Mamimi: Yeah, you have to hold your breath until they cut.
Haruko: You can get cramps from that, you know?
Naota: What? I thought it was a special effect! You're doing the slow motion?
An animated episode is in full swing. The action suddenly stops, the characters step out of character, and address an unseen figure. The view pulls back to reveal the action is taking place on an animated TV soundstage. Usually punctuated by a heated exchange between the animated director and the character.
This is a specific type of fourth wall joke.
Many times, the "actors" who play the characters are very different from the characters themselves. Often, the dumb, inarticulate comedy relief will turn out to be a posh Shakespearean ac-tor. A large, imposing character may take off his head, revealing himself to be a normal-looking guy wearing a costume. The Big Bad may turn out to be a total sweetheart when not in character. If not, the character's "actor" will be exactly the same or very similar to their on screen portrayal, if perhaps with a little more real-world common sense coming from not being a part of the action.
Many times, the character's name will stay the same, but occasionally the crew will call them by the voice-actor's name.
Also used as a method of Lampshade Hanging, as the character will often complain about some trite or hackneyed element of the scene, and refuse to proceed. There's also the popular gag of having them mess up their lines or goof off, though obviously these Animated Outtakes took just as much work to write, voice, draw and animate as the rest of the show.
This can be a throw-away gag, or it can be the plot of an entire episode.
If the animated characters are interacting with live action humans / people, it's the Roger Rabbit Effect.
If taken to a whole dimension, where characters in a writer's portfolio are reused across whole works (sometimes with different roles) like how a "real" actor/actress would, it becomes a Reused Character Design.
- In the anthology series Batman Black and White, a story by Neil Gaiman and Simon Bisley called "A Black & White World" shown Batman and the Joker working on a movie-like set, reading over their lines and commenting on the corniness of the dialogue, as well as the general way characters in comic books are treated and/or mistreated; the Joker comments that he never gets big dramatic splash panels like Batman, while Batman retorts that he is the one who gets to make all the big speeches. Oddly enough, Lobo is their director.
- A variation turns up in one issue of Astro City, where a device that brings movie creatures into the "real" world of the comic accidentally pulls in cartoon lion Loony Leo along with the movie monster the villain was aiming for. Leo helps the hero defeat the villain, and the hero convinces the audience to believe in him and prevent him from fading away. Leo then spent a few years as an actor before his career hit the skids.
- Used sometimes in Cherry Comics. Perhaps most strikingly seen in "Cherry Gets it in the End (and Mom Does Too!)" from Cherry #12, where Cherry starts to undo the zipper on her boyfriend's pants so that she can perform fellatio on him. All of the sudden, a male voice yells "CUT!" and the panel pans out to show Cherry and her friend on a set and surrounded by a film crew. The director states that there has been a couple of script changes, much to Cherry's confusion.
- Muppet Classics, being a comic where the characters of The Muppets acted out famous stories, predictably had some instances of characters acknowledging that they were actors.
- Muppet Robin Hood has Kermit play Robin Hood and his nephew Robin play a character named Squirt. Robin points out how confusing it would have been if he went by his regular name in the same story where his uncle is playing a character named Robin.
- Muppet Snow White is the most explicit about the Muppets merely playing the characters and not actually being them and even has Miss Piggy (portraying the Evil Queen) get Link Hogthrob to play Snow White's father just so she could divorce him and marry Kermit's role as the Prince.
- Repeatedly used in Dykes to Watch Out For. In an early two-part series, the characters threaten a walkout to gain creative control of the strip. The trope that they are actors in the comic's world is used several more times. The book The Indelible Alison Bechdel featured a long sequence in which the characters are portrayed as both actors and as the staff and managers of DTWOF Inc., with author Bechdel portrayed as a "staff writer" chained in the basement and humoured in her 'harmless delusion' that she creates the strip.
- Bloom County sometimes used this — on at least one occasion the strip came to a screeching halt mid-panel because Opus hadn't received that day's script; and in one storyline all the "actors" went on strike.
- Ink Pen: Based around a temp agency for Animated Actors.
- Some authors of anime fanfiction have employed this trope by by providing "outtakes" from their story, or by suggesting that the characters of various cancelled or completed series are now unemployed and are taking jobs in fan-written stories in order to make ends meet. (See here for some classic examples of both.)
- At least one author has written a series whose entire focus is on this sort of thing.
- Trimatter's In The Lunchroom uses this device to comment tellingly on Adaptation Decay and the evolution of fanon in fan fiction.
