“Beowulf” Blitzer

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Two animated films led the U.S. Box office this weekend: Beowulf came in first place, and Bee Movie is holding strong in second postition.

I reluctantly concede that Beowulf is to be forever classified as an animated feature. In my book and my online listing I’ve counted prior rotoscoped films like Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, American Pop and Fire & Ice, or Linklaters’ Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly as the animated films they rightfully are; I even include partials like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, so I guess I have to yield a place for Robert Zemeckis’ latest foray into what he calls “performance capture”.

I bit the bullet and paid to see Beowulf (in 3D) over the weekend so I could join the discussion and speak from authority. I won’t formally review the film, but if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t bother. It’s just as ugly as the trailers make it out to be. Mark Mayerson nails all the problems with the movie on his blog. But what disturbs me, even more than Zemeckis’ misguided embrace of the motion capture technology, is the press and Hollywood pundits who are eating up the b.s. publicity surrounding the “performance capture” technique, making this picture out to be the next revolution in movie making.

The kool-aid drinking Steve Mason at industry watchdog Fantasy Moguls.com proclaims “Beowulf is likely the future of the film business…”. He and several others who have been fawning over this film don’t even know what they are looking at. Far from being the future, Beowulf is a leap backwards into Gulliver’s Travels (1939) terrain (if only it were half as entertaining as the Fleischer film).

To cleanse my palate, I went to ASIFA-Hollywood’s Raggedy Ann and Andy reunion at the AFI on Saturday, and had a great time re-watching a 35mm CinemaScope print of the 2-D hand drawn film (I hadn’t seen it in over decade). The best part was listening to the panel of animators (most of whom were only assistants at the time – 30 years ago) who held a grand on-stage reunion to discuss the craziness of making the film. The movie itself is a mad mess of Broadway showtunes and Williams artistic excess, but watching it again on the big screen (especially following Beowulf) was rather pleasurable – especially for the moments animated by Grim Natwick, Emery Hawkins, Art Babbit, Gerry Chiniquy and Tissa David.

For all it’s flaws (and it had plenty), Raggedy Ann and Andy contained more imagination, creativity and heart than Beowulf could ever hope to.

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Above: Raggedy Ann animators at the reunion included, from top left, Lou Scarborough, Carol Millican, John Kimball, Alyssa Meyerson, Russell Callabrese, Sue Kroyer, Tom Sito, Dave Block and Kevin Petrilak. Front and center, Eric Goldberg. (Photo by Art Binninger)


  • Charles

    I hope Hollywood doesn’t make another movie like Beowulf. But seeing as how “awesome” it looks I’m sure one is right around the corner.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    Jerry, I just read this after visiting Mark Mayerson’s excellently written post, and BEOWULF aside (I haven’t seen it), I cannot agree that mo-cap is anywhere nearly the same as 2-D rotoscoping. For all it’s shortcomings, (and they are myriad), rotoscope involves DRAWING. That can be done well or done poorly, but to in order to do it well one has to be a good ARTIST, at least. If you’re also a good animator it will turn out even better. Technically speaking, the only person who has to be an artist in mo-cap is the actor wearing the ping-pong balls. No art or animation are required.
    Let me be clear: I am not generally a fan of rotoscoping but even to trace a single photo still well requires far more discretion and artistic interpretation than mo-cap ever will. Mo-cap is the digital film equivalent of audio-animatronics. Should the lifelike Johnny Depp robot in the newly revamped Pirates ride at Disneyland be nominated for an Oscar, too?

  • Sarah

    I agree, Beowulf was awful. But I encourage people to go see the Coraline teaser trailer in 3D and then walk out. :)

  • Chris Sobieniak

    This is exactly the kind of nightmares I had about it 20 years ago, when I thought of what it might be like if they started making movies this way and basically take the human element out of on-screen acting or stunt playing as they could do it all with mo-capped CGI. It’s just pointless.

  • Matthew Hunter

    Don’t know about the movie, but I love the pun in the title of your post! You could give Jay Ward a run for his money!

  • Scott

    I didn’t pay to see beowulf, I snuck in (i refuse to pay). It was ludicrous, and about as immature as animation gets. The story was incomprehensible, the direction manic, and the art direction just god awful from top to bottom. Like vaudville, that shot itself in the foot by promoting early sound films, mo-cap actors are a producers dream: kill the megastar! Actors take heed…this is going to undermine your craft. It’s already undermining people’s perception of animation.

  • Shmorky

    I love the Raggedy Ann And Andy movie. It’s so disturbing and creepy that it leaves you feeling molested. I mean, the Raggedy Ann property is already for weird girls, but the movie takes it to new heights.
    Heights of weirdness.

  • Bear Witnez!

    First, let me start by saying that I am in no way a movie critic; however, I found Beowulf to be extremely entertaining. Aside from a few “sing-a-longs” in the beginning, there wasn’t much room for improvement. I felt it covered all bases and showed incredible spirit. The character (Beowulf) himself was a microcosm of the film. For all his braggadocio and flair, he was in fact a flawed man. But through these same flaws, the film found a level of perfection. Like it or not, the film was also visually astounding (whether it was animated or final fantasy).

