Thursday, December 28, 2006

Unhappy About Happy Feet

Here's a perfect example of what I've been talking about with regards to animators not publicizing themselves enough and the possibility that motion capture, purely as a fashion, is threatening the existence of keyframing.

Savion Glover is the dancer who was motion captured for the lead penguin in Happy Feet. While his credit on the film is small and he isn't being publicized in the advertising, he's still getting media attention. There's a N.Y. Times article here which expresses mild outrage at the smallness of Glover's credit and a Washington Post article here and an L.A. Times article here both talking about Glover's contribution.

The Washington Post article had a quote that caught my eye.
"I knew even the greatest animators in the world would take a lifetime to pull off the nuances of dancing that a gifted dancer is able to pull off," says "Happy Feet" director George Miller, speaking by phone the other day from Sydney, in his native Australia.
It's not enough to praise the dancer. Miller has to knock the animators down to build the dancer up. Can you imagine anyone in live action saying that it would take an actor a lifetime to pull off the nuances of motion that a talented animator could pull off?

If animators don't trumpet their skills and accomplishments, nobody else will. If you don't, you deserve whatever happens. Publicity is the coin of the realm. It doesn't do any good to be brilliant if nobody knows you are.

33 comments:

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

So much is in the hands of studio bosses, though. Press all over the world who had never even heard of Savion Glover (I hadn't either), now talk about "the greatest tapdancer alive" in their articles or their tv-shows. If Glen Keane had animated on a new Disney film being released tomorrow, and the studio really used him, they'd do just the same.

Of course, it's a big problem that in the current CG years, there aren't any animators with a Glen Keane-type background.

Hopefully something's done in the promotion of Meet The Robinsons... that seems to have some great animation that no motion capture could capture. It also hasn't got an all-star cast. Sure, it's got Angela Bassett, Tom Selleck and I guess Steve Zahn, but those aren't exactly household names, especially with kids.

Jenny said...

It's really just the old ballyhoo talking in that statement of Miller's--but I'd love to ask him seriously how he arrived at that statement, about it taking a "lifetime" for "the greatest animators in the word". By what evidence, authority and experience in animation does he say such a thing? I'm not writing that with anything but genuine curiosity. Okay, maybe a wee bit of annoyance.

I'm afraid the answer is that it's, again, simply flackery with no thought behind it. Shame!

Mark Mayerson said...

Of course it's flackery. But if it isn't countered, it becomes the conventional wisdom. That's what I'm afraid of.

Jenny said...

You're absolutely right, Mark.

Honestly, I pray for the day when(respectfully, of course)a reporter with some basic knowledge of animation actually discusses or questions the standard promotional stuff from a person such as Miller. One can only hope--and respond as best one can when disinformation and nonsense is put out there.

Anonymous said...

The greatest animators in the world would use reference for dancing. That means watching a dancer.

Who is the author of the work in that case?

Mark Mayerson said...

I don't think that authorship is the question here. What I'm talking about is the devaluation of what animators do because animators are losing the public relations war.

However, I'll toss a question back at you. When Rembrandt painted a portrait, who was the author? Rembrandt or the subject who was sitting in front of him?

Anonymous said...

Well, if Rembrandt had a casting director who chose the model, make up and lighting supervisor he had no contact with, someone who mixed his paints and told him what colors to use, someone who chose the size of the canvas and another person telling him what brush to use . . . .

Apples and oranges.

Pete Emslie said...

Regarding dancing penguins, Frank Thomas animated a memorable sequence in Mary Poppins with those little creatures too. The dance routine was choreographed for Dick Van Dyke and the sequence was filmed. Frank Thomas had his penguin dance troupe mirror the steps of Van Dyke, yet went further with it, exaggerating and simplifying the steps for visual clarity, while also plussing it with playful backflips and belly slides to add personality and flair to his creations.

Could he have come up with a result on his own without the live-action reference? Probably he could have contrived something that was fun and interesting to watch but it would have lacked the credibility of genuine choreographed dance moves at its heart. The point is, nobody expects an animator to be an expert at everything on his own, therefore research of actual motion was encouraged at Disney, whether it be a dance routine put together by an expert choreographer, a galloping horse, or an albatross making a crash landing.

