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New Academy Rules for Animated Features

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has tweaked their rules concerning what qualifies as an animated feature in regards to running time and “motion capture”. According to their press release:

oscar.jpgIn the Animated Feature Film category, the rule governing running time for a motion picture to qualify was changed from at least 70 minutes to greater than 40 minutes, which is consistent with the running time requirements for feature films in all other categories. The running time for a motion picture to qualify as an animated, live action or documentary short film has been and continues to be a maximum of 40 minutes. The previous 70-minute threshold for an animated feature had left a gap for films that ran between 40 and 70 minutes, effectively preventing them from being able to qualify as either features or shorts.

Also in the Animated Feature Film category, a sentence regarding motion capture was added to clarify the definition of an animated film. The language now reads: “An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of greater than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.”

  • This means that “Avatar” should have been disqualified. Also, what is the easiest way to animate a short film?

  • Don’t forget the new Yogi Bear movie will be Academy garbage in terms of semi-nomnination.

  • So does this disqualify ‘Happy Feet’?

  • Paul N

    How come the length requirement was different from live-action for the last few years?

  • “The previous 70-minute threshold for an animated feature had left a gap for films that ran between 40 and 70 minutes, effectively preventing them from being able to qualify as either features or shorts.”

    Funny to think that Dumbo wouldn’t have been eligible for an Oscar under those rules.

  • Tedzey

    So wait, they’re saying that Motion Capture isn’t a form of animation? All because James Cameron says so?!

  • MichaelHughes

    Avatar was made with frame by frame technique, motion capture enabling an instant director centric previzualization, that is then reanimated by animators, who do have a lot of reference but can’t use it directly.

    I think if they want to do this distinction, it should be the intent of the art direction of the film. Avatar is 3D CG animation produced like any CG animated feature(after they are done shooting the reference), for the artist intent of a special effect.

  • It must be hard to define rules that reflect emerging technology. It’s a moving target. Whatever definitions are in place today will be deemed wrong tomorrow.

  • NC

    This again shows how little the Academy understands about animation. Just a bunch of old geezer who still think animation is equivalent to junk food. “Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique.” So then Ralph Bakshi’s films wouldn’t be considered animated? Rotoscoping is in principal the same as MoCap. When “Waltz with Bashir” came out, it was nominated for best documentary but not for best animated film? This is clearly Hollywood once again asserting its authority and reminding us lowly animators that they make “real” films and we make junk food for kids.

  • Brad Constantine

    did this ever come up with rotoscoping? As someone who uses motion capture data once and a while for gaming production, I can honestly say that no frames go “untouched” by either clean up processes, or additional manipulation to curve data, which in my “day to day” hand keyframing, counts as part of the “animation” process. I believe there is room for additional clarification there, or an additional category for performance if Avatar is where films are continuing to go. I would like to have seen the actors from Avatar get as much credit as the animators who massage their performances. This type of process should not exclude performers who do good work from getting due credit as artists.

  • Does Avatar fall under “animated feature” the way, say, Alvin & the Chipmunks would or does it veer towards “live-action feature with CG effects” the way Lord of the Rings does? It’s murky at best.

    Personally, I’d let it go as an animated feature, if only to allow recoginition of the very deserving animation artists who worked on it.

  • According to IMDN, “Waltz with Bashir” was nominated in the Academy Awards, “Best Foreign Language Film” category.

    My guess is that “Waltz with Bashir” was entered in that category by its producers. The animated production technique would have made it stand out from the competition, moreso than in the Animated Feature category, competing with the popular mega-budgeted productions.

    Can’t say that I’d disagree with them.

  • This wouldn’t have affected “Avatar” in any regard since it wasn’t nominated for “Animated Feature” anyway and wasn’t wanting to be.

    However, to complement this new rule they should make one clarifying that mo-cap performances are eligible for “Actor” category awards, since they are not eligible for “animation” consideration.

  • So, clearly this disqualifies any films that don’t include “characters”, such as some experimental or non-narrative works of art. Are their “short film” categories just as exclusive?

  • This is only going to get crazier.

