Brow Beat

How Robin Williams Used Motion to Bring His Characters to Life

Williams in motion.  

Still from YouTube

Much can and has been said about Robin Williams’ brilliance—his improvisational gusto and inventive energy left an enduring legacy on screen. Tony Zhou, whose incisive work we’ve highlighted before, has a new video essay that explores a more specific aspect of Williams’ genius: How he used motion to deepen and develop his characters.

Zhou is typically deft in his explanation, pointing out that, though Williams could seem like a real-life cartoon, it wasn’t the large, manic swoops of movement but the small, subtle gestures that made the actor an unceasing fount of organic expression. The video also segues away from Williams into some astute observations about blocking in general—how movement within a scene allows actors to transcend the awkward restrictions of the set. Movement in movies is often a planned art, but with Williams it was the combination of structure and spontaneity that created such lasting moments on-screen.