The skill of an expert animator, however, is to take that reference material and plus it, adapting it in a way that is even more visually entertaining to the audience. Frank Thomas accomplished this with his Poppins penguins - I am dubious whether "the nuances of dancing that a gifted dancer is able to pull off" in Motion Capture would be nearly as entertaining as the results of the discerning artistic eye of a gifted vet like Thomas.

Graham said...

Well said. All of you.

Jenny said...

The Mary Poppins example is a good one. Dick Van Dyke was a super talent at his peak, doing his thing--a living, breathing human being doing his steps and being entertaining.
Frank Thomas matched Dyke with the penguins--not only enhancing the scene, but managing to make 2D, fairly simplified penguin designs totally alive---while next to a real human being onscreen! It isn't just timing, good drawing, or observed motion that pulls it off--it's a nuance of personality and appeal that only a master animator could have achieved in just that way.
Hell, I get enjoyment when the penguins are just standing still watching Van Dyke--they're that real. imho, anyway.

I'd give my right arm to have Milt Kahl respond to this discussion with his take on the use of live action reference and "who does what" in animation! It'd be something. But you fellows do pretty well yourselves.

Mish said...

That quote doesn't suprise me whatsoever. The system thinks that cgi is automatic, so a live-action director can treat an animated film like a live-action film.
Miller's just a bad director who doesn't even bother to do his research.

Anonymous said...

Miller is just speaking from ignorance. Obviously he thinks animation is just for children. Unfortunately a lot of Australians believe this. (I'm an Aussie and lots of people think it is strange that I watch cartoons!!!) Perhaps he has not seen any of the great animated dance sequences from the classic cartoons since he was a child?
If I was to try to educate Mr Miller, I would direct him to watch some of the early Betty Boop shorts, especially those featuring a rotoscoped Cab Calloway dancing, or even Jerry mouse matching it with Gene Kelly in Anchors Away.

Anonymous said...

Oh the irony. "Miller is just speaking from ignorance. Obviously he thinks animation is just for children.",
"Miller's just a bad director who doesn't even bother to do his research."

Maybe the quote wasn't articulated very well but the way I read it wasn't at ALL that he was putting animators down - but even if that was the case I find it ironic that the comments in here put HIM down to sing animation's praises. Hypocitical, to say the least. Doesn't help the cause, either.

Yes we're all reading things in here but there's the possibility that he meant the impromptu flourishes of inspiration from a talented dancer that give spontaneity and life to a dance (also we're not just talking about a few seconds of footage here)sequence. Or in this case many sequences. We all know that by virtue of the animation process itself it takes much time and yes the same level of talent to achieve the effect of spontaneity in animation and this is central to the character's personality in this case.

Anyway even if I'm completely wrong about that I think it's embarrassing that people here are shitting on one to shine the other, essentially making the same mistake they accuse Miller of. Also, "Just for Children"? Have you even SEEN the movie? And a guy that's worked alongside animators day in day out for a few years is totally ignorant of animation and the talent of animators? Doesn't bother to do his research"? I understand this has made people defensive but please! At least Jenny had a measured response. Animation conversely offers things that no live performer can do which is one of the many reasons we love it. There was a lot of keyframed stuff going on in that movie, but you still must admit performance capture has its place and keyframing up to thousands of already exremely anthropomorphic characters isn't a viable option timewise but it IS an integral part of this particular story. There were plenty of reports that were never corrected about the use of stop-motion in Happy Feet too. People make mistakes I guess.

Pete, your comment about Glover's performance not being as entertaining (dubious you say!) as "the discerning artistic eye of a gifted vet like Thomas" (which implies by association Glover is NOT as discerning or artistic?) would draw an equal and opposite reaction from dance fans and dancers themselves were we to print it in the same paper. This doesn't really get us anywhere, does it? Maybe reading some of Miller's other comments in which he does sing animation's praises is logical and even-handed. After all, it did make the project possible. Ever tried to train a real penguin? Still, at least this all makes Amid happy. ;)

Anonymous said...

P.S. Mark I agree with the conventional wisdom thing. I'm just disagreeing with the WAY it was countered here. We're all very aware of how Eisner and Katzenberg's trumpeting of the supposed death of 2d animation became almost a self-fulfilling prophecy as they were the ones that made it happen, so believe me, I see your point.

Anonymous said...

