Thursday, August 27, 2009

Replace the animator? I agree. 100%

Another storm brews among animators.

In a fluff piece promoting James Cameron's new film Avatar, the director and producer make predictably outlandish statements about the importance of their film, the height of its artistry and the momentousness of their accomplishments. So far, par for the course.
Of course there's the usual noise about performance capture and yadda-yadda. But the line that seems to be getting animator's undies in a bind is this....

Landau says. "Our goal on this movie was not to replace the actor, it was to replace the animator. If you think about it, what a great actor does and what a great animator does are antithetical to one another.
"A great actor withholds information. Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men can sit there and do nothing. No animator would ever allow that, they would put in a twitch. So our objective was to preserve Sam Worthington's performance and have that be what you see in those characters."

The general reaction from animators? A predictable call to arms and an overriding sense of indignation. "Insult" is a word I've been reading a lot. But why? Here's where I think the real truth lies in this...

"We pitched to people that we were preserving their performances," Landau says.
"We said, 'Look, what we're doing is the 21st-century version of prosthetics. No longer will you have to sit for hours and hours in make-up for you to give the performance of the Grinch or the Godfather. We're going to do it with CGI (computer-generated imagery) but it's going to be you, it's not going to be somebody's interpretation of you."' 

Actors, like animators, care about their craft. They have professional pride and they're (usually) very good at what they do. They don't like the idea of people messing with their performances, as if somehow their performance weren't enough. Having 'animators' tweak their performance is insulting to the actor. Really. How do animators feel when they see somebody (usually in another department like finishing or FX) took their shot- without their knowledge- and changed it for some reason? Here's a hint. WE FREAKING HATE IT! So what allows us to think we have the right, nay the responsibility, to do the same to the actor? Just because it's rendered? If I'm an actor I hate that some guy gets to torque my performances around.  In films like Avatar motion captured CG effects are not really about animation and it's not about animators. It's about what Landau says- it's 21st century prosthetics. It's the new age version of foam ears that Leonard Nemoy wore to play Spock. Avatar is not an animated film. It's live action.

I eagerly await the day when mo-cap technology gets so good that animators won't be stuck wiping the poo from the data or twiddling the performance because the director can't keep his hands off it and trust his actors. I say get the tech good enough to let the live actors do their job. It'll be a good day for actors and it'll be a great day for animators because then we'll finally be left with only one option- do what animation alone is great at doing. The impossible, the fantastic, the wonderful, the exaggerated, the un-mocapable. When mo-cap tech gets so good that you don't need to shoot video reference of yourself and then copy it to get a scene, but the directors can just get the actors to act (which is often what they'd prefer if given the choice), then we'll finally be done with this nonsense that says that the final arbiter of good animation is how closely the motion can hew to live action. Will there be fewer jobs for 'animators' once the tech gets that transparent and good? Yeah, probably. Will the jobs that exist for animators be more interesting and rewarding? I like to think they will be. Because then we'll be animating and doing the impossible and not cleaning up after somebody else's performance. No sane person would ever attempt to use mocap to do anything like this....

Meanwhile, we spend so much time in animation trying to re-create this...

They're both great, but in completely different, practically incompatible ways. The actors' performances in the second make it amazing. No animation could top them. Ever. The animation in the first makes it amazing. No live action or mo-cap could top that. Ever. I personally can't wait until we can just accept each kind of greatness for what it is. But I'm weird that way.

Sipermann's Herr Selig

Look at this and tell me it doesn't just ooze charm...

I love Harald Siepermann's blog. He doesn't write much- most of his posts are just images of his character design efforts. That's more than enough. His stuff is masterful and I look forward to his posts. I found his little Herr Selig character work to be so tasty I almost blogged about it the first time. But now he's added another post with some earlier sketches in the development of the character.

Yummy! It's an example of a style of character that I just really, really enjoy looking at. So simple, so expressive and fun. And before anybody asks- no, Otto is not based on this character. I had already settled on Otto before I ever saw these. It's just a kind of synchronicity thing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We were about due for one of these

Heh. About once every 7 or 8 months there erupts in the animated blog-o-sphere some tempest in a teapot. We seem to need the occasional controversy over what is good or bad animation, blah, blah, blah. It's like some kind of collective bowel movement of the id or something.

What's the latest hubbub that I've been watching bubble up over the last few days in my Feedreader? A poster for an animation festival. Some people like it. Others don't. Then they argue with each other. How fun!

What do I think of said poster? I dunno. It's OK I guess- if you're into that sort of thing. Not my cup 'o tea, really. But that's OK. I don't need to explain why any more than I need to explain why I don't like mangoes  (which I don't). And it's OK if others like it. They don't need to explain why, either. People like what they like. Why? I don't know. God made us all unique with different tastes. It's all a wonderful part of the tapestry of life. But that's the problem with arbitrary taste. It's, well... arbitrary.

If nothing else this will help divvy up teams if we ever have an animation community dodge-ball game. 

Friday, August 21, 2009

Take THAT, vile box!

I love stuff like this.
Think far enough outside the box and you forget there was even a box to begin with. This is an excellent example of using what's available to you in an innovative and imaginative way to get something visually unique. There's more than one way to render a CG cat.

Saw this over on Lucas Martell's Pigeon Impossible blog. Congrats to Lucas on a recent festival win, too.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bill Plympton stuff

A hat tip to Tim Hodge on sending me this nifty write up on a recent Bill Plympton master class in Toronto. He found it on Nancy Beiman's groovy blog. If you don't know who Bill Plympton is, then you need to go find out at his Plymptoons site. This guy is the ultimate indy animator. He has his own style, he is prolific and he makes a decent living doing what he loves. Friends, you just can't beat that with a stick.
An excerpt from Nancy's post...
Here is PLYMPTON’S DOGMA, three points for successful short film productions:
  • SHORT. The film should be five minutes long at the maximum. It’s harder to sell a 15 or 20 minute film.
  • CHEAP. Digital production and Flash make production costs reasonable. My average is $1000.00 per minute; HOT DOG cost $5,000.00 per minute.”
  • FUNNY. Audiences want a laugh. It’s easier to sell.
This guy is a short film making machine. By his own account he gets up at 6am, and draws until 6pm. He cranks out about 100 drawings a day to get his films made. He makes a feature film every three years pretty much by himself. (note to self: never accept what somebody else defines as 'impossible'). I found it fascinating that he doesn't throw drawings out, but that he just keeps working them until they're better. All the smudges and erasure marks add life. While Plympton's subject matter isn't for every taste, and some find his style a bit rough around the edges (which I think makes it great) you just gotta admire his ability to get the stuff done and dictate his animation on his own terms.

Machinarium-- very cool looking video game

This looks more than cool. The design and imagination are a treat for the eyes.

You can see it humongo sized at the home page for the game. They've got a pre-order offer, too. I think I'm gonna buy it, not for the game play probably as much as the chance to just get lost in this little world of theirs.
Here's a short pre-view of the game, it's due for an October release.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

one APT spot remains

A spot has just opened up in the next APT class due to a student needing to back out for personal reasons. If you're interested in taking part in the next APT class (it starts next Monday and runs through Spetember 11) then send me an email and let's see what we can work out.