From my point of view, physicality is first and foremost the most important aspect of the performance in VFX. Because the characters generally exist in a live-action environment, the audience needs to believe the character’s physicality. Our job is to seamlessly integrate the character within the environment.
They need to move in a way that's believable to the audience. We've all seen films where the animation is unconvincing, and it takes us out of the film. Once the physicality is in place, we can layer in the performance on top to bring the character to life.
When we set out to create the animation style for Chris Landreth's Academy Award-winning short film, Ryan, our foundation was always believable human motion. Only after we had the physicality in place did we layer in more surreal nuances and performance – an animation style later named psychorealism.
Likewise, in the film Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,
I applied the same technique in developing the character Reepicheep, a sword-wielding mouse. By grounding the character with realistic physicality, I then had a solid base from which to base my acting.
In contrast, the performance is the most integral part of animating a successful shot on a CG feature film.
There is a lot more freedom in terms of physicality and believability. If something is entertaining and serving the shot's purpose, an audience tends to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment. Look at some of the classic Warner Bros cartoons – entertainment always comes first no matter what is happening.
That's not to say you should forget about real-world physics.
It just means you should determine what's the most important aspect of the shot and base your animation from there.
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Robb Denovan is a character animator at Pixar Animation Studios. His previous projects include Academy Award-winning Brave, Monsters University, Cars 2, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, King Kong and The Wild.
The full article was first published in 3D World (opens in new tab) issue 191.
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