Avatar, The Animated Film That Wasn’t

Avatar

I was thinking today, If Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel has enough animation in it to be eligible for Best Animated Oscar, and A Christmas Carol is considered animation, then Avatar most definitely qualifies as an animated film too. The only reason Avatar isn’t on the list of animation Oscar contenders is because the studio didn’t want it to languish in the “animation ghetto.” That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it’s an animated film and should be acknowledged as such.

This spurred me to do some research on the subject, and I discovered I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this. Brad Brevet did an excellent in-depth report on the subject at Rope of Silicon where he discusses the blurry line between visual effects and animation and how it leads to a double standard at awards time:

[I]t has pretty much been agreed upon around the Internet Avatar will be taking home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, which creates an interesting conundrum. Why is the CG in Avatar considered visual effects while the CG employed for a Pixar or DreamWorks film simply considered animation? If Avatar is up for Oscar’s Best Visual Effects award shouldn’t Up and Monsters vs. Aliens be as well? The fact they aren’t, but A Christmas Carol is, interests me. Perhaps the real question is When is CGI no longer considered visual effects and when is it considered animation?

There are serious problems at the Academy if they consider A Christmas Carol to be both animation and vfx, Avatar only vfx, and Up only animation. As animation matures and evolves as an art form, it is vital for those of us within the industry to recognize it in all its many forms, and not allow organizations like the Academy to make arbitrary value judgments about different forms of animation.


  • http://spungella.com Jean-Denis Haas

    Isn’t it because Avatar is shooting for realism but Up and Monsters aren’t? Once CG is mixed with live-action, photorealism is the standard that the CG elements have to match, otherwise it’s going to stand out (in a bad way). It’s a bit odd to throw Christmas Carol in there, since there were no live-action elements in it (I’m guessing, haven’t seen the whole thing), plus the look is not photoreal.

  • Rodrigo

    I’m going to have to side with the Academy here. I believe the reason that the Academy, and myself, naturally categorize this as VFX, is because of the visual intent behind this type of CG. With Avatar, Cameron was trying to convince us that Pandora and the giant blue cats were actually a part of our natural world. They weren’t stylized to the point to where the our suspension of disbelief was broken.

    With Pixar film, the filmmakers aren’t trying to fool you into believing what we see could be a reality. (They’re more sly with their approach, and still manage to get us emotionally involved with the characters.) I think that’s what distinguishes animation vs. VFX. It’s whether or not the animated character is supposed to be part of the “natural” world.

    As far as Christmas Carol goes, that’s a lost cause in my opinion. It doesn’t work on either level for me.

    • bryon

      well going off of that definition, final fantasy: the spirits within should have been live action because they were going for realism, and it was actually set on earth. But it is considered animation and great example of pioneering photo-realistic animation at that. so it’s clearly not “whether it is supposed to be in the real world.”

  • amid

    Jean-Denis Haas and Rodrigo: I don’t think it’s about the intended effect, but the process by which it was achieved. Animators at WETA are doing the same thing as animators at other studios. Whether the result is more or less realistic is a stylistic choice, but that doesn’t change the principle fact that everybody is animating.

    In the past it may have made sense to distinguish vfx from animation when the effects were part of a live-action film, but as filmmaking evolves towards films that have vfx in 100% of the scenes, then it’s time to start to calling them as they are: animated films.

  • http://Daviladraws.com Topher davila

    Glad I’m not the only one that’s been thinking this.

    As to the academy, I gave up on caring about how they measure anything a long time ago as they a study in making rules subjective & fluid to what they like & want to push.

  • squirrel

    I guarantee you that in 20 years at the most, the Animated Feature category will be disintegrated.

  • http://zoomy.net Peter

    Borges writes of “a certain Chinese dictionary entitled The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its remote pages it is written that animals can be divided into (a) those belonging to the Emperor, (b) those that are embalmed, (c) those that are tame, (d) pigs, (e) sirens, (f) imaginary animals, (g) wild dogs, (h) those included in this classification, (i) those that are crazy-acting (j), those that are uncountable (k) those painted with the finest brush made of camel hair, (l) miscellaneous, (m) those which have just broken a vase, and (n) those which, from a distance, look like flies.”

