A counterpoint on Blinking

I’ve suggested a couple of times that CG animators often don’t use enough blinks and interesting blink patterns to show what their characters are thinking and feeling, and in my last post I put up a live-action clip showing how much a good human actor can do with blinks and half blinks and eye flutters. The great Michael Cain gives a counter-point, suggesting that actors NOT blink:His point is that blinking makes a character look weak or hesitant (I’m sorry if some of you hear “And I don’t blink, and I keep on going, and I don’t blink . . .” in your nightmares tonight!). Now, given the typical “Michael Cain” character, he’s absolutely correct. People tend to blink much less when they’re focused and/or angry. That’s what his ‘trick’ unconsciously conveys to the audience: “I’m a guy you don’t want to mess with.”

He once explained in an interview: If you want to appear strong, never blink. Marlene Dietrich told me that. If you want to appear weak and funny, blink all the time. Hugh Grant never stops blinking.

I think this oversimplifies things, but take a good look at the last few seconds of his clip above. See how effective that flurry of blinks is in conveying someone who ISN’T so sure of themselves, who ISN’T angry and focused? It’s like he’s a different character! The point is NOT that fewer blinks are better — the point is to understand what your character is feeling, experiencing, and portraying, and then use blink patterns and eye darts to help convey THAT to your audience.

Here’s part 1 of Michael Caine’s 1980’s seminar on acting, from which the above clip comes:

Note what he says at the beginning:

What we do we, we actors who are in the movie, we hang onto each other’s eyes. That’s the most important thing in film: Eyes. Eyes.   

10 Responses to “A counterpoint on Blinking”

  1. Lucas Martell Says:

    Great post Kevin! Yeah blinks are probably my favorite thing to animate. You can do them in no time at all and they communicate more than anything else on the character when they’re done right.

  2. Carlos Fins Says:

    I think that’s going to be my mantra throughout the day.. “Don’t blink, just keep going.” 😀 Your eye studies are gold, I love reading your stuff!


  3. Dr. Jones Says:

    ya know who blinks a whole helluva lot?

    John McCain

    just sayin’…

  4. Dan Caylor Says:

    I was wondering if you were gonna get around to this in your blink studies. Those are great videos, and I’ve received incredible response from them. The other five parts are up on YouTube as well, but the voice tracks start to go out of sync with the video. Let me know if you’re interested in a DVD copy. I have been meaning to post a better quality version, but I haven’t had the time.

  5. Kevin Says:

    Thanks, Lucas, Carlos, and Dr. Jones (I suppose the time to get worried is when McCain stops blinking!).

    Dan, thanks for uploading those clips. I know a lot of AM students have watched and learned from them. I’d love to get a DVD copy. Shoot me an email; I’ll be happy to pay the postage.

  6. Andy Norton Says:

    This is some excellent insight into screen acting, which makes an inspirational read, and watch, for all filmmakers, whether they do live-action or animation.

  7. Wally Says:

    In the animationmentor newsletters of Shawns Kellys e-book ‘animation tips and tricks’ is a GREAT post about blinking.
    I still find that post the definitive explanation about why and when to blink.

    Eitherway, this stuff is gold as well.
    We as animator should first study a lifetime of physics, then anatomy, then acting, then 2D animation, then computer engineering and then computer animation.
    Let’s hope i reincarnate.. =)

    cheers from Belgium

  8. SUDHIR Says:

    Great post Kevin about blinks, I really find it difficult to animate the blinks and its timing.This post should definitely help..;-)

  9. vm Says:

    I agree that animators are a bit afraid of blinks. And animated characters should blink more… but that’s so very general, I think it all depends on the context. If you want a focused, impressive character, such as the one portrayed by M. Caine here, don’t blink. If you want to portray him weak or confused or tired, or whatever, there are so many reasons to blink…

    But, I think there is also another reason why cartoon characters don’t blink so much. It doesn’t look as good as a human’s blink. If you have huge cartoon eyes to work with, a blink can look like an explosion in the middle of the character’s face… so blinking a lot might be very distracting, especially in a close-up. But if you have the character blink on a head turn or some larger movement, the blink becomes less visible and therefore more natural. Thing is… you don’t have these head turns and other abrupt head movements happening so frequently, especially in close-ups.

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The animation and animation-related musings of Kevin Koch