Sunday, November 18, 2007

More on Motion Capture and Beowulf

The differences between motion capture and animation are wider than people think. It's not simply a question of technique.

With motion capture, motion exists in the real world. It gets sampled and then applied to a computer character. With animation, the motion does not exist in the real world. It is constructed and only exists when the images are rapidly displayed, creating the illusion of motion. That describes the process.

There are several differences philosophically, however. Motion capture seeks to convince an audience through the accumulation of detail. When it falls short -- when it is criticized for looking like a waxworks -- it is due to insufficient detail in the motion. Therefore, the goal of motion capture is to increase detail to the point where it is indistinguishable from live action. As Ken Ralston says,
Trust me, when you’re sitting in dailies talking about Anthony Hopkins’s armpit hair for an hour, you know there’s a lot of effort that goes into every pore of the skin, into every eye and eyebrow. It’s a massive puzzle that has to be broken apart and then put back together again.
By contrast, good animation seeks to eliminate unnecessary detail in order to arrive at the expressive essence of a motion. Motion capture concerns itself with addition; animation with subtraction.

If animators look down on motion capture technicians, it is because of the relationship that these two groups have with essence. If there is an essence in a motion captured performance, it comes from the actor. The job of the motion capture technicians is to accurately reproduce it. Any animated additions they make are a result of the technology's shortcomings or the director's change of heart. By contrast, an animator, if successful, creates the essence of the motion. This is no small distinction. There is a world of difference between reproduction and creation.

* * *
(Spoilers below.)

By the time Beowulf kills Grendel, we know that lust leads him to lie. His account of the swimming race is verbally different from the evidence offered on screen. He claims to have lost due to sea monsters, but the visuals indicate that he lost due to a sexual dalliance with a mermaid. It is clear that Beowulf also lusts after the queen. Based on what the audience has already seen, it isn't necessary for Grendel's mother to promise Beowulf a crown. He would have sex with her for no other reason than her beauty.

When Beowulf returns from the cave, claiming to have killed Grendel's mother, he learns the truth from the king before the king commits suicide. Now Beowulf should understand that his lust has led him and his kingdom towards further disaster. Does Beowulf agonize over this? No. He doesn't return to Grendel's mother until after the kingdom is attacked. Does he rein in his lust as a result? No, he takes a mistress. There is no self-awareness in Beowulf's actions, only in his dreams of more monsters.

When Anthony Hopkins' king confronts Grendel, neither can kill the other. While they are enemies, their blood relationship complicates their situation and renders action impossible. When Beowulf confronts the dragon who is his son, he has no emotional conflict as to what he must do. The only emotion between Beowulf and the dragon is hatred.

Beowulf's lack of self-knowledge (not realizing how lust overwhelms his best interests and destroys his integrity) and lack of complexity (no qualms over the need to kill his only son) are what make him, and the resulting film, so empty-headed. The question is not whether Beowulf is successful as an example of motion capture; the question is whether he is a fully realized character. The answer to this question is not the level of detail reproduced; it is the nature of the character's essence.

Some may be tempted to blame the script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, but I blame Robert Zemeckis. Any director who understands a scene can add subtext to it by directing the performances, choosing who the camera should be looking at and how a character should be reacting at any given moment. Beowulf is a character with little self-knowledge, even as he dies. The other characters in the film are cut from the same cloth. This is why the technique, even if flawless, is worthless in this case. Ultimately, the detail must lead us to some essence, but Beowulf hasn't any.

40 comments:

dwestburg said...

Rotoscoping has been used in 2D animation for years. How is that any different that motion capture in CG animation?

amir avni said...

This is the best distinction I've ever read of motion capture and animation. They're just not after the same purpose.
I haven't seen the movie, but the more I hear about it, the less I want to see it.

Jenny said...

Boy, I'd like to see this essay in the New York Times this morning.

It's sobering to realize that the obvious truth you cite:
"...good animation seeks to eliminate unnecessary detail in order to arrive at the expressive essence of a motion. Motion capture concerns itself with addition; animation with subtraction."
...has been forgotten or ignored; over and over again (with some notable and rare exceptions)animation is now judged by how torturously detailed it is--as if anything else is merely being "cheap".
No thought of design, of the judicious choice of one element or another given precedence--and it's been going down this road for years now. When in the late 80s clients representing cereal brands demanded that their goofy animated characters have "3D" shading(making them look more like balloons than anything else), we were already in trouble. Things like that cropping up were little early symptoms of a general misunderstanding of the aims and/or possibilities of an artform. Now, all the corporate logo characters just have to be actual CG to measure up--and further up the food chain(as the media tells us) we get the "apex" of what's best and newest in mocap. Presumably.

All I could think reading of the intensive discussion of armpit hair was: what did this add, truly? I'm not posing that question as a slam. If the idea is to recreate "reality", then it's not there, obviously. But I thought this was presented as an alternate, different, artistic rendering. If so, couldn't some details be left out just as they always have been in 2D animation, for the sake of appeal and impact?

Michael Sporn said...

Another excellent post.

However I am getting a bit tired of the comparisons between MoCap and rotoscoping. They're more than a little different. Rotoscoping traces frames of motion wherein the animator has to manipulate those frames to his/her needs. MoCap captures motions and automatically adjusts them. Then a cg artist goes in and adds to them.

There is an inherent need for the one manipulating the rotoscope drawing to understand the motion and animation to adjust it for the movement.

