it wouldn't do to give away every little secret Michal graciously shared with us (you'll have to join us next time), I've done my best to translate any relevant information from my frantically scrawled notes here for the online community to enjoy (bear with me, it was a very visual lecture). Looking for more? Please feel free to join us at

Although our audience only had but a day's notice to change and/or cancel plans and/or skip class to attend our event due to unforeseen complications with AAU (Did you go to your Townhall Meeting this week?), ~150 of us piled into the theatre for the chance to hear some Pixar-grade insight into one of animation's most intimidating topics: Acting and Performance. He began with some comprehensive advice from Sir Ian McKellen:

Helpful, no? Well on the one hand - of course not. We have obviously learned nothing here. However, on the other hand, is there really any better way to sum up what it takes to be an actor? Any better way to dictate what it means to create a beautiful performance? Can you teach someone how to pretend? If so, how do we even begin to approach the subject?

"Well, as an animator, we can usually start with the principles," Michal continues, "in which case I generally see three important things to consider: 

One is POSING. I can then go through all of the principles and find which ones I apply to posing i.e: Pose to pose vs. straight ahead, squash and stretch, solid drawing (posing), exaggeration, appeal, staging, etc...

The next is MOTION. I can do the same thing here; find which principles directly apply to the actual movement of the character - They may overlap i.e. Followthrough and overlap, straight ahead vs. Layered, slow in/slow out, squash and stretch, secondary action, etc...

But over all, none of this will really matter. Obviously it will to a point, but it's the third category that will make or break a piece: CHOICES." If we make good choices, this is what will draw in the audience, make them believe in and connect with our characters. If we make poor choices, however, this is the exact same thing that will pull the audience away from us. When the characters make decisions that invoke thoughts like, "Oh, please, no one would ever do that" or "What? but..why?" in our viewers, we lose them."

"So, how is it we know what choices to make?" Michal asks. The answer is easy - we simply have to know our characters. Here's what Mike deems important to him when he begins a shot:

He considers his dialogue, he considers his characters, and then he considers this list. Why? Because it helps to eliminate choices! If you're able to whittle out the things your character would never do, it becomes easier to see the things they would. "We can't just move stuff,"he tells us, "our whole job [as an animator] is to bring soul to our work."...that being said, we also can't over do it.

As an animator, we should be invisible; we don't want the audience to think about the animation at all - not even in a good way! (i.e "what beautiful animation.") If the viewer sees the animator through the work, that animator is too involved. Remember: those acting choices are coming from within the character. It's not the animator moving a puppet around, it's internal motivation.

Do LESS as an animator - if you have a dialogue shot and you can get away with 3 main ideas - good! 2? Great! Stop trying to hold the audience's hand, you're overacting.

"The two most common mistakes I see in young animators are A) not thinking it through, and B) showing off. You need to move something, but you don't need to move EVERYTHING. There doesn't have to be a new pose for every word - And chill out on the eyebrows. "

First things first, we can take a macro look at the piece before we begin - what do we have: A character, and a shot. WHO is the character? What is the PURPOSE of the shot? HOW will the character fulfill it's purpose?

Let's start off with the shot - what is the context?
          --> Where is your character in relation to the main story? (what is their history?)

What is the dialogue?
          --> Mood? (what is the energy level?)
          --> Is the character saying what he's thinking?
          --> What IS he thinking?

What is the length?
          --> What is there time for? (enough time for thought process?)

Now, the Character -- who are they?
         --> List the main adjectives that define this person
         --> "You know my mother, she's just going to..."
         --> What are the ingredients? You should be able to identify this person! List actors, family, friends, anyone that resembles the character psychologically that can help you understand.

When you draw from films with great actors, or documentaries or - heaven forbid - even your real life experiences, your audience will feel closer to the characters, and can, therefore, help you fill in some of those blanks. Remember: you don't have to SHOW everything, emotions are closer in real life. If you depict them more accurately as opposed to so exaggerated, the audience will connect and insert pieces of themselves - things they recognize and identify with - into your characters, creating an even stronger connection.

If you know your character inside and out, it's easier for you to make appropriate, relatable decisions for them. Put your thinking cap on! What drives them: Their head? Heart? Stomach? Get inside their head. Take Remi and his brother Emile from Ratatouille. Remi is lead by his heart, meanwhile Emile is constantly thinking about filling his belly. 
Or, perhaps, Star Trek's Spock, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy:

Spock is lead by his head; very analytical, Captain Kirk is always lead by his heart, and McCoy, well, not exactly lead by his belly, but he is a nice balance of all of the above.

It's important to think about their history: What have they experienced? What do they want and what are they willing to do to get it? Remember: Every character wants something, even if it's just a glass of water.

