Animation Quick-Tip

Power Centers & Personality

In animation, as in life, personality is relative and powerfully unique. The best way to point out personality is to contrast it with another personality. So when you have two characters with distinct personalities in the same movie/setting it's easier to see their personalities (if you do it right). Even so, you can still show personality in isolation as well. If you want to imbue your characters with a strong sense of personality, then there are a few little tips you can keep in mind. One of them is to define you character's default power center, and to use it to help define their unique personality.

Here's my attempt to try and define what a power center is. A power center is the place in a character that seems to be the source of their energy and exerts the primary influence over their posture, gestures and actions. A normal person's power center will emanate from a place the Japanese call the "hara". It's generally right above your hips and overall kinda corresponds with your center of gravity when standing still. Power centers will tend to play themselves out in the kinds of poses you choose.

Here's some verbal examples taken from some animated films. As you read along, try and visualize in your head how the character is shaped and driven by their power center. In the animated film Ice Age  Sid the Sloth has a power center that's behind his butt. When he walks he waddles with his butt cheeks squeezed together, like he has this force pushing him from right behind his bum. In Monsters Inc., Mike Wazowski's power center seems to generally be a bit above his head, like he's being pulled along by it, making him light and flittish. By contrast Sully's power center is lower, around his midsection or hips. When he stands still he kinda settles into it and he has a greater sense of gravity pulling him down. Putting those two characters next to each other is a great exercise in contrast. Thus you have distinct personalities that are easily defined. In the Toy Story films, Buzz & Woody are another great example of matching contrasting power centers to get distinct personalities from the characters. Buzz Lightyear's power center is generally around his chest. He stands tall and proud and confident, shoulders back, chest  out, chin up & hands firmly planted on his hips. Woody has a higher power center around his head. His gestures tend to be lighter and higher up, sometimes even pushing his shoulder forward in a mild stoop of anxiety. Meanwhile Buzz's hand gestures tend to be stronger and more central to his torso, not rising above the shoulder except in rare moments. He is the epitome of reserve and self control, and by thinking about his power center you can use that as a filter for how you think about your character. Power centers are like lenses thru which you can look at your characters to help define who they are.

And here's some visual pose examples of how moving a power center around on the same model can evoke a very strong impression of personality.

Like I said before, the very silhouette and structure of the poses for your characters will tend to illustrate their power centers. And while a character will have a default power center to help define the personality, it's not absolutely fixed. You can move it around in a character to great effect. Sliding it up higher and behind the shoulders for anxiety or nervousness. Or you can shift it out front and down lower and make it very heavy, like an invisible burden which will pull the character down into a hunched feel of sadness or depression. You can sink it lower for a low powerful threatening effect (Shan-Yu in Mulan often had his power center down low and was this seething brooding hulk of a villain, downright scary.) You can even move it around in a single shot to show a strong change in the inner emotional state of your character. Going from hopeless to hopeful, from confident to insecure, etc. A simple shift of the power center within a character in an isolated shot can carry a real emotional wallop. For a great animated example, watch Toy Story when Buzz Lightyear comes to realize that he's just a toy. Watch as the confidence and swagger drains right out of him as his power center shifts lower. Then keep watching as he tries to reject the idea, in his decision to try and prove he can fly. Watch him straighten up, bringing that power center right back up to is chest, filled with defiance and pride. It's a wonderful example of this simple technique.

Overall I think that just watching live action acting as well as animated films with a discerning eye will be very useful to you in trying to grasp this concept. Try and spot where the actor or
the animator has chosen to put the power center for their character, and see how that plays itself out in that character's personality. The trick is to be able to SEE it when you watch and try to break down the motion.


ps: For some reading on power centers, Ed Hooks' fine book "Acting for Animators" has a pretty thorough section on this. Thanks to Ed for helping to bring topics such as these to mind. These thoughts expressed here come mainly from Ed's work in teaching animators the principles of acting. I'm only expanding on the topic in the hopes of helping folks understand it a little easier.

copyright 2002 keith lango animation, all rights reserved. no duplication without permission.