  • Chuck R.

    Thanks for the forewarning, Jerry. I’m still tempted to see it, but I’m expecting to be more focused on the technology than the story —like an amusement park simulator ride. I give movies a lot of room to stake out new territory: “Black Hawk Down” does one thing well, “Memento” another, and “Raggedy Ann and Andy” yet another. I don’t care if Beowulf doesn’t compare with any of them —it shouldn’t.

    For all it’s potential —and there’s a lot, I think you’re right that this is a misappropriation of the technology. Someone in an earlier post rightly said that mo-cap is essentially puppetry. The advantage of Mo-cap is that once you’ve done the elaborate setup: modelling, set design, etc. you can create the movement in real time. Who is taking advantage of this?

    I think the time is right to have a Gorillaz concert with backstage performers giving life to the cartoon musicians projected onstage who can interact with the audience and take requests. Or how about an animated alien pundit who reports on the daily news ala Jon Stewart? Cheesy maybe, but it makes more sense than replacing top-billed actors with their uncanny-valley doppelgangers.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robert

    “Technically speaking, the only person who has to be an artist in mo-cap is the actor wearing the ping-pong balls. No art or animation are required.”

    The artists who create the models that the mo-cap drives might disagree with you. Those models don’t just materialize because an actor put on some ping pong balls.

    Extremely talented people build those characters the old fashioned way and once it leaves their hands… that can turn out great or not depending on what the plan is after that point.

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com Zekey

    Grendel was the only part of the movie that seemed to require some imagination. And what a hideous beast he was.

  • http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog Michael Sporn

    Will, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m tired of hearing comparisons between MoCap and rotoscoping. They’re not the same.

    The people in the picture make me feel old. I love them all and wish I could’ve heard their tales. Thanks, Jerry, for tellling us about the event. No one else seems to have said anything about it.

  • Swinton Scott

    Wish I had gone to the Raggedy Ann screening, it would have been nice to the film on the big screen. I did not see it when it came out back in the 70s, but I did buy the video tape, and enjoyed it everytime I watched it. The book of the making of the film was great. We can only hope that it will be released on DVD in widescreen soon.

  • John Musker

    The two distinguished gentlemen on the right side of the photo are Dave Block and on the far right, Kevin Petrilak.

  • Tony

    Jerry, you have surprised me once again. First with your endorsement of Bee Movie (which you attempt to justify by saying you are biased because your involvement in the art of book) and now with your unnecessarily harsh criticism of Beowulf. I believe this movie is worthy of merit although it is admittedly not a perfect film. Grendel comes to life in this film not merely as another static monster to awe the audience, but as a developed character, a tormented giant with an almost childlike disposition. The hero, Beowulf, is a flawed character with a weakness for women as the movie alludes to with his flaunt with a mermaid. Yes, the mocap at times generates stiff performances in particular John Malkovich’s character and it is also evidenced in the secondary and tertiary characters, but overall I found the film to be a fun experience. This film, if it continues to succeed at the box office, may do more for animation than any of the countless, forgettable talking-animal films which inundate American cinema. I hope this film will allow audiences and studios to see that animation is not a genre, but instead a medium that can tell any type of story from comedy to horror and everything outside and in between. So before you pretentiously cleanse your palate of this film because of its “misguided embrace of … technology” or some other equally unqualified reason and await the second coming of Jerry Seinfeld as a bee, please ask yourself how many more anthropomorphic animal films do you really want to see Hollywood chug out?

    As for Will, capturing the mo-cap information from an actor is only the first step to creating a performance. Animators use the mocap as a starting point for the final animation, ie. Gollum from Lord of the Rings. All hero characters in a mo-cap films are to a large extent key-frame animated to refine the mo-cap information. In fact, all of Gollum’s facial animation was key-framed by animators contrary to what the making-of videos may suggest with the footage of Andy Serkis with little dots all over his face. But my real point is that there is no reason to ignorantly state that there is no artistry involved in motion capture animation when there is much care put into these performances by well-trained animators.

  • Jayster

    I doubt that it’s the future of film. It’s technology and that’s it. It’s another resource to tell a story. There is a “digital” revloution with film but to imply that future movies will be all motion captured is ridiculous.

    Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly had very few good artist working on it. People being paid $8 or so an hour to trace in Illustrator a frame grab does not garner a talented artist. Rotoscoping is animation and so is motion capture but are very akward forms for doing so. How could anyone watch Monster House and not be bugged by how the characters moved? Motion Capture is animation, but it doesn’t mean we have to respect it or work with it. It’s a limiting resource for animation and has it’s own share of bugs and glitches, it will never replace live action nor animation but should be respected as an artistic outlet and for it’s sheer technological depth.

    Just remember that when people remember the name of Robert Zemeckis and his films there will always be the reminder that they used motion capture and not talented animators, and this will never fully demand respect from the animation community. Just like how Bakshi is linked to rotoscoping and must continue to defend his films, as will Zemeckis.