It's one thing for animators to appreciate the skills of great animators. It's another thing to think the general public will care about one craftsman more than another.

Studio animators are too dependent on others for the final product to be singled out. You don't see costume designers or directors of photography hiring publicists.

They belong to unions and guilds though. Many animators foolishly think they are above that, and that's part of their problem.

Maybe the unions should do more publicity.

Pete Emslie said...

Pete, your comment about Glover's performance not being as entertaining (dubious you say!) as "the discerning artistic eye of a gifted vet like Thomas" (which implies by association Glover is NOT as discerning or artistic?) would draw an equal and opposite reaction from dance fans and dancers themselves were we to print it in the same paper.

For the record, I am a lifelong fan of musicals and therefore greatly admire the art of dancing. In fact, I've been involved in ballroom dancing myself for a dozen years and am quite the enthusiast. My point is that to merely replicate the movement of a live-action dance sequence in animation is not enough - the skilled animator only uses that as a starting point and builds on it to ensure that his characters have that inner personality and "Illusion of Life". The use of Motion Capture or Rotoscoping without such embellishment can be very odd and devoid of life. Witness "The Polar Express" as an example of the former and Fleischer's Gulliver as an example of the latter.

What ultimately bothers me about this whole debate is that we're seeing the line between animation and live-action being blurred to the point that animation is fast losing its identity as a unique artform. I've personally been leery about CG from the start, as my whole interest in animation since day one has been the art and magic of cartoon DRAWINGS come to life. Every step that CG animation takes towards mimicking the look and feel of live-action filmmaking frankly leaves me cold.

Anonymous said...

If the animators had union representation, Mr. Miller may have hesitated in dismissing their contribution.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I still feel the motion capture was justly used here. An animator can analyze dancing, and punch it up to something that's "animation-y", for lack of a better word. And that's great. But you've got to remember that directors make decision based on the film they're making. If the film wants to express passion for dancing, you have to get that real dancing sensation. You don't just want something with character or something that's entertaining... you really want to get to that core of pure, passionate dancing. And no animator can get that sensation better than one of the best dancers in the world. Dancing's his life, his art. We can't beat that. Now you might say, "then use reference!", but really, if you take anything out, you're most likely losing something, and if you leave everything in, why not just clean up motion capture?
Another thing working for the decision, at least to me, is that they're using penguins, not humans. If it had been humans, the loss of details, or weight, might've felt much more awkward than it does now. If it even feels awkward now.

The only thing wrong with this quote (and I think that's what Mark was getting to), is that it unnecessarily puts animators in a bad light. It's a completely negative sentence. "I knew even the greatest animators in the world would take a lifetime to pull off the nuances of dancing that a gifted dancer is able to pull off." He should've said something positive, something like, "I wanted Glover's heart and soul in Mumble's dancing, so it only seemed natural to let him actually become mumble."

Pete Emslie said...

I just watched the trailer to "Happy Feet" again because I have no intention of seeing the film itself, as it holds absolutely no appeal for me. But having watched the trailer, I'll grant you, Benjamin, that Mo Cap may be the only way to successfully portray thousands of penguins all dancing in synch. Admittedly, my beloved traditional, hand-drawn animation was never particularly good at portraying epic, "cast of thousands" type pictures. The Disney classics were, at their core, more intimate stories centering around a small cast of main characters with just a few incidental characters and crowd shots thrown in to give them some context. The closest thing to "Happy Feet", I suppose, would be the 99 xeroxed puppies that are repeatedly cycled through some scenes of "101 Dalmatians".

Be that as it may, I find the visuals of "Happy Feet" personally unsatisfying in many respects (including the total lack of character design), not the least of which is the unsettlingly realistic, yet ironically unnatural movement created by the Mo Cap process. Particularly ironic to me, too, is the fact that here you have an entire film with dancing as its main plot with a cast of characters that are practically lacking in legs! I mean, really, if one is trying to portray the "nuances of dancing", to the point of even hiring respected world-class dancers to provide the movement, does it really make sense to show that through creatures that have their feet so close to their torsos? Frankly, I find it all a bit pretentious to say the least...

This is turning into an interesting debate, by the way :)

Jenny said...

"It's one thing for animators to appreciate the skills of great animators. It's another thing to think the general public will care about one craftsman more than another."