  • Marc Baker

    Once again, The Academy refuses to include ‘animation’ into their categories simply because it’s ‘animation’, and in their mind, ‘animation’ = ‘kids stuff’. Yet, when a ‘respected’ member of the Hollywood elite uses ‘animation’ for his major opus, he refers to it as ‘visual effects’ so that The Academy doesn’t get too suspicious about what was used to create those blue ‘cat’ people. If Cameron used the animation crew from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ to bring the ‘Avatar’ creatures to life with their pencils, and paper, The Academy would’ve ‘disqualified’ them in a heart beat!

  • Luke

    Amid: Calling Avatar an animated film is like calling Jaws an animated film…

    Its a live action film with some cg characters and environments. In addition to that, the animation is performance and motion capture so technically the animation is done by the live action actors too. It’s not about stylistic choices, its about whether the film contains animation to support a live action world (vfx) or if the film is 100% animated (animated film).

    Avatar is clearly on the vfx side of line.

  • BrokenAnimator

    I agree with the article, it does make a good point. I would look at it as a compliment to the movie (avatar). It’s gotten past that point where most people actually think of it as CG and animation. which means they achieved their goal.

    It IS strange to see Christmas Carol in the VFX category, but really the majority of Academy voters are not technical VFX people.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    I’ve sometimes argued (with a range of success) that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the greatest animated film ever.

    I haven’t seen Avatar, but if you classify motion capture as “animation” (which I wouldn’t, it’s a different monster akin to motion graphics which are special effects) then it should well be considered animated.

  • http://spungella.com Jean-Denis Haas

    “but as filmmaking evolves towards films that have vfx in 100% of the scenes, then it’s time to start to calling them as they are: animated films.”

    That’s a bit too much of a general statement to me. I’m looking at it in terms of character animation, not VFX as a whole. Otherwise you could argue that “Jarhead” was an animated film, because it had A LOT of VFX in there. Or what about “Perfect Storm”?

  • optimist

    I would say the definitive line between VFX and “animation’ is a question of character animation; if the film’s acting is primarily done with characters rendered in either CG or 2D, it’s what that Academy thinks of as “an animated film” given the past categories and what’s been submitted and accepted as being eligible in those categories.

    The definitions also depend upon the percentage of character animation(and a “character” can be a carpet as in “Aladdin”, or an otherwise usually inanimate object as in so many CG films-for instance a car or other mechanical item, as in “Transformers”). Golum was an animated character, but LOTR wasn’t an animated film.

    I’d have to check the ratio of live action to animtion in “Avatar”, but certainly it’s plain that the importance, the primacy of the CG characters and environment for those characters made the film totally dependent on its animation, so I’d call it an animated feature, period-just as “Up” is.
    What it’s NOT is a feature with some visual effects. The scale is weighted way too heavily on the animation side for that to wash.

    Frankly I think we’ve long ago passed a point where the special category of “best animated feature” is really a false one, and to be truly honest about what all these films are it should be discarded. For better or worse.

    It’s nice in that it means that some worthy films have a chance at an Academy Award they’d never otherwise have a shot at taking home if their category didn’t exist(and it’s the reason it was invented), but the idea that “The Incredibles” or “Kung Fu Panda” were as end-result, ticket-selling motion pictures somehow different than “Up in the Air” or “Jackass: the Movie” or “Juno” is long, long gone and over. The tickets for Coraline and Frog cost exactly what the ones for Invictus and Blind Side did-they aren’t sold at a special discount rate or to only people of/under a certain age. Movies are movies-unless they’re documentaries. The Academy probably recognizes that, but things take a while to change. Meanwhile it’s the staus quo and bottom line-it means more statuettes for more people.

  • http://fthatl.blogspot.com/ JAPONfan

    I think that the problem is strangly brewed in the ’70 with Bakshi films. They are animations but traced over live action sequence. So saying that animation in Avatar is done by real actors don’t have a ground to stand on.

    The best movie to show problem is “A Scanner Darkly”. A film that is “animation”, where, for me, the animation is only an effect. Something similar to using filter on camera.

  • Lucky Jim

    To me, animation is caricature. There’s a basis in reality obviously, but it’s stylized and done in a way that no live actor could do.

    The motion capture in “Avatar” on the other hand is aiming to be as realistic as possible. They don’t want animators to interpret a vocal performance; they want a live performance from the actor. The goal with the aliens is to make it look like they’ve applied one hell of a make-up and prosthetics job on all the actors.

  • droosan

    I was slightly taken aback a few weeks ago, when Jerry made the offhand comment that the Muppets were “not animation.”

    —————

    Having done (a small amount of) work on AVATAR myself, I can say that the production process had more in common with other animated projects I’ve worked on than it had with VFX movies.

