CalArts Teaches The Fine Art of MoCap CalArts Teaches The Fine Art of MoCap
Cartoon Culture

CalArts Teaches The Fine Art of MoCap

Don’t know if you’ve heard but CalArts is finally catching up with the times and renaming itself the California Institute of Motion Capture. Glen Keane and James Baxter are involved in the new school too. Check it out.

PS: This was the opening intro at last week’s CalArts Producers’ Show and it got more laughs than just about anything else shown that evening.

  • Fantastic! Glad to see those young animators have finally gotten over their preoccupation with ‘art’ – what a drag that was. Maybe Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson can give a few guest lectures, too, and pass on their infinite wisdom on the subject.

  • Hehe, that was pretty funny. I especially like the crappy computer animations set on top of the live actors.

  • That is brilliant.

    Glen should wear horrible wigs more often :)

  • Oh I’m SO into that. Sign me up!

  • Ron

    That’s the best one I’ve seen since….

    but then again I’m biased!

  • I know it’s supposed to be funny, but it comes off as a bit ignorant of the actual techniques that go into motion capture.

  • But it must be better! It’s done with computers!

    Brilliant work. I’m delighted to see that the fine irreverent style of Cal Arts has continued to the present day.

    Nice (ping pong) balls.

  • Chris

    Now THAT’S comedy!

  • Roberto

    Speaking about motion capture, it seems that Spielberg and Jackson are doing a Tintin’s movie with it :

    I wish it was a joke like the CalArts video.

  • “It’s cheaper, it’s easier and it looks better.”

    So it all comes down to being cheap and easy…

  • Keith Paynter


    It’s like teaching future architects design by learning to put wallpaper on cardboard boxes!

  • Thomas

    Yeah… hehe Fun stuff

  • Bli

    Now this is what I’ve been saying for years! … lol!

    (erm joke!)

  • Adam

    Be warned: there’s a $15,000 ping pong ball fee.

  • Steve Gattuso

    Oh man, I haven’t laughed like that in ages.

  • Frederic

    OH WOW did you see those animations they made!??!?! AWSOME! You can see those kids really use those computers to ultimately show great and powerful animations!

    That butterfly and horse, i mean… wow. Those students are really getting their money’s worth.

    yes the results really do speak for themselves.

  • Paul

    Cute, but predictable. How ’bout the California Institute of Flash instead, since most of these students will end up working on crappy Flash-based TV shows? We’d never see that though; the joke hits too close to home.

  • Aleks Vujovic

    Man, do I wish I had made it to the show.

  • Jeezus Keerist, people. It was meant to be funny!

    Well, *I* thought it was funny, at any rate.

  • Steve Belfer

    That was hilarious!

  • I laughed pretty hard at the scissors bit!

  • This made my day. lol

  • sullivan


    Does anyone else find Glen kind of hot in a wig?

  • haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! :)

  • Chang

    It’s not funny at all. It’s a slap in the face to those hard working mo-cap artists. For me, traditional animation to mo-cap is like painting to photography. Why you guys not mock at those photographers instead?

  • hahahahah ZING! That video made my day!

  • Gigglepuss

    Great! Let’s put down another method of animation! Truly it is a great and horrific threat to this tiny budding industry of hand drawn.

    Very funny video though. Just still… Gollum was mo cap, was he not?

  • Anne

    Awesome :)

  • Relevan

    I think what they’re making fun of is not motion capture as a concept or denying it as a possible medium, but rather they’re taking the piss out of all of the hype around it as a replacement for all other techniques and styles.

    People often get so excited about something being motion-capture that they forget everything else. Look at Polar Express and Monster House.

  • Emilie

    I agree with Relevan. Here in Montreal, there is such a hype over the growing video game industry in the media, and most of the people think it’s all made with the mocap technology… It’s sad in the sense that people tend to think everything that’s animated in a computer is animated BY the computer.

    I forwarded the clip to all my animation collegues and got many “lol” replies! Congrats to the students at Cal Arts, and most of all, I wish them success in this crazy yet such wonderful animation world!

  • Alex Hirsch

    Floyd- I think you missed the point. This thing is meant to be an “Airplane!” style parody – absurd, preposterous, and overtly, *intentionally* nonsensical. What we’re mocking isn’t technology, it’s the cheesy, optimistic-to-the-point-of-being-ignorant tone of the “behind the scenes” featurettes on our DVDs.