- Similarly to Trimatter's story, Clell 65619's Harry Potter and the Read Through mixes this and Meta Fic, as the cast of the Harry Potter novels critique the new fanfic script they've just been handed.
- This untitled alternate ending to the infamous Cupcakes calls upon this trope for the purpose of safely explaining away the events of the original story (as well as to comfort the many disturbed readers of Cupcakes further by using the opportunity to argue that the original story was all in good fun).
- In fact, this trope is quite common in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan fiction and fan art. The fact that several of the writers and animators have well known ponysonas (one of whom actually appeared in an episode) only makes it easier.
- The Doorstopper Animaniacs fanfiction Family, by the 'Middle Warner Sibling', takes place in this universe, as we follow the Warner siblings from their poverty-stricken beginnings to how they were hired by Warner Bros. for their respective parts and beyond.
- Subverted in Haunted Mansion and the Hatbox Ghost stories by having the ghosts of the "Haunted Mansion" ride being real ghosts, and the backstories given being real, but the ride itself being the ghosts (who made a deal with the Walt Disney Company) showing themselves and knowing that this is a ride (while in Real Life, the Haunted Mansion ride is supposed to simulate a visit in a "real" haunted house, and the fact that the Haunted Mansion is located in a theme park is just ignored and left to Willing Suspension of Disbelief).
- Constable Frozen is a blog that specifies in surreal photo edits of Frozen (2013). They did one of these. Curiously, Olaf and Sven are still CGI.
- There exists a genre in fanfiction where a writer will take an animated show and create a series of fake bloopers and behind-the-scenes stuff for it, treating the characters as actual actors. More often than not, Hilarity Ensues. Examples include From the Top (for Voltron: Legendary Defender), CUT! (for Detentionaire), and Phineas and Ferb: Take Two! (for...well, guess).
- This AU of Steven Universe: Future, although the Gems are still, well, Gems.
- A common type of Alternate Universe Fic is the Actor AU, where fanartists draw key scenes from a series as if they were filmed on a soundstage and show some behind-the-scenes interviews from the "actors". Rarely do these AUs go beyond the making-of, though.
- Gene Wolfe's story "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" has an non-animated example. The characters of the titular pulp adventure book begin appearing to the protagonist in the real world, and the book's villain assures him that here in the real world he and the other characters aren't really heroes or villains, but merely like actors:
You see ... [the hero] and I are a bit like wrestlers; under various guises we put on our show again and again—but only under the spotlight.
- The Thursday Next books go back and forth; sometimes Thursday enters a book and the events are actually happening, but more often it's all a show put on for the readers.
- In Armageddon 3: The Remake by Robert Rankin, Rex is horrified to discover that the barman of the Tomorrowman Tavern has gone Small Name, Big Ego since his appearance in the first book, which followed a long career of being killed off in horror, western and war novels. It's mentioned that it's hard for proper fictional characters to get work; too many authors just put thinly-disguised friends and relatives in the decent roles, and if you complain, you get the correction fluid.
- In the episode "Nasty" of The Young Ones, Alexei Sayle, during his monologue (which usually broke the fourth wall anyway), mentions that the other actors probably talk about him behind his back. Cut to backstage, where the other four are playing cards, still in costume but not in character:
- Power Rangers RPM:
- In one extremely strange episode, the action is paused to take viewers behind the scenes into the making of an episode - but everybody is (sort of) still in character. One segment involves Scott and Tenaya 7 practicing their moves and explicitly stating that they do this so neither of them get hurt. Scott might not want to hurt Tenaya cause he's The Hero, but in character, she would kill him.
- It becomes particularly amusing during the blooper reel when Olivia Tennet's ridiculously thick Kiwi accent comes through when she mutters "So close!" after flubbing some lines for her character Dr. K.
- The Late Show with David Letterman: Dave has interviewed Beavis And Butthead (and punched Beavis). Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson and Optimus Prime have presented Top Ten Lists live on stage.
- In promoting both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the team at WETA have had the primary CG characters of both respective trilogies, Gollum and Smaug, make hysterical one-shot television appearances. Gollum appeared at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards to accept his own trophy and go off on a foul-mouthed tirade, Smaug appeared on The Colbert Report for an interview the week before the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, discussing his conservative views and his annoyances with having to do motion capture.
- A Whammy on Press Your Luck has him in a celebrity's fold-out chair saying now that he's a star he needs make-up. He gets a powderpuff canister right in the face.