Yes, but I highly doubt "the general public"--the millions who've made "Happy Feet millions of dollars--care about the real people used for mo-cap dance reference, including Savion Glover. No offense to Mr. Glover, who's extremely talented, but he's hardly a household name (outside of regular Broadway afficionados and attendees). He wasn't featured in the publicity because he wasn't the star draw of the film. The draw was supposed to be cute, appealing, animated penguins.

My point is it should be the job and imho duty of the same writers talking up Glover to talk up the ANIMATORS--if they have any interest in film lore, film production and the talents that make films go. No, one can't expect animators to thrill the average moviegoer unless those moviegoers are introduced to those artists. And while we're on that subject why the heck wouldn't Mr. & Mrs. John Doe & family be interested in animators--CG or (particularly) traditional? Literally everywhere I go when it comes out that I work in animation I'm greeted by people in all walks of life who know someone--usually a student/relative--who's a talented artist, and they want to ask me about careers in animation(the last time I was at UCLA, asked by both a surgeon and a nurse!).
Think that happens when Savion Glover walks into a place, and people find out he's a Broadway dancer?

I'm simply saying that I think the old canard that "no one cares who did the animation", if true(and I think it's less true than ever before today), doesn't necessarily need tor remain the staus quo.

Bruce Wilson said...

Am I the only one who thought mocapping Glover didn't read right? I saw some making of promo ahead of time and Glover's dancing (in his mocap suit) looked great. When I got to the theatre, Mumble's more complex dancing (presumably the mocapped shots) just didn't read right for me. I'm not sure why but probably flippers instead of feet, no legs and fur covering most of it. Add a layer of soft snow and there just wasn't any tap.

Just seems funny to mocap the "greatest tapdancer alive" and then mush it all away.

robin said...

I just checked the penguin sequence at youtube on Jolly Holiday, and it was great! I am not sure what year that was done, but the 2d and the live action blended quite well for its time.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=9DsGEDJpR3E

I felt that the dancing part of the animation in Happy Feet was out of sync at times. Not sure whether this is due to the motion capture editing challenge, or with the limitation of motion capture. If clean up and extra keying is not a problem, then, surely the tap dancing animation could have been pushed further. I am not sure whether this is because the penguins were dancing on snow floor. But having the Jolly Holiday clip as a comparison, you can really tell a difference between the effort of making the tap dancing style visually clear rather than just relying on mainly on motion capture effort.

Anonymous said...

"What ultimately bothers me about this whole debate is that we're seeing the line between animation and live-action being blurred to the point that animation is fast losing its identity as a unique artform. I've personally been leery about CG from the start, as my whole interest in animation since day one has been the art and magic of cartoon DRAWINGS come to life. Every step that CG animation takes towards mimicking the look and feel of live-action filmmaking frankly leaves me cold."

Forgive me, but exactly what does this have to do with the original topic, which is animators not publicizing themselves enough? It talks about threatening the existense of keyframing which exists both in CG (in hand posing) and key animation drawing. One wonders if Mr. Emslie has animated before.

Pete Emslie said...

Mr. "Anonymous", exactly what is your point of whether or not I have animated before? For the record, no, I have not worked in animation and have never made any claims to. My background is in character illustration, which requires just as much knowledge of showing inner life and personality in a character situation depicted in a single drawing or series of story illustrations. Mike Barrier, to the best of my knowledge, has not animated either. Yet, I hope you would not also question his knowledge and expertise on that subject, as I believe him to be very insightful in his opinions.

As to whether I have deviated somewhat from the original topic, just reread Mark's original intro:
"Here's a perfect example of what I've been talking about with regards to animators not publicizing themselves enough and the possibility that motion capture, purely as a fashion, is threatening the existence of keyframing."

I believe I'm still within the parameters of that topic, and if I have deviated away from it in your view, what does it matter? I see Mo Cap as a serious threat to traditional keyframing animation, as well as being one who questions CG animation in general whenever it aspires to mimick live-action filmmaking in the extreme. I honestly believe it is all related to the original topic.

Anonymous said...

publicity is an investment.

Investment expects return.

Who makes the investment, and what is the return?

Will one "star" animator step forward and put up tens of thousands of dollars for a publicist?