  • G. Melissa Graziano

    I agree with this, but it still doesn’t really solve anything.

    Animation is a series of still images captured on film and manipulated frame by frame to give the appearance of movement when the film is played back in real time.

    “Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique.” This is true. Motion capture is not a frame-by-frame technique until an animator touches it. Once the mocap footage goes to animators and is manipulated frame-by-frame, it becomes animation. Therefore, Mocap is not animation if it has not been manipulated frame by frame. Mocap has not been used sans animators before, to my knowledge, so Cameron still fails in his “mocap is not animation” speech, because he used animation to clean up his mocap data. Therefore mocap films can still be considered animation as long as the data is cleaned up frame by frame.

    Rotoscoping is also animation, because the final images are created frame by frame.

    If actors are going to bitch about performance capture, then so should animators–and the Oscar for Best Actor/Actress, if given for a mocap performance, should go jointly to the actor and animator(s) who created the performance. It’s only fair.

  • G. Melissa Graziano

    Oh, and I’m glad they changed the feature length time limit, although I thought they should have used the 60-minute mark rather than 40 minutes.

  • “An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture … in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique.”

    So, because mocap is an automated process, it’s not animation? I can see that. But what about water, fire, smoke, etc.? Or cameras? That’s automated and not manipulated frame-by-frame by hand. Or are they kinda just talking about characters only? Then what about cloth and hair? That’s automated and not done frame-by-frame by hand. What about crowd simulation like Massive? Can’t use that one either, or is an animator animating each crowd member frame-by-frame? What about animators that rely heavily on the graph editor and curves? They won’t have keys on every frame. So it’s not frame-by-frame and therefore not animation?

    I hope there is a more detailed description of their rule, because right now it’s way too broad.

  • andreas wessel-therhorn

    @ NC you shouldn’t make sweeping accusations at ‘ the academy’ and old geezers and hollywood. these rules are agreed upon by the branch committee , in our case consisting of representatives from both animation and live action shorts. The members from the animation side have all had extensive experience in the animation business.In a more and more complicated world where the line between animation and live action blurs more and more, these new rules try and address that. Its obviously not something that can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.Other branches have similar problems, like cinematography…what part of what appears on the screen is shot and lit practically and what has been manipulated digitally?
    It always irks me when people make remarks about’ the academy’ like its some arbitrary entity, when in fact it consists of many individual contributors to our industry.

  • I’m confused. Does this mean USC is still banned from post season Bowl Games?

  • So, I’m still confused as to whether an ‘Avatar’ type film will be recognised as an animated feature or not. Jimmy Cameron was pretty convinced that his actors were not animation assisted, wasn’t he? (bless). I foresee more Oscar-related confusion in the future, seeing as how even this guy (a pretty big cheese) can’t tell the difference. I didn’t particularly like Avatar (for story reasons), but the prospect of this film (or its ilk) being excluded from a ‘Best Animated Film’ shortlisting baffles me..

  • Mr. Wessel-Therhorn:

    1) It’s natural to refer to a collective noun as a single entity instead of as a group of individuals. The collective verdicts of MPAA ratings board members, for instance, are referred to as MPAA ratings, not as the ratings of individuals. The flipside is that the individuals in these groups must assume responsibility for the whole group’s decisions–there are no written dissenting opinions that are made public for the MPAA or the Academy.

    2) If animation experts produced these confusing definitions, then they are even more obnoxious than if they had been made by laymen. Instead of defining animation as a filmic form, the rules seem to be the product of people who looked at a list of films and determined whether they were animation or not. Avatar? No. Pixar? Absolutely. Shouldn’t Avatar (as the great dividing example) have had its eligibility judged according to definition, rather than having the definition created to exclude it? The mocap clause does just that, by ignoring the animation that was intrinsic to the finished product.

  • It’s a surprisingly clear and accurate definition.

    Motion Capture as a process is not animation. It can be used as part of the animation process by frame by frame alteration (such as the case in Avatar).

    If the producers of Avatar wanted to put it up for Best Animated Feature -provided it met the content time requirements- it would by this very reasonable definition be eligible. They, of course, would have no incentive to do so, since a Best Picture Award is more prestigious.

