Further thoughts on the New York Times' article on supposedly new and better versions of motion capture animation technology.
Turning to the inside of the article, there's some small dose of artistic reality(and taste)from director Taylor Hackford, who points out the same huge caveat about "recreating" actors digitally:
"If you want Ethel Barrymore to give you the incredible, heartfelt performance, that comes from the soul of the actor." Then he adds, "It's not something you can get by animation"[italics mine]
Well, obviously I can't agree with that last bit--shades of that LaSalle guy in the San Francisco paper. Moving on:
Later on the producer and director of the upcoming "Foodfight" "which will be the first full-length movie to use Image Metrics technology", according to the article, says this: [in a CGI film] every time someone would say something, or do something, banks of people[those would presumably be animators] would have to figure out how the lips move, how the eyes move--and it's not even that good".
Again: oh, yeah?
Last week I stood behind a fellow story artist and animator who's currently moved back to the animation end of the films we work on. I watched his scene, in which he's responsible for all the action and acting in the frame, with fascination. The shot was brief with but a small amount of dialogue, but the experience that he'd acquired as a 2D animator of some years' experience was obvious. The characters were alive, and their movement gave me a thrill to see even without the final surfacing and color that put such a high sheen on CG figures. The timing was subtle, weighted, well-judged, natural...yet the speakers weren't human. But their believability even in shades of grey was undeniable.
I love the magic of animation. I particularly love doing story, but there is without doubt a yearning most of us have to see characters move for the first time, to be alive in the most basic state--that allure of the rough pencil test of flipping poses on 8s sans breakdowns, when you can still clearly see in a mass of lines a personality emerge.
I'm no snob about 2D versus CG or vice-versa; I probably prefer the look of the pencil, but when I see animation like my friend's it's obvious that it's just a means to an end.
And speaking of efficacy of means and ends, another animation director, one whose medium is computer games like Grand Theft Auto and who's used the touted software the article advertises for two years, admits that "There's no taking away the fact that a team of animators can sit and make some very convincing animation if they want to[gee, thanks], but I challenge anyone to do the volumes that I need in the time that I need, at this level of quality, and to capture the nuance of the voice actor".
Actually, I think I can suggest quite a few people who could do just that--although that director's main interest as a games person is as he says volume on a tight deadline.
So maybe it's apples and oranges here, because what my end of the business concerns itself with is that old saw about "Quality is #1". Period.
Basically, a studio or crew has to be on the same page. Is it going to be all about speed and cheapness, relatively speaking? Because it's a fact that an awful lot of excuses can be made to justify "new" software as the best when what it really is is what was sold to you as the best way to lower your expenses while maximizing your footage.
I know of some miracle workers--animators--who manage to do amazing feats of acting in record time when the crunch comes, as it always does...their secret? Not the software. It's the knowledge of a lifetime between their ears. It's their taste, their acting chops, their own interpretation of the timing of the movement and the tenor of the voice actor. And it's unique to them, no matter how mathematic the tools are.
They are irreplaceable, and there's no machine or program that will instill the soul into their work without them at the controls.