The cg artists needs to understand less about the motion and more about the effect desired to complete the MoCap version. The actual real-life motion seems less manipulated for the end result.

To me, these are worlds and crafts apart. One is an animation tool, the other is an effect.

Scott said...

“Any director who understands a scene can add subtext to it by directing the performances, choosing who the camera should be looking at and how a character should be reacting at any given moment.”

“Some may be tempted to blame the script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, but I blame Robert Zemeckis.”

Tempted to blame? You can only direct what is on the page and the Beowulf of the script has no soul. That is why the movie is so empty, there’s nothing to him. He’s blander that Superman, but once again, this is a screenwriting issue. There are a lot of screenwriting issues, the absence of any memorable or fun dialogue among them.

Why do you let the writers off the hook so easily?

Mark Mayerson said...

Dwestburg, I am no fan of 2D rotoscope. I won't defend it in Disney's Snow White, Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels or Bakshi's Lord of the Rings. I think that whenever it has been used in drawn animation, it has been used as a crutch because there wasn't the time, the money or the expertise to create the animation from scratch.

Jenny, human beings are suckers for realism. I'm afraid that nothing is going to change that. The simplicity of cartoons and caricature somehow compromises the perception of their quality. I guess there's not enough evidence of sweat.

Scott, I am a huge admirer of silent film and directors who worked in that medium (even if they continued into the sound era). I know how much complexity can be added to a character or a scene simply by a glance or a change in facial expression. I am sure that Zemeckis' camera moves were not in the script yet he added them for the effects he desired. Had he paid as much attention to the emotional beats of each character and scene as he did to the camera, this would have been a better movie.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I just want to say how much I agree with Jenny. Ever since I started to educate myself in art and drawing, I am baffled with how many people - including me in the past - are being told what to like and then cite realism or detail as the explenation. We're being told to admire Michelangelo or Raphael's drawings, or Rembrandt and Ruben's paintings, and when we look at them we find nothing else to say but "look at the detail" or "it's so real", while what's truly happening is an amazing abstraction and simplification of real life through knowledge of what real life is.
Many people will find a bad but shaded drawing better than a good line drawing, when they're asked that, even though they'd rather see the line drawing in one of their comic books or newspaper/magazine illustrations. I'd almost dare to say that "all good visual art seeks to eliminate unnecessary detail in order to arrive at the expressive essence", even with photography.

And what baffled me even more - even though I might have to hold my judgement until we actually get to see something - is how accomplished artists like Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg still fall for this. They're filming Tin-Tin (which, being Belgian, lies close to my heart) in performance capture, of course, and these are some quotes from an article about the project:

<<< Spielberg said that one problem with a live-action version of Tintin’s adventures was that it was difficult to recreate the look of the cartoon strip.

“We want Tintin’s adventures to have the reality of a live-action film, and yet Peter and I felt that shooting them in a traditional live-action format would simply not honour the distinctive look of the characters and world that Hergé created,” he said. “Hergé’s characters have been reborn as living beings, expressing emotion and a soul which goes far beyond anything we’ve seen with computer-animated characters.”

...

Jackson promised that the characters would bear a close resemblance to Hergé’s designs but would not look cartoonish. “We’re making them look pho-torealistic – the fibres of their clothing, the pores of their skin and each individual hair. They look exactly like real people – but real Hergé people.” >>>


They want to "honour the distinctive look of the characters", "recreate the look of the cartoon strip", but of course they can't "look cartoonish". No, they have to look like "Herge people", because obviously Herge's eyes were a bit messed up and he saw the real world deformed. So the only thing he really did when drawing was leaving out the pores and hairs.

"Hergé’s characters have been reborn as living beings, expressing emotion and a soul which goes far beyond anything we’ve seen with computer-animated characters", but what about handdrawn characters? No no, it doesn't matter Herge pretty much invented the "ligne claire" style, because it's pretty "claire" to anyone that they're not alive or soulful on the page. Why do they even compare it to other computer animation, when they should be focussing on their source?

As much as I respect both of these directors, this project almost seems like a bigger travesty than the stage musical based on it that ran here recently.

Fortunately for us, almost all of Tintin's albums already have been nearly perfectly adapted for French and Belgian TV. Limited yet well-animated in a way that perfectly fits Herge's drawing style, well-drawn and amazingly faithful to the real deal (seems to be harder than it looks, looking at European comicbook-to-animation adaptations nowadays), some of the most exciting, unique and untiring music I've ever heard in a TV-show, pitch-perfect voicework and very faithfully following the story of the albums. No surprise they still hold up perfectly today, over 15 years later.

Watch a bit of it on youtube here.

Sorry for the rant.

Pseudonym said...

Mark says:

I think that whenever it has been used in drawn animation, it has been used as a crutch because there wasn't the time, the money or the expertise to create the animation from scratch.

To be fair, it's also been historically used for saving time on elements that are not important to the performance, such as effects animation, so that time and money can be concentrated on what matters.

So, for example, I'll happily defend the use of rotoscoping for the carriage in Cinderella, which today would be done with CGI.

It's just a prop! Don't spend more time on it than is necessary to avoid distracting the viewer with wobbliness on something that's supposed to be rigid.

Will Finn said...

Mark, this is again, excellently written. The use of the word "essence" is right on target.