I'd like to hear some sort of actual business thinking to justify the publicity idea. Like most animation blogs, this one is woefully short on financial realities.

Mark Mayerson said...

Every professional animation artist should have a website or a blog. The costs are negligable.

Unless there are contractual reasons that prevent it, why aren't animation artists who work on features publicizing which shots they've done or what elements they're responsible for?

Why aren't animation artists offering to write articles for various online sites detailing their contributions to a production?

If an animation artist is not originally from L.A. or N.Y, it's likely that a home town newspaper would be thrilled to get an interview when a new feature or TV series is released.

The costs to all of the above are tiny. At the very least, animation artists would be letting other people in the industry know what they've done, which should lead to more work. At best, a producer starting a project or company looking for pitches might seek out the artist.

And if someone is lucky enough to be involved in a major hit and can point to specific things that he or she contributed to the success of that project, spending $10,000 on a publicist might be the best investment that person ever makes, especially if they have a project of their own that they're trying to launch. Clippings and a public presence are exactly the kind of thing that make investors feel more safe.

Anonymous said...

This discussion wasn't about promoting a project.

It was about animators using public relations to get the press to favorably represent keyframe animation as superior to motion capture.

No one will put up the necessary money for that because there will be no return on their investment.

Even the unions wouldn't do it because some of their members would probaby be involved in motion capture.

Developing and promoting a project is different.

S. Stephani Soejono said...

"...purely as a fashion, is threatening the existence of keyframing."

Oh, come on Pete, paintings didn't die when photography was invented. After the advent of photography there's still painters and illustrators. I know you're worried but I don't think that's the case. Mo-cap is here to stay and so is keyframe animation. Keyframe animation just transfferred medium to CG animation.

Plus, you know how fickle the public is. Give them 5 or 6 more mo-cap feature, they're going to get bored with it eventually.

Also, economically if the producers actually started to add up the numbers, mo-cap is actually more expensive than a normal key-framed CG/2d picture . I'm sure after awhile they'd be like, "Oh, we can save more money by keyframing, why bother mo-capping!"

Relax, it's a fashion fad, much like the Beatles hairdo , MC Hammer pants, and pop music. :D

S. Stephani Soejono said...

Why aren't animation artists offering to write articles for various online sites detailing their contributions to a production?

I wrote an article in Indonesia's most prominent newspaper, Kompas about how the process worksand how hard it is to get it done a couple of summers ago.

But when it come down to it it's probaby three reasons that kept them from doing so

1. They're not as eloquent as the blogging animators when it comes to writing. I mean yeah, a lot of animators are well-educated people but there have been quite a few running jokes about how animators can't spell properly. It is insulting but, perhaps there is some truth to that. Sorry if I offend anyone. There couldn't be a more polite way to say it.

2.They're just too busy working to help their family secure incomes and such

3. They just haven't thought about it.

Also, if people aren't used to doing this regularly like Mark does on this blog, it'll be hard to start or make it a habit. Sadly, for now we have to depend on producers/marketing directors

Of course, it's a big problem that in the current CG years, there aren't any animators with a Glen Keane-type background.

At the same time, Glen Keane was "marketed" by the novelty of drawing 24 drawings per second by the producer and marketing executives. It helps that Jeffrey Katzenberg actually knows the animators personally, so he could relate to them on a personal level, therefore making the campaign a bit more personal as well. I don't know the situation with Happy Feet or Monster House. Perhaps that's why, it seems that the producers obviously spends more time with the mo-cap actors

Well that's just my 2 cents:D

Anonymous said...

Mike Barrier, to the best of my knowledge, has not animated either. Yet, I hope you would not also question his knowledge and expertise on that subject, as I believe him to be very insightful in his opinions.

aha...aha...AHAHAHAHAHAHAH I don't believe him.

Jen said...

I work for PhaseSpace a motion capture firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we have always held the opinion that you need good motion and a good story to make good motion capture. The actor is crucial, but so is the animator. I don't think the existence of mocap diminishes the accomplishments of the PEOPLE behind a piece one iota, it just enables them to do things more quickly and without spending as much money. Just my two cents...
Jen
phasespace.com

boddicker said...

Does anyone know if there are any 2D animation careers or firms hiring in the Los Angeles area? I just graduated from college with a degree in Studio Art, and I'm desperate for a job in this field.

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