  • Emily

    I’m not a fan of counting motion capture as animation. However, I think it’s a little unfair to say that there is no art required. That completely dismisses the artistry that can go into the character design and modelling. Not that I really liked Beowulf’s character design.

  • Chris Webb

    Saw Beowulf. Thought the action scenes worked well. The acting scenes were better than “The Polar Express” but still not quite ready for prime time. There really was no reason to make the character models look like the actors – Malkovich comes off looking especially un lifelike.

    More movies like this will be made, and they will get better. I do not think they will replace animated films completely. This is just a new technique. That’s all. Anything done in this film can be done in animation.

    Perhaps the animation community should look at films like this as a challenge. Can the animation community make a better film than Beowulf? One that competes as an action movie for young adults? I think the community can – but why isn’t it happening?

    An animated film that competes with Beowulf will need to be generated by animators, because the studios will never do it. The studios will always think of animation as cartoons for kids. It will take a new Bakshi to remind people of what animation is capable of. The Japanese have various directors who make adult animation – we can too. Which of the Cartoon Brew readers will it be?

  • Mike

    Will, I disagree with some of your comments. First off I hate all mocap movies. I see not a single reason to sit through them, I also see no reason in making them. Mocap is best used and suited for vfx work and games.

    My main argument is with your comment regarding no skill being involved processing mocap data. Obviously you have never worked with motion capture equipment before. I have. I also managed several people processing said data. And while you claim no skill being involved, let me tell you this, processing and fixing mocap data sucks. It is incredibly tedious and monotonous work. You actually don’t just push a button and everything is fine and dandy. You actually need an animator on the other end handling the data. Someone needs to make sure the data retargets correctly and looks right, someone needs to clean up noisy motion data, create new motion for obscured markers and thats just the tip of the processing iceburg. Occasionally someone even needs to create new keyframe data to interpolate between takes because the motion isnt working quite right.

    To say that there is no skill involved in mocap is just plain old misguided nonsense. You are about as far off as Zemeckis in stating his pro performance capture dialogue.

  • Peter

    If it’s any consolation, Beowolf made only $28 million against its whopping $150 million budget, so it seems unlikely to break even domestically…

  • Rat

    Hey, Will.

    I guess no “artists” were involved in making the Jack Sparrow figure at Disneyland, then? Nor was there likely any art required of Blaine Gibson or Marc Davis in the creation of the rest of the audio-animatronic cast of that ride?

    No artists built the models for Beowulf? No artists painted the textures? No artist designed the scenery? No artist lit the scenes?

    NO art required?

    What the hell, Will? Computer artists aren’t artists to you?

    Listen, I haven’t seen Beowulf either. I’m not excited to see it. It’s not to my tastes… but this elitism is really lame. I don’t come on here and disparage the work of artists because I don’t like the movie they work on.

    “No art required”? What garbage. Not an animated film was ever made that required no art.

    Perhaps not enough of that art is in evidence. And perhaps the choices Zemeckis made were not the ones you’d make, Will. But to disparage the work of others on the internet ALSO requires no artistry.

    To light the way creatively requires you do better than your colleagues, not speak worse of them.

  • Relevan

    I just can’t help but wonder why they’d bother trying to make it look as “realistic” as possible when they could have done the same thing with real actors and tried to fill in the rest of the crazy-ass special effects later. Even George Lucas uses real actors in his effects wonder land. (They are not “special” effects if they’re in every scene.)

    The problem with mo-cap is that I find it lacks the stylization of traditional animation. There’s no exaggeration or caricature. The end result ends up looking awkward and lifeless.

  • http://www.autodaddy.blogspot.com tom

    Saw Beowulf this afternoon for only five bucks, just to see if it was as bad as it looked, and it was far worse than that in my mind. Just…just so UGLY and lame that it defied my expectation of mere homeliness and instead reached near fugly levels.

    Even the concept design was weak here. The creatures and the costumes were worse than the bottom rung of Heavy Metal magazine in the seventies. Just terrible.

    Everyone who worked on this film should be ashamed, but Zemeckis should be beaten like a pinata.

  • Your friendly neighborhood Lurker

    I still don’t know how you can slam a movie like this and then turn around and put Bakshi on a flippin pedestal. His movies. ALL OF THEM. Are just awful. I’d much rather watch somthing Rankin Bass cooked up then his poorly designed, awfully paced, lazily animated drek. BLEH!

  • Quiet_Desperation

    I never understood the quest for hyperrealism in CGI. Back in the 1990s I thought the film industry would go in the direction of live actors in virtual sets, at least for genre flicks. 300 is a great example. It was neat, and I rnjoyed it, but it would not have had a fraction of the emotional impact if the live actors were replaced by mocap puppets.

    Why try to replicate real actors in CG? Just use the bloody actors!

    I would figure the next step is virtual wardrobes. Real actors in CG costumes. Sounds like a good challenge.

  • http://FantasyMoguls.com Steve Mason

    Hi all – Thanks for the mention, but don’t construe that I love the movie. It’s a clunky script and Mocap is far from perfect, but, in Digital 3D, it’s amazing to watch.

