Thursday, April 09, 2009

This totally makes sense

And, no- I'm not joking.







Leaving behind the overly sweet and condescending kiddie nature of the show and performances, I think this is a sensible and successful use of full body puppeteering applied to CG rendered content. The conventional wisdom on mo-cap has been that it was only good for realistic stuff like VFX and for Zemeckis' zombies, and that it looks like crud when applied to a more cartoony style. And true enough there have been very poorly performed mo-cap driven CG shows and projects over the years. But sooner or later I knew we'd see somebody do it right. Henson's artists have been performing in body suits for 40 years and they know what they're doing. You can't play the old bitter animator card and say that it's done by a bunch of talentless hacks, either. Anybody who's ever seen the muppeteers at work can attest that they are performance artists of the highest order. I worked at DNA a few years ago with Karen Prell (an animator who was a former Henson muppeteer). On those occasions when she would walk around the animation department with a puppet it was nothing short of pure magic to behold. In general Henson's pupeteers are great performance artists. And that's what the audience buys into- the performance. By merging the pupeteers' skills and talents with the CG rendering you can start to feel the humanity and the individuality involved. A sense of human weight and presence begins to shine through. That has a kind of appeal that's attractive.

13 comments:

Andrew Lee said...

My kid watches this show... I really enjoy it as well. It's nice to have a halfway educational show for kids that doesn't treat them like simpletons, or rely on overused cheap gags to keep them entertained.

A guy at our studio, Rickey Boyd, used to be a muppeteer, and I hear what your saying about it being pure magic....I've tried to wag the doll a few times and it never seems alive like when a true muppet master takes control.

All that being said....May gets on my nerves.

Mike said...

I agree with Andrew, though I hate it when the theme gets caught up in my head at work. I think it's a fun show and have watched the animation in detail trying to determine if it was mocap or taken from video reference. Though sometimes things lack some weight, they are entertaining to watch and my daughter loves the show. Thanks for the posting Keith. I look forward to starting another APT course in a week.

nate said...

im not really a huge fan, looks too floaty and the lipsync is too flappy

Lucas Martell said...

Yeah I love how they're getting the speed benefits of mocap and other real-time techniques, but it still has a unique style and doesn't fall into that uncanny valley. I've been staring at my old joystick for years wishing there was some way I could tie it into XSI and animate with it. Even if its just blocking in rough motions or little facial movements.

platypotamus said...

I've seen this a couple of times with my son, and I completely agree. I had to look it up after seeing it the first time, and was pleasantly surprised to read about their process.

it is rare that mocap doesn't feel insulting. cool style and technique.

Tim said...

I think it's important to realize that the performances are performed by trained puppeteers. That's one main reason that it looks better than run-of-the-mill mo-cap. They know how to enhance their performance to make it entertaining.
The technical drawbacks will get better over time.
At least this isn't the result of some exec thinking he could buy the latest discount software and hire some button pushers out of ITT tech.

Alonso said...

I knew they were working on this a long time ago, looks like they've made a lot of good progress.

Muppets ROCK!

I think Tim makes a really good point.

Elliot said...

I am interested in the technique, and certainly see it as an economical and creative approach in certain contexts. For the purpose of this show it seems to function quite well, but the artist side of me still has some qualms.

True it is stylized, and the characters have more appeal than some of their more realistically styled counterparts, but when it comes to the movement and animation I feel like this could use another pass of hand tweaking--not to add more detail but to simplify and reduce the movement in places.

In the first clip when the character says "four sids long" he has this live action feeling moving hold on his body that feels overly elaborate for a muppet esque character.

Again, I don't want to be overly critical-- This serves its purpose just fine and will probably delight and entertain kids which is what is really important.

I just feel that one of the most appealing things about real muppets is the stylization that comes as a result of their limited movement--something that was lacking in portions of these clips for me. Still, it is an exciting and innovative technique, so I am very curious to see how it develops.

Virgil said...

pretty amazing!! especially the body motion, but what's with the ugly mouth deformations?? :P anyway, yeah, we'll all need to rethink our lives pretty soon, like... I could be a... toilet cleaning... technician...

LEoNTheRock said...

Really cool!!! The show does really like puppet...must say the guys in mo-cap suits are really good actors...

Wonkey the Monkey said...

This is great! I think this is a clear case of playing to the strengths of a medium.

In a college animation course that I attended recently, the professor led a brief discussion about the role of mo-cap in computer graphics. She posed the question "Is motion capture a form of animation?" At the time, my answer was "no, it's a form of puppetry." I meant that in a completely non-judgmental way, and I feel like the launch of this show validates my suggestion.

Speaking as an animator, the only downside is that this type of programming WILL decrease the demand for fully animated television programming. It may not be cheaper (those muppet guys are real pros, and I'm sure they demand good salaries), but it's definitely faster, which makes a big difference in a 40-episode schedule.

All the same, there's no point in raging against new technologies when they actually fulfill their intended purpose. There's nothing to do but see how things shake out while doing my best to play to animation's core strengths - absolute control, heightened exaggeration, and hyperrealism.

Keith Lango said...

Wonkey-- I'm not sure hyper-realism is the best realm for hand key animators in CG. Unless your definition of hyper-real differs from mine. :) The way I think of hyper-real is very naturalistic motion, the very style that is probably best replaced by good mo-cap performers. There are scenes in films like Ratatouille that would have benefited greatly from this approach.

Wonkey the Monkey said...

Ah, I was working with a different definition of "hyper-realism" that my teachers and mentors gave me. Rather than meaning "extremely realistic," I was using it to mean "beyond realistic" or perhaps "perfected reality."

It's a vague definition, I admit, and open to interpretation. An example would be a fictional being, like Gollum or a dragon, animated with adherence to animation principles. The motion is not outside of the realm of physical possibility, but it is unlikely that such a deliberately appropriate combination of staging, posing, and timing would occur in real life.

Your definition may vary -- that's one of the hazards of professional jargon, I suppose!