Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Learning from Animation

[post 429]

Book Review: Comedy for Animators by Jonathan Lyons

Most clowns I know love cartoons, often having the same reverence for Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny that they have for Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Comedy animators have borrowed a lot from the (human) physical comedy tradition, but there's a lot we can learn from animation. And a good place to start is the creative and historical work of Jonathan Lyons.

Jonathan has worked for over 25 years both in traditional animation and 3D, with an array of impressive credits that include the first four Pirates of the Caribbean films; Pillsbury Dough Boy commercials; two Clio awards while working at Industrial Light & Magic; his own independent films featuring Floyd the Android; and much much more. He has taught animation at the university level and for years has authored a blog, Comedy for Animators, which you should dive into headfirst at your earliest convenience.

"To get laughs with animation, you have two choices. Gags and jokes. A gag is intended to create laughter with visual humor. A joke uses words for the same purpose. Tex {Avery} was right, gags are hard to come by, requiring considerable time to develop and integrate into the action in a natural way. American television animation has relied on verbal jokes because they are far more efficient in production. A group of writers can sit around in a room and pitch storylines, then fill in some jokes, and before you know it the script is ready and there is only limited expectation on the artist to make it look good. Visual gags require much more time to invent, develop, and work into action. Jokes don't really affect the storyline, whereas visual stunts will physically change the situation for the characters. Gags need careful timing and acting, which require more time than lip-synching words... One aspect of visual comedy does make it easier, though. A joke heard once is used up, whereas a good sight gag can be successfully recycled."

Jonathan's blog led to the book of the same name, which is targeted for animators who know how to draw funny characters but don't understand the craft of physical comedy. Thus there are chapters on characterization, comedy teams, context, gags, and storytelling structure. Not all of this is new, but it is pulled together with a unique slant and analyzed with the precision of a creative artist who uses these concepts day to day and not that of an academic on the outside looking in. The book should be an essential source not only for animators trying to tell stories through images, but also for the readers of this blog engaged in live performance. Jonathan offers strong insights for performers telling stories through their own extreme physicality, making very useful connections between live action and animated movement. Highly recommended!

You can buy the book here
and check out his web site here.

And if you want proof that Jonathan knows his stuff, just check out these videos...
his demo reel
one of his Floyd the Android short films

And here are two wonderful video compilations Jonathan has put together analyzing physical comedy:

10 Types of Comedic Entrances


1 comment:

DAI said...

Great post, John. I loved the videos. Showed the 'entrances' one to my mask class yesterday, as we were studying 'reveal' of the mask.