Saturday, November 10, 2007

Real Life is (still) Always Funnier

Things are busy so my blogging has become lax. This one is just a quick post to prove that - once again - real life is much funnier and more exaggerated than most cartoons. Just to repeat myself for the thousandth time, always look to real life and real people for inspiration, not other animated characters or things gleaned from comic books. The audience always wants to see something new and unexpected, something sincere and true-to-life.

Anyway, here's a video that proves the point. It's less than a minute, and it's so perfectly made that it almost seems fake. Check it out.



As Mark Twain said, analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog in that it will make both of them die. Necertheless, I will try to put into words what I think makes it funny to me.

1. The fact that she's talking about a serious subject is such a great contrast to how silly that guy is acting. Also the fact that the wind is blowing her hair everywhere and that she's having to talk loudly over the passing traffic makes her seem so agitated before that guy even shows up.

2. Grown men acting like five-year-olds are always comedy gold. Not only do all three appearances seem perfectly timed - the time between each visit becomes increasingly small - but the staging is awesome. Watching him creep out from behind her is perfect - the locked down setup of a television news "stand-up" is so static and formal that it makes him seem goofier by contrast. The way you see him creeping into frame over her left shoulder before he starts to interrupt her is great too - you get a couple seconds of anticipation before he appears in the big empty space over her right shoulder. And those dance steps! The robot??? If this was animated I would roll my eyes at that choice because it's so obvious, but the fact that a real guy did it makes it hilarious. And the way he does it is so great: he's just barely doing the robot - he's more looking over to see what the camera guys will think and when she will get annoyed. And he's so uncommitted to doing the robot that he breaks into a different step halfway into it. And the fact that on his last appearance he just comes in and flips her hair up and runs out....amazing. I guess "chutzpah" is always funny. Idiotic characters that do things we would never do always amuse us. Even just seeing his totally excited reaction to stumbling upon a news crew on the street is funny. With his extra tall appearance, shaved head and his funny loose limbed walk make him look just like the sort of goofball who would do this kind of inane thing.

3. Her reactions seem so perfectly scripted. She gets so increasingly annoyed with him and she shows it so plainly. Then, as she throws down the mic, she actually FINISHES her sentence, but with an angry timbre on the last word! How funny is that? Characters in cartoons do that all the time but to see a real person do it is really strange and really funny. I swear if this was animated it would seem cheesy and obvious. When it's real it's sublime.

4. The timing is unbelievable. It's actually like a little three-act story. Each encounter with the guy becomes quicker and more intense and her reactions build perfectly, from polite dismissal to rage. Every time she starts up her report again, she gets just far enough into it before being interrupted that it's perfect. We (the audience) don't have to sit through enough of it to get bored, but there's just enough of it each time before the doofus interrupts her to feel her frustration at being distracted by him. And that sound guy who runs through frame at the end with the horrified expression...what a great touch. By the look on his face and the way you're hearing sounds offscreen it totally makes you imagine her smacking the hell out of the dude (or worse). Whatever you picture, it's so much better because you can't actually see what she's doing.

Anyway, the point is (as always): draw your inspiration from real life and actual people instead of TV or movie characters that somebody else already created. A character based on a real person will always be better, more authentic and more interesting than a cheesy clichè we've all seen before. The only way to really get into a character's mind and personality and know how they will react to and deal with situations is to know them as well as you can, so study the people around you, analyze what makes them tick and bring that to animation. There are already way, way too many lame, uninteresting and flat characters in animation today, let's stop that trend as soon as possible.

12 comments:

Matt J said...

From your desription this sounds really funny but the clip is no longer available!

mark kennedy said...

That's weird, it worked for me just now...anyone else have trouble?

Gaz said...

Hey Mark, I'm a little confused.

You say the point is to be inspired from real life (and I totally agree), but you also point out a couple of times that if you saw this clip animated, you would think that it's cheesy and cliche.

So are you saying some things don't translate? That maybe some things are just funnier in real life and can't be translated into animation?

Floyd Norman said...

I agree, Mark. This is staged and timed perfectly. The only thing I would add would be off-screen sounds of the crew beating the crap out of the guy.

People often ask me where I get the funny ideas for my gags? I always say, from real life.

Juan Pablo said...

