Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Animation Vs. "Animation"

The Reporter ... behind a subscription wall ... has this:

Steven Spielberg's motion-capture smash poses a real challenge to the five-year reign of Pixar movies.

Pixar's Animated movies have had a prize-winning run at the Golden Globe awards, but this year that run could very well come crashing to an end -- and all because of an intrepid young reporter called Tintin. ...

In some ways, the Globes plunking down Tintin in the middle of Pixar and DreamWorks animated features bothers me. We're comparing apples to oranges, right? One is motion capture and the other is "pure" animation, correct? No question about it.

Case closed.

Except that the well-known animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? It has motion capture in it. Back in the 1930s, of course, they called it "rotoscope," wherein live actors are filmed, the frames of their performances then blown up onto phtostatic paper that is -- by happy circumstance -- the size of hole-punched animation paper, and voila! With a few pencil tracings and costume adjustments, we have mocap, 1930s style!

Snow herself gets the rotoscopic/mocap treatment ... with heavy, heavy tweaks and rescaling. The Prince gets minimal animation adjustments as he is transferred from live-action frame to paper to painted cels without a lot of enhancements. (The Hyperion Studio was running out of time and money, so Ms. White's love-interest, who's only a bit-player anyway, is close to pure motion capture. And looks it. And animators griped about it for decades.)

But the larger point is: Motion capture has been embedded in animated movies for freaking years. (Snow White. Gulliver's Travels. Cinderella. Anastasia and most of the later Don Bluth catalogue. So how is Tintin so very much different?)

The argument that Spielberg is doing all motion capture, and 100% motion capture doesn't count as animation is a fine one, but there are animators altering characters and changing performance timing in the new extravaganza, just like in 1937. So what do we call that?

And if we take the position that motion capture doesn't pass muster because there's too high a percentage of it in the "animated" movie, that seems ... I donno ... sort of arbitrary. (I mean, 32.5% is okay? But if the percentage goes up to, say, 66.6%, that's beyond the pale? Who are we kidding?)

The problem is, there's no clean and easy answer. Mocap performers want to be considered on a par with their live-action counterparts, but there will always be some guy at a computer altering what they do, so I have doubts any of the folks who wear scuba outfits with little cameras in their faces will ever cop an Oscar for "Best Performance." And animators are outraged that mocap is sullying the temple of "pure animation," even though there has been defecations going on in the Holy Place for years.

The best solution is, make up your own definition. If you believe that a mocap feature isn't actual animation, I get where you're coming from, and urge you to picket the Globes ... or the Academy Awards ... or whatever. If those organizations have the temerity to include The Adventure os Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn with Cars or Kung Fu Panda, off with their heads! And if you believe that Steven S. is doing an animated feature, then demonstrate in the opposite direction.

Me, I think it's a tempest in a small paint bucket, but I respect your right to be outraged ... and to behave accordingly. Just so long as you don't taze or pepper spray anybody.

27 comments:

Charles Kenny said...

Good points Steve, but mo-cap is one of those "line in the sand" things.

The way the technology is going, they'll soon be able to see the completed (or near-completed) animation in real-time as the actor is performing it.

Without any clear distinction, such a scenario has the potential to be considered "animation" because it would use the same tools as today, just on a much faster scale.

The only problem is that it is essentially live-action at that point.

At the moment in mo-cap, actors do the movements and animators dress them up after the fact. It's not unlike rotoscoping at all, but considering it proper animation leaves the door open to further muddying of the waters and dilution of the technique we all know and love.

Floyd Norman said...

As one who worked with rotos on both Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins, I still consider the darn things a pain in the ass.

Low tech motion capture - but mainly useless. Just my opinion.

Steve Hulett said...

Good points Steve, but mo-cap is one of those "line in the sand" things.

To who?

Certainly not the Foreign Press Association. Certainly not Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Kennedy (Mr. Spielberg's producer) who think that their baby should get into the "Best Animated Feature" category.

There are no "lines in the sand." That implies something immutable, like gravity. This is more like "pregnant, or a little pregnant." You want to win the argument, you've got to rally sufficient troops to your side to make your point of view stick.

If you don't, your "line in the sand" will be brushed away.

Steven E. Gordon said...