I'm happy to say I think I finally agree with Michael Sporn on something: his observations about rotoscoping vs mo-cap are salient and a welcome argument against incomprehensible comparisons I have read elsewhere.
Rotoscoping involves DRAWING, and therefore is a much more inherently artistic enterprise. The drawings themselves require considerable finesse and interpretation and the margin for error is far greater than mo-cap. Rotoscoping can be done well or it can be done poorly, (I'm afraid it tends to turn out poorly more often than not), but it is not the same thing as mo-cap. Mo-cap to me is robotics, with a digital robot as the the end product.

Spillz said...

Heads up everyone, just discovered there's yet another 3D mocap Zemeckis film coming up.

I guess "realism" sells pretty well, haha.

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117968136.html?categoryid=13&cs=1

Bill Drastal Blog Mode!! said...

Awesome explanation on the differences between animation, rotoscoping and motion capture.

Anonymous said...

dwestburg, rotoscope is used as a guide for (weak) animators. A good animator does not need it at any time.
The difference between roto and mocap is this: the roto animator changes the human actor into something else. A mocap scene preserves the entire live action performance without modification. Unless unblinking eyes count.
Mocap is not animation because it is created by an actor, not an artist.

a mouse, anon said...

Instead of giving mo-cap a wholesale trashing on the basis of Beowulf, why not throw Monster House into your equations, which was a much more stylized (and successful) usage of mo-cap?

I never thought I'd see Michael Sporn give an impassioned defense of rotoscoping! Just like there were a lot of early crappy 3D-animated films before we got to Ratatouille, there will be a lot of crappy mo-cap films before its proper usage has been figured out.

3D animators whining about mo-cap sound exactly like 2D animators whining about 3D animation! Is someone somewhere still whining about the advent of sound in motion pictures? Things change. No technological innovation is evil or worthless. It's just a new tool that needs to be figured out in order to use it properly.

Mark Mayerson said...

Perhaps some tools, like nuclear weapons, are best when they're not used?

a mouse, anon said...

Mark, you miss my point entirely, which is that mo-cap should be compared to nuclear POWER, not a nuclear weapon. Perhaps in Beowulf nuclear power is a quite literal "bomb," I don't know, I haven't seen the movie. But can you not at least grant that mo-cap was put to good use on Gollum?
And have you seen Monster House? I'd be interested to know your opinion. It was a use of mo-cap to achieve something other than realism.

warren said...

Love this post! Spot-on.

Tin Tin I had some hope for, but now? Not so much. Thanks for the tip-off, benjamin!

I think if people were to take into account Jenny's comment when working with 3-D mo-cap some films made with this tech will improve. Frees up time & budget for concentrating on getting other areas right.

Again, it's like when 3D was all chrome panthers running on glass. All 'style' and no substance. But with time and a priorities shift, train-wrecks like B.O.W. will become less common, I think.

warren said...

Mo-cap isn't animation, though. No doubt about that...you need animation skills to make mo-cap look right! HA!

Andrew said...

It's not motion capture that should be at the center of this irritating debate, it's photo realism. When Monster House came out, there wasn't such an uproar about motion capture because it looked cartoony: it was exaggerated and stylized. Beowulf is not. The use of motion capture wouldn't matter at all if they didn't strive to make the film look 100% real in every other facet.

And, ultimately (and unfortunately), the film is "animated." It makes things appear to be moving and alive when in fact they are not. Hell, they don't even really exist. That IS animation. However, from an ethical standpoint, the movie is really just one LONG special effects shot, no different than a fight scene in Spider-Man 3 or a monologue from Pirates of the Caribbean's Davey Jones.

King M. Mugabi said...

I find myself visiting your blog more and more Mark, if only to see what my professor has to say about such and such things, for it’s this same theory that I then take home from your lectures and critiques. I caught this “film” at the free screening last week. It’s maybe because I didn’t pay that my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt, of maybe it’s more valuable, either way, most critics don’t pay so I consider my opinion as honest as there’s .
I honest to god found this “film” enjoyable as hell.
I’ll just skim though some of what I have to say in response to seeing it and to your post.

I personally find that you may have just a little to much invested in this subject matter to be considered unbiased, I personally think it’s interested when directors give opinions on other directors work…George Lucas thought Spiderman 3 sucked…he’s right but come on..George?
You’ve never missed an opportunity to voice your contempt for Mocap in the past, and apparently you seem to have a place in your heart for Bobby Zemeckis…should this “review” surprise anyone?

B Zemeckis has been struggling for the past decade and a half or so, Gump had it good points but that films very concept is built upon a gimmicky situation.
I think now that Bob has this so called freedom as you put it, it’s allowed him to reconnect with his artistic side. To the average audience(and box office will attest) this film was visually engaging, what you may find as a camera move too long, others find an immersive experience(x2 with 3D glasses on) gimmick or no, art isn’t just for the high nosed Saxons, it’s fun for the entire family…at least bob isn’t boring anymore.

You may have pointed out story elements that should have been revised, your words escape me at the moment so I won’t reference them but rather just respond..
-In response to what takes Beowulf so long to return to grendels mothers cave.
Nothing connects the subsequent attacks to Grendels mother as far as Beowulf’s insight. It takes Malkovich’s testimony to tie the two together. (Unferth delivers the dragon’s message to the wulf after the fire)

-In response to why the King and grendel have a “truce” whereas Beowulf and the dragon do not.
The dragon and Grendel are two very different monsters. Grendel is very much a victim, where as the dragon is not…like father like son.