    This is hardly a searing indictment of motion capture, or CG for that matter- we’re making fun of those who think that there will ever be a day when computers will be equipped with a “Make Movie!” button. Guys like Bob Zemeckis, god bless ’em, are out there giving speeches about the glory of performance capture, as though he’s entirely unaware that every pixel of The Polar Express and Monster House had to be painstakingly tweaked and in many cases entirely overhauled by a team of animators just to look presentable. Animation can’t be “done” by a computer because it’s not a “technical” process. Animation is about creative, artistic decisions, weighing motivation and presentation in a way that no computer will EVER be capable of doing, at least not until we’ve invented actual, honest-to-goodness AI, at which point making movies will be the least of our concerns, since we’ll be battling sentient robots in a space-age death match of RoboCop proportions. On the moon. With lasers.

    Bottom line- a computer is just one among a wide variety of excellent tools an artist has at his disposal. Motion Capture is a perfectly viable technique for blocking out or (better yet) referencing broad actions, but if you want something that’s photo realistic, just take a freaking photo! It’s cheaper, its easier and it looks better.

  • Calmartian

    I think the main issue traditional animators take with mocap is the whole Uncanny Valley thing– if the results didn’t look so creepy, it might be embraced more readily as a viable artform. The kids who made this weren’t trying to make a huge insulting statement against anything– they were making a funny intro to the annual Producer’s Show, and poking fun at a relevant issue, which is that motion capture is, at least at this point, a really shoddy replacement for the sorts of things that are possible in every other form of animation, including Flash. Even the latter leaves more room for creative thought and participation on the part of the animator, and technologies like mocap claim to make such participation obsolete, which is problematic as hell. It’s like claiming that paint-by-number kits made painting useless.

  • Adam

    “Look at Polar Express and Monster House.”
    Hey come on now, they did the best they could with those corpses.

  • No, mocap is paint-by-numbers compared to animation’s oil and watercolor and pastel and collage…

  • Pixelbow

    Mocap Mocap Mocap……I am a teacher and that is all I hear about from students…. “Why don’t we learn mocap?”
    Because you need to learn how to be an animator(artist) first!
    Mocap has a place but it is not a replacement as many budget oriented business men think… I think they call it the Magic Box Syndrom…. Besides I thought as an animator we were all creating an impression of life…. reality is boring… and yes Mocap makes things look creepy especially when you have a non experienced animator editing that data or a super that isn’t really concerned with quality and only concerned with quantity… There is so much horrible executed animation out there… that it is polluting the minds of the next generation of animators…..

    It is true! I will show it in class! We will talk about the realities of the animation industry right now and we will LOL!

    My hat goes off to Cal Arts….. It was funny!

  • Frankenbike

    The problem with using anything done with motion capture that turned out well as an example of what the medium is capable of, is that it took a lot hand-keyed animation to make it that way. Heck, it takes a lot of hand keyed “motion editing” to make even the stuff that turns out like crap.

    The funny part of all this, is that while a few CalArtians will make it to Pixar, Disney, etc., and work on hand keyed CG throughout their career…a lot will end up trying to polish mocap turds for a living, because they were in the wrong clique, their animation wasn’t “Disney enough”, or there just weren’t enough of those prized jobs available.

    There’s nothing more gratifying then seeing the smugness stomped out of people whose entire education told them they were superior to everyone working on the mo-crap to which their pay check is shackled.

  • Pixelbow

    If you want a good performance out of mocap data you will need a good animator behind the wheel for sure… the problem usually is in the fact that traditionally trained animators sometimes feel unispired and held back when using mocap …. “I have to polish this turd again…..”

    There is a sense from beginning animators that quick sucess is due to this technology…. they don’t understand that the human part of it is what will make it sucessful. I know several “Mocap artist” that are excellent in what they do…. This is because there are great animators. They use mocap as a tool… and they actually prefer to be known as artist that love to animate _ and make use of Mocap for projects because they have too….

    Somewhere along the way the idea that the tools will make the project more of a success (cheaper & faster) popped up. This is unfortunate because you get alot of crap and good talented artist get left out of opportunities to be involved. The project will always suffer without the talent, the inspiration, the creativity, the imagination…..

    I don’t see alot of smugness but more ignorance and lack of understanding of the technology. It seems that everyone these days is looking for the quick fast way to success….
    The road to perfection is neither fast nor easy…..

  • Paul

    Speaking of stomping out smugness.

  • Alex Hirsch

    Could somebody please explain to me where this myth of the “snobby, abrasive CalArts Student” came from? After four years here, I have been overwhelmed by the dedication, work ethic, passion, modesty and genuine love of animation shown by vast majority of my fellow classmates. Never in my life have I been surrounded by a more lovable group of hard-working weirdos, and yet every time someone brings up CalArts on a message board inevitably there’s a group of CalArts bashers eagerly waiting, cudgels in hand, to cry out against the “Spoiled lazy talentless CalArts brats who eat money and crap bad animation!”

