Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thinking vs Emotions

Ratul had a comment on a previous post. I came to a new understanding trying to answer it. Here's the gem I sifted out from my thoughts (at least I think it's a gem ;) Acting wise, thinking is something that really makes your character's seem alive and believable, but emotions are what people connect to them through.

Ratul Sarna said...

Hi Alonso!
Great posts by Tom,,I read them through sometime back and wanted to ask him a question but my hesitancy stopped me. I think it would be great if you could shed some light on it.
Tom writes, " Thoughts are shaped by the personality, feeling and context. Thoughts are the last internal process."
But, if you read "Acting for Animators" by Ed Hooks, in the first chapter itself he points out that "Thinking leads to emotions and emotions lead to action." And here Tom is saying the exact opposite. Who is right? and How should we think about it while handling a shot with a character? Should emotions be dictated by the thoughts or vice versa.
I hope I'm not bugging you :D

Hey Ratul,

You should totally ask Tom, worst that happens is he doesn't respond.

I actually have a BA in Psychology, and what I remember is that emotion's were evolved because they were faster then thinking, so if a tiger jumps out at you, you're scared and flinch, instead of thinking about what to do. But there's probably opposite theories as well, the brain's a black box and everyone's just pitching theories trying to guess how it actually works.

Rereading that Ed Hooks section, he gives an example of "you're walking down a dark alley and you hear something behind you" and then he describes the "thought process" of deciding it's footsteps and not an airplane. I think he's totally wrong, if there's a sound behind me I don't "think" about what it is, I "know" unconsciously what it is.

We are so unconscious of ourselves, we usually act based on how we feel and then justify it after the fact with thoughts. Our emotions determine what things we notice and how we interpret them. If your girlfriend came in talking about how wonderful her new professor is, you may react nastily to her because you feel jealous, but think you are doing it because she is acting like a know it all. If you are prejudiced against a group of people, you notice any news reports that are negative about them as true, and any that are positive as exceptions and not the norm, and you think you are being objective but you are letting your emotions bias your thoughts.

Acting wise, thinking is something that really makes your character's seem alive and believable, but emotions are what people connect to them through. So we need to have both. So the key time to think is when the character is not talking, they are listening or observing the world, they are absorbing information and processing it. Then they take the information they've processed and compare it to what they want, and that affects their emotion. Then they initiate an action based on what's happened and how they feel about it to pursue what they want. I listen to the audio to try and discover what emotions I think the actor reveals in their voice. When the emotions change, that's when I try and show the thought process, indicate that they are processing the incoming information, checking how it affects their progress towards their goal, and then how it changes their emotion to a new beat, and new tactic towards gaining their goal.

We don't think "if I explain myself, then she will understand" we need or want her to love us so we explain ourselves in the hopes that it will achieve that goal. We don't consciously think "she's frowning and crossing her arms, her body language says she is not agreeing" we feel that our approach is not achieving our goal. Feeling her reluctance makes us feel frustrated so we yell, or sad so we collapse and give up. Play one beat until something happens to make you change your approach and play a new one. When something makes you change your approach we need to see that the information has penetrated and it is causing the gears to change. Thinking is showing the gears changing to a new emotion.

The other kind of thinking, conscious type, is more for when you are talking slowly trying to choose the right word, or recall a memory or something, those you can play through with a single emotion, or change if there is a beat change.

A lot of the time the emotions are really subtle, not really very distinguishable from each other. But as an animator you have to exagerate the change in emotions so you have different beats to play so the performance is varied. Don't exagerate the performance beyond what the voice gives you, but push the contrast between beats so it's easier for you to have somewhere to go. This is how the audience connects with your character, they may not have felt the same thing in the same situation, but they need to see it as a believable possibility. This is why all those demo reels with people freaking out, having the lower lid eye twitch, and then throwing stuff around, just don't work, without a build up to show the character getting that justifiably frustrated, or to establish what a hot temper they have, then it just looks like the actor hamming it up. So the emotions need to be believable that this character could react with that feeling, and appropriate for that character and that situation. If the emotions are sincere and authentic then the audience empathizes and shares them, if the emotions don't fit it breaks the suspension of disbelief and audience stops caring about the world you are trying to create on the screen.

But what the hell do I know? :P Just theories that I'm making up as I type them down, lord knows it hasn't shown up in my animation yet. So feel free to disregard, or come up with opposing theories or whatever :)

And thanks Ratul, the opposite of bugging me, you are helping me get better, so mucho thanks! :)


Ratul Sarna said...

Awesome,,a full post to answer my doubt. Thanx a lot!

Something I understood from what you wrote was that, thinking and emotions go hand in hand although our actions are governed by our emotions.

But I also noticed one thing,,emotions dictate what we do when we react to an external stimulus,,if something happens outside of us that we experience creates emotions in us due to which we do something and think about it later. But if we're acting on our own accord then we "think" about it first and then do what we want. Does this make sense?

For example a magician has to perform on stage(its his profession). He's an awesome magician, pro from quite a few years, young, confident. Now when he performs on stage, will his action(showing magic) be because of his emotions at that point or because of the thinking that has gone into planning the action and the thinking he's doing while performing?

Hope I make sense :)

Alonso said...

Hey Ratul,

You're right that in life we often do things based on thought. But as animator's I think we need to think about things a little differently, so that we have something to work with, and because the story probably doesn't make it to easy for our character's. You know, if Romeo and Juliet got married, had a bunch of kids, and grew old together, it wouldn't be as dynamic a story.

So for our magician. If this were a scene in a movie it has to be advancing the plot otherwise why is it in there? A movie is life with the boring bits taken out, so if it's his day job and nothing is changing the story then probably the movie would skip over the magic act and we'd jump right to the scene where a change DOES take place. Look at Pixar's Presto, it's not just a stage act, there's conflict that creates a story that the viewer's want to see resolved, the character's both want something and how they're feeling affects how they do their actions.

Our magician performing on stage, I think in order to make it entertaining you will find yourself playing beats, his beginning actions are confident and cocky, but the audience doesn't seem to respond, so his actions become more frantic as he tries to draw them back. You could be playing the same magic trick a million different ways through what's behind it. The classic example of mailing a letter expressing your love vs mailing a letter paying a parking ticket.

Thinking more on it, I don't really think there's a difference between thoughts and emotions, it's just a way to figure out how to play your beats. You can say the character thinks that they are underappreciated so they think they need to speak up more, or you can say that they feel like proving their worth. I think it comes down to whatever helps you give them a clear way to pursue what they scene objective, which should help them achieve their overall goal.