Friday, October 14, 2011

Motion Capture Is NOT Animation

Calling the process of Motion Capture "animation" is like calling tracing a photograph onto a sheet of paper "freehand drawing."

Using Motion Capture (or Performance Capture) is basically 21st Century rotoscoping. I don't call this's special effects. The process of taking the movement of a live actor's performance and transferring it to a design created in computer, is basically no different than encasing something that already has been recorded with a layer of effects to enhance its appearance.

Animation is feeling the movement within one's self and imparting it to a design through your pencil, stylus, or fingers.

Motion Capture is just a new form of tracing...on film instead of on paper. Yes, the technician layering a graphic design over the frames of Motion Capture has to manipulate the design at times...but that is the same as adding an effect, not creating the performance from scratch.

Animating is creating from scratch the physical performance one sees on the screen. Just as a live actor does, an animator feels the emotion within him/herself, then projects those feelings as a performance on paper or the computer screen.

Okay, I open the floor to you for your comments.


  1. Sorry John, I have to disagree.
    There is bad mo-cap and good mo-cap just as there is bad rotoscope and goo rotoscope.
    The good mo-cap and good rot-scope takes good animators to acheive.
    There is also bad start from scratch animation and good start from scratch animation we still call the bad version animation.

  2. That doesn't mean I like bad mo-cap (or even most mo-cap for that matter) or bad rotoscope or bad animation either, but if it takes an animator to get it to the screen I think we have to accept it as animation and just start calling it BAD when it's bad and GOOD when it's good.
    I'm sure I'm in the minority here, but I'm not as big a purist as some are, I guess.

  3. When AMPAS has clearly stated that Motion Capture is not considered animation and the feature produced in MoCap are no longer eligible for Best Animated Feature, then it's not animation.

    It's a misnomer to compare MoCap to Rotoscope. A real animator discards the roto drawings and reworks it enormously. MoCap does not change the live action motion except marginally. Rotoscope is a tool; MoCap is the medium.

  4. I agree with many of your points, but I think that writing off all of motion capture as "the new tracing" and simply "not animation" is ignoring some of the really cool things that motion capturing is enabling.

    Feature animation studios are now using motion capture to animate cameras moves - this is allowing them to create really amazing cinematography and true 'hand-held' camera shots in a digital environment. It allows traditional cinematographers a chance to step into the world of animation in a way that makes sense to them and create new, bold cinematography choices. Because of steps like this, I'd argue that motion capture IS a tool. Is it always used for good? No. Heck no. In fact I'd say it's still used mostly for poor purposes these days.

    But there IS potential there, if you're willing to have an open mind.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment John, I've often referred to it as the new rotoscoping myself.
    For those who disagree, I'd have to say the closest comparison I could make between motion capture and traditional animation is that it's like assisting, or clean-up...someone else does all the framework for the movement, and your job is to make it neater.

  6. It's full-body puppet theater.

    Max Fleischer, Ralph Bakshi, and numerous other animators (I'm looking at you Mouse) have utilized rotoscoping to create incredible animation.

  7. My contention is that if the animator is not the major source of the character's performance on the screen then that performance is not animation.

    Rotoscoping an actor's live performance as an inspiration to stimulate the animator's imagination is one thing...tracing the live action (as per Fleischer's "Gulliver's Travels" or Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings") is something else: special effects.

  8. I was referencing Fleischer's Koko The Clown character which was often rotoscoped but is still clearly brought to life by the animator.

    And while Bakshi's later rotoscoped works (American Pop, LOTR) overly rely on the motion from live action, I've always thought Wizards struck a nice balance between his earlier cartoony style and the benefits of rotoscope.

    Disney of course used rotoscoping in a lot of the early features, Snow White in particular comes to mind.

    Rotoscoping is not a special effect it is a tool that can be used to create effects, and can also be used as reference for more traditional styles.

    I do agree that motion capture is far from animation. I just think you are still giving to much credit to motion capture, it isn't rotoscoping, or tracing either... all of those processes involve more input from an artist than mo-cap does.

    It's a performance rigged to a puppet inside a computer.

    And obviously none of it compares to the visual wonder of fully animated characters.

    Just noticed you worked on Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure. ^___^ That's a wonderful bit of animation that I vividly remember from my childhood.

  9. I'm in agreement with much of your post and some of Steven's points as well. For myself though, I'm still sticking to it is all animation. Bringing the impression of life to non living objects, whether it's mo capped, puppeted, or frame by frame. In the end, it takes good artists to accomplish a good looking and feeling product for any process. I think the technical difficulty and art of frame by frame animation from pure imagination ends up being the most appealing to me. Free, imaginative animation is an impressive feat and can simply do more interesting things than puppets or motion capture can. As in anything and everything, there is mastery and a certain magic, and I'm always in awe of people who can make their art shine through the medium.

