Sunday, January 29, 2012

MOCAP IS NOT ANIMATION


Steven Spielberg appeared to be surprised when The Adventures of TINTIN was announced as the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film.  Perhaps  because he had directed the live actors who created most of the action of the film (some say 70%) and he knew that the role of the WETA Digital animators in New Zealand was secondary. So secondary, in fact, that he didn’t even mention them in his acceptance speech.
    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was better informed and did not nominate TINTIN in the animation category, which was a relief.  That it wasn’t nominated in any category except Best Music, was also a relief, given that it in no way reproduced the splendid art it was based on: 

     In this very interesting video of the making of TINTIN we can see how the mocap was done and we can see Spielberg directing the actors with the WETA dashboard which showed him the digital sets where software simultaneously transformed the actors into the CG characters in real-time MoCap
    Since mocap suits for dogs seem unlikely, we can assume that Milou was key-frame animated in CGI, as were the vehicles. Smoothing and beautifying the images was done mostly by digital artists, facial motion capture artists and visual effects technicians. Some of the actors' captured action, as well as movement of clothes, tails etc. was tweaked or improved by digital animators. There are very few animators mentioned in the credits because the action is created by actors, not animators.
MOCAP is motion captured by actors in moCap suits,     PERFCAP is more subtle facial performance captured by little sensors on the face and facial cameras (see top photo).

    The New Zealand WETA animation crew
     Some journalists and producers mistakenly think that action produced by actors is “more natural” than action produced by animators and have suggested that animators need actors to do the action so they can copy it. Animators know that this is not the case, that they can reproduce any action without live-action reference. But the animation process is long and costly which is why mocap exists: it’s quick and cheap and we’re probably going to see a lot more of it.  Actors in mocap suits produce the action much faster than any kind of animation but without CG artists tweaking, smoothing and providing overlap action, mocap action looks unnatural and spastic. Even though digital artists and animators are involved, mocap is not animation
, it’s a hybrid process with none of the grace and charm of hand-drawn or even CG animation.  It’s techno/acting with a little CG animation and a lot of visual effects.
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PS - It’s interesting to see how Spielberg got around the Uncanny Valley  effect, by editing very fast, having few close-ups and those few were usually in shadow.   In case you're wondering how to tell the difference between CGI and mocap films, the one with the more wooden faces and the unnatural movements is the mocap.                           
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