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CGIFeature FilmIdeas/Commentary

The Question of Beowulf


What to make of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf.

Is it to be considered a pure animated film or a digitally enhanced live action feature? Is it of a piece with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Polar Express? Or does it end up in the company of 300, Sin City or Sky Captain and The World Of Tomorrow?

I haven’t seen the film; I’ve only seen the trailers and clips. So far, I’m not impressed. And so far I’m having a hard time accepting this as an animated feature. Should this film compete for an Annie or an Oscar against Persepolis, Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie?

Buzz from the first public screenings this weekend is overwhelmingly positive (these screenings were in 3-D Imax). This film is shaping up to be huge at the box office. Early reviewers are blown away by both the filmmaking and the technical razzle dazzle. Even sourpuss film critic Jeffery Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere (no fan of animation nor sword & sorcery pics himself) has posted an ecstatic rave:

“Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf is an exceptional film on its own terms, but the 3-D version I saw last night is, no exaggeration, something close to stupendous… This film is obviously animated through and through. It deserves the Best Feature Animation Oscar, bar none. I don’t care what anyone says — this is not live-action except in the most rudimentary sense of the physical acting aspects, which represent, in my view, a relatively small portion of the whole.”

I’ll decide for myself what camp this picture falls into after I actually see it. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what our readers have to say.

  • Normal people don’t care if it’s “animated” or if it’s “motion-captured.” They only want to see shiny objects, explosions and special FX. So don’t be surprised if this wins the oscar for the best “animated” feature next year. (That would be a dark day in the animation’s history.)

  • Cat

    I think the Best Feature Animation category should be reserved for films that are actually animated. :)

  • Hmmm, I would have to grudgingly call it animation. It’s motion capture, which I see as the 3D equivalent of rotoscoping, still technically animation, though with some advantages and some disadvantages.

    Look at it this way – take last year’s french feature Renaissance (a film I really like) which used motion capture 3D animation, but chose to use that to create a visual style based on pure black and white images with no greyscale. A visually audacious move for a feature, and if anyone were to try to argue with me that it should be seen as live action, I’d have to tell them they’re just wrong.

    In the case of Beowulf, a lot of the processes used to create the film could be considered similar to Renaissance, except that they made the creative choice (in my view a dumb choice, but whatever) of making the characters look almost exactly like the actors voicing / mocapping them. That doesn’t make it live action in my view any more than if Aladdin’s Genie had been exactly modelled on Robin Williams’ features would have made THAT live action.

    There IS however a very good argument to be made that they perhaps should have filmed it in a manner similar to “300” (which I’m sure cost a fraction of what Beowulf is costing to make), there’s no reason why Beowulf, as it appears in this incarnation, COULDN’T have been done in Live Action.

    BUT, that doesn’t mean that what we have here IS live action.

    (All that said, if this beats Ratatouille for the oscar this year, after the tragedy of Happy Feet winning last year, I’ll be very very disappointed.)

  • “This film is obviously animated through and through. It deserves the Best Feature Animation Oscar, bar none.”

    then while continuing to rave; he got into his hummer limo, clubbed a baby seal, and ate the country of darfur.

    and i cried inside.

  • I sometimes ask myself, what’s the point in making Beowulf? They are trying to make it as realistic as possible aren’t they? Then why not make it live action instead and use CGI to enhance it? It just seems like they are trying to make a film cheaply. It’s not really as if they are pushing many boundaries. I think it could only contend for best special effects, and even then, the special effects don’t look as good as some I have seen in live action movies.

  • i’ve never heard of Jeffrey Welles (something tells me i’m glad) and i withold final judgement on BEOWULF until i see the film but all i can say of the trailer is that i would only call it animated in the most rudimentary sense. the visuals are intriguing but the performances of the characters to me look as dead and boring as every other mo-cap of this type (and believe me, i’d be happy to say otherwise). it is depressing that apparently what so many so-called “cultured” critics (and world-class filmmakers for that matter) really crave from our medium is pure, meticulous and absolute photo-realism. i thought that’s what cameras were for.

  • RR

    It is my understanding that AMPAS has officially ruled out mo-cap in this year’s official awards rules. This would rule out BEOWULF, which Zemeckis himself does not consider to be animation. Zemeckis has said, “To call performance capture animation is a disservice to the great animators”.

    Surprised you guys hadn’t heard of this yet. Read all about it here:

  • Zemeckis always makes some great films (but every director makes a dog sometime), so this film should be okay.

    I’m more interested in knowing how Zemeckis got Crispin Glover in the movie. Didn’t they have a falling out while writing Back to the Future II?

  • Eventually the Academy is going to have to come up a revised definition of what constitiutes an animated film as apposed to a live action or dgitially enhanced one. In my opinion if more than 50% of the animation in a movie originated from some sort of live action then the movie can not be considered an animated feature or short. Or something along those lines.

  • This could be a touchy subject…but – mo-cap or uber-traditional hand drawn – if it’s a terrible movie…isn’t that all that matters to boot it out of the running?

    I think of something like Beowulf…so keen on trying to replicate reality…should be thought of as so. But since it’s not obviously live-action, and it wasn’t strictly (or mostly) created in mind of it being an animation…it shouldn’t be in either category. Bypass argument and just make a new category.

  • Nick

    I thought the Academy already decided that Mo-cap was NOT animation…HUH? Well in my humble opinion, while mo-cap is still fixed by key frame animators the majority of the film is not animated. This to me is not animation. I know a guy who works at Image Movers Digital. He himself has said that Zemeckis and co understand the difference that that they are trying to get more of the “animators touch” in there. How successful have they been? We will have to see when the movie comes out.