    I still believe that it’s, in many ways, the future of the business. I installed digital projection and 3D at my Palm Desert theatre property, and it’s spectacular. Digital projection will soon be the benchmark in exhibition and there are between 10-15 big budget 3D films in development for 2010.

    I wrote more extensively about the pipeline of upcoming 3D films and the battle between CG and Mocap films like BEOWULF. If you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t recommend the movie in traditional 2D. It’s 3D or bust. Thanks again. Love the site.

  • sean

    motion capture still look like bad drawings animated poorly. Can you honestly hold up any still frame from Beowolf and frame them up on your wall?

    I agree with Will. The artistic bar for motion capture needs to be raised dramatically if it’s to be respected as a art form.

  • sean

    “Someone needs to make sure the data retargets correctly and looks right, someone needs to clean up noisy motion data, create new motion for obscured markers and thats just the tip of the processing iceburg.”

    where is the “artistic” skill in motion capture? A lot of what your talking about with fixing motion capture data seem more technical choices then artistic ones. Motion capture “engineers” seem more appropriate then artists.

  • Nancy B

    No, Jerry, motion capture is not ‘rightfully’ an animated film. It is a live action performance that is modified with special effects.

    An animated performance may use a rotoscope base (as they did with Marge Belcher as Snow White, or with the actors in A SCANNER DARKLY) but their appearance is modified into something else. Snow White is not Marge Belcher. The bugs and things crawling around in SCANNER are animated. They are created by an artist, not an actor.

    Angelina Jolie, Andy Serkin, and the other BEOWULF actors are not animated characters. They are real people who have been put into a special effects film.

  • http://pools-of-sorrow-waves-of-joy.blogspot.com/ Edward Hegstrom

    The problem with Beowulf isn’t the use of mocap specifically, but that the project itself is so misguided, so unappealing and literal-minded in its design. There might be artistically valid reasons for going for a photorealist look, but Zemeckis isn’t interested in finding them.

    Obviously, many skilled animators are involved in translating the actors’ work into the form we see on screen. (We all know Ray Winstone isn’t built like that!) Problem is, they’re being utilized as technicians, not artists, and working for directors who simply want movement for movement’s sake. As a result, the characters looks stiff and robotic during dialogue scenes and utterly weightless in action. This seems to be a problem with mocap in general (including mo-capped characters in otherwise live-action movies, like Lord Of The Rings and Phantom Menace), at least as it’s been used so far.

    As to Beowulf specifically, there’s also the awful script and laughable music, but we can’t blame that on technology!

  • http://kbetter.blogspot.com Katie Better

    To light the way creatively requires you do better than your colleagues, not speak worse of them.

    Rat, I think that is one of the best things I’ve heard in regards to comments like that that appear on CB. Thank you.

    Re: Beowulf,
    I have read how the story was completely butchered and, being a fan of the epic poem, I am hesitating to see it. Though I probably will someday when the curiosity of “how horrible it really is” gets the best of me. But thanks for the reviews folks.

    I think I will save my money for The Golden Compass. (R&H did a great job on that damn golden monkey too. Scary!)

  • RR

    Love it or hate it, PLEASE stop confusing motion capture with animation!!

    Jerry, this is a very big mistake and I’m kinda surprised at you..

    Motion capture is NOT “like rotoscope”. Yes, both processes begin with live actors, but rotoscope still requires an artist working with (tracing) those images, one frame at a time. THAT is what defines animation: the creation of a motion picture by means of a frame by frame process!

    There is NO FRAME BY FRAME PROCESS INVOLVED IN MO CAP. It is thereore by definition NOT animation.

  • Lou Scarborough

    Below Me and John Kimball, directly below me Carol Millican and next to her Alyssa Meyerson, at least at the time, assistants both. And John Musker already mentioned Dave and Kevin on the other end. It turned out to be a grand day. For the record there’s still alot of important things about that movie, which another book could address, the great last hurrah movie on one hand. And yes the nature of the aftermath for the rest of us, the power of the legacy and how to make a special movie that kind of got lost in the shuffle, food for thought.

  • Franklin

    ” the film was also visually astounding.”

    No. It’s not. It’s visually a mess, with some of the worst art direction and character design ever put on film. It looks like a high school student with no artistic talent at all designed the film.

  • http://afrokids.com Floyd Norman

    Like George Lucas, Robert Zemickis was one of my favorite directors, and these guys did great work.

    Sadly, both are now “rich boys” playing with their toys. That’s cool of course, because they’ve earned the right to do so. But I sure as hell won’t go see anymore of their lame movies.

  • Pedro Nakama

    It’s like all of the ART is gone. They’re not making movies anymore, they’re engineering them. If Beowulf is the way films of the future are going to be, then in the future we will also go into an over-priced Planet Hollywood style restaurant and instead of looking at artwork or props from films we will be staring at some floppy disks and CDs that contain the models for the dragon in Beowulf.

  • Al

    You lost me at calling Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly animation.

  • hayden

    really surprised by your and others negative reviews of Beowulf- I saw it in 3D Imax and was pleasantly surprised by the story and blown away by the creature designs and action scenes (which I’m pretty sure were 100% animated and not performance capture).

