Secondary actions are those that characters perform as complements to the main ones they are executing. For instance, a character may be walking – this is the main action – while also swinging arms back and forth, whistling or mumbling, checking his pockets or what time it is at his watch, turning his head to look at the sides of the road, yawning or shivering. These are all examples of secondary actions.
Thinking about character movements, the primary ones are those where the main action being expressed is concentrated, like the mouth area when talking or the legs when walking, while secondary actions involve some of the remaining parts of the body in each case.
To enrich the scene, adding life and personality and emphasizing the main action.
Secondary actions can clearly differentiate any two characters performing the same main action or a same character in two distinct states of mind or of physical health.
The body is a system, working as a whole. A forced walk may be restricted to the lower half, but a natural one will have the whole body moving, in general.
In any action some parts move more (the ones involved in the main movements), some less, some subtly. The latter two (disconsider acting) can usually be related to keeping balance. In any action with broader moves in some body parts, others may need to move to compensate and avoid a fall.
If balance is not at risk, secondary – also referred to as supporting – actions can be left only to express a character's thoughts and emotions.
Noticing it or not, people express feelings and thoughts through (secondary) actions while trying to do what they need to (primary, main actions). While the latter can be direct consequences of someone's decisions earlier in the story, the secondary movements are able to give an immediate account of how a person feels at a given moment and, judging more carefully, what kind of personality she probably has.
- Bridges: depending on the chosen secondary action, it can happen before, during or after the main one. A good way to think about them is as bridges smoothly connecting two successive main actions.
- Secondary: the main concern about secondary actions is that they should add to the main ones, but not take attention away from them. If that happens they become primary actions themselves and break the “one action at a time” recommendation. Thus secondary actions should be not be too noticeable, broad, exaggerated – leave that for the main ones.
Working in layers
Working in layers means atacking the whole sequence not from start to finish at once, but iteratively, in passes. Example: working pose to pose, the extremes should be created first, then secondary, follow through and overlapping actions can be added in the second or at later passes. Fine tuning comes last.
Facial expressions naturally play a crucial part in defining what a character feels, unless when trying to hide it. There are many different signs a character can expose while talking or doing anything else. Head tilts and eye blinking are also effective tools for expression.
- Imagine someone walking, a normal healthy and determined walk, no hint about feelings or thoughts. That's the main action.
But alone it is like blank paper. Whatever secondary actions are added will indicate what is going on and which kind of character this is:
- just walking, legs move but the rest of the body just follows, arms at rest, no expression
- looking frequently to the sides, snapping fingers, shaking head
- whistling or smiling, looking around cheerfully, arms swinging
- smiling but shrugging
- trembling, vigorously rubbing arms and hands, putting hands in pocket, stooping a little
- scratching head, grimacing, talking alone
- Still on the same kind of example (walking), but being more specific:
Character is angrily walking back and forth across the room, waiting for an important phone call. Walking is the main action, but not simply walking: an angry one, heavy steps, torso leaned forward.
- to emphasize this anger: arms waving now and then, smacking fist against palm, cursing.
- to reveal more of the character's personality:
- controlled: restraining gesturing, holding own hands, using a handskerchief to dry his sweating face;
- nervous: biting fingernails, trembling hands, eyes open wide;
- desperate: pulling hairs, shouting, trembling, holding face between hands or gesticulating with hands close to his face;
- violent behavior: breaking objects, throwing things, excited gesturing, threating others;
Walking is a specially good example of how secondary moves help keep a body balanced, because it can be seen as “controlled falling”: with each step we propel forward, leaning the body to lose balance and fall, then catch ourselves with the next step, propelling forward again and so on. Miss a step while out of balance and you fall.
Summer of documentation 2006 -- Willian 07:20, 5 July 2006 (CEST)