I know I've pissed off some of my fellow animators in the past by arguing that mo-cap is more like roto-scope than most would like to admit. Assuming you agree that roto-scope IS animation. Maybe not always good animation, but it is animation in my opinion.
Good roto-scope is hard to achieve and takes a lot of work from a good animator and from what I understand the same goes for good mo-cap. Bad roto-scope stands out like a sore thumb (I should know since I've done plenty of bad roto-scope in my career) and so does bad mo-cap.
As Floyd said, working with roto-scope is a pain in the ass. Creating GOOD roto-scope is a real pain in the ass. I assume the same holds true for mo-cap.

I've seen plenty of "real" animators shoot their own live-action before they animate in 2D or CG. Are they no longer animators as well?
I've never used mo-cap so I can't speak in absolutes, but then most of those that oppose it being called animation don't seem to have any more knowledge or experience with it than I do.
I also think audiences by and large recognize bad mo-cap as easily as they recognize bad animation (CG or 2D).
In my opinion as long as they hire animators to take the mo-cap and make it something that's watchable then it should be called animation.
If they find away to make mo-cap work without animators (which I highly doubt will ever happen) then that is the line in the sand.

Anonymous said...

The problem with mo-cap (besides looking absolutely ugly in my personal opinion) is the fact that it is being pushed in both "live action" and "animated" categories. Things would be a lot simpler if people can make up their minds and choose either/or.

I am still puzzled as to why there is a sudden resurgence in the "wonders" of mo-cap. This is a method that has been used since Polar Express as a full-feature technique. I find it funny how a "dead eyed, uncanny valley, night of the living dead, etc." medium can suddenly be viewed with such optimism and intrigue.

Anonymous said...

For awards consideration I suggest there be either two categories - Live Action and Other, or that there be three categories - Live Action, Animation, MoCap. Or go back to Best Motion Picture, regardless of method of execution. Much as I'm opposed to MoCap being considered animation, it's probably the best way to have achieved what Jackson and Spielberg have achieved with TinTin. Great results regardless of its method of execution. Why does it have to fit into an either/or category?

Anonymous said...

I feel like Rotoscope and MoCap are two different techniques. One you draw over the filming of a live actor, the other you track points in space, hang a model off those points and then hire an animator to animate it. Another difference is MoCap doubles the budget as you have to hire an actor, a mocap technician and an animator. Rotoscope just needs the actor and the proper tools to draw over the actor.

Anonymous said...

To add further confusion, there is currently a technology that actually records a person's unique individual expressions and movements through a unique camera, without the need for wearing sensors. The data is then applied to programs that transpose the person into CG life. It is mind blowing. It's not art in and of itself, but the possibilities for making art with it are certainly there.

Anonymous said...

Before I say anything, I'd like to say I haven't seen tintin yet but that doesn't matter. Now don't get me wrong, pixar and dreamworks are great story tellers, but I'll tell you what everyone told me back then... they said a good film is a good film, period, this is just a new tool, learn it and stop whining. Still today though, I personally find any form of digital animation disturbing really. When the industry converted to digital a lot of us knew this would happen, there are no boundaries, the line just gets thiner and thiner. Digital is not art!!! period! I know people will kick, whine and scream reading this. But we all knew this would happen. Art is supposed to be painting, sculpting, drawing with real instruments and objects like brushes, palettes knives, pencils. Just read the the job postings out there, rendering, texturing, compositing etc... these are jobs for programmers not animators, illustrators, painters or sculpters. To me CGI is just simulating stop motion animation. Change isn't always good, look at the illustration industry, virtually dead, we're not going to get the fine art of yesterday, everyone adapted to cameras, and look what happened. We get kids who don't have a frickin clue what they're doing.. most haven't even been to an art museum, they don't know who lautrec, renoir, caravaggio, giovanni are. Didn't most of us get here because of our passion for drawing with actual pencils and what's it called again... oh yeah paper. Now we have plastic pens simulating the stroke of a pencil that's not even yet as good as the real thing, it all looks synthetic to me. We can't even flip properly anymore. I know this type of thinking is supposed to be taboo, so yesterday but really? Where are we going to be twenty, fifty years from now. What next controversy is going to stir up the community. But I say, if you want to pursue digital, fine by me, but then pursue all of it, if not go back to your roots.

anim8d said...

As someone who has worked with rotoscope and mocap, I have to say, the two are similar in some aspects (enhancement or replacement of performance, to name a few), and different in others (more people involved to make changes to the overall result from mocap vs. rotoscope). To get the best results with either, in my opinion, you need an eye for animation.

