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Pantomime: Telling a Story Without Words

What is Pantomime

Animation is an incredible medium that allows us to bring stories to life in ways that live-action film or other forms of storytelling cannot. One of the most unique aspects of animation is the ability to tell a story without using any words. This is where the art of pantomime comes in, which is the act of telling a story through body movements, gestures, and facial expressions. In animation, pantomime is a crucial tool that helps animators convey emotion and character motivation, while also creating an engaging and compelling story for viewers.


My Pantomime Lesson goes through my technique of speaking with the character's actions and emotions before even thinking about dialogue. Animation Pantomime Lesson



The History of Pantomime

Pantomime has a rich history in theater, originating in the 19th century as a form of silent comedy. It involves using only physical movements to convey a story, rather than relying on dialogue or text. In animation, pantomime is used in a similar way, but with the added benefit of being able to create limitless possibilities for movement and expression. With animation, animators can push the limits of what is possible, creating characters that can defy the laws of physics and bend reality to their will.


Understanding Motivation and Emotion

The art of pantomime in animation begins with understanding the character's motivation and emotion. An animator must know the character's backstory, personality, and goals, so they can create physical movements and gestures that align with those traits. For example, if a character is sad, the animator might use slumped shoulders, a downcast gaze, and slow, deliberate movements to convey that emotion. If a character is happy, the animator might use exaggerated movements, such as jumping, dancing, or fist-pumping, to show that joy.



Pushing your Animation to the Extreme

Another key aspect of pantomime in animation is exaggeration. Animation allows for movements to be pushed to the extreme, which can create a sense of humor, excitement, or drama. For example, if a character is scared, an animator might exaggerate their facial expressions, making their eyes bulge, their mouth open wide, and their body tense up. This can create a sense of tension and suspense, which draws the viewer into the story.


Exaggeration is the driving force behind the genie character in Disney's Aladdin. The animators used exaggerated movements and expressions to create a larger-than-life personality for the genie, enhancing his comedic and flamboyant nature. From his wildly gesticulating hands to his constantly shifting shape, the genie's movements and expressions were pushed beyond the bounds of reality to create a sense of cartoonish energy and humor. This exaggerated animation style helped to make the genie a memorable and beloved character in the film, and contributed to the overall charm and entertainment value of Aladdin.


Learning how to exaggerate your characters is a necessary step in perfecting pantomime. I have a magnificent lesson on Squash and Stretch which is a key component in stretching your animations to be the best they can be. Squash and Stretch Lesson


Creating a Character with Personality

Pantomime in animation can also be used to create a sense of character and personality. For example, a character that is confident and self-assured might walk with a swagger, make bold gestures, and hold their head high. A character that is shy and introverted might move with more hesitance, looking down at the ground and avoiding eye contact. These physical movements help create a unique character and can make them more relatable and memorable to viewers.


If you're looking to create an appealing character, check out my Character Design Lesson



Ultimately, pantomime in animation is a powerful tool for telling a story without words. It allows animators to convey emotion, character motivation, and personality in a way that is engaging and compelling for viewers. Through exaggerated movements, careful attention to character backstory and motivation, and a deep understanding of physical expression, animators can create unforgettable characters and stories that stand the test of time.


The art of pantomime in animation is a crucial aspect of storytelling. It allows animators to create unique characters, convey emotion and motivation, and engage viewers in a way that is both visual and entertaining. Through the use of exaggerated movements, careful attention to detail, and a deep understanding of physical expression, animators can bring stories to life in a way that is truly magical. Whether you are a fan of animation or simply appreciate the power of storytelling, pantomime is a fascinating and essential part of the craft.


Thanks for stopping by! If you're interested in learning more, check out my BRAND NEW Course on Animation Dialogue and Pantomime which includes four in-depth lessons!


Your animation colleague,

John Pomeroy



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