    Yes- the human characters are not convincing (especially the women, who look like they jumped out of Shrek), and there is quite a bit of unintentionally funny parts, but by the end of the movie I sure was entertained – more than I can say for BEE MOVIE, TEKKON KINKREET, and CARS.

    I thought the sea serpent sequence was spectacular.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    Rat, Mike, Emily etc…
    First of all I was not talking about the design and scuplting of the characters when I said no other art (beside the actor wearing the pingpong balls) is involved. I was talking about THE CHARACTER ANIMATION!!! There is obviously art in the desing and scupt phase but that does not make it ANIMATION.

    I also did not say there was no skill involved in mo-cap, there obviously is, but it is equatable with the skill of driving a car or learning a computer program, which virtually anyone can learn. What I said was there is arugably no ART necessary in mo-cap animation (again, i am not talking about designers or scuptors or colorists, etc). I am also no implying that the people who do it have no talent, they may have tons. But much of that talent is rendered kind of irrelevant under the circumstances of making a movie this way.

    I guess it’s impossible to not get misread in anything running less thant twenty paragraphs anymore. But at least this gives me the opportunity to add that I also object to THRU A SCANNER being called animation as well. It was a graphically stylized motion picture, but the actors who were filmded brought themselves to life exculsively, no one else did.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    P.S. I don’t count characters like Golum and King Kong (or anything in MONSTER HOUSE for that matter) as pure mo-cap because there was clearly intensive and highly creative intepretation going on in their animation long after the mo-cap performance was rendered. Any time this happens to that degree, there IS artistic discretion of high degree going on and I not only recognize it, I respect it. Unfortunately way too many other mo-cap projects I have seen make a point (or an accident) of NOT doing much of that and when that happens I cannot call the performance truly animated.

  • http://www.jessica-plummer.com Jessica Plummer

    I’m confused as well behind the hype behind Beowulf. Wasn’t there a
    “hype” behind the advances of Final Fantasy:Spirits Within? Wasn’t that…kind of a disaster?

    If Beowulf is supposed to be such a technological masterpiece, I would rather it had been a short to show off the CG (think Rockfish), instead of it sounding (I have yet to see it) like this incredible visual film with bad script and score even. If film makers want to explore mediums like this, go for the short…don’t butcher a feature. That’s just my two cents.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    Thanks to Lou and John for identifying the rest of the folks in the photo. I’ve corrected the caption to include all the names.

  • http://www.jessica-plummer.com Jessica Plummer

    Another thing…what are artists in the CG field saying about this film? I have a CG artist/animator as a room mate and even he dislikes what he’s seen from the trailers…faces too stiff, acting strange…I even introduced him to the argument on here about Beowulf being animated and he didn’t think it should be considered so. Though as some pointed out here…things like the creatures and dragon are obviously animated…nothing to mo-cap for them! But I agree more with the idea that this is a special effects film…kinda like the new Transformers – but just robots and no humans. That kind of film.

  • http://vice.parodius.com/ Dave Silva

    I’m sorry, Jerry, but I am suddenly reminded of Roger Ebert and his “videogames are not art” commentaries.

    You sound exactly the same as he did.

    A lot of work goes into making a computer animated feature look good. Especially with motion capture. There’s lots of things that can go wrong (*cough Pavarotti Zombie and Buff Mickey*), and several famous movies already use motion capture in one way or another.

    Mocap is a good tool, and lots of people don’t want to accept that, instead considering it the same as rotoscoping, when it’s not. After the capture data is processed, animators still have to tweak stuff like clothing and environmental effects – and that can take weeks per scene. It’s still a lot of work.

    I’m disappointed by the comments several people are making. Sad.

  • Rat

    Will, I’m glad you clarified. But it still seems like you are determined to diminish the skill and creativity of the grunts making the movie.

    You wrote:

    “I also did not say there was no skill involved in mo-cap, there obviously is, but it is equatable with the skill of driving a car or learning a computer program, which virtually anyone can learn. ”

    Will, I challenge you to learn to do what I do. I honestly think you couldn’t do it. “Virtually anyone can learn” a computer program? That statement is so vastly far away from understanding what creativity in the computer realm requires that it’s insulting. Again, it’s the mentality that it’s just button-pushing, or knowing which button to push when.

    I don’t work with motion-capture data, but I know enough about it to know that there are artistic choices that have to be made. You cannot choose to make zero artistic choices. Even if there was a way to somehow magically pipe capture data directly from performer to some rig without any manipulation, then deciding to DO that ITSELF is an artistic choice. It may be a poor choice. It may be a choice you do not agree with as an audience member. But it is a choice that affects the final film.

    Whether good or poor artistic choices were made in this film, that should be what we’re talking about. When I’ve seen the film, I’ll give you my unvarnished opinion.