This, coupled with improper direction for mocap usage befire, during and after the shoot, is partly why you see good mocap vs. bad mocap. Another reason is the Uncanny Valley. No matter how well the mocap is cleaned, fixed, tweaked, once you get into humans, all bets are off. _Everything_ needs to be perfect, or you get the soulessness that everyone sees. Unfortunately, many people blame this soulessness solely on the fact that mocap was used. This is a bogus argument- mocap isn't the only thing contributing to the creepiness of movies like Polar Express and possibly, Tin Tin. This is also why I think the whole media portrayal of Tin Tin as having to "save motion capture" is a bunch of garbage.

To that end, I don't agree with the sentiment that "actors do the movements and animators dress them up after the fact," just as I don't agree that Andy Serkis is Caesar with simple "digital makeup." Besides, if a motion captured movie should be considered for an animation award, then an mocap actor should NOT be considered for an acting award. At least, not until everyone involved in a character's performance is considered for the same award, mocap OR hand-keyed.

Just my $.02.

Anonymous said...

As long as there is stylized movement, there will be need for keyframe animators. Maximus the horse could never be motion captured

Second, while I lament for the 2D animator above (and I think I know who it is) calling CG animators clueless people who have never been to an art museum before is ignorant and insulting. I fucking know who Caravaggio is and have painted pieces that are reminiscent of his work. And if CG is akin to stop motion animation, so be it. How is it not art again? With all due respect, digital IS art. And if all of a sudden they took my computer away and said we were all animating with pencils again, it would take me a bit to get my drawing skills back up to par, but you better believe I'd still be a professional animator. You may think CG looks synthetic, but it's taken HUGE strides in the 25 years it's existed. Tangled showed how lifelike and stylized CG can be. Imagine how even more amazing it will be in 20 years. I mean Steamboat Willie isn't a masterpiece and it took a while for 2D to reach it's potential as well.

Your thinking is considered taboo because it isn't forward thinking. It flies directly in the face of Walt Disney's keep moving forward mantra. Yes, the computer is a complicated technical tool, but it also can be an elegant creator of some of the worlds finest art when in the right hands. I'm sorry you can't see that

Anonymous said...

"Just read the the job postings out there, rendering, texturing, compositing etc... these are jobs for programmers not animators, illustrators, painters or sculpters. "

I'm a CG animator and I could care less about any of the technical stuff (although texturing and compositing are very much ARTISTIC jobs). I honestly have no clue how Maya works outside of the animation tools. And I really don't care.

I just want to animate and I see the computer as a tool to create a performance just like a pencil or a stop motion puppet. All of the CG animators I know from school and otherwise think this way. They don't give a damn about the technical aspect, they're artists just like the hand-drawn guys. Not technicians or programmers.

Christopher M. Sobieniak said...

At the moment in mo-cap, actors do the movements and animators dress them up after the fact. It's not unlike rotoscoping at all, but considering it proper animation leaves the door open to further muddying of the waters and dilution of the technique we all know and love.

That is of course what concerns me a lot about the matter.

Anonymous said...

My big concern with the whole mo-cap thing isn't that Tintin was submitted, but Avatar wasn't. If Tintin's technique is animation, and the live-action-filled Alvin and the Chipmunks movies count for animation, Avatar should absolutely be considered an animated film and should have been submitted as such. But no, not only was it not submitted, but the Academy had to add in additional rules to clarify mo-cap as distinct from animation to satisfy Cameron. Obviously those rules meant very little, given the mo-cap movies in the race this year. So why wasn't Avatar submitted in a category it undoubtedly qualified for and possibly could have won? Because of the Animation Age Ghetto. Speilberg can submit Tintin as an animated feature because it's a family film that's going to be marketed particularly towards kids. The Alvin movies get submitted because they're for kids. But Avatar was a big event film that was seriously courting mainstream adult moviegoers, and big movies for adults can't be considered "cartoons." So when animation becomes omnipresent in Avatar-esque films for older audiences, and those films aren't considered animation, when does "Best Animated Feature" officially turn into "Best Kids or Family Film with a Few Arthouse Things for Weird Adults Qualifying But Those Rarely Get Nominated Anyway So Really Just Kids or Family Film"?

Anonymous said...

