'When you hear that "90% of the acting is in the eyes, I know most people immediately jump to "eye darts" and "eye direction," etc., completely skipping over one of the most essential acting tools you have - the blink.'
Shawn Kelly, 'Blinks in Animation'
'It's important to note that blinking in real life ISN'T AT ALL the way actors/animators use blinks. Ed Hooks should chime in here, but we blink in real life because of need... I have to laugh when I read messages from folks looking for or asking for "rules" when it comes to things like this. To me, the rules are simple: the character does whatever is in character for him/her/it, whatever fits the style of the animation, and whatever conveys the mood, action, or point. No?'
Mike Caputo quoted in Carlos Baena's Compilation notes from different animators
I have started this post with these two quotes, because I wish to stress that I am not looking for a generic performance. However, there are certainly some useful guidelines to follow.
The first step was to animate a blink.
It seems so simple, but using a rig I am relatively unfamiliar with, it seemed appropriate to follow the advice of AnimSchool Instructor and Blue Sky Animator, Garrett Shikuma, Garrett Shikuma. As advised, the faceshape controls are used to bring together the brow area and cheeks into this movement, to illustrate how the face works as a whole.
Carlos describes one of Pixar's template blinks as
10: both eyes are open
Frame 11: Left eye begins to close
Frame 12: Right eye begins to close
Frame 13: BOTH eyes are completely closed
Frame 15: Left eye completely open
Frame 16: Right eye completely open
I have also tried an 'Orangic blink' as per the advice of Animation Scout .
Frame 1: Start Pose
Frame 2: Slow into movement
Frame 4: Close
Frame 5: Compress
Frame 6: Slow out of movement again
Frame 7 Open
The only thing I didn't include is on Frame 2, to start the movement of the lower lid with the inner section. This is something I saw mentioned on Michael Amos's blog, which I shall refer to as the 'zipper' technique.
The timing of the blink can help show the mood of the character. The faster the blink, the more alert your character will look. It can sometimes only take a frame to close the eye and a frame to open. But it's about picking the right blink for the scene.
How often a character blinks can also illustrate character. An unknown source on Carlos Baena's website notes:
A human blinks once every four seconds. This timing can change according
to what emotional state the character is in. If anger is your dominant
attribute then the blink rate should decrease to once every six
seconds. The reason behind this is physical; the eyes open wide
in anger, achieving a glare. If you are acting nervous then the
blink rate increases to once every two seconds. This reaction is
involuntary. Blinking brings realism to your characters but also
emphasizes a particular emotion or mood.
A scene that I have seen discussed many times in the animation community is from Forrest Gump, when he becomes a dad.
'As soon as he realizes it's his son, he stops blinking
completely. He's transfixed. Tom Hanks holds back his blinks to
communicate the idea that his character is THAT intense about what he's
realizing. Then a blink, and boom - he's on to his next emotion, which
is guilt. He feels guilty. Shouldn't he have been there to raise his
son? Did he do something wrong? The blinks are coming fast and furious
now, to indicate his discomfort, his worry. Then a thought occurs to
him: "is he slow, like me?" He doesn't say it right away, but you can
feel the exact moment that crosses his mind, because suddenly his blinks
stop again, and he's back to that intensity, and finally he works up
the courage to ask Jenny his big question: "is he smart, or is he...?"
Huge eyes, locked on, almost afraid to hear the answer. "He's the
smartest in his class." And the blinks are fired back up again, which
communicates his relief''.
So how often does Forest Gump blink? Slowing the motion down, it appears that most of the shot is using eye darts. Now when he feels guilty, yes his blinks have increased, but no more than once almost every two seconds. Please note that this is considered fast. Meanwhile, his eyelids are instead almost transfixed. His gaze flickers back and forward from looking at Jenny, most happening without a blink. In comparison to the moment of relief, Forest blinks up to seven times in roughly 50 frames!
Last night, I stumbled across a video 'mocking' the number of blinks that Kirsten Stewart seems to do. Please note her characters are often nervey asocials, but again at the most extreme, she blinks at 4 times a second. That a public member has highlighted this, shows that at this speed seems unsettling and should be used sparingly.
I must keep this in mind when animating my 10-12 audio clip.
More notes and thoughts on the eyes to follow, but I must grab tea first - plus make a trip to the shop to purchase one of my final xmas presents. Totally feels like last min :)