    Still, it’s kind of pointless to complain about anyone’s work in this film other than Zemeckis’. I think it’s especially hard for me to hear when it comes from the mouth of a director, and it comes down on the work of the grunts in the trenches. I don’t care who those grunts are, and if you consider them as being non-creative production personnel. It’s still bad form, to me, to hear a director saying that about the crew of a movie– why pick on them? If the creative choices in Beowulf were poor, they belong to Zemeckis. If he didn’t fully use the talent at his disposal, then put him in your crosshairs, as one animation director to another.

  • Ted

    In a few years, the whole of “Beowulf” will play as campy low comedy, sort of how the puppet character Yoda comes off in the 1980 “The Empire Strikes Back” today.

    And Hollywood’s powers that be won’t bat an eye that a few animators are complaining about the permeating MoCap devolution in feature film. That will take an en masse reaction by the acting community, whose work is being counterfeited and sold down the river at inflated ticket prices. It doesn’t matter how much money they pour into icing when there’s no cake.

  • Chuck R.

    Will and others:
    We can all agree or disagree on whether Beowulf qualifies as animation or something else, but we can’t define a technique by the success of the outcome. Gollum, King Kong, and Beowulf all employed the same performance-capture technique with different degrees of artistic control and tweaking and different degrees of success. Likewise, Fire and Ice, Waking Life, and Snow White all used rotoscoping with various degrees of finessing, and artistic interpretation and again with varying degrees of success.

    Both techniques are in a sense shortcuts or “cheats”, but I’ll point out that mocap (carefully used) has at least produced two characters that were done as well as could be imagined. I can’t think of a rotoscoped character that doesn’t pale in comparison to it’s non-rotoscoped screen companions.

  • http://drgrantz.deviantart.com/ revned

    I have something to say to anyone who has a problem with the visual stylings of Beowulf: if you spend any of your time and money playing with your Xbox or futzing around on World of Warcraft, then it’s YOUR FAULT this movie exists. Don’t dump on Zemeckis for what you’d consider shortcomings in his multi-million dollar production; he’s obviously happy with the results.

  • A Longtime Observer

    For the record, the same hype and technological future of movies was given to the movie “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” when it came out.

    And I haven’t heard word of that movie in three or so years.

    Beowulf may become among the number of “the future of movies!” to fade away and be replaced by some other “the future of movies!” film. People, including me, forget too fast about the past. I haven’t seen Beowulf, but I read the tale in British Literature back in high school. It was flawed in the characters and somewhat in events, but that was kind of the message. I personally couldn’t sympathize with the characters, except for the guy that helps Beowulf when he’s injured (can’t remember which part) and no one else helps. I wonder: if people read the tale beforehand, would they still want to see the movie or be turned off by the story?

    As for Raggedy Ann and Andy–loved the dolls (had Ann), the books (I have a crayon scribbled copy of Sunny Bunny comes Home) and the Saturday morning cartoon, but never saw the movie. And from hearsay, I’m a little afraid to do so. I think I’ll just stick to my memories of the cartoon and specials.

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Ted – I hate to sound such an internet dipshit, but I think that Yoda’s performance is a remarkably nuanced performance and not at all campy (for a Star Wars character anyway).

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    In a few years, the whole of “Beowulf� will play as campy low comedy, sort of how the puppet character Yoda comes off in the 1980 “The Empire Strikes Back� today.
    What heresy is this!? Yoda is an amazing piece of puppetry. Much more life and character than the CG version

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    Also “what is animation?” is almost as boring as “what is art?” Anyone getting upset about rotoscoping in this day and age should get some perspective. It’s an animation technique, and one which nowadays is used rarely and almost exclusively as a stylistic choice. Scanner Darkly and Waking Life were animated films, and anyone who says otherwise is really just saying “I didn’t like them.”

  • gene schiller

    I’m reminded of a quote by Saint-Saens regarding Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” – “A thousand critics writing a thousand lines a day for ten years would no more injure this work than a child’s breath would go towards overthrowing the pyramids of Egypt.” I’m afraid “Beowulf” and its mo-cap brethren are here to stay.

  • also a neighborhood Lurker

    the arrogance of this post astounds me. waking life? waking life is a gloried after effects filter. talking heads. how does that technical achievement take precedence over beowulf, which while not perfect, had a lot more to offer in terms of pushing the envelope not only in mocap, 3d lighting and rendering, but the quality of 3d stereo as well. it seems to me that people in the animation industry are really insecure, and given the quality of “real” animated movies perhaps they should be. because at least beowulf has a good story, w/ some depth to it.

  • Mike Fontanelli

    It was COMPLETELY asinine. Ludicrous beyond words, beyond belief! I laughed out loud all the way through it.

    All the characters seemed either blind or cross-eyed, or both.
    The dialogue is HILARIOUSLY stupid; (the title character routinely “announces” himself – like He-Man or Space Ghost – before stripping naked for some homo-erotic man-wrestling with convenient, strategically-placed props to hide the naughty bits! Didn’t we already see that in AUSTIN POWERS?)

    The “acting” reminded me of the animatronic puppets in the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland, except not as fluid. Calling it ‘mechanical’ would be supremely kind. The marionette cadavers of POLAR EXPRESS and FINAL FANTASY have given way to doll-eyed, flesh-covered robotic Muppets.

