Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mo Cap: It's Not Just for Out of the Inkwell Anymore!

See, there's this continuing kerfluffle over motion capture. Is it new? Is it old? And when is it animation, and when isn't it animation? For instance, we've got Alvin vs. Beowulf, where a chipmunk isn't fit for Academy consideration, but a muscular, mo-cap warrior is:

Wondering just how complicated the Academy's rules can be on animation? Ask the producers of "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

Even though the Fox movie stars three CG rodents, the Acad's animated feature screening committee (which is made up of half animation professionals and half non-experts) concluded that the otherwise live-action pic isn't eligible for a best animated feature nomination because it doesn't fulfill the rule that "animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture's running time."

It's simple really. Live action under animation doesn't count as live action (and never has); live action beside animation does. And if you have too much l.a. in your movie, your movie doesn't make the cut for the pretty gold statuette.

And Variety, besides offering the article above, provides a brief history of motion capture ... going all the way back to when it was actually invented:

... explains animation historian Leonard Maltin: "The first real motion capture occurred when Dave Fleischer put on a clown suit and his brother Max traced his movements, one frame at a time, in 1915. They patented the device that enabled them to do this, and called it a rotoscope."

Which of course was used extensively in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gulliver's Travels and various other animated epics. I explain this to newspaper reporters from time to time. They're usually surprised and amazed: "You mean this mo-cap thing isn't that new?!"

Actually, no. It isn't.


Mark Mayerson said...

The fact that Beowulf qualifies and Alvin and the Chipmunks doesn't shows how little the Academy understands animation or how much politics enter into it.

Anonymous said...

Mocap vs. animation? Wow, not like we've not heard this argument a few hundred times on this blog. Why don't we discuss religion, abortion, politics and the existance of bigfoot while we are at it.

Mocap appears to be here to stay - in the trades this morning it is stated that even the High Holy Church of Animation PIXAR is considering using it for their "John Carter on Mars" film. You can vent your spleens to the gods all you want about the evils of mocap, but it wont change the fact that some film makers like using it to create their films.

Remember folks, it "show business" and most of the time the emphasis is on the latter part of that term.

Anonymous said...

The chipmunks movie SHOULD NOT be up for an animation oscar. Give me a break. When you get down to it, it is simply a live action movie.

The academy is right on this one.

p.s. rotoscoping isn't animation either.

Kevin Koch said...

Yeah, it's a boring argument, but not as boring and annoying as stupid comments by some of the live-action folks embracing mo-cap. In the Variety article Steve cites there's this, by Joh Favreau, who's directing "Neanderthals" for Imageworks:

"What I'm hoping to get is a spontaneity in performance, comedy and timing -- all areas that are very difficult to achieve in traditional animation."

Wow. I mean, seriously, wow. So comedy is a weak point for animation. And timing, hell, animators can't control timing at all. And there's nothing as spontaneous looking as those scenes in "Polar Express" of the army of zombies shuffling around with their dead eyes.

Let's get real. Mo-cap has uses. And it has limitations. But let's at least not pretend that it's limitations are actually advantages, and that the advantages of animation are actually limitations.

Anonymous said...

Oh, let's be honest here and say the the Chipmunk Movie should never have been made for any number of reasons - not the least of which is that craptacular Christmas song we are now going to have to sit through again and again and again...

Anonymous said...

"Christmas, Christmas time is here,
Time for joy and time for cheer,
We kept R&H afloat for almost a year, but without another "Garfield" they'll close I fear..."

Anonymous said...

"You can vent your spleens to the gods all you want about the evils of mocap, but it wont change the fact that some film makers like using it to create their films."

In a few limited situations, mo-cap works quite well, especially as a reference for specific physical performances (Andy Serkis as Kong, Savion Glover as dancing penguins, etc).

I've always seen mo-cap as a tool to enhance handcrafted animation, like using a cintiq display instead of a monitor and tablet. But relying too heavily on mo-cap for characterization (Polar Express, Beowolf) isn't worth the tradeoff. The dead eyes of mo-cap are no better than live action actors who are botox junkies.

Sure, your production budget may be smaller and timeline shorter with mo-cap dependence. But when the audience can't connect to your fantasy world because the characters look like crap, the b.o. will suffer. Then Mr. Big Time Movie Producer, you can kiss those mo-cap savings goodbye.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks Mocap is cheaper or that the timeline is shorter is barking mad. Mocap shows not only require animators but also mocap savings in money or time.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Ralph Bakshi really pushed the envelope of animation to it's fullest and most expressive form...oh wait, that was Disney, never mind....


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