The key to creating a successful dialogue shot, in my opinion, is always recognizing that the character within the shot doesn’t know what he or she is going to say before it is said. I like to advise my students to study the great actors, because they have an uncanny ability to fool an audience into believing they are coming up with the words as they go, unscripted. Another important facet of a speaking performance, is that your character’s body language will first and foremost display how complete the idea is that sparked off the sentence. For instance, if your character is blaming another character for something bad, they might be slowly raising their finger up and backwards in a long, slow arc, anticipating the quick point at the end of the sentence. In this example, the person has a totally complete idea (“He is to blame”), and the length of the anticipation of the accusatory gesture is a mere parameter of the length of the sentence. In another example, if a character is working things out in their head as they speak, the movements are going to have much less anticipation. “I don’t know where he could have gone unless he…GASP!” The gesture of the character grabbing his face and gasping in this example would be a very quick anticipation. Audiences pick up on this very keenly, albiet subconcioiusly. I was told once that Eric Goldberg related anticipation directly to thought. You must remember that you are steering the expressed thought patterns of a character, and to never ‘give away’ a spontaneous idea with a motion, and to never miss foreshadowing a complete thought with an anticipated gesture.
In terms of most of the other intricacies of animating a shot, dialogue has many advantages over a pantomime shot. With dialogue, it is much easier to feel the natural beats and phrases of the actions that should follow. Also, staging normally comes much more naturally because of how people gesture and emote towards the listener. The kinds of limitations of how people communicate with one another can be freeing with staging the shot. I spoke a little about anticipating action above, but in terms of posing, remember most people don’t hula! What I mean is, painting a picture and telling a story with hands is a little overboard with normal dialogue; it’s easy to overdo the gesticulating. Best to use large gestures sparingly and only to emphasize main points, and don’t forget that your anticipation is your character’s thought! The intricacies of dialogue are enough to fill a book, but my best advice is to remember that the body will support the dialogue, not only in pose, but more importantly (in my opinion) in timing.
Guest Blogger Kenny Roy