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Charles S. Veiman, September 12, 2019

Now a staple in performance comedy, modern Improv, whose roots can be traced back to the Atellan Farce and subsequently the Comedia del Arte, saw its beginnings as series of theatrical exercises, designed by Viola Spolin, to help youth overcome shyness. Her son Paul Sills inspired by his mother, established Second City Theater Company in December of 1959 using her teachings to create a new form of theater.

But what is improv?

On a nutshell improv is improvised theater, an on the moment performance without prior script or rehearsal to sustain it.

Since then the influence of Improv has been strong in the theatrical arts, film and even… animation.

Indeed it’s strange to consider that a form of art based on the instanced performance, could be applied in any way or form to an art which well….. It’s not; animation regardless of the skills of the artist cannot be produced or performed in the instance. And yet there are ways.

One of the most famous examples of improv animation or rather improv used as a tool in the production of animation, is John and Faith Hubbley’s “Moon Bird” and “Windy Day”. John and Faith Hubley utilized recording of their son’s and then their daughter’s playtime and used them as the script for the animations. The animations helped enhance the unscripted performance and gave visual representation to their imagination.

“MoonBird” 1968 Joh and Faith Hubbley”

Further works of animation have utilized unscripted dialogue as the basis for animated performances such as Aardman’s “Creature Comforts” which used the recording of average Janes and Joes complaining about their living situation and translated them into claymations of zoo animals being interviewed in their respective confinements.

A more recent take on this is something which, apparently, more than just myself had been wondering about for quite some time; why not make an animation out of a Dungeons and Dragons session? Which is precisely what comedian Dan Harmon did is doing in his show Harmon’s Quest, the third season of which was released this last August of 2019. The show consists of Dan Harmon three co-stars and a celebrity guest star which proceed to run part of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. This unscripted performance is then translated into animated form and the segments of it composed together with the live footage of the on stage, dungeons and Dragons, unscripted session.

“Dan Harmon’s ‘HarmonQuest’

“Dan Harmon’s ‘HarmonQuest’

While I am intent on expanding further on this at some other time, primarily because it’s one of the most modern takes on what falls under improv for use of animation, it does bear to note that the show is nothing less than a spectacular display of ingenuity as animation and improvisation blend together to procure a hilarious yet surreal experience.

While the deft hand of an artist can do a lot were integration of improv and animation is concerned, motion capture or MOCAP, one of the latest technological turning points in art, has provided a way to more firmly integrate both arts, thanks to its capacity to more directly translate human movement into animated form, and while it still requires the experienced hand of animation artists to polish and correct its shortcomings as a new technology, something which it may never be fully independent from, the footprint of improv is more prominent here.

The possibilities for MOCAP are constantly being experimented upon, among which are, virtual performances, using motion capture to animate avatars such as was done by musician violinist Lindsay Stirling in August 26, 2019. The Avatar helped enhance the aesthetic and experience of the performance creating a unique experience.

A more consolidated integration of improv into the animation process, provides further benefits to the animator since, through its core concepts and principles, the animator will find her/himself more bereft of inhibitions which tend to repress an artist’s creative capacity, while at the same time create stronger team unity and a focus on success of the team, for the team by the team.

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