Sunday, February 28, 2010

HOW TO CAPTURE MOTION

The idea of capturing motion like a butterfly in a net is appealing to me, however, what’s captured from the actors in black spandex MOCAP suits is actually a file with a list of numbers indicating the positions of specific points in 3D space. This computer data is then manipulated by motion capture (mocap) specialists to produce films like BENJAMIN BUTTON and AVATAR, among others.  

James Cameron says AVATAR is not animation and, since the action is created by actors in mocap suits with built-in and data points, I have to agree with him. Mocap is not CG animation because no animators are involved in creating it.  It is a different medium which may soon have its own Oscar category.

After questioning several mocap specialists, here’s what I learned:  
While the  data is being captured from actors in mocap suits, computers can render it almost in real-time, with some fairly realistic lighting, texturing and physics simulation, creating characters which can then be used directly on screen. These software-generated characters are stiff and wooden and mostly very creepy.

For the big movies, mocap data is generated by actors and seen simultaneously on computer monitors as low-resolution models. You can see this happening here (just skip the blather). The data can be further processed by CG animators who animate extra bits not on the captured motion like clothes, tails and hair, but these animators don't create the action, they just refine it.

And this brings us to performance capture or PERFCAP, where data points include fingers, face and facial cameras to capture actors’ expressionsAccording to one mocap specialist, “The cutting edge of performance capture is still what they've done on BENJAMIN BUTTON…” Take a look at this.  Then there's WETA's work on AVATAR close-ups. AVATAR is a good effort, but the characters are still numb-faced and creepy no matter how big and translucent their eyes. The lights may be on but there’s nobody home. See the uncanny valley effect.

Frankly, since we already have excellent motion picture cinematography and excellent animation (CG and traditional), I just don’t see the need to capture motion and torture it into digital graphics. 

Thanks to all who provided information for this mocap overview and who chose to remain anonymous and to Eloi Champagne, who didn't.
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See also:  An interview on MOCAP with ELOI CHAMPAGNE, Motion Designer, 2D/3D animator and President of STUDIOCRONOS[4] located in Montreal, Canada.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

FRITTERING

Frittering, daydreaming, procrastination are considered unproductive pastimes, they're frowned upon and we're criticised for wasting time.  But this is wrong.
These are highly productive activities, because we think while we procrastinate.   

Just because thoughts can't be seen, doesn’t mean profound ideas are not taking shape in our brain while we're apparently doing nothing. IBM used to (perhaps still does) pay employees to stare into space.  
The fact that frittering is extremely soothing makes the brain more receptive to new ideas. And observations made while frittering will find their way into your writing, even your life sooner or later. So, fritter away and good ideas will bloom. Gaze at an intricate painting, watch water swirling around the sink, pore over wood grain, stare into space and see things that go with other things, make connections, associations and patterns.
It will all be useful sooner or later. 
Fiddling, twiddling, Twittering, tinkering, doodling, pottering and puttering are also good, but keep a notebook handy, fritter-thinking can be fleeting and quickly forgotten.

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FOOTNOTE: 4 months after the above postAccording to this Wall Street Journal article, even Descartes and Archimedes may have been staring into space when they made their great discoveries.   "In fact, our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering, a new brain-scanning study suggests."   See, I told you.
And this NY Times article also supports frittering.  
Heartening to have one's idle thoughts validated by science.
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

ANIMATION OSCAR NOMINATIONS 2010

So much animation at the Oscars this year, from AVATAR to UP.
And did you notice that an animated feature film is again nominated for Best Picture this year?  How did that happen?  In 1991 actors were outraged when they found themselves competing with cartoon candlesticks after BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was the first ever animated film nominated in the category.  So a new category was created to avoid such actorly humiliation: Best Animated Feature.  But, for some reason, cartoons are again competing with real people this year. Excellent. 
One reason has to be that animated characters ARE real people, since real living, breathing animators make the characters act.  Many animators take acting classes.  Stanislavsky and everything. You’d be amazed how much acting goes into a cartoon character.
    For example Ken Duncan, a former Disney animator, has highly developed ideas about character animation and uses method acting for expressions and body language.  He also does a lot of acting with hands. Take a look at Jane’s hands in TARZAN, very eloquent:

and Captain Amelia’s eyes above and whole body in TREASURE PLANET:  
Hollywood actors, there’s no need to be insulted that you’re competing with a cartoon. Not only is animated acting pretty sophisticated, considering the subject matter, but, at least one animated film is well written too. UP is nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA in the Best Original Screenplay category. Some film makers do understand, it seems, that you can't write down for animation anymore, you have to write up, so to speak, if not actually “UP”.  
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