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Acting for Animators by Ed HooksReview of Acting for Animators
Review by Linda Kudzmas

Book: Acting for Animators
Author: Ed Hooks
Year: 2000
Foreword: by Brad Bird
Illustrations: by Mike Caputo
dFX Review Rating: 7 out of 10
More Info from

1. Seven Essential Action Concepts
2. The Audience
3. Character
4. The Scene
5. Movement and Body Language
6. Speech
7. The Camera
8. Technique
9. The Form
10. The Medium
11. Classroom Exercises
12. The Iron Giant: An Acting Analysis

Acting for Animators by Ed Hooks is not a book filled with illustrations of emotions, no drawings of happy, sad or mad faces or poses. This is a book about theory; about how to breathe life into your character, not just stamping a preconceived cookie cutter facial expression on him. This is not a how-to-animate or a beginner's book; you should know how to animate either at professional level or advanced student.

Ed Hooks is a veteran acting instructor, teaching acting on the professional level for over twenty years and the author of three books. He was hired in 1996 by Pacific Data Images to teach acting to the character animators working on ANTZ. He freely admits he had no knowledge of the animation process at the time; squash and stretch were foreign terms, but he was ready for the challenge. Since then, he is more familiar with the technical process and conducts acting workshops for animators (including on site instruction) with regularity.

I was surprised at the length of Acting for Animators. At a mere 125 pages, plus a interactive CD, I figured it would be a light read; maybe a day or two on the train as I commuted to work. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Acting for Animators is crammed full of techniques, examples, and theories. It took me almost a month to read it cover to cover. Ed would give so many examples of the point he was trying to make, I would have to go back and read what point he was trying to make in the first place. I would read a section, then set the book down to digest the information, and find myself having to read over the same section, sometimes multiple times, and still not grasp the concept Hooks was trying to explain. A colleague of mine, who had also ordered the book, had the same problem and she gave up, never finishing it.

Hooks makes some suggestions, that when I read them the first time I almost became outraged; concepts that went against very grain of how I learned to animate. At one point, he called anticipation 'cheap' animation. When I read this, I closed the book in disgust. It was a few days before I could continue reading, and when I did Hook's intent became clearer. It is better to project the emotion rather than the action. More subtle movements that illustrate what the character is thinking have more impact rather than large, telegraphed gestures.

In one section, the author writes that animators who use mirrors for facial expressions are doing half the work, and in another he advises animators to abandon mirrors and use video. I shook my head in contempt. Give up my mirror? Never. Reading further I began to understand his reasoning. Using a mirror is mimicry; you're not drawing the acting, but what the acting looks like. I'm not ready to throw away my mirror, but I did understand the limitations as he explained them.

One of the hardest sections for me to comprehend was Chapter 5: Movement and Body Language. Hooks uses Laban Movement Theory for dancing, based on movement and space. He sights eight basic Movements, each having six Changes of Effort. Any character can have one or a combination of Movements, along with one of the rhythmic Changes of Effort. In the interactive CD-ROM that is included with the book, it has a segment on the Laban Movement Theory that complements the chapter, along with showing an example of each Movement. (I do have to warn you not to view the CD until you read this section. The actor demonstrating 'Wring' is quite a sight unless you understand why and what he's illustrating). I suggest readers take Hook's advice and acquire Laban for Action and Dancers by Jean Newlove to help understand this theory in more depth.

I thought one of the bright spots in the book included Chapter 3: Character. He concentrates on personality animation, guiding you through creating a character's profile. Even though the information you assign to a character might never make it to a scene, it is still quite valuable. He compares a character to an iceberg, there is much more under the surface than what we see. Although character analysis is not a new concept, Hooks brings creating character personalities to a new level.

One of the most helpful sections I found to be was Chapter 12: An Acting Analysis. It takes selected scenes from the Brad Bird's The Iron Giant and gives a concise explanation of character movement, making it an excellent study of animation acting.

Also on the CD is a segment covering Chapter 1: Seven Essential Acting Concepts. Hook's has included three scenes as examples, acted with the same two actors and using the exact same script. Each scene is quite different than the others, a great study of body language and dialogue.

Illustrations in the book (by Mike Caputo) although not obtrusive, were uninspired. Some were drawn as roughs and although have good line of action, have skeletal structure problems, arms would protrude from the chest cavity. Detailed drawings had little or no line quality.

When I finished the book and set it aside, there was more I didn't understand than did. It was an exhausting task. I found it extremely difficult to follow. I felt Hooks had taken one of his Acting for Animator workshops and documented it. My first impression that it was written for someone taking the workshop rather than replacing it.

It wasn't until several weeks later, as I was revising my own character design for an independent project, things I had read and didn't understand fell into place. I picked the book up again and this time, when I read it, I started applying it to my characters. I had a better grasp of the theories and concepts when I applied them rather than just reading about them. My characters started to take on personality traits and a depth I would have never imagined if I hadn't persevered and finished the book.

I suggest when you read this book, have a character and scene ready on the sidelines to implement the theories. Treat each chapter as an exercise and put your character through its paces.

Like an iceberg, this book has much more beneath the surface than you first see.

You can order Acting for Animators by clicking here.

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