  • http://hellohue.blogspot.com Hellohue

    The percentage of visual effects and computer generated elements in Avatar is 60%. Perhaps somewhere in the Academy rules it states how much created imagery constitutes the feature being ‘animated’ or not?

    The debate it really quite interesting, as it brings in to question if anything shown on screen that is of a fantastical nature and manipulated in any way is animated or not. Though animators play a huge role in creating successfully ‘performance captured’ characters using motion capture technology, and such points force the consideration of animation as a broad term for created visual imagery in cinema, perhaps for the simplicity of the academy, the Pixar ’100% guarantee’ of no performance capture technology being used to create the animation is a safe guideline to follow.

    THOUGH of course this throws in to question whether even referencing for animation (as Pixar animators themselves do) counts as ‘performance capture’ or not….

  • matt

    Nice article Amid. This is an old farce though, Academy-wise. It’s almost not worth upsetting ourselves over (but not quite), as it’s EXACTLY the same ridiculous state of events as goes on in the live-action categories, and why the Oscars are considered a joke by many. Best supporting actor or actress? NOTHING necessarily to do with whether the actor was actually in a supporting role at ALL, and everything to do with the politics and odds of which of say, the two leading actors in a movie has a better shot at a statue if they enter them as “supporting” instead. And this Avatar effects/animation conundrum already happened with Star Wars episode 1.

    A closer analogy to the animation dilemma is art direction, or costume design when it comes to genre film (the “animation” in this case) vs say, period film (the “live action”). The only time I can think of is Lord of the Rings and Sleepy Hollow, but generally a costume drama will always win over a sci-fi or fantasy film in the costume category, merited or not. I’m not so simplistic as to say “oh, they can just get it out of a book” at all and I do love period costume design to bits, but genre films often have to create arguably from scratch and not only come up with a consistent aesthetic but also an internal logic. Same for production design/art direction.

    Then there’s the semantics of what these categories actually MEAN! I don’t think even the Academy/voters know! Best achievement in Visual Effects. Now, does that mean the best executed visual effects? Or does it mean achievement as in breaking new ground? Because by all rights the 2000 Oscar should have gone to Phantom menace rather than the Matrix that year. I love Matrix and it’s a much better film than Menace, but in terms of achievement it didn’t do anything new (Oxford scientific were doing frozen moment stuff almost 2 DECADES before the onslaught of car and Gap ads), and on the other front had nowhere near the breadth of integrated techniques SW1 had, so… what gives? Before people flame me, I’m not talking cinematography or art direction which have a big impact on how appealing these images look. And not story either – the frozen moment was beautifully integrated with the stylised/heightened reality of the Matrix world. Also, people bag SW1 for being too “digital” when in fact it used more models than all 3 previous films put together. Anyway, just making the point about naive voters and fluid category meanings.

    Back to animation, what does THAT category actually mean? Best achievement in Animation/an Animated Feature. Does that mean a feature that may have an execrable story but has great animation in it? Or does that mean the best overall film story, acting-wise etc – that happens to be animated? The way it’s worded it could mean either! I worked on an Oscar-winning animated flick and I’m STILL confused on voters’ views about that!

    I think a factor here also is that if animation is freed form the “ghetto” and competes apples-to-apples with live-action, then even the animation industry are afraid that Academy ignorance and it’s live-action racism about these “kids’ movies” will mean no awards at all (whatever the mainstream acceptance) and therefore even less recognition again. So I agree with Optimist on that sort of thing.

    Finally, this brings me back to something ironic in retrospect in terms of Episode 1 (the analogy to Avatar here should be obvious, & why we had this argument a decade ago) with it’s 2000-odd effects/animated shots and sometimes entirely effects shots: while working on it, many ILMers jokingly referred to it as “the animated movie”!

