Just caught this in a NY Times article about “How to Be Funny.”
How to Draw Funny Pictures By Brad Bird, creator of “The Incredibles”
Because animation is a relatively complicated process, and because it is not spontaneous, it is often mischaracterized as purely mechanical. In reality, and at its best, the art of character animation exists somewhere between silent comedy and dance. Its success depends on finding a physical expression that is recognizable yet beyond what occurs in real life.
Fred Astaire had unusually large hands and learned how to use them in a way that made his dance more dynamic; he’d fold his hands for most of a routine, then flash them out for accents at key points. Their sudden increase in size made those moves pop in a way that other dancers couldn’t match. Animators use tricks like this all the time in ways that the audience never sees but always feels. Bugs Bunny, imitating the conductor Leopold Stokowski in concert, will violently raise his arms in onetwelfth of a second (two frames of film). Every part of his body will be rock-still — save for Bugs’s quivering hand.
It is impossible for a living being to do this, but not for Bugs. He is truly Stokowski, more Stokowski than Stokowski was himself, because Bugs is the impression of Stokowski: his power, his arrogance, his supreme control over his musicians, perfectly boiled down to its essence. We laugh because it is completely unreal and utterly truthful in the same moment.
As I read on, I noticed this all-too-true tidbit from writer Patton Oswalt:
“Lately I’ve been doing punch-up on computer-animated films, but the trick with doing punch-up on these movies is that unlike the live-action script, which hasn’t been filmed yet, the computer-animated film is usually 80 percent complete by the time we see it. And when I say 80 percent complete, I mean, “We’ve spent $120 million on this, so we really can’t change anything.”
“Uh, well then,” you’ll ask, through a mouthful of takeout Chinese, “what exactly do you want us to do?”
“What we need is for you guys to come up with funny off-screen voices yelling funny things over the unfunny action.”
I didn’t know you could make comedies that way! This is comforting news. Can I take old super-8 footage of a kid’s birthday party, where none of the other kids showed up? And he’s sitting at the kitchen table, and he’s got his little birthday hat on, and a lonely little cake, and he’s crying, and just when you’re about to kill yourself from the pathos, someone offscreen yells:
“I just fell on my fanny in some butterscotch!”
Wow, you’ll think, suddenly cheerful. Someone I can’t see, or will ever see, just fell into some butterscotch and is now talking about it out loud the way no one does or has, ever!
Did I mention there’s lunch? “