    And the art direction? Ugh-lee! Angelina Jolie has stiletto feet, for Christ’s sake! (She seems to have been designed by a new breed of sexless computer nerd: Step aside, furries – make way for the “scalies”!)

    I walked out of the theatre thinking it was the end of the world, and I’d just stared into the abyss of what was once the film industry. I can see Zemeckis fiddling while the whole town burns, just like in DAY OF THE LOCUST.

    Hey, here’s an idea for a new sign to be posted just outside Hollywood:
    Abandon Hope, All Who Enter Here!
    (Don’t Back Up, Severe Tire Damage…)

  • RR

    Wow…. I give up. The lack of basic understanding abotut animation fundamentals on this board kills me :) Honestly, go sit down and define animation. Look it up if you need to. You’ll find that motion capture is in no way shape or form fits that definition. For the 1,000th time, motion capture has nothing to do with rotoscoping. There is a technical divide between the two that involves a frame by frame process that animation fundamentally requires. Jerry and the rest of you should really know better for making that mistake.

    For the same reasons, AMPAS has officially deemed motion capture not a part of the animated arts in current Oscar rules – which is absolutely correct.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    Rat (whoever you are):

    For the last time, I am speaking as an ANIMATOR (not a director) , and I may be just as able to say you might not be able do on paper what Milt Kahl or Rod Scribner could do either, but that proves nothing. Furthermore I have chosen my words here very carefully (read my blog for a more full appraisal) and have avoided like the plague ad-hominym attacks on individuals. I have never referred to ANYONE on a crew as a “grunt” (your word), under any circumstances or in any capacity. Nor have I condemned anyone as inherently ‘un-creative’, since I know all too well how unfair it is to judge an individual crew member based on the results of a total film.

    Furthermore, I do not enjoy seeing an opinion of mine assailed as “garbage” (your word again) because you not only don’t share it but in fact have mis-read it. It is my opinion and i have made it un-anonymously to boot. You are entitled to disagree with me but I don’t think you have understood the point I am making about my rejecting the blanket assertion Jerry made in the main post. This is not about any one film. It is about the definitions of techniques and I think the technique has varying degrees of merit depending on how it is done and who permits it to be done that way.

    If you want to make the argument that mo-cap IS animation, then by all means go ahead, but don’t tell me it is the same as rotoscope, that’s all.

  • Steve G

    This reminds a lot of the debate about Gay marriage. If you don’t approve of it don’t marry someone of your own sex. It doesn’t change your marriage. If you don’t think Beowulf or Mo-cap is animation don’t accept a job doing it. It doesn’t alter change 2D or keyframe CG.

    Now the big question would be if someone offered those of you complaining it’s not animation a chance to direct a $150 million mo-cap film would you turn it down. That’s where it’d be interesting to see how strong you’d stand on your principles….

  • Nancy B

    An animator ‘creates life’ from inanimate materials. Mocap modifies living materials, therefore it isn’t animation. I won’t comment on the quality of BEOWULF since I haven’t seen anything more than the trailers, but I’m obviously not the target audience.

    I am curious–are there actors posting on this forum? It would be interesting to see if they consider BEOWULF to be acting or animation.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    An animator ‘creates life’
    No, that’s just one limited idea of what animation is.

  • Brian Meyer

    I applaud Will Finn for using a great word like ” ad hominem.”

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    Brian Meyer

    Too bad i can’t bleeding spell. Even with the aid of a computer!

  • Rat

    If I misunderstood you, Will, I apologize.

    I know that on this site, and in animation circles, films like Beowulf and the artists who work on Zemeckis’ motion-capture films will have few defenders, and even fewer champions.

    Anyway, I know what it feels like to be a black sheep in animation when you’re just working to put food on the table. And all the while hoping that what you’re working on will prove the naysayers wrong, and just for once in your career you’d work on a film you’ll be personally proud of. It’s not fun.

    Will, I’m not your enemy, and I really do admire you. Try not to get exasperated at me. But I really did need to hear from you that you don’t blame the artists for working on a motion-capture movie.

    Because only an artist could be insulted by saying their job doesn’t require any artistry. A technician will admit that their job isn’t creative. When you’re an artist, those words hurt.

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com Zekey

    Whoa guys. Calm down. The movie wasnt THAT bad. It was mediocre. No need to fly off the handle AGAIN.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Perhaps the animation community should look at films like this as a challenge. Can the animation community make a better film than Beowulf? One that competes as an action movie for young adults? I think the community can – but why isn’t it happening?

    America just never had the kind of people like those that founded GAINAX who challenged the business with their approach and ideas 20 years ago. I don’t think America is culturally set up to accept animation in a manner that we’ve seen in other countries were the diffferences in social acceptances are of a far different scale than here.

    > An animated film that competes with Beowulf will need to be generated by animators, because the studios will never do it. The studios will always think of animation as cartoons for kids.

    It’s a stigma that’s still hard for many to get out of their heads, and I often think it would take several generations before that’s ever really licked.

    > It will take a new Bakshi to remind people of what animation is capable of. The Japanese have various directors who make adult animation – we can too. Which of the Cartoon Brew readers will it be?