  • http://nocturnusstudios.blogspot.com Nick

    I think the truth of the matter is CG has become too much of a crutch than a tool. I think Guillermo Del Toro is the best person to look to in the world of VFX as he only uses CG when all other avenues have been exhausted. It creates effects that feel more real. You could also ask if a film that was purely done with puppets like “Strings” what category could it be considered? The truth of the matter is the Academy was formed by old men with old and tired rules that didn’t think ahead about the future. The fact that Alfred Hitchcock never won a single oscar just goes to show the ineptitude of the Academy. I think it’s best that we just press on and let the Academy slowly begin to destroy itself. Which it is, I think the majority of their actions are based on the fact that NO ONE actually watches the oscars. I’d argue that that’s the real reason why animated films don’t get the best pic nods. They’re afraid people won’t tune in if they’re giving awards to a bunch of “cartoons”.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    I’m not sure Amid, I think Jean-Denis has it closer there.
    I just came back from Avatar and I don’t know whether it was an animated film or not, but it was definitely a cartoon.
    My question with this article is, what is Cartoon Brews house policy? Does it want more films categorised as animation, or more animated films categorised as films?
    For my money, most Hollywood films are saved an propelled by animation. Avatar has more character-animated characters per head than most films, but so does Transformers. So do we guage by volume? Or the emotional weight carried by the animated elements? Is Transformers animated because Optimus is a cartoon, but Roger Rabbit not because Eddie Valiant isn’t?
    My point is that (unfortunately probably) future films are going to become more blurred like Avatar, so either everything is animated or nothing is – and the ‘photorealism standard’ Jean-Denis suggests seems the most practical division.

    What your argument actually calls for is a Best AnimaTION category, not Animated Picture. Forget trying to label the whole project.
    We need the Academy to reward excellence of process in animation, as distinct from process in effects, which I don’t think anyone would argue are two distinct disciplines.
    A Best Animation category would be recognition that our day-jobs actually exist, and encourage an understanding of what we do that the outside world simply doesn’t grasp.

  • Isaac

    Luke, Jean-Denis Haas, and optimist found the right place to draw the line. If the acting is done by artists – it’s animation. If the acting is done by actors – it’s live-action. If there’s no acting at all – it’s a Zemeckis motion-capture film.

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    The “animation ghetto” comment is nothing more than a most ignortant, ridiculous and inflammatory statement; AVATAR is no more an animated film than Willis O’Brien’s KING KONG, any Harryhausen film or even STAR WARS. AVATAR has animation in it, but its intended to be (and all work is pushing towards simulating) a LIVE ACTION film. The fact that ALVIN is eligible for an animated feature is the problem, not that AVATAR isn’t defined as “animation.” Like it or not, there is not 100% animation or 100% cgi recreation of reality in AVATAR, unlike A CHRISTMAS CAROL which used digital rotoscopy to create a completely fabricated animated world and as such is an animated film. AVATAR’s world may be 40% digital, 70% digital, maybe 100% at TIMES, but throughout its use of animation is as visual effects to create a seamless reality with the live action actors and sequences that meld into it. A CHRISTMAS CAROL is consistently “animated” in its self contained animated world (regardless of style) just like THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and even A SCANNER DARKLY/WAKING LIFE (as Japofan pointed out) and the style is maintained as its own reality. The chipmunks could have been hand drawn, puppets or CGI, as could any element of AVATAR, but in the end they remain visual effects to a “real” cinematic world. As for the Bakshi comment, Snow White has sequences that are practically rotoscopy – it is the intended goal of the filmmaker and the world they define which should define whether it is a “live action film with visual effects” or an “animated film.”

  • Sylvain

    All previous films with mocap required lots of clean up and tweaking by animators (a horrible job, if you ever had the displeasure of doing that). Avatar is the first film to have the precision allowing the mocap data to be used almost untouched. This time the technology has finally captured enough “life” to be “lifelike”. It quite an important VFX milestone in cinema history, despite the admittedly mediocre story of the film.

    Back on subject, I do agree that a film is a film, and they should all be judged as such. The animated film category should not exist.

    Let me say I absolutely love animated films, in fact, my top 3 most enjoyable films this year are all animated films. However. I have make a small rant here:

    I can’t name a single one in history that can be reasonably compared to something like There will be Blood. Yes it would be possible for that to happen, of course. But there’s a problem: The most powerful animation studios are forcing animation to a narrow formula. During the last 12 months, I’ve seen so many artists crying that their favorite animated film was not nominated for best picture, that I’m now sick of the “look! were being victimized!”.

    When a studio does the typical formula again, the animation industry goes “yay! that’s the way we do animation in america! Why didn’t it win an oscar?”. But when a film really breaks that barrier its more like “Oh, he’s one of them, that’s why he’ll get the oscar, pixar is better, we are victims”. And these people seem happy to give all the Annies nominations to the typical formula, politically correct, huge budget stuff.

    The Annies are going to be really fun this year! The victims have now decided that only their friends will vote for individual achievement, and they will be essentially congratulating each other. Good work guys. If animation remains hidden in a little corner, it’s not because of the live action people. And I give you big additional points for patronizing the “fans” you had as members, that’s another large group that won’t renew the membership, all you have left now is your little group of victims, just as planned.

