I re-watched all the Wallace and Grommit recently because of a scene in a short film I want to do (which I'll probably have to get on the uberman sleep schedule to ever do) Anyway, I learned that it's not what the characters are doing, it's how they are feeling. Only in the first film (when Nick Park was a student) are there gags just for gags sake (like Wallace playing tic tac toe). All the later films there are gags, but what is essential is what the characters are thinking and feeling about what is going on. The best example is in Matter of Loaf and Death when Wallace is mooning over his lady love, making bread (that comes out shaped like her), and Gromit is exasperatedly keeping the kitchen together, it's entertaining because what they are doing is fun AND the emotional story is being forwarded. (sorry couldn't find the clip on youtube)
Made me think of those Lost notes, about using emotion to slip the exposition to the audience.
And about Glen Keane talking about his first scene animating Bernard(at the 5:20 mark).
My first scene that I got then, on Rescuers, was this little tiny scene of Bernard, where Bernard is just a speck in the scene and he is sweeping the floor.
But I wanted to make it a great moment. I was struggling with the mechanics of how do you draw a sweeping action. Bernard's hands on the broom and pushing the broom. I was struggling with it during a whole week and a half and then I finally went to Eric and said: "Eric, can you show me how to do this?" I figured that he would show me some technical secrets, some principles or formula of animation on how to move a broom convincingly.
And he said: "OK. What kind of guy do you think Bernard is?" I said: "I don't know what you mean." "He thinks he must do a good job, don't you think?" I said: "Yes, yes..." "He puts his whole heart in everything he does doesn't he?" "Yeah, I guess so..." "That's the kind of a guy he is, he really loves his job..." and he started talking about Bernard and you could see this light in his eyes.
This is a speck, no one will see in the film, but he got caught up into the character Bernard and he became this little guy. I could just see what he was talking about: sincerity. He believed in the character. He did not tell me any secrets about drawing or animating, but he showed me how to feel.
So I came back to my desk and the scene just popped out. It was easy. It seemed to me that this was always the point that I had to get to when I was struggling: to believe in the characters and to make them really personal for me. Every character I am working on, that's the first step: find something that you can almost touch about that character."
Sometimes I've heard this called "animating from the inside out". Becoming the character and deciding how you would respond if you were this person in this situation.
The audience will care if the character cares. It's totally fine to include gags as an integral part of the story (as Eric Goldberg talked about in a podcast). But if the story is built of gags that don't push the story or help us get inside the characters it doesn't have a chance to be one of the great's that connects with an audience and becomes part of them.
(*ugh, wanted to find that image of a wire fence with the posts signifying gags and the wire stringing them together but couldn't, any help?)