    Regardless of how good the movie is, it should NOT get best feature Animation. Instead they will have to think about creating a whole new category because this does NOT fit in either live action or animation. Now if Mo-cap is used as a tool (as it should be) and less than 25% of the film uses mo-cap then maybe and that is a big MAYBE but we all know that Beowulf has far exceeded that percentage.. it is a Moc(r)apstravaganza!!

  • MJ

    ” this is not live-action except in the most rudimentary sense of the physical acting aspects, which represent, in my view, a relatively small portion of the whole.â€?

    haha he just basically said there isn’t any acting in beowulf

  • J. J. Hunsecker

    I saw a demonstration of how the film was made, and it was done with motion capture. It’s not animation, even if real animators might have had to fix problems with the mocap footage.

    I don’t know who Jeffrey Wells is, but he sounds like one of those people who believes animation can only be good when it imitates live action. “Best Feature Animation Oscar, bar none”?!? What ignorance.

  • I actually think films like Polar Express, Final Fantasy and Beowulf belong in the same company as Ralph Bakshi’s rotoscope reliant features The Lord of the Rings and American Pop than anything else we’ve seen so far in the sense that these films cannot be considered pure animation from a traditional standpoint yet qualify as such because they exaggerate, distort and expand upon filmic reality in a way that live action filmmaking can never accomplish. Notice I’ve said nothing of the quality of these features.

    I am no fan of the process that Zemeckis and others are employing with these CG features but can appreciate the final product from a filmmaking standpoint or, at the very least, not allow my own bias to get in the way of my enjoyment of a film. Film as a medium has the power to transcend all forms, creating a wholly unique experience. Perhaps we are now at a point in animation where such transcendence extends to the realization of the imagination, creating something entirely new. While I value, respect and embrace the old gaurd in a way that I could never this form of CG animation, if only for its sterile nature in attempting to re-create reality with great detail, I think it is also important to keep an open mind to the new tools at the disposal of filmmakers. I think the merits and perhaps even ethics of creating a digital Angelina Jolie where the real thing can so easily be captured on film by traditional means is perhaps better left debated by those in the field with a vested interest.

  • Erik Griott

    Motion Capture is to Animation what Books on Tape are to Novels. Cheats. Whether it’s got a 5 billion dollar budget and a league of extraordinary special effects artists behind it, its just a 5 billion dollar cheat with a league of extraordinary special effects artists behind it. Todays market is flooded with “special effects this” and “special effects that”. the critiques are obviously catering to the majority of the viewers, which unfortunately aren’t artists. mocap destroys everything that animation has worked for nearly a hundred years to be.

    I would have no problem with this movie whatsoever had the actors been live on-screen. I would be able to appreciate the talent and skill of the effects artists more for being able to captivate my imagination with fantastic imagery composited on top of a real actor in such a way that makes it feel like the person is really there! such ability!

    but alas, it seems that our taste and entertainment is trapped by the will of the arrogant, moronic business suits that we somehow entrust with our and finances and listen to their opinions. what we need is for artists to take up arms and become the people in power! [i]we[/i] need to become the executives and show people what art is supposed to be!

    so i’m totally down for a revolution. what say you?

  • GhaleonQ

    For the Academy, I think that it squeaks in under the wire. I agree that a definition reformation will need to occur soon, though.

    On the other hand, I have a really hard time believing that this is even passable, much less good. I suppose that I’ll see in the future.

    Oh, and “smo?” Sudan is a country. Darfur is an unofficial region within it.

  • I think the other films you mentioned deserve an animation oscar more, even if Beowolf is somehow better (which a very much doubt).

    I never found much use quibbling over definitions, but some how I still can’t help but hating mocap and zumeckis.

  • What most of you fail to realize is that it’s got a naked Angelina Jolie. A fake one, but she’s in there.

    That alone will make the movie $50 million USD. Who needs acting when you’ve got uh, huge tracts of land and sea?

  • It’s animation. What else to call it? To put it down because it employs a methodology some consider “cheating” is embark on a fairly slippery slope…what isn’t cheating? Certainly there are no shortage of methodologies that skirt a fine line between drawing talent and animation result.

    Furthermore, the filmmakers didn’t do motion capture on this film because they wanted to “cheat”; certainly, the filmmakers had at their disposal the talents of whomever they wished to employ on the project and could have brought to bear any techniques they wished. They did motion capture because it delivered the performances they wanted. And what is truer to the spirit of animation than to employ whatever tools are needed to deliver exactly the performance desired?

    (Furthermore, to suggest that motion capture is simply taking a live performance and plugging it directly into a computer is to suggest that nothing at all was done to modify the performances in the film…and that’s almost certainly not true.)

    If you want to argue that you don’t like the style of the film, then argue that. But don’t argue that it’s not an animated film when, well…it is.

  • I’m not very impressed with the trailers I’ve seen so far either. I’m going to try not to judge it on looks alone but it would seem to me that the look of the film would distract from the story too much. Maybe that’s the point?

  • Spit & Spite

    I just hopes it better then the awful Bee Movie.


    I will give with a honest review asap… but for now. In todays world, I think any film with a good promo/advertising budget… can get a good review from somebody… nuff said? Howz that?

  • Dave Silva says:
    What most of you fail to realize is that it’s got a naked Angelina Jolie.