  • Steve G

    Waltz was submitted for Best Animated Film consideration, if I recall correctly, it just didn’t make the cut. I think that was a year with only 3 nominations.

  • andreas wessel-therhorn

    As to avatar…. it wasnt submitted as an animated feature as far as I know.If a producer submits a film to a certain category, then the rules of the branch govern whether the submission is valid or not.If it had been submitted as an animated feature, the branch would have to decide whether its eligible. If they don’t submit it, its not the responsibility of the branch. Just like Michael Moore once didn’t submit one of his movies as a documentary but as a live action feature.
    My point was that there is often an assumption of a united body that has one opinion only where in fact its the democratic decisions of a variety of people, not just ‘ old geezers’, but men and women of all age groups in all areas of the film business.
    Lastly, I always find it easier to discuss something when I can put a name to the opinion…not just a moniker.

  • Brad Constantine

    If Motion Capture by itself is not considered animation, then the performances that are used during the process should be qualified as traditional acting, thus making it eligible for acting award contention. I believe Robin Williams received a Saturn Award for his voice work on Alladin. Same rules should apply to mocap actors.

  • J. Jonah Jameson

    It’s time for an all-mocap reimagining of “Trader Horn”

  • Greg Ehrbar

    I guess this mean that a hour-long TV special that gets shown in qualifying theaters could theoretically get a best picture Oscar nomination…

  • Jayster

    I don’t see why motion capture wouldn’t be considered animation. The term animation should be rather broad. Like what someone else pointed out there are some experamental films that use a series of codes to animate and thus are not hand animated at all. I think the quality of the work should speak for itself, typically animated films are thought of as for children but realistically it’s just another art form. Seperating Live Action and Animation is silly these days anyway with practically every live action movie utilizing some form of animation. If we were to honestly compare live action to animation, animation theoretically has the upper hand because anything is possible in animation, live action is limited. But Animation is less popular and harder to work with because far too little see it as an art form. Animation allows total control of storytelling down to the single frame, the realm of story telling is great in short films but in features it’s surprisingly narrow. I truely wish single director/writters were given money for animated movies, then we would have a level playing field.

  • Mixed-up

    Look at the inverse of the animated film definition, aside from the length . . shouldn’t that (tongue-in-cheek here) define a non-animated film? To wit:

    “… in which movement and characters’ performances are not created using any frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is allowed for performances. In addition, an insignificant number of of the major characters may be animated, and animation must not figure in more than 25 percent of the picture’s running time.”

    With today’s computer rendered (animated) special effects, a lot of action films are animating their major characters at least a little bit . . not all of it motion-captured. And where would Avatar fit in now? Animation factors into more than 25% of that movie, right? But since they used motion capture, Avatar should then not be eligible as an animated or any non-animated film category.

    Maybe they just need a new “mixed performance” category that recognizes many of the characters worthy of Oscar recognition are a team effort of actors and technical or animation artists? Better yet, remove the “animated” distinction and let all >40 min. movies stand on equal footing.

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    @ mixed- up
    in an ideal world, that would be the best solution. but since animated movies were mostly ignored in any category apart from song and or score, the branch fought long and hard to create an animated feature award to showcase all the great work thats done in our field.it should be pointed out that the hard work by governors such as june foray or carl bell over the years has increased the spotlight on animation at the oscars, when our very existence as a branch and a place in the telecast has been bitterly fought over. Without these dedicated representatives, there may not be any award for animation at all now.

  • I always considered motion capture a visual effect technique and not a character or experimental animation technique.

  • Mr. Wessel-Therhorn:

    No one is questioning the hard work of past animation heroes. It’s the art form’s role today that’s being debated; the new definition allows for the ongoing ghettoization of the technique.

  • Cyle

    I think it’s odd that animators will lament the “realism” trend in animation (see http://www.cartoonbrew.com/ideas-commentary/the-disappearing-cartoon.html) then argue that motion capture, a process that attempts to capture the movement of a live actor in the highest detail, has to be considered animation.

