Sunday, February 28, 2010


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.
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



Most people consider frittering, daydreaming, pottering, procrastination etc. to be unproductive and a waste of time. But it seems this is wrong.

while we potter and putter we think so these are actually highly productive activities. Staring into space and doing mindless things are aids to thinking. Profound ideas take shape in our brain while we're apparently doing nothing. Frittering is also soothing, making the brain more receptive to new ideas. IBM used to (perhaps still does) pay employees to stare into space.  According to this Wall Street Journal articleeven 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. This NY Times article also supports frittering.  

So, don't feel guilty, go ahead and gaze at an intricate painting, watch water swirling around the sink, pore over wood grain, stare into space, dream, dawdle or twiddle and sooner or later your relaxed brain will make connections, see patterns and fresh ideas will bloom. 

Staring and fiddling may be good for cogitating and pondering, but keep a notebook handy to capture those sparkling insights; fritter-thinking can be fleeting and quickly forgotten.


Sunday, February 7, 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”.