I’ve been thinking a lot about eyes and eye movements, probably because I’ve done a lot of close-up acting shots on Terra, and some of the characters have HUGE eyes. I’ve found that some of the ‘rules’ and clichés I’ve been taught about how to do eye movements don’t really hold up, or don’t go far enough. In particular, I’ve been spending time really watching people’s eyes, and looking closely at what actors do with their eyes, and looking at some good reference. This will be the first in a series of posts collecting my thoughts on animating eyes, eyelids, and eye movements.
First, let’s go back in time. Check out this clip:
I saw this short recently on Thad Komorowski’s excellent Animation ID site. It’s The Blow Out from 1936, directed by Tex Avery, with the animation in this clip by Chuck Jones. I hadn’t seen much of Jones’s own character animation before, at least not shots that I knew were his, and what struck me was how much more connected I felt to Porky in these scenes that I usually feel towards characters in the relatively crude shorts from this time.*
In the above clip, Porky’s eyes are particularly well animated, with real attention to how they convey his feelings and internal process. The individual frames and drawings aren’t that impressive to me, the model is still crude, the story badly dated, and so on, but I was really engaged by the pig’s acting. Watching carefully, I think it’s almost all in the eyes. Yes, the little piggy dance is nifty, but the rest of the animation of the body is nothing too special. But the eyes are alive. They betray an intelligence and set of emotions inside the character’s head.
The 1930’s and early 1940’s were probably the key period when animator’s systematically figured out the major principles of animation (only a small subset of which are summarized in the famous 12 Principles of The Illusion of Life). A lot of what was figured out then related to acting, and to the use of eye direction, blinks, eye movements, and so on to convey thought and feeling. It’s these areas that I want to explore here, without necessarily accepting what’s been written in animation books or what gets passed on from animator to animator. I think the usual rules pertaining to eye’s and blinks and saccades are generally fine for hand-drawn animation, but this is one area where CG animation can, and should, go further.
That said, one rule that we hear again and again is that the audience pays particular attention to the eyes of our characters. This is most certainly true, probably more true than many of us keep in mind. The importance of eyes and eye movements will probably be the main topic of the next post on the subject. I have a list of topics I want to cover, and it’ll require a little research, but hopefully I’ll be putting these up on a semi-regular basis for a few weeks. Comments, critiques, and suggestions are welcomed.
*I’m talking about the Schlesinger/Warner Bros. shorts from the early to mid-1930s, the Boskos and Buddys and early Porky Pig Looney Tunes. For reference, the cartoon above came a year before Daffy was born in Porky’s Duck Hunt and four years before A Wild Hare introduced Bugs Bunny. I’m sure that the Disney shorts of 1935-1936 were likely more advanced in the acting that was being portrayed with the eyes, and there are probably other Warner’s shorts or shorts from other studios from this time that also show great progress in animating the eyes. If anyone has some examples of specific clips, I’ll be happy to post them. I’m not trying to make any claims that Avery and Jones set some new standard with this animation. It’s just that this Porky clip from The Blow Out really jumped out and grabbed me as a nice example of a genuine step forward in the art-form.