    Yeah, and by the looks of it, the cgi modelers have really enhanced her….erm……’acting ability’

    This movie will probably be cool to watch, like 300 or Sin City. A visual feast of an action movie that everyone will gobble up.

    The BAD part is that, if this film is indeed a success, the makers will lay the responsibility of it’s success on the fact that its motion-capture-cgi and not on the fact that it’s an exciting/good fantasy film.
    Thus spurring every other movie studio to “ape” this movie by making their own creepy uncanny calley motion-capture-cgi movies. Then the theatres will be filled with Beowulf spawn, which will no doubt be nowhere near as good as this film may or may not be.

  • haha yeah sorry GhaleonQ, poor choice, just going for the most colorful description with the least wording. next time i’ll be more descriptive when noting someone doing horrible things.

  • Kris

    I don’t think it counts as animation when you take a live actor’s performance and apply it to a rendered model that looks photorealistically EXACTLY LIKE HIM.

    I’ve heard this movie is really, really cool in 3-D theaters, though. I mean, in the normal trailers it looks like a crappy video game cutscene, but I guess with the 3-D glasses on it looks REALLY cool.

  • Animation Pimp

    if it’s so good, why not Best feature nomination?

    i saw the trailer and it looks awful–whether it’s live action or animation.

    read the book

  • Jay

    if I remember right, it’s movies like the Star Wars prequels that pushed the Academy to closely define “animation”, because so much of those movies was either performance-capture or pure animation that they were technically ‘animated features’. BEOWULF and other movies like it will need even tighter definitions.

  • Benjamin De Schrijver

    I have to say, I’ve never liked the decision of going completely realistic with this film, and I’ve been a heavy advocat against that decision on some threads at Also, the trailer and a clip didn’t excite me at all. A lot of it does seem stiff and lifeless, and what I saw in those videos didn’t make me excited about it simply as a movie. So I’d basically decided not to go see it. However, the early reviews have really been raving about both the writing as the overall cinematic experience, so now I’m eager to check it out if I can find it in 3D.

  • purin

    Does it really look that good? To be fair, I saw my peeks of it on Youtube, but the blood and gore looked very cheap, like some random liquid in a Spykids film.
    The “Everything is computer” thing is kind of superfluous (especially when you have actual actors’ images in there), but there is a benefit: When I was watching Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (I actually liked it, so sue me), I figured it was basically your standard action movie, but because everything was the same medium, the “actors” and the special effects looked like they belonged together as a whole.

    Silva, that’s what I was going to say. It’s got an amplified naked Angelina Jolie. Her gold plated breasts and unnecessary plot point about having sex with Beowulf are definitely going to help people say “Wow, these graphics are the best EVERRR thus making this movie superior to everything this year!” I mean, for Pete’s sake, she has a little dew claw so she can look like she has high heels as she walks around wearing nothing but gold stuff.
    (Pardon me for being bitter about how dangerous women must always be sexy in movies.)

  • Steve Gattuso

    If the director himself said that the film should not be considered an animated feature, I say that’s sufficient.

    Moving on to the next tempest in a teapot…

  • What I want to know is:
    Why make an mo-capp animated movie that looks like a live-action film when they could of just made it live action from the start?
    Heck, even the characters look like their live-action counterparts!

  • DDC

    I think the simple answer as to why this isn’t live action is because Zemeckis prefers these days to do his filming using performance capture.

    If you think about this film from a director’s standpoint, imagine the possibilities of shooting a scene and having an endless amount of film to try out different ways of shooting it. And after they’ve shot and actually doing the camera moves in 3d, being able to take out people add more, move ’em around so that they can get the composition you want. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that, I think that’s a big attraction for these directors.

    I really think his decision to create this movie in mocap was not an artistic choice, more so than it (mocap) is his preffered way of shooting any films these days.

    I personally think this movie would have been just fine using live action with cg effects, but im not the one making the decision. Ultimately, like any other big budget vfx movie I’m going to watch, I hope the storytelling is great no just the visual fx

    I guess i’ll find out when I see it

  • This movie looks like crap. Enough said.

  • Sure the trailer and commercials are awful, steeped with over-used conventions and action cliches– and any Key-frame animator has an automatic/intrinsic animosity toward all-things Mo-cap– but isn’t it too early for such speculation?

    Who knows, maybe there’s an actually animated Grendel segment in the movie…

    Still, I like the idea of perfecting the seamless performance of digital actors, Beowulf obviously is worlds away from perfection, yet it an another step.

    Zemeckis must of had a reason for making the movie this way, (maybe it’s for the right reasons?) it’s too soon to write it off as rubbish.

    But yeah, Motion Capture is not Animation– if any academy awards are in the running, one would hope it will be for other supposed merits.

  • Rodrigo

    I don’t understand why this technology is even employed. If you’re trying to go for realism, why the f**ck don’t you just film it live action. The whole point of animation is caricature, and this is a waste of computing power.

    Use creature CG animation and compositing. Keep it simple stupid.

  • Animated my *ss. This gives us animators a bad name.
    Keep animation -animation-, and live action -live action-. Motion capture only works in specialcharacter films like Star Wars and LOTR.

  • skyman

    man, i just saw some pieces of happy feet, and damn mocap can be so lame. The weaknesses were so evident when the penguins were doing the tap-dancing, it was all mushy movement, there was no real rythm or accents to the way they moved, they just kind of floated around. I still can’t believe that sh#t won an oscar. But everything Peter Jackson does with mocap has been amazing. I think it’s really about who’s doing the philm-making. Zemeckis haint impressed me yet though.