  10. Anyone that says motion capture is not animation has never worked in motion capture.

    No matter how good the quality of the motion, a director will ask motion editors to do any (or all of these things):
    * change the position of the camera
    * cheat the position of the actors
    * alter the speed or timing of a gesture
    * remove motion
    * add motion
    * extend motion beyond the frame range of the initial capture
    * add more weight
    * add/subtract overlap to improve a performance
    * animate parts of the body that could not be captured, like tails
    * sell the contact between two or more characters touching each other

    I've been asked to do all those things (and more) and if that isn't animating - then frankly I don't know what is.

    If this is a post to generate comments - then mission accomplished, but by perpetuating the myth that motion capture isn't animation it's misleading a whole generation of animation students and fans.

    And it's clearly wrong.

  11. Phil, everything you listed is making adjustments to a performance that has already been created by a living actor. That is called adding special effects, which takes talent, knowledge, and hard work to successfully accomplish.

    But if you have not created the performance frame by frame, then you haven't animated it.

    I am not perpetuating a myth. Rather, I am expressing my opinion, and have invited others to do you have done.

    How am I "misleading a whole generation of animation students and fans"? I am not keeping them from enjoying films they are watching or working on. I have no power to keep them from doing anything they wish to do.

    I am "Old School". As such, I write my posts expressing my opinion and offer my extensive experience and knowledge for free. No one is forced to read my posts or use the information. If animation students and fans find what I say valuable, fine...if not, then they won't come back.

    Okay. Class dismissed.

  12. John's right.
    An animator creates a performance. Motion capture adapts a performance that was created by an actor, who receives credit for the performance (in the case of Andy Serkis and the entire cast of AVATAR). It's special effects, and the Academy has defined it as such.
    Accordingly, mocap artists (who include animators) may receive nominations in the special effects category of the Oscars.
    By the way, Koko the Clown was rotoscoped...precisely once. Anyone familiar with the Fleischer silents can readily see that the same performance was used in two films (THE TANTALIZING FLY and one other) and was then dropped because the hand drawn animation was faster and cheaper to produce.

  13. "if the animator is not the major source of the character's performance on the screen then that performance is not animation."

    I think that sums it up. I agree.

  14. Nothing anyone has said so far has convinced me anymore than you've been convinced of the opposite POV.

    Using what the Academy has decided is not a strong argument since so many of the Academy's decisions have been politically motivated to appease certain factions and individuals and I have no doubt this one is as well.

    Your definition of what you consider animation is very pure, but extremely narrow and if applied to all animation would eliminate much of what has been called animation in the past. Including many classic pieces of animation that had live-action shot in which an animator didn't actually roto-scope it (which wouldn't fit your narrow definition) and only studied that performance and 'adapted' the it for the animation. Using your definition we could easily argue about much of what has always been considered animation in the past including feature animation all the way through cut-rate overseas animation for TV

    I feel animation should be more inclusive and try not to marginalize styles that we don't necessarily like.

  15. By your definition, is photography not art?

    Sounds like you are simply saying that the performers are the animators. I might agree with that to some degree. Although I disagree with you on a much deeper level.

    Have you ever been in a motion capture suite?

  16. John, photography is art...if the photographer successfully conveys a point of view to the intended audience.

    Performers in motion capture suits are live action performers...not animators.

    No, I have never been in a motion capture suit.

  17. Steve: We will just have to agree to disagree.;-)

    Yes, I am a purist in my expressed views...that's the stated purpose of this blog..."Passing On The Old School Ways."

    I feel that I must contribute to keeping the old ways alive. The schools turning out young artists to work in the "Animation Industry" are forced to teach their students skills that are marketable in today's Entertainment Industry. Makes total economic sense.

    However, when I finally get my studio on solid financial footing, I will be producing traditional 2D hand drawn animation. I can't depend on schools to teach their students those "Old School" skills.

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. To Anonymous (and to all in general):

    I will not tolerate any attacks upon anyone posting on my blog. I find such attacks uncivilized, ESPECIALLY by someone doing so "Anonymously". So, I have removed the previous comment.

  20. Oh, you should have left it up. Anonymous doesn't have the guts to identify himself. I do.
    Dear Anonymous, not only am I an expert at animation history (though not in Michael Sporn's league) I actually worked with some of the Fleischer animators in New York. They told me that the rotoscope was not used much in the Twenties since it cost too much. You can see the TANTALIZING FLY animation in only two cartoons from that period; the wild, nutty animation of Koko was hand drawn. Dick Huemer, Al Eugster, and Izzy Klein definitely did NOT use it. I also worked for Ralph Bakshi and while I love his earlier work, his rotoscoped pictures are a pale shadow of the real cartoon action. And motion capture is still special effects, it's not animation.

