Hey folks – I know I’ve been silent lately – I’ve just been quite busy and under water (or as I prefer to say, “creatively engaged”) but I read an article by Steven Paul Leiva in the LA Times on the subject of how motion capture is not animation, and it made me surface. This is really just my opinion, but I feel the Animation Producer writing this op-ed is not even listening to his own words as he writes:
“The New American Oxford Dictionary defines “to animate” as “bring to life.” The late, great animation director, Chuck Jones, with whom I worked off and on for several years, often defined animation as, “To breathe life into the lifeless.” Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s Nine Old Men, called animation — and titled their book on the subject — “the illusion of life.” And many animators define animation simply as “frame-by-frame filmmaking.”
By this argument, even Pixar’s work does not qualify as animation. If someone has to sit there doing frame-by-frame work for it to be “animation,” then it would disqualify almost all 2D and 3D animation that is not done traditionally (hand drawn). Much of the time, programming is used to bring life to characters (such as using physics to make body parts jiggle as they move) or to create group behaviors in schools of fish. Motion graphics animation relies heavily on the use of particle systems, which are entirely driven by calculations – Math is doing the work.
So who is really doing the animation? Yes there is a principal animator, but much of the work would never be lauded without these programmed additions to truly breathe life into the full body of work.
None of the above definitions can be applied to performance capture, which, as its name implies, captures and documents a real motion or performance in real time by a live actor and does not create the illusion of that motion or performance through frame-by-frame filmmaking.”
You can spin it any way, but a 3D character is lifeless until an animator somehow brings it to life. In the case of motion capture, the actor, in-part, takes on that role just like the programmer does in the previously mentioned cases. He’s using his body to create animation, not just his hands. Should that disqualify the work from being animation? Why does one need knowledge of animation software to be an animator if he or she can help create something that feels alive? I wouldn’t call them an animator in the credits, but they are partially filling that role – same as the programmer.
“In 1979 I produced a program for the Los Angeles International Film Exposition called “The Animator as Actor.”"
Perhaps it’s time for a new course called “The Actor as Animator?”
I do understand the Levia’s sentiment, though. Personally, I find motion capture quite creepy because, while the body motion looks right, realistic human facial animation is just not there yet (see Tron). But, that said, I disagree with the author’s conclusion - it doesn’t disqualify it from being animation. It usually (IMHO) keeps it from being GOOD animation, but it is animation nonetheless.
I think the About the Author area of the article sums up my point:
“Leiva spent more than 20 years programming, promoting and producing animation.”
How can you PROGRAM animation, unless you broaden the scope of what “animation” means?
(it has been pointed out to me that this probably means programming, as in setting up programs, for TV and festivals. Duh.)
Technology changes the nature of art. Aesthetics aside, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck – even if it was wearing a motion capture suite with webbed feet.
BTW – Thanks to Austin Madison at Pixar for tweeting “At the end of the day, the artist creating the character’s performance is the animator.” It helped organize my thoughts on this subject.