  • Simone Tse Tse

    “If the director himself said that the film should not be considered an animated feature, I say that’s sufficient.”

    Later in that same article the studio rep is quoted “We are definitely submitting it” and Zemeckis, with over 20 years of experimenting with filmmaking tools, can’t override that.

    Sidenote – I know Richard Williams’ opinions about studio executives, but what has he said about Zemeckis?

  • I protested loudly when there was discussion about Andy Serkis being nominated for an acting Oscar for Gollum without the animators being nominated along with him.

    So I’ve got to agree with Daniel, while this dosen’t suit me necessarily, I do think it squeaks in under the wire as animation. Whether its good animation or a good use of animation remains to be seen and I’ll have to judge that for myself later (as does each individual). God knows I see plenty of animated films that I consider animated badly, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be considered animated.
    I feel that films that are shot in live-action and just passed through a computer process like “A Scanner Darkly” don’t deserve nomination as an animated film, but Mo-Cap films – like Monster House, Polar Express, Renaissance and I assume Beowolf – still need the involvement of animators (though maybe not even as much as roto-scope). The it becomes a matter of whether you like the style of it or not and if we’re going to use that as a deciding factor we’ll all be in trouble at some point or another.

    In my opinion it is very similiar to roto-scope, but unlike some here I consider roto-scope to be animation and to not do so would be putting into question not just the Bakshi films, but also many Disney films.

  • I know one thing: This ain’t a real cartoon.

  • I think there’s a substantial enough difference between creating a film frame by frame and creating a film by capturing it with a camera running at 24fps that requires a difference in definition. There seems to be an important difference between what’s captures instantaneously by a camera and that which takes time to be made ready to filmed on frame at a time.

    I don’t see a problem in saying mocap is just an extension of puppetry rather than animation. You could say the world of mocap is not the world of filmed reality, but the way live action films are be manipulated with digital effects now their worlds are hard to separate. This is just the future of puppetry and if they want to make a new category at the Oscars for it, it’s fine with me.

    But to lump it in with animation and take away Oscars from people who could use that credit to get more money to make more good films. I say kick mocap out of the category and in effect kick out a good chunk of the blockbusters too, make the academy dig deeper for films to celebrate.

  • Bobby A.

    I saw Beowulf at an industry screening Friday night. It’s a terribly busy looking film, and difficult to follow. The screenplay is the best Neil Gaiman’s done, which isn’t saying much since his screenplays have all been confusing messes and insulting to the audience. The 3D was fun, but gave may people headaches after a few minutes, and was very distracting from the already difficult to follow story.

    The mocap was on par with Monster House, but not much better. And was the film ever UGLY! The designs were about as appealing as a piece of month old road kill! Both the characters and backgrounds are so overwrought with sweaty detail that they’re hard to watch.

    The entire experience was incredibly depressing. Especially since many people who worked on it were sitting around me and I had to pretend for the moment it was fine. But I almost went into convulsions while watching the film.

    A more mature, challanging, visually engrrossing, and thoughtful film like Ratatouille, a film that respects it’s audience and thrills by entertaining ALL of your emotions, has more “animation” in any one scene than the entire mess that is Beowulf.


  • Zee

    Looks like an hour and a half long cinematic from a video game, without the benefit of getting to hit the x button to skip it.

  • James Edward Forrest

    “Beowulf” looks like what Hollingsworth Morse would’ve done with money.

  • I agree with the majority that the trailers look terrible. I have no doubt that some genius down the road will make an artful and entertaining mocap film. The potential (after seeing the Two Towers and King Kong) is there.

    To me, the “Imax cheat” is a bigger concern. It appears that Zemeckis is using 3D Imax to garner favorable reviews at the outset, which will sucker audiences into seeing it in normal theatres, which in turn will generate buzz which will influence the Academy voters. I’d hate to see movies succeed or fail based on whether or not they open in a more impressive format.

    If I were an Academy bigwig, I’d give it an honorary Oscar —like Toy Story —if it’s as good as these reviewers are making it out to be, and work out the animation category rules asap.

    Oh, and thanks for the info on the nude Jolie. I was going crazy wondering why anyone would hire an actress like that and re-render her. Now I know.

  • Emily

    I saw this at a screening and I really did not enjoy it. I think the 3D is a cheap gimmick. For the first couple minutes it’s like “whoa – 3D!” but after awhile, I just forgot about it except when they did some ridiculous shot with a sword sticking out of the screen. The 3D really didn’t work for the fast cuts and quick camera moves. It sort of stuttered and became hard to watch. As for the look of the film, it was so busy that I couldn’t keep track of what I was looking at sometimes.

    At the beginning, everyone was cheering and so excited to be seeing Beowulf, but before long that gave way to laughter at how ridiculous it was. By the end of the movie, everyone was mostly silent except for some “what the hell?”s and “ugh”s every time some brutally violent thing happened. I also thought that the violence was unecessarily brutal at a lot of parts and occasionally laughable at the same time.

    I heard that Zemeckis said that he does not think that this type of movie is an animated feature – it is rendered but not animated. I was really glad to hear him say that, since the last time I heard him speak it sounded like he thought animators should be technicians and that is all. Apparently he thinks that this movie couldn’t have been made the way he wanted as a live action film, but that animation wouldn’t have done justice to the tone.

