Saturday, June 04, 2005

The eyes have it

Several years ago I picked up a copy of The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes at a book sale. One day while reading it during my train commute to work, I ran across an interesting passage that reinforced a certain animation concept.

The Adventure of the Cardboard Box began with Holmes and Watson attempting to relax in Holmes' apartment on a hot summer day. Watson found the morning paper uninteresting, and found Holmes unwilling to take part in conversation. He tossed aside the paper and let his thoughts wander for a bit, when suddenly Holmes broke in and response to Watson's thoughts. Watson was stunned that Holmes knew what he was thinking, and asked him to explain...
"I have been seated quietly in my chair, and what clues have I given

"You do yourself an injustice," Holmes responded. "The features are given to man as the means by which he shall express his emotions, and yours are faithful servants."

"Do you mean to say that you read my train of thoughts from my features?"

"Your features, and especially your eyes."
As Holmes went on to describe the reasoning that led to his conclusion, it served as a testament to the wealth of emotion and thought that can be conveyed by the eyes alone: a shift here, a subtle squint there, the length of time that the gaze is held on certain objects, how and when the gaze shifts to new targets. When carefully orchestrated, the movement of the eyes and brows can speak volumes, even when the character isn't saying a word.

If you think about the amount of work that Doyle had to do in order to present Sherlock Holmes as a master of observation, he must have become quite an observer himself. I wonder what he would have been like as an animator...


dfeer345tyh said...

Nice subject! Some say that Doyle got this idea after reading Edgar Allen Poe's THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, which you can read here

(page 4)

not meaning to discredit Sir Arthur in any way thou, he must have been a keen observer himself.


Justin Barrett said...

Very interesting indeed! I'm not very familiar with Poe's work, except for really common pieces like "The Raven." I'll have to look into his material a bit more deeply.

In addition to Sherlock Holmes stories, I've become very interested in mysteries in general, largely because of all the detailed observation that takes place. It prompts me to be a more careful observer myself, with the hope that I can somehow use what I observe in my work. It's especially interesting to see references to human behavior, such as this tidbit from Doyle, and the clip from Poe that you mentioned.

Thanks for sharing!