Throughout my animation career, good ideas will always win me over as opposed to fancy animation. For me, seeing animation that is fresh and new always reinvigorates me. When I would come out of a lecture, or a dailies review or anything where I saw or heard about an exciting idea, it would make me say: Why didn’t I think of that? It almost makes you frustrated and keeps you trying to think about a different way of doing something. Yes, there are scenes that don’t always require some sort of brilliant idea, but they call for something fresh. How do you infuse your work with good ideas? Here are a few suggestions:
1) People Watching: You get so much gold just by watching people. Putting yourself in places that you have not been can be really helpful. Travel, if you have the means is always great. If you go to a place where the way people do things is different, you can really come up with some interesting ideas for gestures, acting, body posture and so forth. If you are not able to travel far, just riding the subway or bus can be enough.
2) Watching Films. Who doesn’t like to watch movies? If you didn’t have the chance to go to film school, you should educate yourself on the key films that many film students watch. A place to start is the AFI list of top 100 films, but you can go much deeper. Look at films with a different eye. See the difference between the canned Warner Bros. gangster films, then look at someone like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront or The Wild One to see a new style of acting. Brad Bird was speaking about how Brando really was lightning in a bottle and how nobody knew what they had at that moment in time.
3) Do something out of your comfort zone: An example might be taking an improv class… Improvisation teaches you how to come up with ideas very quickly. I am not saying that I am currently in an improv class, but I have in the past. If you have the time, its a fun way of experimenting with acting and comedy. When I was teaching at Academy of Art, we brought in improv actors to basically create scenes for us to animate too. It was so fun watching them come up with scenes… Some sucked and other worked, mostly because of timing.
4) Look in your backyard. Often times, you need not go farther then your relative or immediate family for a way someone or something is done. One of the guys here likes to touch his nose a lot, another always seems to have his hands in his arm pits, another never makes eye contact. The point being that interesting characters are all around us, we just need to find a way of getting that into our work. I know this all sounds obvious, but I need to constantly remind myself of this. Its so easy to rest on your laurels, but extracting a good ideas out of your work should feel somewhat painful. If it doesn’t, then something is wrong… Or you are truly gifted… For me, animation is a mountain of pain. When I start out I am fresh and by the time I get half way I am winded. The last part of the climb can be treacherous, but reaching the peak makes it worth while.