  • There was motion capture used in the film, but don’t buy into the PR saying that the whole film is mocapped. Also, regardless of any production processes used on the animation (movement) side of things, other parts of the production process are no different than any other CG film. The texture artists, character TDs, lighters, and the rest all do their jobs the same way as their peers at other animation studios that don’t use motion capture. Is their work to be negated just because motion capture was used on some characters in some scenes? Yes, SOME scenes and SOME characters. Do you think they put motion capture sensors on a bus to perform the sea monsters? The sooner the larger animation community embraces this new technology, the sooner we can see really beautiful films that use the technology. I think “Beowulf” is the second step in that direction (the first being “Monster House”). All the whining, nasty blog posting, and clever digs during end credits won’t make this technology go away. This whole issue reminds me of the greater computer animation vs traditional animation debate a few years back. We all know how that went.

  • tom

    These botoxed videogame characters are not, in my opinion, animated. No more than a puppet show is “animated”. Motion capture is puppeteering at its core.

    This is a butt-ugly movie, and anyone who is excited about that Jolie nudity should poke around the internet, since aspiring Picassos have been photoshopping her head onto porn stars’ bodies since the infancy of the internet. As a side note, have you noticed her character wears “period-accurate” spike heels? Classy touch there.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    I don’t think I don’t have much to say about it that has already been discussed here. One thing’s for sure, there isn’t an IMAX theater in my town so I won’t have to know of it’s early promoting blitz since everyone in town would probably just hear it from their net buddies and not take it with a grain of salt! The film alone isn’t one I feel is worth the 8 or so bucks to see personally.

  • I’m more worried about the weird, apparently revisionist take on the story. But I will try to reserve judgement till I see the thing. (The characters’ lip movements DO look kind of spooky…)

  • RR

    Folks, mo-cap is NOT animation. It is a very big mistake to confuse mo-cap with rotoscope.

    Rotoscope is fundamentally a frame by frame process, with an artist painting over live action footage. A rotoscoped film like WAKING LIFE can be considered animation because you have animators digitally painting the action, one frame at a time, just like traditional rotoscope.

    Mo-cap is a digital process that captures a live actor’s movement and translates it into a digital character. Animation does not factor into it at any level. Mo-cap is not a frame by frame process, and by definition it is not animation.

    I would define mo-cap closer to costume design than animation :) because you are essentially just dressing up an actor to look like someone else.

  • For me it’s not an animated movie. Animation, it’s giving life to characters. Here the technical support copy the life. For me this particular category of movies is like a large rehearsal for a next new Marylin Monroe film.
    However the movie can be good too if the story telling is good.

  • Emily

    Floyd Bishop – I don’t think that people are completely opposed to mocap as a tool. I know that there is a lot of griping, but in general people liked Monster House (although that data was basically animated over, I hear). It seems more like people resent the implications of animators being technicians on films like this rather than being entrusted to create emotional performances. And honestly, the emotions and acting of these mocapped characters are not up to snuff. I felt nothing for the characters in Beowulf. I think that if Beowulf had a great script and wonderful design and acting I wouldn’t have minded so much. But this kind of spectacle movie that falls short of having any of those things, yet gets sold on the technology used, is an insult to the artistry that could have gone into it.

    Those sea monsters looked more alive than anything else in the film. I think Zemeckis hasn’t hit the strengths of mocap as a tool yet. Beowulf had the potential to have a stylized look, but I don’t think it got there. It’s just a muddle.

  • c.tower

    Zemekis has always used special effects to alter the appearence of his actors, whether they’re changing age or playing multiple roles or whatever. Clearly, this is just the latest example of his on-going obsession, and the actual technique used is irrelevant to him- and he probably thinks it should be irrelevant to audiences, too.

  • C

    2d “Purists” are splitting the industry and making animation lovers who happen to use 3d as their medium feel ostracized and unwelcome. Stop motion uses puppets, some use sand, others use paper cut out to contribute to the medium they love. Get over yourselves.

  • Josh

    The film will succeed or fail based on its own merits (or lack thereof), no matter if it’s mocapped, animated by hand, or some combination of the two.

    Personally, I way prefer the look of keyframe animation to mocap, but swear to you, 95% of the world doesn’t notice or care about the difference. They just want to be entertained.

    Oh, and can we stop using “videogame animation” as a pejorative? Not sure if many of you have played videogames recently, but some of us happen to work in videogames and think our animation’s pretty good. :)

  • Enoch S. Shapiro

    I was just googling Beowulf to get some reactions to it when i can across this page.

    Emily, I disagree with you. I thought Gaiman & Avery’s script was brilliant, thoughtful, profound and moving. The story is gripping and the opening sequence puts almost everything in recent animation with the exception of Ratatouille to shame, but the film is so much more, in IMAX 3d, than that film could ever be. Beowulf is such a wondrous experience that it may very well ring the death knell for 2D animation unless it is strictly aimed at kids. Everyone else is going to go nuts for 3D mocapping if it can be as good as Beowulf. James caeron has Avatar up next and then it’s Peter jackson and Spielberg’s Tintin. You guys should get with the program if you don’t want to go the way of the dodo.

  • Matt Sullivan

    This is NOT an “animated” film by any stretch of the imagination.

  • I don’t understand why an “animated” film would want to look like “live action” in the first place. Kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?

  • Matt Sullivan

    And by the way “C” we 2D “purists” at least have talent. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to manipulate a few IK handles, or to rotate a manipulator. People who can draw, do story, and storyboards, will always be the ones in charge, and you’ll be the cogs that help make OUR movies, that WE get credit for.

