Animated Performance

December 11, 2011

The author of Animated Performance, Nancy Beiman, is a professor at Sheridan Institute in Canada and has produced, directed, storyboarded and animated for television commercials, specials and features. Her employers have included The Walt Disney Company and Warner Brothers. Nancy has been teaching at college level since 2000. Her previous book on storyboarding has been adopted as a standard text in animation schools around the world. Having read her latest offering, I am sure Animated Performance is going to follow in the footsteps of her first book and become a standard text.


In many ways the book shouts out classroom. It is printed on heavyweight paper that will stand up to a lot of thumbing. Each chapter deals with a specific topic with an
exercise to reinforce what is being explained. It follows the teacher’s golden rule of three; tell people what you are going to say, say it and then tell them what you have said. Each chapter starts with a page in large text explaining what is going to be learnt. For example in chapter 1 we are told; ‘In this chapter you will learn how to stage an animated performance in your own imagination through the use of rapid sketches, or thumbnails, that will allow you to analyse and perform actions that transcend the limitations of the human body or the laws of physics. With this technique you can literally become any creature that you can imagine…’

The chapter continues with an introduction to thumbnail sketches for storyboarding. Nancy explains; ‘Animated characters and stories begin as a spark in the mind of the animator. This spark must then be translated into a medium that can be viewed by other people […] no matter what medium is used, (the translation) begins with the distinctly low-tech method of drawing on paper.’

After several pages enlarging on the use of story sketches chapter 1 then goes on to ‘Good actors: Designs that animate’. It is well illustrated with sketches showing the points being discussed. Throughout the book exercised are set for the student. The exercise pages have a brown border and a grey background so they can be easily found later by flicking through the book.

Introducing the first exercise, ‘Character acting with a prop’, Nancy tells us; ‘My animation students perform this exercise to warm-up every time class meets. It’s a wonderful way to get the creative juices flowing. The basic ’emotional’ acting exercise was devised by Shamus Culhane in his classic book Animation: From Script to screen, using elf characters that had predetermined personalities and designs that set them into specific context.’

The exercise suggests; ‘an animated ball can be used as a simple prop, or it can be another character in your scene. We will thumbnail Sam reacting to and with the ball in a variety of attitudes.’ There then follow 16 points to consider, the first two are:

• Do not use close-ups and do not rely on facial expressions. Use the figure drawings and total-body acting.

• First, list some emotions and attitudes on a piece of paper; try these first and then add your own later: Anger; love or joy; greed; boredom; curiosity and finally sickness.

Developing a personality. A character with no obvious characteristics starts to develop a personality through his body attitudes and mental relationship toward an object.

A section titled ‘An introduction to dialogue animation’ begins; ‘It has been said that a good voice actor can create 50 per cent of the animated performance. This is particularly evident when an animated character is designed as a caricature of the actor who provides the voice. It is a relatively simple matter to analyse the actor’s characteristic movements and incorporate a caricatured version into the animated character’s performance. Many excellent animated characters have done this very thing.’

The Lion King (top) copyright Disney Enterprises Inc. Four Weddings and a Funeral (above) copyright Polygram/Channel 4.

Rowan Atkinson, who was the voice for Zazu the Hornbill in The Lion King, is offered to illustrate this. His large facial features were caricatured in the bird’s design. His characteristic mannerisms and movements may also have provided a reference for the animation.

The book contains a wealth of information to guide you through the process of bringing animated characters to life. More than 200 illustrations show how animal and fantasy characters can live and move without losing their non-human qualities. Quotes from Disney animators Art Babbitt, Wolfgang Reitherman and Eileen Woodbury are sprinkled through the book to bring their particular wisdom to the subject.

I can recommend this book to any serious student of animation, whatever medium they are working in, or to an animation fan who wants to know more about how animated characters are brought to life.


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