NOTE: Please see my previous post for further blather.
It looks like I will have to table (shelve?) much further commentary on the performance-capture issue, as we have a long holiday weekend coming up and my main internet service is on the fritz. That said the dialog on CARTOON BREW yesterday was lively and interesting as always, though a quick glance at the general news headlines of the day renders such issues fairly insignificant.
Despite that admission, I still cannot refrain from taking the subject of animation seriously and now after going on five decades of obsession with the medium, I cannot make myself care less, even though sometimes I wish I could. More than even as a practitioner of the artform, I am an enthusiast and want to see the animator's art considered an art, and I make the distinction on behalf of the standard bearers whom most of my colleagues (and most general observers) would consider artists who have elevated the form to that status. Those people include Milt Kahl, Jim Tyer, Rod Scribner, Len Glasser, Doug Sweetland, Ray Harryhausen and Nick Park among a century of others in various mediums. And a significant number of 2D artists I include in these ranks have done enough rotoscoping over the past nine decades to elevate the status of that tool as well; they would include Dave Fliescher, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Ken Muse and Ray Patterson, Mark Davis, Art Babbit, and Grim Natwick among many others. When someone argued that there is a great deal of art that goes into the design, modelling, rigging, surfacing in performance capture, I felt they made the case for me that 2D rotoscopers are responsible for more than translating photostats: by converting the 'stat's into line drawings they are in addition themselves doing the modeling, surfacing, rigging and design, which are undeniably artistic vocations in any medium. In addition they are either by accident or intention making an statement about the source material. That to me allows rotoscope to be part of the art of animation, although I don't tend to like it myself. Someone argued that it sounded like it boiled down to what one likes vs. what one dislikes and that is not the case. I find myself in the peculiar position of defending rotoscope despite my dislike for it. Someone else commented yesterday that raising the very questions of 'what is art?' and 'what is animation?' is "boring" and essentially moot. I couldn't disagree more, especially on a sites dedicated to serious discussion of these issues.
I apparently need to make it clear that when I hold the words "art" and "artist" separate from "skill" and "creativity" I am not trying to denigrate any one's position, contribution, ability or potential ability. I am also aware that there is often overlap in all these terms in many areas of the process, but ultimately for the terms to have any meaning they should be held apart. Even when I compared performance capture to being closer to audio-animatronics, I was careful to choose an example of that medium I consider pretty masterful: the recent added figures of Geoffrey Rush and Johhny Depp's characters to Disneyland's PIRATES rides. The point isn't to slam anybody but the results in my opinion are more similar, although admittedly not the same. There too, if anything, performance capture suffers in comparison, since in addition to excellent sculpting, the posing and acting in audio animatronics has to be arrived at more through an animator's sense of observation and analysis, and not direct recreations of meticulously filmed and captured performance data.
In any case, I have certainly used up enough space on CARTOON BREW on the issue, although I have the nagging suspicion that my point was still mis-understood by many. My ultimate assertion is that the jury is still out (in my opinion) on whether performance-capture is actual character animation and I would not rule out an overwhelming body of work may come along and do so. Until then tho, if people are going to make the argument it automatically IS animation, they cannot make it (to me anyway) on the grounds that it is "the same thing as rotoscope." There might be a better argument, I am open to it, but this one holds no water here and when someone as esteemed, knowledgeable and influential as Jerry Beck makes that argument, I am going to take the bait and post a counter-argument.
Several interesting things were said in the aftermath, not the least of which was in wondering what flesh-and-blood actors think about all this. I certainly recall the 1992 Academy Awards, where Screen Actors' Guild members (like Sally Field and Shirley Maclaine) made onscreen digs and insults toward BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for being nominated because SAG members were utilized for their voices only. This ultimately led to the creation of the BEST ANIMATED FEATURE category to prevent further acrimony, and now I have to wonder that if actors want credit for 'animating' CGI figures in performance-capture situations, then they will have to allow the turnabout of admitting that animators are actors also... It could get very confusing.
Someone else pointed out that I am not allowed to discriminate between the type of performance capture I have been critical of (BEOWULF, FINAL FANTASY) and the type used in cases such as Peter Jackson's KING KONG and LOTR, and also MONSTER HOUSE, which I have nothing but praise for. Alas, I am afraid it is impossible for me not to discriminate between these cases, since in the case of LOTR, for instance copious doses of the animator's art are required to transform (as opposed to translate) the 165 lb. Andy Serkis into a 55 lb. creature with a face out of an exquisite nightmare. It was instantly obvious to me that it was a synthesis of motion capture, filmed reference, and very expert and sophisticated character animation. On the other hand, if the goal (and/or the effect) had been to digitally re-render a verbatim image of Mr. Serkis wearing a Gollum costume and makeup, I am afraid we'd be back in the dubious territory of BEOWULF and FF again.
I had to laugh when someone rejected "Nancy B's" definition of "animation" as 'breathing life into inanimate objects.' The critic in question fired back that "that's just one definition..." No my friend, it is in fact THE essential definition of the word, whether you like it or not. That said, I don't know if this definition proves anything one way or another on the performance-capture issue.
There seems to me to be only one purpose and place (apart from one-off, live-action stunts in SPIDERMAN-type action films) for literal realism in animation and that would be in the world of games. I cannot help but think that game figures that appear indistinguishable from real actors would be immensely appealing to gamers and would enhance the experience considerably, especially (duhhhh) in very realistic action games featuring human characters. I don't doubt we will see that come along sooner than later and I totally understand the value of it there. With time flying and internet access dwindling, I will have to leave the topic there for now.
Happy Thanksgiving EVERYBODY!