Hrothgar has plenty of grief
That’s why it’s only after the fact that his jumped to his death.

And finally, Beowulf has plenty qualms about killing his son. But he gets over them quick when not only his kingdom is in the line of fire, but his very wife and bed maid.
His final victory wasn’t about the glory his seeked for himself in his youth, it was about love.

I think there is a lot of good here, this script/story has 10 times more room in it than say 300…at least this lead has a character arc.

That dragon sequence is one of the things that has long held up a decent movie version of Beowulf. In the poem Beowulf comes to Denmark to fight Grendel, then he fights Grendel's Mother. Returning home and becoming a king, Beowulf has fifty years offscreen until a totally unconnected dragon shows up and he fights that as well. Avary and Gaiman have figured out how to tie the first half of the story into the second half and have come up with a device that is not just dramatically satisfying but thematically perfect.

That’s that for the film itself…
Long winded but well worth it.

King M. Mugabi said...

Extreme makeup, in a controlled world.

More over, on to the topic of Mocap

I think it’s young just as animation was at some point.
And just as animation was, it’s looked down upon,

“Why have someone whose more concerned with drawing pictures, act?”

A perfectly honestly question,
When I pay $10 dollars to see Will Smith and Deniro act(and earn back the 20million they demanded for the role) I want to get more than just their voices on some fish while someone whose can draw and rig and render “perform” for the camera.

Someone said that mocap is like dragging the soul out of an actor…
I Malkovich is an actors actor…I seen him act in this movie.

In a traditional animation it would have been his voice and what ever mannerisms the key framer could salvage.

I’m not going to sit here and bad mouth my (future) craft, but I’m also not going to blinded ignore the facts(however grounded in theory they maybe)

Real “acting” is done by “actors” we see the academy give them their awards annually.

Exactly one quarter of what we appreatiate about film lies in seeing these people do what theater has been training them to do for the past 25 centuries(Greek pantomime not withstanding)

Traditional animation is a beautiful thing of it’s. But MoCap gives us more “genuine” performances…

Davyjones, Gollum, KingKong,

Ray Winestone is not a 6’7 Celt with a scrapper’s body(far from it)
But he was in this movie.
http://blogs.nypost.com/movies/photos/winstone.jpg

With this approach gene wilder can still deliver a genuine performance
Perhaps even the late Chris Reeve and Marlon Brando could have revived younger roles.

We all talk of performance and acting with such high regard everyday in class
Objectively speaking,
Who better to act than the actors themselves?
(Thy get a big enough pay check, it’s the least they could do)

that being said
does anything think A Scanner Darkly would have been better suited as just a live action film, or maybe even a traditional animation...

Thad K said...

Perhaps some tools, like nuclear weapons, are best when they're not used?

Best argument against mo-cap ever.

Anonymous said...

'Perhaps even the late Chris Reeve and Marlon Brando could have revived younger roles.'

yeah like this guy.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcn4p213Zg8

King M. Mugabi said...

as well as this equally creepy guy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x4gcFpfXNQ

MikeSnj said...

Awesome. Keep us updated.

Raf said...

"I’m not going to sit here and bad mouth my (future) craft, but I’m also not going to blinded ignore the facts(however grounded in theory they maybe)"

King M. Mugabi, if you're saying that keyframe animation is ill-suited to creating a performance with the kind of depth and complexity of a great actor, then you're not bad-mouthing your craft, future or otherwise. Animation has never been good at deep and complex performances, not at it's inception, and not today. That's nothing to be ashamed of.

But what animation is good for is something, in my mind at least, just as precious. Animation excells at caricature, at excitement, at visual invention, in ways that live action just can't. And, in paring down character movement to it's essence, lets us get at a completely different range of emotional effects. Remy doen't move like a rat. He FEELS like a rat! You can feel his rat-ness through the screen. You don't feel that in a documentary about rats.

And there's the problem: we're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. There's a sense--spured on, I think, by the dimensionality of CG--that the way animation must improve in quality is by becoming more like live action. To a certain extent, that's not wrong--there's certainly plenty we animators can learn by looking at the great live-action filmmakers and performances--but it's possible to take that way too literally, and to begin trying to force animation into a role it was never good at, and away from the things it does exceptionally well.

That's where I take issue with your next statement:

"Real “acting” is done by “actors” we see the academy give them their awards annually. "

No, real live-action acting is done by actors. If that's what you hold up as the highest cinematic ideal, then why in the world are you interested in animation?

King M. Mugabi said...

To answer your question simply, I'm an animator because i'm not a "real" actor, I neither look it nor do I have the yarbels to do it on theater or anywhere outside of the little area in front of the light table.
theres animation "actimg" (through the pencil) and theres "real" acting, done in "real" life.
not that it's anymore real(or ligitimate), but because it's "real"
(i love using words to define themselves)


you've raised a good point "raf"

animation, tho it tries to emulate what's seen in "real" life, it takes it's own direction with it.
(great point with the rat)

I only call live acting "real" not cause it's anymore legitimate, but because I'm using the term literally.

Daniel Day Lewis is maybe the best actor of our time.
Traditional animation would have us paste his voice on some Gaston like character.
mocap would have us watch him "act"

not that Frank Thomas could "act" a great Daniel Day voiced Gaston, but I think Daniel Day's talents should be capitalized on.

unless, of course the goal was to have a caricature of a character..
which would be fine i suppose..

but that's like comparing a Caricature to the Monalisa...
both have their good sides...but, one is respected by all...for all of time.