    Thank you, and I’m sorry.

  • Joshua Smith

    Amid is 100% correct here, although it’s certainly not news that the Academy bases many of its decisions on arbitrary value judgements.

    An animated film consists of moving images that are manipulated frame by frame. A live action film consists of moving images that are captured in real time. If I take live action footage of someone, then manually draw a little moustache on each film frame with a sharpie, that makes it an animated film. I really doubt there are very many frames in Avatar that weren’t manually manipulated in some way. Technically, it is absolutely an animated film, although it’s one that incorporated live action in its production. If we draw the line where Luke, Jean-Denis Haas, and optimist do, we’re really just drawing a line between character animation and all other animation. But that line can also be blurred (see Ponyo for example).

  • Floyd Pendershaft

    If you exported a character from Avatar and a character from UP and imported both into Maya, and have them interact, what would people think? Or put characters from UP, like the dogs, running through the forest of Na’vi – isn’t it still animation?

  • http://carolwyatt.blogspot.com Carol Wyatt

    There are so many changes happening so quickly that the academy, union, and studios are trying to shoehorn old categories into new technology. There are no categories for all of the new tech gorgeousness in James Cameron’s film. It is new and he succeeded in making MOCAP work really well this time. I work in TV and paint on the computer. We had a week long debate between the union and Fox execs as to whether I was a color stylist or BG painter. There is no category for what I do now, because we do so much more than we did before. The category doesn’t exist. Ink and paint is gone. Painting is done digitally. So what are we? Who are we?
    Time for some serious thought about the new changes and what we should call them.
    There just isn’t anything to compare it to.

  • Trevor

    Avatar deserves many technical awards, but not Best Animated Feature. That would actually require a good thought provoking story rather than this rehashed cookie cutter tale with a hilariously simplified/caricatured message about Iraq.

  • amid

    Historically, the line between what is animation and what is not is NOT character animation. By that standard, many legendary animators, like Norman McLaren, Len Lye, and Oskar Fischinger, would be disqualified. We’ve long ago moved past that debate; they are unquestionably animation artists. Because, like Joshua said, animation is the frame-by-frame manipulation of imagery, and Avatar is a film whose every frame was individually designed and manipulated by an artist. In Avatar, the use of performance capture was a technique that was combined with many other digital techniques to achieve the final results on screen.

    Carol: Excellent point! The art form has matured so rapidly in the last fifteen years, with so many new animation techniques, ideas, and approaches, that nobody has been able to keep up with what it all means. It would do us all good to take a few step backs.

  • matt

    You know what’s MOST important? That writers and directors move BEYOND thinking in terms of animation OR live action, and just think about telling their stories with imagination and no crutches or limitations. Breaking down how to do it should come second.

    Who cares in the end how it’s achieved, just that any techniques available are utilised in complete service to the story and seeing it realised. There will be egos bruised and massive fights between the live-action and animation camps along the way, but we need to push past that where it’s only the final result that matters. By ANY MEANS NECESSARY (to horribly paraphrase/misquote).

  • http://bakertoons.blogspot.com/ Charles Brubaker

    I think one of the common misconception is the difference between “animation” and “cartoon”. The two doesn’t mean the same thing.

    Cartooning involves caricature. Elmer Fudd, for example, is a caricature of a human, with exaggerated features. Thus he’s a cartoon. He also happens to be animated.

    Does Norman McLauren’s painted-directly-on-film stuff count as animation? Yes, it does. It has moving graphics, and while not obvious, it does has some level of key-framing, even if we don’t think of it as that. But are they cartoons? Nope. There are no cartooning involved in most of his films.

    Does mo-cap count as animation? Hard to say. The movements were created by live-actors, which are then digitally manipulated by the effects people. Of course it’s never plug-and-play and keyframing is necessary to make the mocap work, but the fact is the animators/effects people/whatever didn’t create the movement; the actors did. A similar thing could be said to rotoscope, where the live-actors are traced then manipulated by the artists.

    So do they count as animation? I guess they are, but very, very loosely. In Avatar’s case, the mo-cap was used to extend reality, because god knows reality can only go so far.

    But I’m not going to stretch my brain for this because I don’t care for mo-cap. I prefer cartoons when it comes to animation.

  • Brianimator

    Animated films feature caricatured action/design driven by an animator’s performance. Avatar features photorealistic action/design driven by an actor’s performance.

