Hello! I added a few shots from Radiator Springs 500 1/2 to my demo reel (at the end). These three shots were a fun challenge, because we wanted to try to get as much character differentiation in the four baja racers as we could, but these shots were all we had for their introduction. They didn't need to be extremely deep characters for this short, more like different character roles in this gang, (the leader, the dumb one, the mysterious one, the hyperactive one). With the cars, they are pretty much eyes and mouths, and by default their eyes are basically identical in their rigs. It was fun to look at the character design sheets, and try to get the personality of their eyes back into the character.
For the opening of this short, the directors, Scott Morse and Rob Gibbs, took inspiration from the old westerns like "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly", which they suggested I look at before animating. I noticed these actors barely moved in the duel scene, and always looked out of the corner of their eyes in their stillness. It's tense. It's highly stylized acting, but not in the broad way we animators often think in terms of stylization.
Up until this point in my career, I usually had the goal of making the animation as stretchy or broad as I was allowed to. The Cars world, however, is often more hard and "real", in terms of materials, and this restraint forced me, (sometimes frustratingly), to focus on acting and nuance of performance, which I also wanted to achieve. The cars themselves provide an obvious challenge as well. How do you communicate meaningful expression, with a severely restrained head? It's not just about facial expressions, but gestures, angles, and timing that communicate how we feel. In animation, it's very tempting to animate a character's movements to match the rhythm of the dialogue, and the cars make this temptation stronger since you have so little to work with. Animating any type of character this way makes a performance passable, and appear to deliver the words, but does it achieve the full amount of expression possible?
These shots, while far from meeting the restraint in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly", challenged me to not move the characters very much, to support the parody and genre we were going for. I animated these in the order that they appear, and I feel like I can see my comfort improve with each one. Having three similar shots in a row can start to feel a little repetative by the end, but it gave me the opportunity to practice, which I am grateful for now. The lesson I learned is not that subtle is always better than broad, it's choosing what's appropriate for the moment, and hopefully learning more about how to create more expressive, sincere performances either way.