Eye Acting – Clarification of inner thoughts and feelings


In film and television, the eyes are the main focal point of the audience. More than any other facet of acting, they determine the inner workings of the character. They also determine the fate of intentions and feelings. In addition, they help define the mental state of the character. With such immense importance, one would think instructors would spend more time addressing visual behavior. This lack of attention is due in large part to the fact that much of his training is focused on the theater and not on camera. The camera loves the eyes while the theater loves the words. One is behavioral, the other verbal.

Using the character’s inner thoughts and feelings, the eyes outline areas of concern. They place them in appropriate compartments or zones that relate to the audience. This is because, in normal life, people move or avert their eyes in fixed patterns that represent the topic or problem that is being discussed. When one studies and dissects the performances of award-winning and highly acclaimed actors, one will find that these eye behaviors are prevalent. Observing and performing these compartments is key to effective ocular performance.

For example, when we’re looking up a word or trying to solve a problem, our gaze is drawn to an area where there are few distractions and away from the person we’re talking to. In film, this is usually on the camera side or the best lit side and below eye level. With a difficult problem, tend to be lower to avoid any distractions. The eyes slowly wander unfocused in an undefined area. As a solution is found, eye movements may become faster and more defined. This distant gaze area allows you to focus on the problem.

The next category is withdrawal and it is usually more of a look than a look away. This memory could be remembered feelings or events. They can also be real experiences, dreams, or even imagined expectations. The eye movements here, likewise, have certain defining characteristics. Here the eyes are more focused and drawn to unseen images. It is almost as if these images are played on a small television screen suspended in front of the character just above eye level. These images are normally from the audience or camera side. Such visual behavior allows the audience to visualize these invisible images generated by dialogue or dramatic circumstances.

In a two character scene, you will also be looking at the person you are talking to or listening to. The eyes will reveal the level of engagement, whether you are actually listening to them or just listening to them. The eyes will also reveal key thoughts such as recognition, reflections, accomplishments, and expectations. They also reflect understanding and questions. A dialogue scene can become very dynamic due to the visual exchanges.

The eyes show an emotional connection, i.e. curiosity, compassion, desire, lust, fear, contempt, jealousy, etc. When there is a non-verbal give and take, the characters better define their desires, feelings and attitudes. Relationships can also be established or revealed through visual behavior.

Where do you look when you talk? For the most part, you will be looking at their eyes. To keep your eyes from moving back and forth between the two eyes, focus on one eye. Normally this is the eye on the camera side. The area of ​​the lips and mouth should also receive some attention and less distant is the clothes they wear. There may be some discomfort when looking someone in the eye and this can be overcome by directing the gaze to a particular detail; let’s say an eyelash or an iris defect. In doing so, he overcomes the awkwardness of being the observer while being observed. It also leads you into patterns and habits where your visual behavior supports your character and doesn’t betray you as an actor.

In a dialogue scene, the eyes will also move to a comfort zone, an area above the camera slightly below eye level. This area is used to digest or reflect on a topic in conversation. It can also be used to prepare a phase or rebuttal or gather one’s thoughts. The comfort zone is smaller and higher than the problem area and the time spent there is short. The eyes are unfocused and the movements are limited.

There is another area that I call avoidance. This visual behavior conveys an inability to confront certain thoughts, images, or feelings. Feelings such as fear, embarrassment, embarrassment, or guilt. An evasive look away reveals the character’s vulnerability and is most dramatic when directed to the dark side, the side opposite the audience or camera. This gaze away avoids traditional focal zones, especially those of other characters, and is therefore extreme in direction and spatially indefinite. The eyes move rapidly, avoid connection, and the angular alignment of the eyes and nose (angle between the direction of the eyes and where the nose points) is sharper.

It helps to visualize these focal areas of eye behavior and this illustration will help to locate them. This link shows the most common arrangement. There are many other arrangements of these focal zones.

There are other facets of ocular performance. Eye movements may lead or lag behind head movements. This subtle difference determines what is more important, the new image or the one left behind. It can imply the difference between emotions such as suspicion and envy. Suspicion would linger and linger, while envy would lead the head shake.

Speed ​​is also a factor in eye movements and can help portray the mental state of the character. Slow flowing movements may be associated with a relaxed person, while a hyperactive person is likely to have rapid eye movements.

The relative size of the eyelid opening reflects the character’s emotional state. For example, astonishment could be represented with eyes open, while satisfaction would be slightly less than normal. When we are deep in conversation, the eyelids expand slightly as emotion expresses itself in brighter eyes.

Blinks are also an expressive tool. Someone who is cornered in their own lies may blink incessantly, while a stern character disciplining a subordinate may only blink as a way of punctuating consequences. The absence of blinking in a love scene can be a way of implying sincerity and desire. Blinks are often used to end a strong statement and are ideal breakpoints for editors.

The eyes are also essential to reflect emotions. For example, fierce anger is a tense emotion, coiled up for action. The focus is very concentrated. The eyes contract with a slight squint and the pupils widen. Another emotion, joy, has a wide range of physical traits: misty eyes, tears, laughter, and high emotional energy. It is an outpouring of feeling, of being completely oneself. The eyes represent joy as if it were a surprise, a celebration of life. Tears and misty eyes lend credence to this emotion. When emotions aren’t enough, by not blinking your eyes, pollutants in the air will soon irritate your eyes enough to make you cry.

Eye-nose misalignment is often used in scenes where the character is critical of or questions the issue at hand. The sharper the angle between the nose and the direction of the eyes, the more adverse the crit will be. Don’t confuse this angle with the actor cheating towards the camera or the main light.

Head turns allow the eyes to comment on a situation. Let’s say the character hears someone come in behind him. Most actors would turn their heads to see who he is. But if the eyes first comment on who he is or who he might be, we allow for a revealing dramatic moment. Highly acclaimed actors use this two-step recognition to develop their character.

Falling Evas is another area where the eyes can represent a listening action. The eyes and head turn slightly in the direction of the voice and the eyes find a comfortable zone for full acquisition. The same behavior is evident in side-by-side conversations. The eyes listen and recognize the dialogue. Too often, young actors feel like they have to be in direct contact. Instead, the conversation becomes more powerful when we see them listening and commenting nonverbally. Small eye movements signify this connection.

This technical approach to visual behavior is often seen as mechanical acting, and the acting will lack credibility. It must be remembered that acting is a language of behavior and that its articulation is as important as that of diction. As one acquires these behaviors, they will soon become an instinctive and natural part of their performance repertoire. They become organic through constant use.

Visual behavior tells us something about the character’s intentions, attitudes, aspirations, and problems. You can highlight moments of accomplishment as well as areas of interest and avoidance. It is an indicator by which we can measure the level of involvement or lack of it, and assess the integrity of the character. It also allows the drama to unfold in the minds of the audience as they question, speculate, and reflect on the character’s situation.

The potential of the eyes to communicate is often overlooked and rarely given due consideration when training actors. However, when you analyze the performances of the great actors in their award-winning roles, you will find consistent behavior regarding the eyes. And knowing and understanding this part of the acting craft opens the door to effectively articulating the inner thoughts and feelings of the character.

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