I think stories have a media that they were conceived to be best presented in...
looney tunes wasn't meant to be about a live action rabbit, it works best with caricatures...
conversely there are some stories that work best in live action(citizen kane comes to mind)

why knock on mocap for literally blending the best of both worlds?
(when done right)

most people see it as failing at both.
which i just don't understand.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=0CUkcc6Sf2g

Raf said...

"Daniel Day Lewis is maybe the best actor of our time.
Traditional animation would have us paste his voice on some Gaston like character."

I agree that Daniel Day Lewis would not make a good voice actor for an animated film...his acting style wouldn't lend itself to that at all.

"mocap would have us watch him "act""

Actually, no, it wouldn't, that's the problem. Mocap's a lot better then it used to be, but it's still not at the point where you can really capture exactly what an actor's doing, with no requirement for cleanup. Once you have animators going over the whole thing and making assumptions about how it should be moving anyway, havn't you lost the essence of Daniel Day Lewis's performance? Why not just put him in front of a camera? And shouldn't those animators be doing something more productive, like animating?

"unless, of course the goal was to have a caricature of a character..
which would be fine i suppose.."

It's not just "fine, I suppose," it's what animation DOES. No matter how great the animator, the performance will be a caricature of real life, and that's not second best: it's a great and wonderful thing. We get to see this performance through the hightened, lively eye of the animator. It won't look like a real performance. It shouldn't look like a real performance. It's an *animated* performance.

"but that's like comparing a Caricature to the Monalisa...
both have their good sides...but, one is respected by all...for all of time."

That's a pretty unfair comparison. Are you really setting up an equivilancy between the entire medium of stage and film acting....and the Mona Lisa?!?

Five hundred years from now, we'll have some idea what art from this period has real worth and staying power. Right now, we haven't got a clue.

"I think stories have a media that they were conceived to be best presented in...
looney tunes wasn't meant to be about a live action rabbit, it works best with caricatures...
conversely there are some stories that work best in live action(citizen kane comes to mind)"

True to some degree. There are certainly stories that lend themselves better to one approach or another. But I'm also quite wary of taking that stance too far, because it's what's been used to keep animation in it's kiddy ghetto for so long. And I think that animation--yes, in all it's caricatured glory--has a much greater range then that. It will never be live action. It should be embraced for what it is.

"why knock on mocap for literally blending the best of both worlds?"

I haven't seen Beowulf, so I can't comment on that. But judging from everything I've seen up till now, mocap is more like the worst of both worlds. It doesn't have the hightened, lively quality of animation and it doesn't have the subtlety of live action. The most famous mocapped performances (Gollum, for instance) have been so heavily modified by animators that I really don't think they count anymore. The ones that haven't are largely pretty crappy (again, haven't seen Beowulf yet).

Now eventually, I think mocap technology will reach the point of fully capturing the subtleties of a live action performance--it's only a matter of time till they figure it out. And then it will become a useful live action filmmaking technique, that will have absolutely nothing to do with animation. After all, what difference does it make whether you record somebodys movement with a camera or a mocap rig? If you really are capturing their performance, then you have no need of us animators, and we can go off and make animated films with all the unique qualities of animation.

King M. Mugabi said...

I fully understand the pros to traditional key framing (eventhough your points hit very soft in the relm of CG key frame acting for everything outside of pixars work of course, but even then a CGI looney tunes just wouldn't hit the mark persay)

"No matter how great the animator, the performance will be a caricature of real life, and that's not second best: it's a great and wonderful thing. We get to see this performance through the hightened, lively eye of the animator. It won't look like a real performance. It shouldn't look like a real performance. It's an *animated* performance."

there somewhere in that last part you just substantiated why it can't be considered "real" acting, but rather "just a wonderful thing"

Until you see all the actors convey their unique subtleties in Beowulf, I guess you'll be in the dark on this discussion(or rather half in the dark)

I had no clue malkovich was in the film, and it wasn't his voice that gave it away...
with they put the light receptors on an actors eye bags it's just unreal how much of them come through.


"Actually, no, it wouldn't, that's the problem. Mocap's a lot better then it used to be, but it's still not at the point where you can really capture exactly what an actor's doing, with no requirement for cleanup. Once you have animators going over the whole thing and making assumptions about how it should be moving anyway, havn't you lost the essence of Daniel Day Lewis's performance? Why not just put him in front of a camera? And shouldn't those animators be doing something more productive, like animating?"

"True to some degree. There are certainly stories that lend themselves better to one approach or another. But I'm also quite wary of taking that stance too far, because it's what's been used to keep animation in it's kiddy ghetto for so long. And I think that animation--yes, in all it's caricatured glory--has a much greater range then that. It will never be live action. It should be embraced for what it is."

good point,
if you want to see animation step outside the box, look outside the box...the box being north america.
Anime being the lead example..
it's closer to real life on one day and the most extreme twist of it the next.
again this isn't about Keyframing
it's about Mocap, and why one one choose to do it over either live action or traditional animation.



--I not going to go back and fourth with you
beyond not wanting to reiterate, I'm not going to pretend I know the ins and outs of what I'm talking about..the technical aspects at least.

so I'll let the evidence speak for itself.
let me find the clips

King M. Mugabi said...