  21. and are cordially invited to go mo-cap yourself.

  22. Breaking into the industry is tough as hell and I know for a fact that accepting to be a motion editor is a way of getting your foot in the door. Bear in mind that many animators ( those who have seniority ) who are working on a mo-cap feature DO animate. If it's about performance, acting, facial animation, body mechanics for those characters which where not mo-caped because it was not possible to do so - then that part of the film IS animation. It's being done from scratch, planned, thumbnailed, blocked and finessed.

    However, I subcribe to Mr. Celestri's p.o.v.
    While I appreciate the effort being put into cleaning up curves, I don't think editing motion qualifies as animation.

  23. I think your definition of what constitutes an animator is pretty succinct and clear, as Brubaker noted.

    It seems to upset those who feel suddenly pushed outside of their identity as animators.

    However, I venture one could then argue animators are not artists but artisans whose drawings are defined and confined to their assignments, whose performance is shaped by directors and a whole slew of outside forces, reducing them to elements of production alone. Mere instruments of commerce, where the animators self-expression or creative compulsions are mediated through the manifold of the apparatus of commercial production.

  24. Kirk: It depends. Yes, I agree with your description as stated. However, if an animator has total control (as in producing all the creative elements of a short film), AND conveys a message, then the animator is an artist.

    I believe Art Babbitt called the actual producing of animation drawings "a craft", thus your description of animators as artisans fits. But as with all graphic "arts", the finished work becomes art if it has a definite message that is understandable to the viewer.

    In a nutshell, the big question is: when is paint applied to canvas a decoration for the wall, or a piece of art? or both?

  25. All very important questions.

    Certainly the medium of animation is open to artists as I have defined them, though, the question of what an artist is is not settled for me. Certainly creative freedom and self-determined direction is part of it.

    You said " ...the finished work becomes art if it has a definite message that is understandable to the viewer."

    This would qualify successful television commercials as works of art. A position I'm willing to accept, but not without a bit of a grin.

    Babbit is for me an exquisite artist for his modesty, that he did not see himself as such. And a beautiful animator. Because he saw animation as a specific craft toward very specific ends, it lead him to reject all kinds of avenues for animation as a medium of expression. The Illusion of Life aesthetic philosophy so dominates the minds of (feature) animators that they stumble to articulate why a piece of inane limited animation from early Hanna Barbera excites them. The shabby Terrytoons spirit in which Bakshi worked in his early great films worked in perfect concert with the harsh socio-political content of his films, whereas the finery of a Bill Tytla would be misapplied.

    It seems one will never be able to explain an expressionist painter to a neo-classical pictor.

  26. Well, technically it is animation; albeit a less credible form due to the fact that the majority of the aspects are traced, like you said. Personally I can see the uses for it to some degree; but when the entire film is mocap it is disheartening.... why become an animator if you're tracing in a sense? I'm not going to entirely bash mocap as I support it in veeeeery few instances; but I would prefer to see most of my films animated with the artist's hands frame by frame - or click by click.

    I've run into a similar problem with photography. I recently got a new Canon camera T3i but I prefer to do all the settings manually. I feel as though unless your hand is put into a work as much as possible; it's not as credible as it could be in terms of art.

  27. This is an interesting topic, and one that has been very relevant for me lately. I'm working on an animation project (amateur) involving a cowboy and a horse. As most people know, animating a horse is a bit tricky, but animating a rider AND horse is downright maddening. I've had to resort to rotoscoping or there is no way I could do this without it taking 5 times as long. I also agree with one of the other comments about the camera movements. If I want a scene where the cowboy is riding into town, for instance, and I want the camera to sweep down from above him to behind him, for example, doing that without rotoscoping would be near impossible. So I think it is a valuable, and sometimes downright necessary tool, but animation should always be done freehand whenever possible.

  28. Really very interesting topic.. good to read not only your articles but comments too.. Thanks for sharing..
    I am an animator in GameYan Studio . am working on a Motion Capture.

  29. I agree with you.

    Mocap is NOT animating by any means whatsoever, no matter how advcanced it ends up becoming and even if people start calling it "The future".

    Calling mocap a way of animating is an insult to the incredible huge legacy we have of professional animators that created a whole new form of entertaiment and expression.

    I'm not bashing against Mocap as a tool, it's great, but you can't honestly call yourself an animator because you recorded yourself walking and used that motion data on a 3D model. You never bothered to learn the very principles of animation, you never got to learn timing, spacing, how to handle the in betweens, nothing, you just recorded yourself walking which is pretty much what 98% of the population can do...

    The closest form to mocap that true animators rely on is simply taking a reference and animate based on that, that's totally accepted and doesn't feel like cheating, since you end up tweaking or even improving your live reference.