- A variant for the Evillious Chronicles by mothy. In most other media the characters are modeled after the Vocaloid they're based on and nothing is made of it. But in the credits of the franchise's songs said Vocaloids are credited as having played the role, with others who didn't show up credited for things like makeup and lighting.
- Very common in The Muppets productions.
- Speaking of Jim Henson, Netflix's official YouTube channel released a "blooper reel" for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance which features several of the puppets acting like human actors between takes, and engaging in such antics as bullying the director and trying to shoo a pigeon off the set.
skekSil (in a posh "luvvie" voice): Eric, I'm acting.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 doesn't do this in the show itself, but various advertisements and promo shorts would feature Tom Servo and Crow giving interviews or press conferences, and implied that they're playing fictionalized versions of themselves in the show.
- An episode of Dinosaurs dedicated to everyone acting really strange after finding a mysterious "plant" ended with shooting concluding and Robbie walking off set to deliver a PSA... about how if people talked about these things in real life, they wouldn't have to do these PSAs.
- The Goon Show did this sort of thing on radio, with characters frequently commenting on the story, insulting the announcer and generally drawing attention to the fact that they are on stage recording a radio show. Furthermore, as Roger Wilmut points out in his book The Goon Show Companion, the characters often make remarks to each other in character which make it clear that they are already acquainted. In other words, the actors are playing characters who are themselves playing characters.
- In one episode, "The Phantom Head-Shaver of Brighton" was revealed to be...Wallace Greenslade, the narrator.
- To some extent this was also imitated by later shows like Round the Horne, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and The Burkiss Way.
- This was combined with The Danza on Hello Cheeky. The actors played personas of themselves (thus John Junkin was a serious professional, Barry Cryer a lovable swine, Tim Brooke-Taylor a naive snob and Denis King a ditzy egotist), and these personas were treated as the real actors, who played every character of every sketch. The writing credits were the same in-universe as well, which meant that some episodes included jokes about characters shirking their duties.
Barry: We present our play of the week. It's called 'Krunggeqwertyuiop', because I was drunk when I typed it.
- The Space Gypsy Adventures featured this on occasion, with the characters complaining about the set to the narrator.
- LEGO Studios featured many sets based on filming scenes from famous movies of the time, like Spider-Man and Jurassic Park III, although with Steven Spielberg included as the director and original LEGO Adventurers characters replacing the JP actors. The Adventurers Johnny Thunder, Pippin Reed and Rex the Tyrannosaurus rex also appeared in their own sets. The web game Backlot, based in this line, was all about helping Johnny and Steven get their movie done, and even had a BIONICLE character, Takua, making a cameo in the cafeteria, where his real name was revealed to be George.
- Episode 10 of Bowser's Kingdom is an episode where Geno hosts a interview show with the cast from said series.
- Played with in episode 3 of Girlchan in Paradise!!; Kenstar accidentally says someone else's line and remarks on it and Green Guy is enraged about being killed off, but it's clear that the voice actors, not the characters, are the ones who are talking.
- Piemations did a sketch called "Meet the Amazing Tracer" where the titular Overwatch character meets the Doctor from Doctor Who. When he tells her his name, Tracer naturally responds with "Doctor Who?" Cut to the scriptwriter looking at the gag he's just written, and shaking his head in disgust.
- Homestar Runner's characters have a high degree of Medium Awareness and sometimes seem to be actors.
- "The King of Town" and "In Search of the Yello Dello" have DVD Commentary tracks by the characters, implying that the events are fictional and that they were acting (albeit As Themselves).
- There are many Show Within a Show segments, including Teen Girl Squad, Dangeresque and Sweet Cuppin' Cakes. Some of the characters in these are clearly portrayed or voice-acted by members of the main cast of (animated) characters.
- In the Strong Bad Email "original," not only are the characters implied to be actors but Strong Bad claims they are frequently replaced. He reminisces about the "original Bubs," a clearly-different animated character playing the "role" of Bubs. However by the end of the toon, Bubs arrives and claims Strong Bad is lying and that he is the original, one-and-only Bubs.
- Missy Palmer, who voices Marzipan, has revealed that her Alternate Character Interpretation is that the characters are a Universal-Adaptor Cast playing various roles.
- Homestar is occasionally portrayed as a celebrity in-universe, and some shorts show him being used as endorsement for drinks, hosting a recurring game show, and even starring in a long-running email series like Strong Bad's.
- Done in most of the Red vs. Blue PSAs, which traditionally start with:
Hi. I'm [character], from the popular web series, Red vs. Blue.
And I'm [character], from the same show.