""why knock on mocap for literally blending the best of both worlds?"

I haven't seen Beowulf, so I can't comment on that. But judging from everything I've seen up till now, mocap is more like the worst of both worlds. It doesn't have the hightened, lively quality of animation and it doesn't have the subtlety of live action. The most famous mocapped performances (Gollum, for instance) have been so heavily modified by animators that I really don't think they count anymore. The ones that haven't are largely pretty crappy (again, haven't seen Beowulf yet).

Now eventually, I think mocap technology will reach the point of fully capturing the subtleties of a live action performance--it's only a matter of time till they figure it out. And then it will become a useful live action filmmaking technique, that will have absolutely nothing to do with animation. After all, what difference does it make whether you record somebodys movement with a camera or a mocap rig? If you really are capturing their performance, then you have no need of us animators, and we can go off and make animated films with all the unique qualities of animation."
-Raf

The question arose and keeps arising.
"What's the point?"

well the point is simple
just as cg special effects replaced explosion effects
just as it replaced giant puppet effects

it can now, without restriction, replace makeup effects, not just superfical ones, but it can turn a man into a boy.

mo cap is a tool that gives a director the freedom to have his ACTOR give a performance without a lumbering suit or hours in makeup chairs, without having to fly anywhere but the studio...and most importantly it can wrap the actor in any appearance deemed necessary for the story.

as for why the need for animators on a mocap film?
well who else knows how to use the computers
or design those layouts(in beowulf)
the horses are still animated.

and in this particular case
Davy Jones cg makeup still needs Key Framing!

part one
http://youtube.com/watch?v=rmLY8YieZDY&feature=related

part two
http://youtube.com/watch?v=SRPGRx8u_N0&feature=related

part three
(bill nighy)
http://youtube.com/watch?v=C2Gjj_TwpWA

gotta go
not only do i have animation homework to get to
but it's for mayerson's class

i'd call that irony, but i don't think that's the definition

later

Raf said...

"I fully understand the pros to traditional key framing (eventhough your points hit very soft in the relm of CG key frame acting for everything outside of pixars work of course, but even then a CGI looney tunes just wouldn't hit the mark persay)"

That's no surprise, since I think that the Pixar animators are using the potential of animation to it's fullest, and not all CG keyframing is. That's not to say that Pixar is the only studio doing that, but they're a great example.

And I'm not at all certain that a CG looney tunes wouldn't work. Certainly, it wouldn't work if we rope ourselves to the dominant CG style that emphasizes realism and detail, but that's not the only possible style available. For an example of CG animation with the frenetic energy of Loony Tunes, check out Burning Safari at
http://youtube.com/watch?v=X0UmVrKC9hA

"there somewhere in that last part you just substantiated why it can't be considered "real" acting, but rather "just a wonderful thing""

Alright, that's a semantic debate. I suppose if you'd rather reserve the term "acting" for live actors, you're welcome to do so--it's certainly true that I've argued that the two are different things, and therefor, might deserve different terms. I think of them more as two different kinds of acting.

All that means, to use your terminology, is that animation is not acting, and therefor, attempting to make it do the job of an actor seems a bit strange.

"as for why the need for animators on a mocap film?
well who else knows how to use the computers
or design those layouts(in beowulf)
the horses are still animated."

Hmmmm....sounds like you need some mocap technicians, and some TDs. Where are the animators in this scenerio, besides the few needed to animate the horses? And that's only till equine motion capture becomes a reality.

Of course this scenerio is not accurate, because with modern day mocap you still need animators to modify and clean up the result. But assuming that technical hurdle is someday overcome, I really fail to see where animators fit into this picture. Certainly, if they are not creating any performances, it's very difficult to see where the appeal of being an animator lies.

"well the point is simple
just as cg special effects replaced explosion effects
just as it replaced giant puppet effects it can now, without restriction, replace makeup effects, not just superfical ones, but it can turn a man into a boy."

No, I don't really think that it can. Have you seen Polar Express? Turning a man into a boy looks extremely awkward and weird.

That said, of course there are some situations where this could work quite well--Davy Jones being an example. Davy Jones has, of course, roughly the same proportions as Bill Nigh. There are very specific limitations involved.

In addition, makeup effects are a live action special effects technique. If that's what digital makeup effects replace, does that not make them more like a live action special effects technique, and less like animation?

"and in this particular case
Davy Jones cg makeup still needs Key Framing!"

Yes, it does. Which means that the performance you are seeing on screen is not Bill Nigh's performance. It's a performance carefully crafted to look similar to Bill Nigh's performance. If it WAS Bill Nigh's performance, which seems to be what you want most out of mocap, then you wouldn't need the animators.

"mo cap is a tool that gives a director the freedom to have his ACTOR give a performance without a lumbering suit or hours in makeup chairs, without having to fly anywhere but the studio...and most importantly it can wrap the actor in any appearance deemed necessary for the story."

I'm sure that's great for the director, but I do wonder how actors feel about that. Obviously, some love it (like Andy Serkis). But I'd be willing to bet that it's very unpleasant for a sizeable majority. Being in the part of the character, for many actors, means being in the character's clothes, in the characters environment, really being able to feel like that character. Mocap removes that feeling.

