It's because animators are pantomime artists, and Chaplin was the greatest pantomimer of them all. At the SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, Nancy explained how animation and silent film comedy developed together, inspiring one another to perfect the art of physical comedy.
Being a good animator isn't just about learning the craft of animation - though that is important. It's also about creating a compelling performance that people will actually want to watch.
If animators want to know how to create great acting scenes that will entertain an audience - they should study Charlie Chaplin.
Her talk at SAS, titled: “The Animated Tramp", was essentially about the history of Chaplin's influence on animation and - vice versa - the history of animation's influence on Chaplin.
|Felix The Cat|
Thus it was a short step to look closely at Chaplin: - “the greatest pantomimist in the world”. Look closely at Chaplin's work, says Nancy, step through the images frame by frame, and you will see that "it's the little things that make his work great".
The timing of even tiny gestures is vital, all carefully rehearsed and worked out in advance. Not for nothing had Chaplin honed his craft on the notoriously tough music hall stages of London, developing the character of The Little Tramp long before he went to Hollywood. If you didn't keep a musical hall audience entertained - they booed you off the stage.
According to Nancy, Chaplin "was jealous of animated cartoons because their timing was perfect". Why? “because they never need to take time to breathe”.
|Chuck Jones. Wikimedia|
At Warner Bros, Mike Maltese was a Chaplin fan. Legendary Warner Bors director and animator Chuck Jones “grew up with Chaplin”, and idolised his work. He asked Chaplin about comic timing of a scene, and Chaplin told him: “you can make comic business out of anything”.
After seeing The Gold Rush (1925), Jones told his artists to “steal from the best” - and Chaplin was the best. Some of the best work in Jones' short “Rabbit of Seville” is borrowed from scenes in Chaplin's “The Great Dictator”.
Here at Escape Studios, we work hard to make sure our students understand the important of learning pantomime animation long before they are given audio scenes to animate. Even when we animate shots with lines of dialogue, the first exercise is always done with a character who has no mouth - to force the animator to use body language alone to bring the shot to life.
Mastering the art of pantomime is still the foundation upon which any successful animator will build their career.
The Escape Studios Animation Blog is a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MA starting in September 2016, follow this link. To apply, visit the offical page here.