Q&A: body language
Hamilton Maddock, US
Answer Tom replies
Good reference material is a must when you want to convey a specific emotion in your characters, but I often find it difficult to source pictures of people emoting convincingly. Stock photography is often very obviously staged and using myself as a model relies too heavily on my own, pitiful acting ability.
A few canny changes in my image search criteria can make all the difference. For example, footballers are almost always either wildly elated or incredibly angry. This affords a tremendous opportunity to the student of human behaviour, as photographs from football and other sporting events often provide a unique glimpse of raw, unfiltered emotion. For subtler expressions, I turn to screen actors. I try to think of a memorable performance that conveyed the emotion I’m trying to relate and seek out screenshots from that film, or pause the DVD, if I have it.
I try to track down at least two pictures of different people for each expression. I then look for the commonalities, to divine what is universal about how a certain emotion affects the face and body. Once I isolate those visual cues, I apply them to my character.
Your characters have a potentially limitless range as actors, but utilising it can require a bit of homework. I used seven photographs for reference here.