Look, I don't contend that mocap has no uses. There are certain kinds of visual effects work for which it's indispensable. Maybe it will eventually evolve into a reasonably common alternative live action shooting method (though I'd be surprised if there wasn't a big backlash among actors at that point).

But especially if it does, sooner or later the services of an animator will not be required. Which, in my opinion at least, is just as well.

Oscar Grillo said...

Why bother so much discussing this inane video game for the big screen? I've seen "novelties" coming and going and disappearing without trace. "La Joie de Vivre" de Hoppin and Gross, "Begone Dull Care", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", Petrov's "My Love", "Tale of Tales" by Norstein and "Gertie The Trained Dinosaur" are still around and you can even see them in the web if you wish. MoCap will go the same way that Aromarama and Illusion-O went.
By the way. I haven't seen the flick, and I don't feel the need to sneak to a cinema to see what it's all about, as Jerry Beck did. I have to go..I am trying to get tickets for "Incubus" with William Shatner, totally spoken in Esperanto

Anonymous said...

So, Mark, in a perfect world, what is your goal?

Would you like to see motion capture abolished? Do you dream of a well educated audience rejecting it to the point where it won't make a profit.

Is that reasonable?

Frankly, I wish the public had rejected "South Park", but I'm not gonna get on my high horse over it.

Would you like to see motion capture films banned from being in the Academy's animated feature category? Is that all it is?

I just don't understand how it affects YOU. Are you offended in some way? Are you threatened?

Is it bad mocap that upsets you?

Would great mocap change your mind? Would dare to say that it can't happen?

Frankly, I see plenty of bad animation. The majority of animation I see is just plain ordinary. The same gestures and poses used over and over again.

Perhaps you can support your argument against motion capture by giving an example of an art or technology that was driven out of existence by complaints.

Pete Emslie said...

I can't speak for Mark, but I'd like to weigh in on this subject by answering the questions posed by the "Anonymous" above. (By the way, why are there so many out there who can't even show the creativity in coming up with an individual pseudonym?) So here goes:

Would you like to see motion capture abolished? Do you dream of a well educated audience rejecting it to the point where it won't make a profit.

No, not abolished, just not being hailed as animation, which it really is not for the all of the reasons Mark and others have cited. It certainly has its benefits as a special effect to support live-action, as in such stellar examples as Gollum and Kong. Since it would seem that Motion Capture's ultimate goal is to reproduce movement and acting that is indistinguishable from that of a live actor's, then let's just think of it as a very sophisticated special effect.

Would you like to see motion capture films banned from being in the Academy's animated feature category? Is that all it is?

Yes. Let's restrict the nominees to those films built on legitimate animated performances.

I just don't understand how it affects YOU. Are you offended in some way? Are you threatened?

Personally, yes, I do see it as a threat to legitimate animation if it's allowed to continue being considered a form of that medium. It is likely far easier and cheaper to produce and, sadly, that is all that will count to many of today's undiscerning producers and studio heads who are largely clueless as to the appeal of animation as a time-honoured, legitimate form of film entertainment.

Is it bad mocap that upsets you? Would great mocap change your mind? Would dare to say that it can't happen?

It has absolutely nothing to do with the resulting quality, good or bad. Mo-Cap is a special effect, not animation. When used wisely within the context of a live-action film, Mo-Cap can be marvelous. I see it as being similar to the art of matte painting, in that a talented matte painter's job is to create some portion of a background that should meld completely with the actual set or landscape around it without calling attention to its own artifice.

Frankly, I see plenty of bad animation. The majority of animation I see is just plain ordinary. The same gestures and poses used over and over again.

I'm going to guess here that you are one of the jaded, under-30 generation, who have no ability to truly appreciate the craftsmanship of the animated film's rich historical legacy and allowing it to continue as such. Instead, you insist on everything being new and "cutting edge", even if that newness is setting the bar lower and lower.

Perhaps you can support your argument against motion capture by giving an example of an art or technology that was driven out of existence by complaints.

What a ridiculous statement! Does mass criticism have to result in something being "driven out of existence"? Are we naysayers supposed to just grit our teeth and seethe in silence as our artform (and in many cases, livelihood) is allowed to be supplanted by some pretender to the crown? Our industry was always small to begin with, accounting for very little of the number of films released each year by the major studios. All we are trying to do is fight for an artform that we grew up loving. In my own case, I still regard the hand-drawn animation I associate with the shorts and features of my youth to be the ultimate magic. To see a cartoon image seemingly spring to life on the screen is still something that thrills me to this day. It was not then, nor should it ever be, considered somehow inferior because it doesn't adhere to the principles of live-action filmmaking. Cartoon animation has a unique appeal all its own that should not be dismissed so lightly by those of you today who seem so easily impressed with modern technology. There, I've had my say on the matter.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

"I'm going to guess here that you are one of the jaded, under-30 generation, who have no ability to truly appreciate the craftsmanship of the animated film's rich historical legacy and allowing it to continue as such. Instead, you insist on everything being new and "cutting edge", even if that newness is setting the bar lower and lower."

Wow. Sorry to take this off-topic, but I can't help feeling slightly offended by this gratuitous, arrogant generalization. I can only speak for myself but I'm under 30 and have the greatest respect for the animation history and craft. That doesn't mean that what I want to do with animation has to be in the same vein. God forbid us trying new things and being ambitious.

Pete Emslie said...