It's so perfectly timed, and even the subject of the report is so perfect ("violent criiiiiime!!!!"), that it doesn't look very realistic.

I don't know if it's real. It's irrelevant, the important thing is it doesn't look realistic. But of course, many times reality is not realistic!

But the first time I saw it, I bought it. And it was funny!

True or not? Doesn't matter. Isn't perception the only truth that matters in communication?

Interesting and funny!

tiny dean said...

Are you sure this real? It does seem almost too perfect.

If it's not fake then I thank the cameraman for capturing this and whoever decided to not erase this footage.

And I thank you, Mark, for finding this and sharing on your blog.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the comments!

Hey gaz- good question. Sometimes people do things in real life that cartoon characters do, and it's fascinating to see a real person do something totally sincere and spontaneous that just happens to seem "cartoony". But animation is never really that "spontaneous" - it requires a lot of planning and forethought, of course - so when an animated character does something we've seen another animated character or actor do before, it's just a cheap rip-off. Real life can't help but be genuine. Even when people are being "fake" in real life and acting in an affected way, it's always for some deep personal reason that makes it fascinating to observe and try to figure out why someone would do that. So if I was watching some live-action movie and Jim Carrey was doing "the robot" to be funny it would just be unbearable and obnoxious, because it's been done in a ton of movies already and there's nothing ever sincere or genuine about Jim Carrey anyway. But seeing a real guy do it in the street, it suddenly becomes amazing to watch, because some real person is risking disapproval, public embarrassment and humiliation just to get the attention of a camera crew and maybe be on the TV news. That, to me, is fascinating.

Hey Floyd - congrats on being a Disney Legend, and I totally agree with you. Thanks for posting!

Hey juan - I know, it almost looks fake...I sure hope it's real, I apologize to everyone if it turns out to be fake!

Hey tiny dean - again, I dunno...I think it;s real but....who knows? The line between fake and real gets muddier all the time.

Mr Banks said...

Hey Mark Kennedy! When were you at CalArts? I used to teach there and you're stealing all my advice! (This is in regards to earlier posts).

I'm also bemused by what seems like a passionate interest in the move Jungle Book. I hope you don't think this is a cinema classic. It's a mess of a film; episodic, plodding, irrational and often just downright boring. Yes, this is some of the finest character animation ever done and yes, there are a couple really wonderful energetic and charming set peices, but you can't possibly think this is a good film. It's one of the first in a long line of animator driven agressively dull animated films from the mouse house, from Sword in the Stone and Aristocats to Robin Hood.

Okay, discuss!

Otherwise, all the best to my hero Mark Kennedy.

mark kennedy said...

Mr Banks -

I was at CalAts from 1987-1990. Are you suggesting that I stole your teaching material? I am only articulating all the stuff that I think every story artist starts to realize after a while...just obvious stuff that most screenwriting books tell you. Most of my early posts were material from the days when I myself taught story at CalArts and from lectures I have done here at Disney.

I'm surprised that you think I have a passion for Jungle book - I don't think I've written about that film more than any other Disney film. Also I don't think I ever said anything necessarily positive or negative about how "good" I think the film is. I don't really get into that because I don't believe in that kind of discussion. There are lots of people who will talk about films being either "good" or "bad" and then it seems like anyone with a differing opinion is automatically an idiot. There are plenty of other places to get involved in that kind of argument and I don't really have the energy to do that all the time here. I find that people get very emotional and agitated about their opinions in film and I find that that can cloud over other points that might be worth discussing. Story artists tend to get very passionate about the films that they like and I have been involved in enough screaming matches here at work over what films are "good" and "bad" to last a lifetime and make me really treasure those people who are open and flexible and actually interested in a differing opinion. A film like "Jungle Book" (which I admit, I don't particularly like as a whole) strikes a chord with many, many people. So there must be something about the film that people enjoy and respond to. I would rather figure out what it is that people like than just dismiss those people as idiots or totally negate something that they genuinely like. I feel like if I can figure out what they like about it I can learn something about film and what works for some people. If nothing else, my blog is about being a perpetual student and learning something new all the time - particularly from something that you might tend to dismiss, if other people seem to respond to it.

Anyway, thanks for leaving a comment and bringing up such a good talking point.

billburgNYC said...

I'm a little late to the party, here, but I just wanted to say that I loved this post! Thanks, Mark!

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