Wired’s Geekdad on Mo-Cap

The article may be a week old, but I can’t help writing about it.

It’s a regrettably misguided article that makes a few presumptions about animation and motion-capture while simultaneously rounding on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for failing to see technological advancements when it’s staring them in the face.

Let’s start with this paragraph:

Ever since the Lord of the Rings films, it seems the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t quite know what to do with this technology, which translates an actor’s movements into the digital realm. Is it animation? Special effects? Trickery? Do performances have to be “live” to qualify as acting? And what exactly defines animation?

Well, let’s see, performance is generally defined as including much more than just movement. It is the expression, tone of voice, the setting. All of it goes into a performance, whether it is live-action or animated.

What mo-cap purposes to do is take live actions and transfer them into a “virtual” space where they can be dressed in layers of clothing, settings and yes, movement.

The article continues:

I’d argue that most voters in the animation category probably find something intrinsically fake or cheap about motion-capture-generated cartoons, that they’re a shortcut compared to old-school, animate-each-frame-of-movement cartoons.

Well, yes, they are! Traditional animation depends on the animator to create movement. Now you could argue that rotoscoping is no different. And you would be right, except that even rotoscoping was done frame by frame. Mo-cap is not; the entire performance is transferred intact to the virtual space.

Lastly, we get to the final paragraph:

The only question is, when the Oscar is someday awarded for a motion-capture performance — and some day, it will be — does the actor accept the award solo? Or, accompanying him or her onstage, should there also be the team of animators, artists and technicians who made the entire performance possible?

Let’s put it in simple terms. The Academy does not recognise animation as it currently exists as being “acting”. That just isn’t the way it is. And as for having any animators up on stage? Forget it. The only way for an animator to get on stage at the Oscars is to do a short film.

That is where the whole idea of including mo-cap falls short. The Oscars (and awards in general) are all about individuals. Individual actors, directors, technicians, etc. Yes, they all worked as part of a team and they had a multitude of people supporting them, but in the end, they had a degree of responsibility that enabled them to take the credit.

You simply cannot assume that an actor using mo-cap is any more deserving of the performance than the entire team that worked with them. On the other hand, animators can be more deserving because they can assume the degree of responsibility necessary to take credit.

Mo-cap as a technology is fascinating, but to infer that it is deserving of inclusion into an existing category or even a category of its own is a false belief. Until mo-cap can be distilled into a single talent, it is likely to remain on the fringes of performance recognition.