  • J. J. Hunsecker

    >>[i]2d “Purists� are splitting the industry and making animation lovers who happen to use 3d as their medium feel ostracized and unwelcome. Stop motion uses puppets, some use sand, others use paper cut out to contribute to the medium they love. Get over yourselves.[/i]

    I love stop motion animation (in fact, I’d rather see that with all of its quirks than most computer animated films) but motion capture is not animation! It’s virtual puppetry. No frame by frame animation is involved (unless the mo-cap looks bad, then some animators are hired to fix it).

    Also, cut-out animation — which I also enjoy — is considered 2D.

  • J. J. Hunsecker

    Matt Sullivan – No reason to be mean. I’ve seen some wonderful cartoony CGI animation by some talented people (these were experimental scenes, not meant for a finished film, unfortunately) recently. So it is possible to do, if only the animator is given the opportunity to do so.

  • Matt Sullivan: It doesn’t take any effort to make marks on paper, either. It’s what you do with those marks that matters. I’m sure the Pixar, Dreamworks, Blue Sky, and other crews would disagree with you.

  • Jayster

    “These botoxed videogame characters are not, in my opinion, animated. No more than a puppet show is “animatedâ€?. Motion capture is puppeteering at its core.”

    Puppeteering is animation at its core. Animation is giving life to an inanimate object, not just frame by frame. 2-D animation is regarded as “traditional” but it was started after stop-motion/puppet animation (even though this arguement is completely open to debate to pre-film forms). Depending how loose you want to be with the art of animation, puppeteering can also be considered animation. Note there is a difference between animation and cartoons.

    Beowulf and Mo-Cap, no matter how the effect is achieved, bring inanimate digital puppets to “life”. Who ever the actor is using Mo-Cap is the animator, just like in a Disney cartoon who ever drawing Mickey Mouse is the actor/animator. Animation is its own artform outside of drawing or anything else. Drawing ability doesn’t have anything to do with animating ability (it completely helps ofcourse.) Animation is completely it’s own artform that is very wide range in what it should be defined as. Motion Capture is animation, it’s only using a live actor rather than some person sitting down drawing a million drawings. If it’s good or not is completely up for debate, like any artform.

    If Beowulf is better than Ratatouille then it should win against it as long as Beowulf is mostly animated. In the ideal situation all movies would just compete against each other no matter how they’re made. Placing animated movies at the “kids table” is ridiculous, hopefully more movies like Beowulf can blur the lines of what animation is and can do and open up many more ideas for future film makers.

    I gotta say though, it looks like a lame-O movie.

  • “You guys should get with the program if you don’t want to go the way of the dodo.”

    I normally never come back to re-comment on other’s opinions on this blog, but this was a little out of line, Enoch. I actually read your comment several times to see if you were actually kidding. I’m actually still deciding if you’re kidding.

    Regardless…we have photography and photoshop now-a-days…but heck, I believe we still have oil painting last time I checked. Imagine that.

    I’m getting pretty disappointed that there are people on here who are still attempting to justify one decision of medium over another and assigning value. It’s laughable, actually. Moving on…

  • tom

    “Puppeteering is animation at its core.”

    No, puppeteering is its own, special art and science. It doesn’t need a new name and animation doesn’t need to absorb it. Using your logic, any actor in any role is “animating” that role, which is ridiculous.

    Animation is creating an IMPRESSION of the world in a 2D screen (for now) and that includes CG animation. Puppeteering exists in that full world, and is usually a live performance. Puppeteering is a much older art form and is its own thing entirely. Mocap is only puppeteering in my mind since a man or woman manipulates a character IN REAL TIME- see?

  • Zemeckis has said, “To call performance capture ‘animation’ is a disservice to the great animatorsâ€?.

    Read all about it here.

  • Reeehhrrr! Catfight!

  • Benjamin De Schrijver

    I’d say just get rid of the Animated Feature category, and let it all be “Motion Pictures”. I mean, a lot of it isn’t even “film” anymore.

  • philippe

    i feel there’s two extreme ways of making a film: one is taking the world outside and putting it on film (ex:documentary) and the other is bringing the inside world and bringing it out on film (ex: cartoon).

    In between those two extrems there’s so much mixing. A film can be live action then reworked image per image. One scene of the film can be animated and the rest untouched. A photography is as much “reality” as a drawing, adobe’s photoshop has merged those two supports. That a film is 24 drawings a second or 24 photographies a second is irrelevant. A film is a “cheat” anyway you look at it. It’s the quality of the film in it’s final form that prevails.

  • Nathan Strum

    If the motion is created by animators – it’s an animated film.

    If the motion is created by mo-cap – it’s a special-effects film.

    Think about the intent behind it: why did they make Beowulf look the way it does? They’re mimicking the look of special-effects-heavy live-action films. This is intended to be a live-action film, where all of the actors have been replaced by digital stunt-doubles. If it gets nominated for an Oscar, then it should be for best special-effects.

    Beowulf is a special-effects film. Not an animated film.

  • I’ve watched the trailers for “Beowulf,” and until reading this post, I didn’t realize it was supposed to be animated. To me, it looked like live action with a weird gloss.

    For movies like this or even “A Scanner Darkly,” I’d say the art form involves painting, but not animating.

  • Eduardo

    “Animation is creating an IMPRESSION of the world in a 2D screen (for now) and that includes CG animation.”

    No, Animation is breathing life into characters. Something MoCap has a long way to go to achieve. beowulf doesn’t achieve that.