THAT is why it's dangerous to try and draw a line in the sand as to what is and isn't animation. It will and already has bitten us on the ass. This helps keep animated films in the "family film" ghetto.
This ruling was made to help support Cameron and his BS that animators didn't help on Avatar and we followed in lock-step right behind him and agreed with him.

Anonymous said...

Tintin is about as "animated" as rango--which is to say, not very. At least tintin isn't a COMPLETE eyesore to look at like that ugly, unappealing train wreck rango. They really should have hired someone with design experience to design that cartoon. Or at least someone with taste.

Anonymous said...

Rango was hand animated on every frame. Zero mocap. If you didnt like rango, that's fine, and that's your subjective opinion, but objectively it was purely animated

Anonymous said...

This is pretty much beating a dead horse. The Academy's definition of animation is a film that is created one frame at a time, with at least one major character fully animated. Motion capture is not created one frame at a time. It is not animation, it is special effects.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess those geniuses at the Academy are all-knowing and we should accept what they tell us.

Because they've made this decision you're going to allow them to dictate what is and isn't animation? Way to stand up for your fellow animators.

BTW it sure seems like they're willing to accept Mo-Cap when someone (Spielberg) with a bigger stick than Lasseter or Cameron comes knocking.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone here use an automated track reader to rough in their lipsync? Somebody must be, because that software sells like hotcakes.

Is that motion capture? Does it matter?

Anonymous said...

No one I know (read: hundreds of professional feature film animators) uses auto lip synching software. Looks like shit, more fun to do it by hand anyway.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the above. The EASIEST part of animating a dialogue shot is doing the lipsync. No need for a competent animator to automate it.

Anonymous said...

You might be right that not many (I would never assume "no one") uses that software, but if you think animating lip sync is the easiest part of animating a dialogue scene then there's a real good chance you're not doing it right.
That would be like saying the easiest part of animating a walk scene isanimating the feet

Anonymous said...

if you think animating lip sync is the easiest part of animating a dialogue scene then there's a real good chance you're not doing it right.

The list of feature films that my work appears in says you're wrong. It helps that I've been doing it for 10 years, and that I understand that the relationship between what the lips/mouth do and what the phonemes sound like is much simpler than most people make it.

That would be like saying the easiest part of animating a walk scene isanimating the feet

There is a degree of ignorance in this statement that I can't begin to address. My guess is that you're a student, and lip sync is still intimidating. Don't worry, it'll get easier.

Anonymous said...

Actually, no. I agree with anonymous at 7:13.
I've been animating for over 30 years and I'm considered an expert in both dialogue and walks/runs.
If you think animating lip sync is the easiest part of animating dialogue you're doing it wrong and not giving it the care and observation that is required to do it right.
Just because you have a list of credits doesn't mean you're getting it right. For all we know you're animating crowd shots as opposed to A dialogue/personality scenes. Or that your directors know what they're even looking at.They might actually think that if the lips are moving somewhat in sync then you've succeeded.
But I do agree that a lip assigning program would not work just for that reason.

Anonymous said...

Just because you find lipsync difficult after 30 years doesn't mean I'm doing it wrong. You have absolutely no idea about my skills and the quality of my animation. At this stage in my career, I find lipsync easy. Maybe it's because I was taught (properly) that lipsync is a relatively minor part of an acting shot.

Sadly, most animators focus too much of their workflow on lipsync, and not nearly enough time planning their shot or animating the eyes/brows. We see the same acting, the same schtick, and the same overcooked lipsync. Directors often reinforce this mistake by looping dailogue endlessly in dailies and focusing just on the lips, blind to what the shot really looks like. The audience barely notices that lipsync, but they notice the rest.

TotalD said...

OMG, that was so beautifully put I must quote it:

"Sadly, most animators focus too much of their workflow on lipsync, and not nearly enough time planning their shot or animating the eyes/brows. We see the same acting, the same schtick, and the same overcooked lipsync. Directors often reinforce this mistake by looping dailogue endlessly in dailies and focusing just on the lips, blind to what the shot really looks like."


Directors would ride you for a frame off but have absolutely no comment on the acting at all (add to this you are watching computer tests that would lag ever so often) . I'm looking through the animation on Sleeping Beauty watching mouths missing syllable after syllable and thinking just how much of an earful Frank , Milt and Ollie should have gotten for their horrible lips. English animators do an open mouth A for an R sound because they pronounce it AH , not R JUst thought you should know, it's important. :)

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