Moving into animation, it's important to remember that we should be "communicating without complicating"(Ollie Johnston). Moving the character does NOT equal entertainment. Feeling equals entertainment; you have to find the truth within your shot. What is the subtext of your dialogue?

It's important to have an answer to all of these questions that you may develop something relatable. Let's look at what makes a hero vs. what makes a villain. Both are characters who are fighting for something that they believe in (This working with the notion that rarely is it that we come across a villain who is evil simply for the sake of being evil), both are characters who clearly think that what they are doing is 'right' - so how is it we identify one as the hero? It's by how much we can relate to the actions that character. One character is designed to make the audience say "I wish I were more like him", while the other character is designed that to make the audience say "I would never do that!" or "who could do something like that?!"  

Often enough, history has a profound affect on the decisions our characters will choose to make. The pain from the past makes the choices of today. Consider the following clip from the film Groundhog Day. On the off chance you've never seen the movie, A) you should change that, and B) it's about a man (Bill Murray) who, for some reason, manages to get stuck living the same day over and over again. The clip shows a particularly uncomfortable meeting he is forced to endure day after day with an old 'buddy' from high school. As he lives this day over and over and over again, we can see how his history starts to affect the choices he makes in dealing with this situation each day. 

Unfortunately, Mike was obligated to speed through the last leg of his lecture, so my notes aren't quite comprehensive enough (or legible enough) to post here, but there is one, final subject that we touched upon that I found exceedingly important: Body Language.

"If your voice is saying something, but your body is contradicting it, the truth is always in the body".

Body language is such an important part of communicating ideas, and yet we so rarely get to really see that in an animation. If your character is too busy poignantly over-acting out each word with hand gestures and other motions that do nothing but re-say what we can already hear like gibberish ASL, that character will never have the opportunity to really speak to the audience in a resounding and worthwhile manor. Consider the following;


Despite the fact that we have absolutely no facial expressions or dialogue or really any of the usual tells of human emotion, we still know exactly what is going through little Darth's brain every step of the way. The trials, the frustration of the sandwich, the urgency to get to the car but, most potently of all, the absolute THRILL he has when he thinks that he makes the car rev at him. His body language is unmistakable, and as a result, supremely endearing.


Like what you read? There's far more where all this came from over at the Animation Collaborative. Check out their wide variety of classes including 2D animation and Demo / Lecture classes over at

Curious about any of the concepts or looking to ask a few questions? Please join our community over at to get the answers you seek.

Happy animating!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chris Landreth and Theodore Ushev at ILM

SIGGRAPH and ASIFA are hosting an evening with Directors Chris Landreth and Theodore Ushev.

The event is this upcoming Friday, September 27 at 7:00pm.
Registration is free! Don't miss out on this amazing opportunity.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

University 101: Buzzfeed style.

The new year has started, classes are swingin' and the freshman are rolling in wide-eyed and - honestly? - looking ready for a froshing. But we are kind souls at Tea Time, and thus, rather than some cruel brand of initiation, we covered our top 5 easiest ways to get lost in the woodwork of AAU (or any school, really), and how to avoid becoming part of the jaw-dropping, %70 drop-out rate.

 A quick note: while this article is dedicated to our many newer members, don't glaze over just because you've been here for a while. You just mind find that this comes in handy regardless of your seniority at your respective institutions.

First things first - I'm going to get all of my "mom"-ing out of the way. AAU is an open enrollment institution. This is both a great and an unfortunate thing. On one hand, we're giving opportunities to students who wouldn't have a post-secondary education otherwise. Yeah, so what - you didn't like math in high school - not everyone does. Here is your chance to still thrive as an artist! However, this is generally regarded as the exception to the rule. Sitting on our other hand is the unbelievable mass of schlubs and burn-outs who couldn't care less about their education; Those who only came to AAU show mom and dad a paper that says "accepted" without having to give more than ten minutes of their time to the process; Those who chose this school not because of a passion or a desire, but because, "I don't know, paintings fun, and overall pretty easy, right?"; Those who will spend more time faking an injury to get their medical marijuana card than they will on shading that cube for their Analysis of Form class.

BEWARE OF THESE PEOPLE. Don't get me wrong, partying is fun -- and you definitely SHOULD do so -- but the people you should party with are the people who will party hard, get trashed, then wake up at 6am hungover (or still drunk) to make sure they get their homework done on time and done well. Our industry is a social one; don't close yourself off and sit in your room alone, covered in charcoal. That's why our number one rule is:

1. Experience your education, but not at the cost of your education. 

Make those memories, have those crazy stories to tell your children when they get old enough, but make sure you're doing it with the pride of having actually completed your education. (or only dropped out because of an amazing opportunity that made you a bajillion dollars or made your life feel otherwise fulfilled.)