Sorry if I worded that badly, Benjamin. I didn't intend to tar all the under-30 crowd with the same brush, but there is a problem I see with a certain segment of the Generation X-ers with the "Been there, done that" mentality. Maybe I'm wrong, but Mr. "Anonymous" comes off as fitting that type. I have little regard for those who insist on something new all the time. Can't we all just leisurely savour the good stuff and keep the bar raised high? I can't abide much of the mediocrity that passes for entertainment these days. Yeah, I probably fit the curmudgeonly mould of my own generation. :)

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Oh, alright. Sorry for the misinterpretation :-)

Jorge Garrido said...

The problem isn't motion capture, the problem is they're using it straight instead of improving it. Remember that blog post someone made where they used Photoshop to touch up The Polar Express film, and improved it simply by changing where the eyes looked, and things of that nature? Why can't they just do that? Peter Jackson did it to great effect in LOTR, and King Kong. They could not only touch up the individual frames, but the motion itself. That'd be a proper use of mocap-scope. But even that wouldn't be as precise as full keyframe animation, and its best use is in live action films.

Zemeckis himself acknowledges that this isn't animation. It's just really fancy make-up, or puppets.

Dancin' Dave said...

Taking this out of the realm of animation for a moment, it seems to me the entirety of the cartooning medium (including comic books) is still suffering from the influence of the speedfreak school of cartooning made popular in underground comix. The idea was (though I never did this) to get stoned and gaze at a single detailed panel looking for psychedelic insights. The more detail, the better the head trip. Plus, more detail, no matter how irrelevant, meant the artist spent more time on it and therefore it must be "better art."

Conversely, a panel by Carl Barks -- clean, elegant, with no unnecessary or confusing detail to detract from the story being told -- is inferior art. It looks like Barks didn't spend very long on this, what good is it?

Today's comic books are literally unreadable, to my eyes, because of too many lines, way too much coloring and modeling, and no clear communication. These comics aren't designed to be read, they are to be gazed upon in awe. "Look at all those lines he used to draw the leg! That's awesome."

There's an old story about an emperor who wanted his portrait painted and he sent out word to his kingdom to find the best artist who could capture his likeness. Many artists tried, and they charged a hefty price for their work, but the emperor wasn't satisfied. He didn't feel the portrait looked like him.

Finally a cartoonist made an attempt. With a few deft strokes he created a simple caricature, capturing the likeness perfectly. The emperor was delighted until he heard the price.

"How can you charge so much for this drawing? It's only seven lines!"

The artist replied: "If I could have done it in six I would have charged you more."

Virgil said...

OK, my take.
In a lot of scenarios I've seen animated, I think it would have made a lot of sense to have an actor drive that performance instead of a cartoonist (wacky supertoony animation clearly needs a cartoonist allright). Animators, in my opinion, tend to be more cartoonists and not such good actors (defined by Stanislavski as – actors who can simply be trully natural). Animators are a mix of many things, and many times this mix is very interesting to watch... but just as there is a distinction between mocap and animation, there is one between actors and animators. Very little keyframe animation I've seen tried or succeeded to be truly realistic/naturalistic, or real-world-acting-like. Mocap hasn't succeeded yet, for technical reasons, but it will, I'm sure, and it makes more sense to assign an actor's job to an actor, and a cartoonist's job to a cartoonist.

Beowulf on the other hand, as a movie, I think is OK, not a big deal, but also not completely stupid. Like in most movies, there are weirdnesses, unjustifiable things that one can criticize, but as a whole I thought it was OK, nice atmosphere and a simple, decent story. I don't think Disney's Bambi is any more or less dumb, for example, story-wise. Bambi just had some extra poetry and charming cartoon animals...

Anonymous said...

As any motion capture technician will tell you, there's more to a good motion-capture performance than just 'capturing the motion.' In the best of them - as with Savion Glover and Kelley Abbey's performances in Happy Feet - the two come together quite marvelously, and is only one element of a whole.

It can be over-used, certainly. Boy, can it. But, to say this is any less a tool of animation than rotoscoping is more than a little disengenuous, I think. You can parder up in semantics all you like, but principally, one is an extension of the other, and the only limitation is in the usage, as Ralph Bakshi and Robert Zemackis can both attest.

I'm particularly taken aback by this weird anger at photo-realism, in approach - certainly, there are places where it needn't be used, but (again) it all comes back to story. I wonder if the same complaints would be harboured at Watership Down, or The Plague Dogs.

In particular, this quote:
""...good animation seeks to eliminate unnecessary detail in order to arrive at the expressive essence of a motion. Motion capture concerns itself with addition; animation with subtraction."

Which is why I tried to segue into mentioning Rosen's films as I did - those films paid such attention to detail to the behavior of their subjects' real-life counter-parts that it's insane. Yet, I'll play fisticuffs with anyone who'd say that wasn't brilliant - though low in budget - animation.

It's all story; yes, deride those films that use these elements unneccesarily, by all means. Dreamworks among others deserve it. But, these elements are not 'killing your industry;' not motion capture, and not photo-realism, certainly. Why, just this year we've had the marvelously caricatured Monsters vs. Aliens (though, I can't say much for the rest of it), and Coraline, and later on we're getting Pixar's UP, to say nothing of any of their previous offerings. And, then there's "9," and more than a few others coming. Even "Happy Feet" - which had a legitimate reason to use it as an approach - was countered by "Surf's Up," some months later.

Signed