    Furthermore, Avatar’s goal is to create a convincing sense of physical reality, but an animated film’s goal is to boldly stylize and distill physical reality, to enchant the imagination by showing the audience something they know couldn’t be real while simultaneously making them feel emotionally connected to that very unreality.

    Often, the less realistic the animated world seems, the more magical the experience.

  • http://www.daynamation.com Dayna Gonzalez

    Interesting article. I’ve made similar arguments and really don’t see much difference between 3D animators in movies like Lord of the Rings and Avatar, to the work that 2D animators do – it is in essence still animation. It’s just a different medium and technique. I wrote an article last year regarding the concept of the Oscar “ghetto”. I won’t repeat it here, but you can read it at http://blogs.pavaline.com/dgonzalez/post.cfm/the-oscars-and-animation.

  • http://www.kohrtoons.com Robert Kohr

    Agreed with Dayna, though what I find interesting is if you watch the HBO documentary or read the WIRED article on it from December Camron makes sure to emphasize emphatically that this IS NOT ANIMATION and NO ANIMATORS WERE USED, interesting how it has an animation staff. That mocap IS better than most, but the raw data needs to be crunched pushed and made to work, thats the role of a VFX animator.

  • Dan

    There’s animation then there’s motion capture. They both use CG but ones done by animators and the other is done by actors. There’s your difference. That’s why the actors are getting all the credit for Avatar and animators aren’t!

  • Gordan

    Matt says:

    “You know what’s MOST important? That writers and directors move BEYOND thinking in terms of animation OR live action, and just think about telling their stories with imagination and no crutches or limitations.”

    I’m sure that many writers and directors have already moved way beyond dichotomizing live-action and animation. Otherwise, AVATAR would have never happened. It’s the film/animation critics and theoreticians that are struggling to catch up.

    I think that, with ordinary people in North America, the biggest issue is the historically negative connotations associated with animation in general (i.e. innocuous entertainment produced for relatively unsophisticated, code-naive minds). Just try telling your friend’s work colleague you think AVATAR is a great animated film and you’ll see what I mean.

  • optimist

    Historically, the line between what is animation and what is not is NOT character animation. By that standard, many legendary animators, like Norman McLaren, Len Lye, and Oskar Fischinger, would be disqualified. We’ve long ago moved past that debate; they are unquestionably animation artists

    I agree 100%. BUT what’s being discussed here isn’t the art of film, it’s the categories of the Academy and how best to understand of argue them. What we’re really debating and comparing are only two classifications of FEATURE films. If the discussion was about short animation, then it’s a whole other issue, but the fact is that the films of Norman Mclaren, Fischinger and others (many that have WON Oscars) were in many more ways than one in a different category.

    One issue at a time, I suggest–and here the issue as brought up by Amid is one concerning(like it or not)mainstream, feature-length, COMMERCIAL motion pictures, which does not encompass a lot of other types of films, which are also eligible for AA citation: documentaries and shorts, both live action and animated.

    I agree that what the artists named by Amid did was animation. I was suggesting that what separates a short by, say, John Whitney from a “visual effects” film is that it is an art film, a work of pure art not intended for commerce te way a feature film is and the way every eligible Best Film is. I am making a demarcation between doing CG trees blowing behind actors to composing a film entirely of CG characters, as Avatar did and as Up did.
    I only suggested the demaraction because frankly it’s a grey area and to draw lies there seems one fairly logical place, given the realities of film today
    It’s the difference between motion graphics comprising a film vs. graphics that are done to support a live action story not done for the sake of the graphics themselves-if those graphics are not main elelments that are the POINT of the film. I love Dick Williams’ credits and intercuts for “Charge of the Light Brigade”, and Dick is without question an animator–but that doesn’t make “Brigade” animated. And saying that it’s NOT animated doesn’t diss Dick.

    I hope that makes some sense. I really take offense at the idea I am dismissing Oskar or Norman as animators, anyway. No way, in no universe.

  • http://spungella.com Jean-Denis Haas

    “animation is the frame-by-frame manipulation of imagery”

    That’s just weird to me, because shouldn’t at least something be moving, so it’s animated? Let’s pretend you have a movie that consists of only sets, all painted or hand drawn, no characters, no dialogue, just a movie about environments with only camera moves. If you have to create the camera moves frame by frame so that every frame has been manipulated and everything the camera is looking at has been created by an artist representing a stylized environment, is that an animated movie? I guess, but what about color correction? What if a live-action movie needs digital color correction on such a massive scale that every frame needs tweaking, is that an animated movie? I have a harder time with that.