2. Sculpt your education. Remember: You are PAYING for this.

This is a product you are choosing to purchase - thus, you should be getting what you deserve out of it! Your advisors, and yes, many of your teachers will try to tell you what classes you can or can not take. While it's important to listen to those who may know better, always take it with a grain of salt, and always ALWAYS get a second (or third, or fourth) opinion. While you will need to take classes x, y, z to graduate, remember that classes A-W can be pretty darn interchangeable. There are so many new classes that come and go just for a semester with better teachers, and generally a better group of students that you'll be surrounded by who will push you further, make you a better student, and most likely a better person overall -- Deep, I know -- but it's true! Keep your eyes and ears out, and if you didn't hear any thing - ASK. With all of our alums and upperclassmen, Tea Time is a great place to start.

3. Never forget, you are PAYING for this.

Actually, correction - you have PAID for everything. Upfront. And your school has NO problem keeping all your money. That means that every time you blow off class for whatever reason, every time you aren't going to a workshop, or reaping every free resource you have that your tuition gets you (i.e. going to the gym, campus clubs, school events, going to the labs) you are just waving goodbye to that money. This also applies to classes. While it's important to take control of your classes, this should not translate to take "easy A's". It SHOULD mean, take classes that are the most pertinent towards a future career, and though they might be tough, ones that will actually benefit you in the long run. Though it sounds amazing to try and swap Clothed Figure Drawing with Underwater Basket-Weaving (thanks Frank), be realistic. Push yourself. Thank me later.

4. Work in the Labs

Though nothing might compare to the peaceful solitude of sitting alone in your room, lights dimmed, headphones plugged in and blasting Skrillex while you gaze, zombified into to your 24'' double monitors, it's actually important to, you know, meet people. How many times have we all heard that getting into the industry is about meeting people? Great - I'm still going to tell you again. Getting into this industry is, like, 90% of the time due to meeting someone who graciously puts your resume at the top of the stack. I also have to be amazing, but you really do need to make some friends. The lab is one of the best places to do this; you never know who you're going to meet. Plus, if you have any questions about maya or your assignment or a good sandwich shop (the Toaster Oven on 2nd, if you're wondering), rather than sifting endlessly through some online forums, you can just...ask. So even if your home computer is way faster and way better, it won't kill you to come in once or twice a week, and we'd love your company.

5. Stay Healthy

I'm not actually sure if we covered this in club, but I can't stress the importance of this enough. Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI's) are a very real problem. They will kill your career faster than partying with schlubs ever could, and they will do so permanently. Take breaks, drink lots of water (because then you'll have to pee and you'll HAVE to get up and take a break) and make sure you go to the gym! The Freshman 15 is also very real. This isn't highschool. There is no gym class forcing your lazy butt out of a desk to do some jumping jacks. If you are in the dorms, do not give in the the all you can eat Lucky Charms (god knows I did). Work it out.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure to stay sane - brain health! If you're doing it right, school should feel just like a great workout. You should feel exhausted by the end of it. You should be using every mental muscle you have so that by the end of it, your reel or portfolio has the most kick-ass beach body people can't help but stare. It's NOT easy - make sure you have people to whine with (and to wine with), to relax with, to crunch with, and above all else make sure you have people to revel in the joy and the sacrifice that is your career as a student. (A good place to look is Friday at 3:30pm in room 349.)

Good luck everyone.
Happy animating.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

We are LIVE, Ladies and Gentlemen.

At long last, Tea Time is officially official! Come say hello.

We are also officially tweeting: @teatimeanimates
and instagramming: @teatimeanimation

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mike Makarewicz - Friday, Sept 13th


Due to lack of a suitable meeting space, our event has been temporarily postponed. Our sincerest apologies, but keep your eyes out for updates! THE SHOW WILL GO ON.

Questions? E-mail for details.


That's right, folks! Our first guest lecturer of the fall semester is none other than the Animation Collaborator, himself - Mike Makarewicz! Keep a watchful eye here for the location, and we'll see you Friday!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Welcome to Fall 2013!

Happy Fall '13 Semester, Tea Time! A shot of New Montgomery in the Morning. 

Welcome back everyone! Yes, the summer-that-actually-feels-like-winter has finally blown through, and the fall-that-actually-feels-like-summer is finally upon us! As per usual, with the dawning of the new semester comes many new ways to get involved with your animation community.

While there is much to reveal - and it will all make it up to the blog - why not hear about it first hand at Tea Time's first official meeting of the Fall semester! You know the drill...

3:30 pm in room 349 
180 New Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA, 94105

Did you submit an application for the Tea Time Board? 

You'll be happy to know that we spent the summer reviewing all applications. Please keep your eyes peeled for an e-mail looking to schedule an interview. 

That's all for now, folks! Looking forward to seeing all of your lovely, smiling faces at the meeting tomorrow -- particularly if you've never been to one before.

See you there!