    There’s nothing wrong with critiquing our film-making and animation- go ahead! It’s an open forum, and discussion is essential for improvement. But this vitriolic, anti-CalArts rage I see here, and in particular on John K’s blog, is as baffling as it is mean-spirited. I have never seen a CalArts student post a message or blog with that kind of tone. Today, my fellow classmates of the 2007 Class of CalArts will be graduating and I’m proud of each and every one of them. Congratulations indeed to every animation student who finds motivation in the love of their craft, rather than finding it in the hate of their rivals and fear of their own short-comings. CalArts-bashers, I’m looking in your direction.

  • Frankenbike

    From Paul’s link above:

    “Animation snobbery is also perpetuated in large part by those of us who are teaching, as well. Students hear their teachers bad-mouth certain studios, look down on different mediums, or blast rival projects. Is it any wonder that students get it into their heads that they should only accept a position at Studio A when Studios B, C, D, and E have all been pilloried by their teachers, for whatever reason?”

    Looks like not just teachers, but an entire school sometimes. Maybe it’s out of context, but the message of the CAPS2007′ opening, is that “as a school, we are teaching you that this kind of work is beneath you.” The message to the studios who use mocap for games or features is, *Don’t even call CalArts students in for an interview. In fact, if your studio uses motion capture, don’t even attend the producer’s show, because we don’t want your kind around here, and our students don’t want your jobs.”

    Yeah, we all know it’s satire, and it’s funny. Working in a mocap studio, it hits really close to home, which is why it’s funny. What is not funny when we sit back and think about it, is who was involved in the making of that film and a denigrating attitude appearing to be official policy of a school that feeds our business. If we’re offering opportunities to recent students, we know they won’t be instantly productive. If we think they’ll be coming in with a completely indoctrinated attitude, we’ll avoid students from CalArts. There are plenty of other fish in that sea.

    In case anyone hasn’t gotten the memo, animators are hardly a scarce commodity these days. Even really excellent ones, with traditional animation experience and training.

    If you have students that talk about learning mocap, I think a field trip is in order to a studio that uses mocap. I’m not talking about attending a mocap session, which is the “glamorous” part. I’m talking about cleanup and refinement.

    Animators don’t *use* mocap. Directors do. Non-animation directors. It is the job of animators to make something useful out of it. Some of it is technical, some of it is aesthetic, but if you don’t know the fundamentals of animation, you simply won’t be able to do it.

    If you have animation students who think mocap is a tool that *they* will use, you have to inform them that they are misguided. They need to see what people working in the business actually do in a motion capture pipeline. Mocap gets a performance 60% of the way there, animators get it the rest of the way.

  • Alex Hirsch

    Hey Frankenbike, there is no “denigrating attitude” from the creators of this short. I know, because I wrote and edited it. There’s no malice to our message, no hidden agenda or political statement. We’re using a topical subject as a riffing point for some light-hearted fun. At CalArts we know all about how MoCap works. Its a perfectly viable tool for blocking in broad actions, or use as reference. This is a PARODY. It’s supposed to be funny. Chill out!

  • Brilliant!!!! I see that Cal Arts is at the top of their game in the art of entertaining story telling. Bravo!!!…..

  • I think artists need a little bit of snobbiness…after all, if they don’t strongly believe in what they are doing, why should they do it? But if their pride keeps them from working, it kind of defeats the purpose. Sorry to sound so normative, wishy-washy and moderate. (Sometimes it ‘s harder to be moderate!)

    That mushroom cloud thing is one of the greatest moments in the history of cinema, btw.^^

  • There’s a cautionary show biz maxim: “Never go on stage with animals or children — they’ll steal the scene every time.
    hat’s certainly the case with Debbie Allen’s newest musical, “Alex in Wonderland,” commissioned by the Kennedy Center and running at the Terrace Theater through the weekend.
    The title character, Alex, is played by Kyle Jones, a talented, pint-sized charmer. He acts. He belts out songs. He lights up the stage. And when he taps with a “grown-up” he blows her away with relaxed easy grace. Talk about a scene stealer — the adults don’t have a chance when he’s around, and much of the success of the show hangs on his vibrant performance.
    But there’s a bit of mystery about this young man. Most of the children in the large cast of dancers are seasoned performers. Their bios usually indicate their age — “Arrington is an 8th grade student,” “Chelsea is an 11-year old dancer,” “Bethany is a proud 17-year old student.” Kyle’s bio only tells us he “recently relocated to California from Detroit” and he has appeared “locally, nationally and internationally.” Could this diminutive performer be older than he looks?