  • amid

    The general consensus throughout the years on the definition of animation has been that A.) the artwork is created frame-by-frame and B.) the illusion of motion is created, not recorded. Though the motion in Beowulf is certainly edited frame-by-frame, the performance capture process would seem to indicate that it’s not created as such.

    Just for fun, here are some definitions of animation by others:

    Norman McLaren once said that, “Animation is not the art of drawings that move, but rather the art of movements that are drawn. What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame; Animation is therefore the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between frames.” (McLaren later clarified that while he originally wrote drawings, he used the word ‘for a simple and rhetorical effect; static objects, puppets and human beings can all be animated without drawings…’)

    Zagreb artists said in their manifesto that, “To animation [is to] give life and soul to a design, not through the copying but through the transformation of reality.”

    John Halas and Joy Batchelor say, “If it is the live-action fim’s job to present physical reality, animated film is concerned with metaphysical reality – not how things look but what they mean.”

    Walt Disney said, “[T]he first duty of the cartoon is not to duplicate real action or things as they actually happen – but to give a caricature of life and action…to bring to life dream fantasies and imaginative fantasies that we have all thought of [based on] a foundation of fact.”

  • Jorge Garrido

    If Beowulf is animation then Ray Harryhausen’s work is not. Simple as that.

    Beowulf is virtual puppets. Animation implies that the motion is created artificially.

    Maybe they use a few animation technqiues, but as far as I’m concerned Tranformers is more of an animated film that this. Should that be eligible for the Oscar?

    If Rataouille doesn’t win this year, the Oscars lose all credibility in my eyes. Wait, they already did that years ago…

  • Thanks for the definitions, Amid! You forgot one:

    “cartoons aren’t real….they’re….puppets.”

  • Jayster

    “No, puppeteering is its own, special art and science. It doesn’t need a new name and animation doesn’t need to absorb it. Using your logic, any actor in any role is “animatingâ€? that role, which is ridiculous.”

    No one claimed Animation and Puppeteering were one in the same, just closely related. Actors aren’t animators, but animators are actors (generally speaking). A human is alive, you can’t create life because it’s happening in real time as an actor. Acting also is it’s own seperate form of art seperated from Animation, nothing that has been said relates that all actors are animators. Silly.

    “Mocap is only puppeteering in my mind since a man or woman manipulates a character IN REAL TIME- see?”

    The work is still a frame-by-frame process. The program used is an animation program, the mo-cap is not done un-altered. It’s just like rotoscoping and rotoscoping is animation. The broad term of animation is not soley for the artform. Film it self is animated (let me explain). A film is a series of pictures that when played back create the illusion of movement. Of course this does not mean that all films should be called animated films. Animation the artform is different and means different things to different people like most artforms. Mo-cap is animation, it’s not the highest regarded or hardest animation art but it still is animation. Acting, Puppeteering, and Animation are closely related but no one claims they are one in the same. The mo-cap performance along with the animators who work from the mo-cap performance create animation. It’s a debate that can continue, but ultimately no one cares what you call it.

  • tom

    The work is tweaked frame-by-frame. Mo Cap captures motion- human motion- which is why the results are less animated than the work of animators.

  • NOT SURE IF ANYONE’S COVERED THIS, BUT what’s interesting within this debate is that in last week’s Variety article about the Best Animated Feature category (specifically, if more than 15 features released there will be 5 films in the nominations) and the big debate is whether BEOWULF and ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS are eligible, ZEMECKIS himself said something interesting that “to call motion capture animation is a disservice to all the talented animators in this industry,” and does not consider it as a valid contender for Best Animated Film. Having the director actually put his vision into this context, I can suddenly get behind him and what he’s doing a whole lot more, even if I still think its going to be an interesting failure. At least there is not debate here that its animation in his mind, and I suppose the fact the director of ROGER RABBIT isn’t confusing the two is a relief. Whether or not the Academy agrees with him, yet to be seen.

  • Matt Sullivan

    If by “Get with the program” you mean learn Cg animation, I already did that. I learned Maya, and submitted my work, and after 3 years, wasn’t able to find any CG work. ( and I did good stuff , so don’t accuse me of being “bad” at it ) So don’t tel me that learning the computer is the surefire way to stay employed.

  • “Animation, it’s giving life to characters.” – Uhm, okay, sorry to be dismissive but some of the characters in the “Ten Commandments” movie are as dead as some of the Beowulf characters, but it’s okay to call THAT animation? HAHAHA.

    Good times, the endless debate over the merits of mocap. Strangely enough no one complaints about the use of simulations of Massive in movies…

  • From seeing the trailer, there is quite a bit of animation in this film. But I wouldn’t consider the human performances to be animation. I have yet to see a 3D rendered human who comes close to the expressiveness of the real thing, so I think by taking this approach, the characters come up flat and plastic.

    I don’t see the purpose in simulating an actors real life performance.

  • Steve K.

    I’ve always thought that the category for “Best Animated Feature” was a mistake. Many of the films I’ve seen from Pixar could have easily been in the category of “Best Feature Film” IMHO. I know that most of the academy doesn’t agree with me – for some reason. The better animation category to have would be “Best Achievement in Animation”. I don’t think anything could beat Remy’s performance this year – IMHO.

  • I think you should be thankful this film has no motion captured Disney or Warner Brothers characters skating and dancing – m’kay?

  • Chris Sobieniak

    What Amid has written earlier on the different definitions of animation as given by several famous animators on the subject, it would seem that as the more technology comes into the field, the more muddled the thoughts on it become as we start to see new and different views on the subject that would run into conflict with previous meanings.

