Blog Specimen: The Sound of Silence

With the technology used in most animations today, it’s almost impossible to imagine how primitive its beginnings were. From the Zoopraxiscope to the introduction of motion sensor technology, the leap forward made by animation in the last 100 years has been astonishing.

Despite this leap forward however, there are still some animations out there that have still kept an element of the past, specifically from the Silent Era, in their animations through characters that don’t speak.

Every animation with silent characters has a different way for compensating for the characters lack of speech. One best examples of this comes from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Tom and Jerry. The clip below shows Tom shooting pool balls at Jerry, and the sound they make whenever they smack off the board and the pool cue are much more louder, sharper and distinct than the sound effects you’d hear in a cartoon where the characters speak. The facial expression on both Jerry and Tom are much less neutral as well.

Another animation that uses silent characters, even though most of the characters that do speak, is the stop motion animation Wallace and Gromit. Gromit, the dog, is the silent character.  To compinsate for his silence, animators use subtle effects to convey his emotions. Instead of using exaggerated facial expressions like the animators use in Tom and Jerry, they use a more subtle and clever approach to convey his emotions. As you’ll see in the clip below they use just his eyes and his brow to convey what his thoughts are, without hamming it up and making him exaggerate every action.

Probably the only recent animated film to use silent characters is the Pixar animation, Wall-E.  While Wall-E isn’t totally silent throughout the film, he has no real speech system to convey his feelings. Like most other silent characters he relies on his facial expressions and his eyes to help convey how he feels to the audience. The one thing that I think makes Wall-E different from most silent characters is that he has more than just shallow, 2 dimensional emotions. The curiosity he shows at finding certain things while he’s collecting scraps, almost engages the audience to try and interpret his personality and what he really wants.

There’s many more animations with characters that don’t talk, and most of which follow the same path of the animations listed above, by using other ways to “speak” to the audience. While there’s no way someone could say definitively that one is better than the other, I think that silent characters come off as much more deeper than characters that can speak. And I think the reason that is, is because the audience is allowed to fill in the blanks as to the way that character really feels about certain things. Even though the animator probably doesn’t do this on purpose, it’s almost as if, there’s another layer to silent characters that doesn’t exist in talking ones. What makes it even better, is that this layer is different for every person.


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