I wanted to start bringing certain subjects in small sections (or whatever time allows me to cover). I recently went to Montreal to talk about Eyes/Blinks with my good friend/partner Shawn Kelly. Something I wanted to bring up was the power and the possibilities of something as simple as where we look and how many places it can take us. I wanted to show what’s probably one of my favourite clips I’ve used in the past. While lately I’ve been starting to rely a lot more in real reference (documentaries, interviews) every once in a while I still hold on to acting reference I feel has a lot to offer me from a learning point of view.

So this example is from the film “Casablanca”. A film that’s so nicely shot lighting wise that it allows us to pay attention to the acting with a lot more clarity, especially since in this case we are talking about eyes/pupils:

This clip and Ingrid Bergman’s acting here is still really good. Takes me to places I wanna be taken as an audience. The reason this clip is great is because of where she’s looking…and just because of how a simple eye dart is bringing Ingrid Bergman’s character from the present to the past and her memories. That’s how powerful our eyes are.

She starts out in the present…by listening to the piano player…by having a drink with them.
All the eyedarts are being fixed around the room. By the way, we found the proper way to call eyedarts are saccades and fixations. We have quick saccade moves then lock our pupils into a spot, and the locking portion is called fixation. So in the first portion of Ingrid’s clip she’s looking around the room…looking at the table, the piano player, etc.

Halfway she starts to drift, her eyes start to bring her away from that moment, and she drifts into her memory, into the past. Just one simple eyedart transports Ingrid from present to past. I tried to study where she’s actually looking at…if her eyes are fixed on something. Something tells me the eyes are actually not looking anywhere in particular. But I could be wrong. Either way, in what would be a simple animation control, what’s amazing about this is what we say with our eyes and how much we say.

Additionally, the fact that just by where the eyes are looking, all of a sudden we can reveal such deep emotions, is one serious powerful tool for us animators. Ultimately what we should strive for is for audiences to know who the character is and what he/she is feeling or thinking.
One more point. Generally we’ve found two things with where we look:

  • Looking down generally calls for the long term memory.
  • Looking up usually refers to the short term memory.

Not sure if this happens in 100% of the cases. I doubt it, but in many clips and examples I’ve studied, it turned out to happen this way. Do a test and start asking random short term and long term questions to friends, and see their reaction. Should be an interesting way to study these things. A link to think more about this: Eye Direction.

Anyways, some things to share with you…and for you to start thinking about on your own.
Have a great weekend.