    I think at the most, Avatar is evenly split between animation and live action. The actors decided what expression to make, when to blink, how to move their body or tilt their head, not the animators. If the motion capture technology had been more accurate and efficient, I’m sure James Cameron wouldn’t have even hired animators.

    I don’t say this to discredit the work of the animators who worked on the film. I just think that as a whole, this movie was a live action film. The actors were far more than references. They were the driving force behind each performance. If the animators did contribute to any of the actual acting, then those portions are animation. If they were responsible for the majority of the acting, the movie should be considered animation. I just don’t think that was the case here. I could be wrong, though, and I wish James Cameron and anyone else who worked on the movie would just be clear about what happened behind the scenes instead of everyone trying to claim it was one method and not the other.

    Automated cloth, hair, water, and fire effects in frame by frame films are irrelevant. The animator is still doing the “acting”. The cloth and hair just moves along with the movement that the animator creates. The fact that an actor has no direct control over their hair or clothes has nothing to do with their acting.

    I agree that the Best Animated Feature category needs to go. The best animated features should be honored with all of the other best films of the year. They should remove Best Animated Feature and add animation related technical awards like Best Character Animation.

  • Martin Bell

    This would all be a non-issue if the Animated Film category didn’t exist. And if the category is getting so hard to define, and it’s only going to get harder, do away with it. Give all feature films a level playing field and who cares what production techniques were used.

  • Does that mean rotoscoping is out too or is it the computer interpolation that deems it unfit?

  • peabody

    as much as it pains me to admit it… i think the academy is right, in a way.

    motion capture is a form of virtual puppetry. puppetry is not animation, unless the puppets are manipulated frame by frame.

    for something like avatar, animators probably went back in to fix the puppetry… but if animators went back into a muppets movie and added hair overlap and more bounce on somebody’s step…. it wouldn’t make the film an animated film. it would make it a film with heavy animated visual effects.

    the question for me is – is avatar a live action film? not really. it’s half life action, half CG. is it CG animation? not really. it’s half motion capture, half animated. and that’s why it’s confusing. but… if the only two choices in the academy are live action or animation, and cameron is saying that no animation was used, only motion capture, then… the movie leans awkwardly over to the live action side.

    the final question is – isn’t ALL film captured frame by frame? pixelation has a more animated look than regular live action… but the only real difference is that it has less frames, and more film tricks.

    so… as much as i feel like the academy is right about avatar being a puppet film more than an animated film, i think the “frame-by-frame” definition is still incorrect.

  • peabody

    oops, i meant pixilation. heh, pretty different.

  • NC

    @andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    If as you say these decisions are made by professionals who have experience in this field why then does the rule make such an ignorant statement as “Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique.”

    If the people voting on this decision were experienced with MoCap they would know that MoCap is never left as is but manipulated by animators. Sure the actors in Avatar may have done the acting itself, but it was the artists and animators who bridged the uncanny valley gap.

    As someone mentioned earlier, they didn’t make this rule based on the definition of terms but rather to exclude certain films (namely Avatar) from the animation ghetto.

  • You’re all getting riled up over eligibility for a gold-plated trophy that only one movie gets each year. And it’s usually going to be Pixar anyway. The rules may not matter much.

  • Anthony C.

    Frame-by-frame? Isn’t a TON of 3-d just keyframed (set the model up for pose 1 and pose 2-let the lifeless PC get the “inbetweens”)?

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    the only person who excluded Avatar from the animation field is James Cameron, who insisted in several interviews that its purely the work of the actors… Tthe rules states..by itself.That quite clearly says that as soon as animators manipulate the mocap, it counts. but the branch cant force film makers to submit their movies in the animation field, if they dont want to. If you want to be angry at someone, then direct it at the director who clearly wanted to score acting noms for his stars and therefore downplayed the role that animators played.

  • “Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique.”

    I think this strongly suggests that frame by frame alteration of the motion capture would then count as animation according to this definition. Only unaltered mo-cap by itself (which doesn’t happen in major features) doesn’t count.

  • So Happy Feet wouldn’t have won under these new rules…