Bill Kroyer, director and animation veteran, has one of the better takes on motion capture:
"Pure motion capture is essentially another form of puppetry, and we don't consider puppetry, which involves real-time manipulation, to be animation," explains Bill Kroyer, an animation director at the Rhythm and Hues effects studio. "We've always defined animation as frame-by-frame filmmaking, which means the artist has the ability to go in and manipulate the action frame by frame.
"It gets tricky because it's all hybrid now, especially motion capture," he continues. "You're starting with a real-time file, but in almost every film, the motion capture has been adjusted frame by frame. Even in 'A Christmas Carol' or 'Beowulf,' they couldn't capture eyes and mouths; those had to be animated."
The thing of it is, raw, unadorned motion capture, like live action photostats traced slavishly onto hole-pegged paper, doesn't grab audiences very much. Both look kind of floaty and bizarre if animators don't get in there and massage them.
Years ago, a DreamWorks staffer told me about a mo cap test for Shrek, early in its development:
"Jeffrey looked at it and said 'it doesn't work,' and everybody agreed that the picture was going to be animated. And we'd spent a bunch of money on the test ..."
This isn't, sadly, a new phenomenon.
Ralph Bakshi told The Times he rotoscoped his entire film of "The Lord of the Rings" "to get the total realistic motion that animation has never gotten before." But the results looked weightless, awkward and far less convincing than good freehand animation. The film elicits snickers when it screens today ...
Mo cap and roto are fine tools, but they don't work particularly well if there's no artistic brain working at the computer or light board, honing and shaping them into believable performances.
No matter what live action filmmakers say, they can't erase animators out of the process, because without them, the results neither convince nor compel audiences to accept the images up there on that big, wide screen..