Touching Your Face

Something great about animation is that things you see in everyday life can inform you and make you better at what you do, Glen Keane talks about it here.

Recently I got sick right in the middle of an intense period at work, and because I couldn't take a break, the flu and following chest infection stayed with me for a couple of months. Yuck. This happens to me (and many hard working animators) a lot, working long hours for a sustained period of time is bound to run down your immune system. But there could be more to it, I saw a Doctor on TV talking about how people catch the Flu, he was saying that many worry about coughing or sneezing near them when the vast majority or infection happen when people touch their faces after physical contact with the virus from a surface. What tweaked the interest of the animator within me is that the doctor said the virus's were designed to take advantage of a "natural human behaviour".

The next day I decided to try and resist touching my face, and it's really hard! Plus the more tired I got, the harder it became (work long hours, get tired, touch and rub your face more, greater chance of getting sick!). Then I thought about how often I have my characters touch their face when I animate them. Hmmm maybe its something I could do a little more. What about you?

Quick! Hands on faces! by leslie adams
Quick! Hands on faces! by leslie adams


frank said...

Ian such a rich choclatey post. I can't stop touching my face now!

The picture is great with the gestures - maybe saying?: "I'm thinking", "I'm looking at you", "Look at my hair", "I can't look", "My head hurts", "I see what you mean" (pointing at the eyes).

I'll have to check out what Glen Keane has to teach.

I agree that the communication through subconcious psychological gestures can be powerful and add a lot of meaning to an animation.

Especially when gestures are directed at a human face and added to facial expression, which is what we all study (= eyes, mouth etc) because we are human. Human nature dictates that we recognise these human gestures to work out if there are opportunities for sex or food, or avoiding pain or death.

Chuck Jones taught that understanding basic motivations (hunger, pleasure, thirst, lust, revenge... 'human nature' - also the name of a boy band that Dan G and Terry like). Portraying them in animation creates greater empathy in the audience and deeper communication (through subconcious reactions to the visual cues). The result being consciously expressed as the animation principle of "appeal" by the viewer. "That film really appealed to me."

I love a nose wipe gesture, a chin tap, or a temple scratch in an animation.

But "as a mother", I would advise all animators to: use tissues, wash you hands after every cough or sneeze, after typing on a keyboard, or using a mouse (especially if animation students have been snuffling all over it), before eating, cough into your sleeve not your hand, and don't touch your face during flu season.

(I'm actually not really a mother, it's just that qualification that is used on many TV adverts gets on my goat and my goat don'y like it).

frank said...

Get well soon

Frank said...

Glen Keane talks about 'seeing' and 'observing' with a reference to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

"You see things Watson, whereas I observe", or words to that effect.

So nicely put. Subconcious recognition of psychological gestures, such as face touching, adds up to, in most people, seeing things but not conciously processing those things by thinking about them.

Seeing + subconcious (reflex) reaction = seeing.

Seeing + thinking = observing.Glen Keane also talks about having a sketchbook ready all the time beacause the way to think about what you are seeing turns into observation when you have to think about it while sketching.

(That means, to any of my students reading this: Keep drawing and sketching things, especially people, all the time.)

In a recent documentary interview where I got to talk about my limited experience of animation, one of the topics I wanted to talk about, but unfortunately didn't get to, was how studying animation has taught me to see everything in a new way. It was one of the greatest rewards, or realisations of doing an animation diploma.

Now I can define it even better. With the help of Ian Lacey and Glen Keane, I can see that studying animation has helped me to learn how to "Observe".

That is to: think about what I am seeing. Some people may call it, "developing an animator's eye". I would probably say it is more about developing "animator's vision".

When Ian said to our animation class on our first week of lessons, "You will never be able to watch an animated film the same way ever again." It could have been interpreted as some childhood innocence that was about to be lost or taken away.

But what it actually turned out to be was like a cure for blindness, like an eye surgeon removing a vision impairing cataract, a whole new way to see everything, not just animated films.

By adding thought into the process of seeing, animation students are rewarded with a whole new visual reality being the skill of observation.

Ian said...

All better now Frank :) Thanks.

Ian said...

I wonder if the increase in 3D animation is responsible for a decrease in animations where characters touch their faces. Its easy to draw a hand pushing against a chin, but in 3D its an extra complication in 3D.

Frank said...

yES, iAN, yes. Maybe it is interpolation issues to solve between the hand/ finger mesh and the face mesh. Detailed close-up work that is time consuming to get correct. Not the type of thing that sits well in a world that is driven by the seeming human need for instant gratification.

Maybe we need to start the 'slow' animation movement (like Miyazaki and his 'ma'), like the slow food movement, where the rewards for the craftsperson are in the doing rather than the result?

Alonso said...

I think touching is one of the secret tricks. I think Frank and Ollie even mention it. It's a totally natural human thing to do, makes characters feel more real and their world more real. And of course it's more work to do.

Desmond Morris (Manwatching) and Paul Ekman (nonverbal communication guru) both talk about how we touch our bodies and our faces when we are uncomfortable, unconsciously trying to self soothe or hide. Especially rubbing the nose when lying.

And the other thing to consider is how you can use this to show status. A high status character is very confident and still, a low status character is going to be very fidgety, rubbing their face, tugging their ear, messing with their hair.

And regarding illnesses, I've heard that we get sick when it's cold and wet outside not because of the weather but because all the windows are closed up and so the germs in the air get concentrated.

Alonso said...

oh yeah,

I wanted to mention that character's don't actually have to touch, just look like they do. When Mr & Mrs Incredible kiss, they are actually 5 inches apart, it just looks like a kiss from the camera (or so they claim in the commentary)

Frank said...

In the teaching course I'm studying we watched a resource (I'm even starting to talk like a teacher {:O)... about body language and trying to tell what a person is communicating.

It follows on from a lot of the things animators study using sharpened observation techniques.

There were a lot of meanings assigned to clusters of face touching gestures. It was really interesting to see it examined and interpreted by a body language scholar.

Chetan Trivedi said...

wow this is awesome.
the post and the comments.
keep em coming Ian