Pardon me while I give this old saw a few more pushes and pulls…
Another thought about George Miller’s comments regarding an animator’s inability to perfectly re-create all the subtleties of motion that a professional dancer can do in a mo-cap suit. Mark Mayerson asks “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?” . Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew echoes the call by saying “One could easily counter Miller’s statement by saying that it would take the greatest live-action actors in the world a lifetime to pull off the animated performance that Scribner offers in that film.” He then goes on to point out the somewhat silly concept of comparing these apples with them there oranges.
All of which, from this side of the aisle (ie: the animators side) seems like a fair argument. But before we all yell, “Yeah, you tell ‘em!”, think about it. The problem is really a political one. We animators (especially in the CG era) have been complicit in the denegration of our craft and art. How? We have allowed others to frame the debate over the quality of any given piece of animation. The way people currently judge the quality of animation, and have been conditioned to judge it for decades, basically means we stand no chance of winning this one. And we are as much to blame for we too have bought the pitch hook line and sinker.
In political arguments the winner isn’t the one with the best argument. The winner is the one who convinces everybody to see the question from their point of view. Once that battle has been won, the better argument assumption is then a done deal. For ages and ages the debate about the quality of animation has been framed by one conceit. Namely, the more ‘lifelike’ or ‘believable’ or ‘natural or ‘real’ the motion seems, the better it is judged as animation. From Walt Disney all the way down to today’s heir to that throne and the teeming hordes who would love to work for them this has been the way the debate over animation has been framed. More lifelike or naturalistic = better animation. There are certain degrees of shading here and there, and true enough brave and bold exceptions to the rule stand out- but by and large this has been the driving force of how a majority of animation is judged. As a result of decades of Disney’s promotion of this ideal in his films this has become the public conventional wisdom. So far, not too much to worry about.
But when a technology comes along that can better capture that elusive ‘quality’ of motion, then what? It’s already happened once. Remember all those hand drawn feature films? Where are they? Gone, pushed aside by the gew-gaws over the realistic-ness of CG. But the techno-train won’t stop at lighting and textures. If the arbiter of the quality of animation is it’s lifelikeness, real-ness or it’s naturalness, then when you have a technology that can closely emulate that or capture it, well, why not use it more? So what if animators don’t create the performances? We have something even “better”- life-motion itself! If the end goal is quality, and quality is mostly defined by realism/naturalism/lifelikeness-ism, then use the tool best suited to the task. In light of that framing of the debate those animators who actually enjoy animating and crafting performance and acting are lost. The only obvious answer is of course, use the technology that gives you the “better” result. And as long as we animators ourselves (especially the CG crew) continue to ooh and ahh over animation that is little more than highly skilled and heavily massaged rotoscoping, then we have nobody but ourselves to blame.
But what if naturalism isn’t the sole arbiter of animation quality? We don’t need to throw it out, but isn’t there room for more at the “good animation” table? What if expressing that which can’t be seen in reality is part of the equation? What if showing something more alive than life comes into play? What if the distillation & expression of what it means to be alive is seen as worth more than looking like live motion? What if the outward physical expression and amplification of inner dialogue, thought and emotion is used to measure animation quality? What if artistry and design or imagery is valued as much as (perhaps above?) the versimilitude to reality? What if we framed the debate in a different way? What technology can capture or reproduce that without the animator’s hand and heart deeply involved from square one? Basically, what if we could re-frame the debate about animation quality to a more animator/artist centric point of view? What if we could initiate a real, deep appreciation for this new yard-stick of animation quality within the animation community (which really isn’t new of course, it’s just out of fashion)? And I mean beyond a mere nod here and there. What if we really celebrated this stuff as much as we do the latest big screen butter-fest? It would take a long time, but don’t you think it couldn’t help but spill over into the mainstream conventional wisdom? If we could manage to start framing the debate about animation quality within the general animation community this way first it would be a good day in my opinion.
Do I think all is lost and that animators will be out of work en mass? No. Not really. Sure, there will still be jobs with the title of ‘animator’, but the reality will be that you’ll end up (as one commenter here put it) “adapting your career” to the reality of working with a lot more mo-cap. More and more of the fun of animation (ie: fun motion, great performance, funny ideas, deep acting, great poses and drawings coming to life, etc.) will be taken from the animator and given to a dancer/comedian/actor/martial arts expert in the ping-pong suit and the green face paint. Sure there will still be a need for ‘animators’, but by and large they’ll be left with will be the un-fun techno-garble and subtle shades of pushing and tucking here and there. Wow. Thrilling. Sounds like the stuff little boy’s dreams are made of.