    Much of what we’re seeing today brings me back to remembering the documentaries and specials on computer graphics and animation in the 80’s where people often question how the future might be if a film could be done where all the visuals, including sets, special effects and flesh and blood actors were replaced with computer-generated images. Would we go to see these films at a time when the need to produce anything using live-action techniques become obsolete? Beowulf is a good example of what I’ve thought about all those years ago as the film we would be questioning today over whether it should be considered ‘animation’ or not, and it’s only going to get worse as the years roll by.

  • What I’m equally interested in is how literary scholars are going to debate the apparent changes Gaimen and Avary have made to the epic (no 9th grader is going to pass English writing Gendel’s mother is a hot naked woman with gold dripping down her mams) – this seems like a very post-modern Beowulf, and maybe the hyperreal will work with the new take better than a “traditional” fairy tale in animation.

    Besides this – I’m really amazed that the least lifelike characters are the ones we identify AS the actors, Jolie, Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, etc., while the characters who bear less resemblance (Beowulf looks nothing like Ray Winstone, nor Crispin Glover Grendel) seem to have a better feeling to their character and “performance.”

    ALTHOUGH, to be fair about my earlier post, Zemeckis’ claims do have a negative slant – do the actors get all the credit for the performance and the hard work of all those animators/technicians to match it go underappreciated?

    Can’t wait to see that 3d Imax though…

  • Anne

    It looks like a video game in the commercials I’ve seen…yawn…

  • Tom

    It’s a terribly difficult time to be a 3D fan!! It’s a second golden age, (maybe a third if you count 1978) but oh my gosh, the CRAP you have to watch to see the 3D. I saw Polar Express 4 or 5 times for the 3D astonishment, while being repelled by the film’s characters and dialogue. Monster House was so UGLY it almost matched Shrek for sheer eye-gouging visuals. But in 3d, well, tolerable. Thank Heaven for NBC in 3D!! Now that is something to see!
    The Beowulf trailers are awful; not just Polar Express awful, first year film student awful. I cannot begin to connect the glowing reviews with the miserable trailer. I’ll be there – for imax 3d – but I have no expectations that it will acheive, oh, even tomb raider mediocrity. It looks a video game. I feel 100 years old saying that, but really – the characters are stiff and lifeless and UGLY. At least in the preview.

    Did i star off subject? Oh. Well, i’d say it takes a massive blow to the head to consider this animation. A new category is needed, and that too, seems pretty obvious.

  • Animation or Live Action?

    I think Zemeckis has brought to light a shift in our perceptions regarding animation. Here’s what I think:

    Animators are essentially actors. Animators needed to act out their characters in Ratatouille. Can actors be animators? They can now. The tools are there for them. It’s called mo-cap. Instead of drawing or animating a timeline, they are using a device that reads their body motions. These devices are going to get better, and better. In the end, it’s just a tool for an animator to bring to life something that isn’t.

    As much as I love Disney and traditional hand-animation, the industry is shifting its paradigm and we have to recognize that.

  • Alright, animating something means bringing something to life that isn’t alive. Motion Capture and Rotoscoping are processes for hanging inanimate things on top of already living things: it’s creating clothing more than it’s creating life. It’s the difference between making a baby and sewing a shirt. Also, the point of animation is abstraction, and its power lies in being able to show things that you couldn’t see by pointing a camera. No matter how technically capable a film is, it shouldn’t be lauded as great animation if it could have been done live. Aping reality takes skill, sure, but no creativity. If Beowulf is nominated for an Academy Award for animation, it will be disappointing, but if it wins then I hope some of the audience has the sense to boo.

  • red pill junkie

    Ok, you guys, what about this:

    The Academy should make a new category for “BEST DIGITAL MAKE-UP”, because in the end, that’s what mo-cap is best for: ENHANCING the performance of a LIVE actor.

    And they should make also a new category for “BEST SINTHETIC CHARACTER”, where an actor that made the mo-cap AND the animator who enhanced his/her performance whould get a statue.

    But, a sinthetic characer COULD also be pure CG sans mo-cap. Or even 2D or a puppet.

    You like? :-)

  • Pete Monga

    I demand to know what video games you guys have been playing! I’ve never seen a game with graphics like Beowulf…

  • Video games that look that graphically impressive – take a look at almost any of the big name next gen games:
    GEARS OF WAR pretty much IS Beowulf caliber graphics
    RATCHET AND CLANK FUTURE has visuals on par with many cgi kids films, and I’d argue better than the majority.
    METAL GEAR SOLID 4 (not out yet) has character models, animation and environments which appear at least as good.
    CRYSIS probably has more realistic environments.

    Even last gen games like GOD OF WAR 2 push the boundaries in terms of art direction and actual character animation towards feature film. Keep in mind, on HD tv you really appreciate the details of these games, and that they also have Hollywood blockbuster budgets to look this good. But its happening.

    On that note – I remember a friend joking that when he watches movies now, he kind of wants to be holding a controller. Its getting too close for comfort now…

  • Go Man

    Better with them than against them……. these guys are turning bucks.

  • GearsO’War

    Video games out now don’t even look anywhere near Final Fantasy: Spirits Within (that film came out Summer 2001) nevermind Beowulf…

  • Gears O’ War

    You are insane if you think a video game can match pre-rendered CGI. The Final Fantasy film from 2001 looks way better than any game out now, and it will do until the next lot of consoles come out in 2011, maybe even then it will still look better…