    Matt said it though, ultimately it’s the finished product that counts, the quality of the movie regardless of medium or style or whatever. So there shouldn’t be a “Best Animated Feature” category, there should just be “Best Movie” and people would have to get over it and accept cartoons as movies. At the same time animated features need to grow up and present different stories with different themes outside of the family genre. Animation is not a genre, but a lot of them are following the same formula and catering to the same audience. It’s as if you only had romantic comedies for live-action movies. No wonder animation is being put into the kiddie corner, because a lot of it is made for kiddies (at least the major movies here in the US). I loved the “Gran Torino/Up” trailer. I’d totally watch Carl as an Eastwood character. Why do animated features have to be comedies all the time? Why not a serious drama? I know it’s safer financially but all it takes is a good movie pushing the boundaries and even though it will take a few movies people might actually start to accept them. Stylization and cartooning does not equal fun and family to me, that’s just limiting its potential. Someone somewhere once made a comment like “I don’t want to see an animated “Shawshank Redemption”. And why not?? I’d love to see an animated “Usual Suspects”! Just because it has no fantasy creatures in it? Or because the animals don’t talk? You could totally do “Up” as a live-action movie. Yes it would have FX in it, but it would work. But it was fully animated and it worked as well. “Avatar” would also be fun as a fully animated movie, with the real actors as stylized characters. Animated Features need to be more diverse in order to get accepted and taken seriously by the Academy or the general public. The “Married Life” sequence in “Up” is so good, but imagine a full movie with such emotional depth and impact. No crazy chases at the end. “Wall-E” started it but went back to formula during it’s second half, “Up” pushed it even more but got sucked back into formula as well, but I applaud Pixar for pushing the boundaries and I hope they will continue and other companies will follow. I love Panda and Meatballs and I hope to see more movies like those, but I think we also need more “Wall-E”s and “Up”s which go even further. More variety will help to get rid of the “kiddie” stamp.

    Man, I guess it’s Rant Tuesday…

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    Good point Amid. This should be in the animated category…

  • Rene Ramos

    They need a big name attached somehow to consider it “art”. They can consider Brad Pitt for playing a CG old man for an Oscar, but Not Edward Asner for playing an CG old man for an Oscar. And don-t say the performance because Brad Pitt played 20% of the character, they used stand-ins for most of the film.

    And sadly, this isnt Japan, animation will always be considered for children, even if most “blockbusters” feature animated robots, animated animals, animated aliens, animated etc, the are not for a “niche” audience as cartoons.

  • http://bakertoons.blogspot.com/ Charles Brubaker

    Jean,

    Not to be all “John K”, but if something could be done in live-action, what’s the point of animating it?

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    Are we as animators really so bitter that we need justification by the Academy? By Amid’s argument shouldn’t any film employing animators for any aspect of production be nominated for best animated film – that means TRANSFORMERS, GI JOE, DISTRICT 9 etc. That would push out films like MARY AND MAX, CORALINE, PONYO, even $9.99 from any chance at the nomination. Complain about the “ghetto” all you want, but I for one am thrilled if even 5 people watched Spirited Away, Persepolis, Triplettes of Belleville, Waltz with Bashir, and what the hell, even Ratatouille thanks to their placement in this “ghetto” category. The Oscars are a shallow popularity contest, but before the Best Animated Feature only 1 “animated film” was ever given mainstream exposure beyond technical categories, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I don’t really care enough to argue the semantics of this when films 90% of America may never even hear about get a chance to find SOME additional audience beyond this site’s fan base thanks to some additional exposure. All this sound and fury only gives the idea of the Oscar its “power” in this town. Let AVATAR have its cake in live action, I for one would love to see Kathryn Bigelow (Cameron’s ex-wife)’s HURT LOCKER sock the CGI epic square in the jaw and prove all that digital work still doesn’t trump a relevant, gut wrenching real war film. Don’t forget that this year features only the second black director and fourth woman ever nominated for best director by the DGA – AVATAR’s definition of animated film be damned that is a sign the Academy has a long way to go.

