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How Being a Better Actor Helps You Become a Better Animator

ben marvazi 2020

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As an animator, your job is to give your animated characters believable movements that your audience will understand. Your characters shouldn’t just move; they should have a certain way of thinking as well as a unique personality.

If you want to get better at animating your characters, you should first learn about acting. In this article, we explain to you how being a better actor helps you become a better animator.

Acting vs. Animation

Acting might seem easy to people who don’t know what goes on behind the scenes of what we see in movie theaters or television.

Actors, of course, have to act like the characters they portray. This means they have to be in the headspace of their character and embrace the world of the character as their own.

They don’t have the advantage of observing and analyzing their performance from an outside perspective since they are busy being in the moment.

Animators focus more on creating visuals than acting, but their animation must have true-to-life stories, feelings, and characters.

Sure, animators don’t act, but they direct their own animated characters’ performances. They bring their animation to real life by observing what’s in the real world and applying it to their illustrations.

Animation and acting are closely connected. Both need talented people to bring life into fictional characters, which is why the world of acting is something important that animators should also dive into.

Acting in Animation

woman telling person to pay attention


Animating is not just simply creating a character and moving it around your screen with no purpose. Animating well means making a character move believably and with purpose.

As an animator, you have to pay attention to the simplest details because they can affect the way your audience will understand the message of your video. Every character in your animated video has a unique personality and a role to play.

The more human-like the movements and reactions of your characters are, the better. If your character has to walk from one end of the frame to the other to pick up a box, how will you make them walk? To animate the characters with realistic feeling, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • Will your character move theirr arms or speak?
  • How fast will your character walk?
  • How will the character feel while walking? Will they be excited, sad, angry?
  • How will they pick up the box?

When you watch a Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, or DreamWorks Animation movie, it’s not hard to get attached to the characters, right?

The reason for your emotional investment isbecause the animators of the movie did their best to show realistic movements and emotions in each movie character.

Each arm movement, blink, frown, smile, jump, or any other movement has a contribution to each scene that they create.

Just because you might not be at the level of an animator from Disney or Pixar, that doesn’t mean you can’t make true-to-life animations like they do.

How to Make Your Animated Characters Act Better

Take Acting Classes

person saying no to acting class

GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants via GIPHY

A great way to make your animated characters look more realistic in the way they act is to first become a good actor. According to Kenna Hornibrook, a former student at UCF Downtown, “The best way to understand how the body moves and works is to experience it firsthand.”

You may have heard about this animation tip before, but never made efforts to enroll in an acting class. Well, take this as your sign to take the plunge. We’re telling you, taking acting classes as an animator will help you make more believable animated characters.

Learning to act will help you have a better grasp of creating human-like pacing, timing, walk cycles, and how characters with different personalities move. Taking acting classes will make you realize how animating is not just about designing a realistic-looking character but making a real person with feelings and reactions.

Film Reference Shots

man talking about a solid reference

GIF by Billions via GIPHY

Aside from acting classes, you can get your camera and get reference shots. Get your camera and film a video yourself in your room while thinking and acting like you’re the character that you will animate.

If your character is a young boy, how should he talk, think, react, and walk in your animated video? Act out how you think he should move and record it so that you can observe how a real, human body would look acting out the movements you have in mind.

If you think you’ll need help in filming a reference shot, don’t hesitate to ask your friend or family member for assistance.

After acting out a specific scene, rewatch the video of yourself and thoroughly analyze if your animated character would look and react like a human if it followed your acting.

Watch Movies and TV Shows

woman talking about a great binge watch

GIF by Impastor via GIPHY

Another way to make your animated characters have better acting is to watch your favorite animated and live-action movies. Don’t limit yourself to just watching movies. You can also watch short films and YouTube videos about acting for animators and how to be a better animator.

This may seem like entertainment or wasting time to you, but it’s very useful and will allow you to get inspiration for your future animation.

Immerse Yourself In Your Character

woman talking about being in an immersive experience

GIF from Twitter via GIPHY

You will never learn how to animate realistically if you don’t pay attention to examples and learn from what is seen in the real world.

If you’re having a hard time visualizing in your head and putting into animation the movements of the animated characters you plan to create, step out of your studio and observe your surroundings.

Just as CEO and Former Pixar Animator Bobby Beck says in one of his videos on Animation Mentor’s YouTube channel, if you want to become your character, go to the source. 

For example, say you have the task of animating a 4-year old character for your video.

You can’t immediately act like a 4-year-old in your own reference shots and create a realistic video because you aren’t one (and if you are, congrats on your reading level!). You first have to observe how 4-year-olds walk, talk, react, and move.

How do they move their arms when they’re happy? Do they jump up and down? What are their facial expressions? How do they show their emotions when they have tantrums? Do they let out a scream, throw things, or cry in a corner of the room?

Spend a lot of time watching how they move and then try acting it out. Be aware of how your arms and feet move, how quickly you jump, run, walk, etc. Is it similar to what you have observed? Do you think it looks realistic when put on your animation software?

You can use this same process if you need to animate an animal. If you have to animate a dog, observe your own dog or go to a park and watch how dogs interact with their surroundings, how they react, how they move around depending on how they feel, etc.

Take pieces of reference from your observations and your own reference shots and finally animate your character.

In Closing

To animate is to make realistic and relatable characters. It’s not just making an animated person or object move; it’s breathing life into your characters and having a purpose for their every move, pose, and facial expression.

Good animators have a mixture of animation skills as well as an understanding of the acting process. You can only make realistic animated videos if you have made many observations about how people move, talk, run, walk, etc.

Take acting classes, film reference shots, rewatch animated and live-action movies, and immerse yourself in your character.

For more helpful advice and tips about animation and the business side of it, check out our free marketing handbook and sign up for our masterclass.

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