A long time ago at High School our teacher showed us a short video on Body Language. I remember thinking it was interesting, but I didn’t think much of it. Well, I recently attended an online course on the subject of Body Language for Entrepreneurs(because I own a company, I’m apparently an entrepreneur) and snap… Why the hell haven’t I read about the power of understanding body language in animation before? It just makes so much sense now!

For example

Did you know it’s actually quite hard to hide our true feelings on topics because we can’t control something called Micro Expressions? These are facial expressions common to every person on the planet. We make these split second expressions as our initial reaction to something. These micro expressions come from instinct, not from learning. Even people blind from birth make the same expressions. Anger, happiness, contempt, disgust, shock. It’s hard to hide our true feelings about something, even if we try hard to hide them. We try to consciously control expressions to manipulate how other people see us. If a man/woman who you’ve been eyeing out comes up to you and asks you out, do you choose to act cool, or do you let your joy rise up through you allowing you to scream in excitement? Well, you’ll probably try to act cool, but for a split second, I bet your true excitement will betray you.
A similar situation could arise where a colleague shows you some designs they’ve been working on. The designs are ugly, and of course you don’t want to say that. But, your initial expression of disgust probably gave your game away.

There are all sorts of things we do unawares, but are sending clear messages to the people around us. For example:

  1. Folding our arms is dominating. ‘Taking up space’ by leaning back in our chairs with hands behind the head is also dominating.
  2. Hiding hands is a sign that a person is nervous, maybe not telling the truth.
  3. When we do feel nervous there are a lot of ‘self soothing’ poses we take. Caressing your arm, playing with your elbow. It communicates a lack of confidence.

So how does this help with our animation?

Well, that’s probably obvious by now. But I’ll talk a bit about how we often fail as animators, or should I say ‘Actors’.

Reference video for your shots is a great idea and if you do shoot reference footage, then you may be getting some of these body language actions mentioned above. But seeing as most of us aren’t actually fully trained actors or don’t have the physical space and time to really ‘get into’ our characters emotional state, our animation may be lacking these subtle expressions and/or our poses and actions may be a little cliché.

I mean, actors spend their whole lives developing their skills and animators generally don’t even do a basic acting course(they should mind you). Yet, animators are clearly acting for their characters.
So, because we’re not professional actors and probably wont be joining the local drama group, it’s good to understand body language and learn some tricks we can add in to our shots that help shed some light on the drive and emotion of our characters throughout their scene.

There’s heaps of material on body language on YouTube. The course I did was on Udemy.com and called Body Language for Entrepreneurs. It’s a well structured course and run by a passionate and engaging woman named Vanessa Van Edwards. I feel like I’m plugging this course a bit, I guess I kinda am. I liked it.

The whole ‘animators that can act’ thing is a huge topic in itself. If you’d like to explore it a bit more in depth, subscribe to the Ed Hooks newsletter and even try to attend a short acting course if you can.