    Brubaker – I’ve never subscribed to that argument by John K. Almost anything can be done in live-action or through the veil of animation. Satoshi Kon’s films have been scrutinized by people on the level of being “unncessarily animation,” and I’d argue that the process brings 1.) a different performance to the characters and 2.) even if it’s simulating “reality” we engage animation differently as viewers. “Tokyo Godfathers,” “Perfect Blue” and “Paprika” play completely different than if they were live action, and the flights of exaggeration these “realistic” animated films can take allow the opportunity to go to both visceral and emotional levels which live action simply may not be able to touch the same way. I’d argue that we let our guard down with animation and that allows an opportunity for filmmakers to pull the rug out from under us even more dramatically when we realize our investment in the narrative or even the cinematic experience. The value of Linklater’s experiments in live action rotoscope features is the doors it opens to subjective reality, not the objective visuals of straightforward live-action. Its not that one cinematic experience is better than the other (that’s simply the talent involved in either process) but there is no doubt in my mind that there is always a point in animating anything. John K’s a brilliant artist, but the more I hear him talk the more I realize he is a product of his limited scope of interest, despite all the value that limited scope has produced from his perspectives on the medium.

  • elan

    “Avatar is the first film to have the precision allowing the mocap data to be used almost untouched”

    That has NOT been proven, unless you choose to believe the “behind the scenes” videos they’ve released, which smell more like propaganda and “actor stroking” if you ask me. Im sure the motion capture was referenced heavily, but Id be willing to bet gooood money that 75% of the MoCap was thrown away and re-animated.

    Heck, just watch the videos closely and you can see major discrepancies between the video and final animation.

  • http://spungella.com Jean-Denis Haas

    @Brubaker: I don’t agree with that statement/question at all, it’s so limiting.

    @ Hal: well said.

    @elan: having worked on Avatar, the mocap was really good (best I’ve worked with), but you still have to tweak it.

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    In the January 2010 CINEFEX article on Avatar it was stated that while the motion capture was (according to this article) successful for the capture of “90 percent” of the body motion, extensive facial reference was filmed for animators. “Animators relied heavily on HD witness camera footage to recreate the actors’ original performances” despite the presence of mounted cameras on the actors’ mocap suit heads providing stable reference of the actors’ faces. These were “of little use as animation reference because the proximity of the camera to the actor’s face resulted in a fish-eye-lens look.” -Duncan, Cinefex 120

  • http://nocturnusstudios.blogspot.com Nick

    One of the problems I notice is that we see the Avatar characters to be “photo-realistic”. I agree that the texturing and the lighting are pretty life like but the characters themselves have much more design in them than realism.

  • Sylvain

    My sources for saying that, were my colleagues who were very exited about it at work, I personally don’t cleanup mocap.

    I want to say I’m ashamed of my post above… having a hissy cow for no reason, that is, having a cow and a hissy fit at the same time :-D

  • http://www.joestrike.com Joe Strike

    “it is vital for those of us within the industry to recognize it in all its many forms, and not allow organizations like the Academy to make arbitrary value judgments about different forms of animation.”

    I’m still ticked they declared interpolated rotoscoping (Scanner Darkly) ineligible, but mocap films are ok, even though both are taking live-action and stylizing it via animation.

    “Once again, The Academy refuses to include ‘animation’ into their categories simply because it’s ‘animation’, and in their mind, ‘animation’ = ‘kids stuff’.”

    Yep – exactly why the Best Animated Feature Oscar is handed out during the show’s first half hour – and usually with an animated character ‘on stage’ announcing the winner.

    As for this particular debate, how about this criterion: are the filmmakers trying to make an animated film – or a live-action film featuring fantasy characters? (Don’t worry about the Chipmunks’ ‘Squeakel’ – no way is that film coming anywhere near a nomination, not with the competition from Disney, Pixar and Miyazaki this year.)

  • Chris

    animation is the frame by frame manipulation of images to simulate motion. i think simulation is the key here. if real world motion is interpolated by sensors that spit out key frames and it’s creation requires no preexisting knowledge of physics or movement, it is not a simulation. it is actual motion being recorded and applied to something digital. to me, this is what separates a pixar film from cameron’s avatar. creating 3d models and having their motion dictated by sensor derived coordinates doesn’t require an animator to accomplish. It’s Computer Generated Imagery, but it’s not animation. Too often 3d modeling, rigging, lighting, rotoscoping, motion capturing, and many other individual specialties get lumped under the broad umbrella of “animation” when they are actually on an equal platform, each assisting eachother in the creation of something awesome. the term animation is specific only to the simulation of motion and i think this should be the determining factor when categorizing films. the advancement of technology has opened the doors for so many new image manipulation/enhancement techniques. maybe its just time we came up with some new categories instead of redefining our old ones?