    I often think I would be the to initiate it someday, sort of what I want to call the Bronze Age of Animation it we haven’t came to that yet. Though I can’t say for certain what that would be, I see it as the handover of the craft from the hands of the industry to the heartland of America, basically, letting the indie group and other homegrown efforts become realized further than centralized into specific parts of the country. All I need to get started perhaps is a Super-8mm camera (now I’m getting a little overboard here, but I like to think how novel that concept is in principle).

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Tim Drage says:
    >
    >> In a few years, the whole of “Beowulf� will play as campy low comedy, sort of how the puppet character Yoda comes off in the 1980 “The Empire Strikes Back� today.
    > What heresy is this!? Yoda is an amazing piece of puppetry. Much more life and character than the CG version

    Needless to say it put me to tears!

    > A Longtime Observer says:
    >
    > As for Raggedy Ann and Andy–loved the dolls (had Ann), the books (I have a crayon scribbled copy of Sunny Bunny comes Home) and the Saturday morning cartoon, but never saw the movie. And from hearsay, I’m a little afraid to do so. I think I’ll just stick to my memories of the cartoon and specials.

    Heh, I guess I feel better off for having seen the film early enough to enjoy it despite knowing of it’s flaws now. I still think it’s an OK film for it’s animation over plot elements.

  • Marc G.

    I just got back from it. I think everyone here needs to take a deep breath and relax.
    I, personally, wouldn’t classify Beowulf as an animated film. I’d call it a special effects movie. The fact that it was shoehorned into the Best Animated Feature category by the Academy reflects more of their (albeit understandable) difficulty at pinning this odd beast down, rather than, as some people here think, a concerted effort by Zemeckis and all involved to spit on the grave of traditional animation. Don’t worry, folks, Walt and Tex aren’t spinning in their graves.

    It’s not hard to see why Zemeckis is infatuated by mo-cap technology. He, as a director, has always been on the bleeding edge of SFX tech. And has subsequently been frustrated by the limitations of the medium. Do you have any idea how liberating it is when you go completely CG? To directors like Zemeckis, Lucas, Cameron, etc. who have struggled with the limits of technology for years, this is a god-send. Are they preoccupied more with the gadgets than the acting? Perhaps. But we need these directors, these movies, to move the medium forward.

    Honestly, anyone who says that there was no artistry in Beowulf is just spiteful. I’m not saying it was movie of the year, but it doesn’t deserve the vitriol the animation community is showing it. Will mo-cap overtake keyframe? Perhaps. Will mo-cap improve the more it is used? Absolutely.

    Obviously when new ground is being broken, some toes will be stepped on. Just when animation fans were getting used to CG, along come live-action movies like the Star Wars prequels that arguably have more computer animation in them than live humans. So the industry doesn’t quite know where to file these movies away. Just relax and give it time, everything will sort itself out.

  • http://spritzer93436.tripod.com/ Art Binninger

    I have a Minolta, a Yashica (with in-camera lap dissolve) and a J.C. Penny Super 8 that all shoot single frame and about 6 rolls of Kodachrome in the freezer. Let’s go!

  • Bobby D.

    As an outsider, (non animator, but writer of animated product), I would just like to toss in my two cents. I loved Polar Express, my family and I consider it a Christmas classic…Monster House was a very fun, but not great film, (bad 3rd act). That in mind, I challenge you to put a hundred people , (non animators), in a screening room and have more than two percent tell you they can readily notice, (or care about), the difference between Monster House and any other CG film. Sorry, but what many of you call “odd movements”, or “the uncanny valley”, by the charters, goes unnoticed by the laymen, who across the board have the same reaction…”Huh, I didn’t see any difference between that and any other other CG film/Cartoon”. Trust me, I’m in that 98%. Sure, if you sit me down and point out the differences, I’ll probably have some reaction…but, NOT a negative one…simply, different. Black & White, 2d, 3d, Mo Cap, Stop Motion, or “Living Color”….it’s all the same. Story and characters. But, this is an animation website, so, you can rightfully destroy your Mo Cap enemy…but, understand, that you do so as the rest of us gleefully pay our cash money for a ticket, in ignorant bliss. Respectfully, B.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Art Binninger says:
    >
    > I have a Minolta, a Yashica (with in-camera lap dissolve) and a J.C. Penny Super 8 that all shoot single frame and about 6 rolls of Kodachrome in the freezer. Let’s go!

    Lucky! (kinda had my eye set on one of those expensive Fujica single-8 models personally, found a place that could put an oxide stripe on it as well if I bother sticking a soundtrack on as well) I still think it’s a waste what Kodak did to start discontinuing anything Kodachrome these days (the Paul Simon song couldn’t be truer than the fact). Kinda amused at the few places out there online that still sells or processes movie film at all these days, though I wish it could be as simple as taking a roll down to the drug store.

  • RAB SMITH

    IF ‘B-WOLF’ represents the future of movie-making, then bring back creaky old BORIS KARLOFF, also WILLIS O’BRIEN’S jerky ‘KING KONG’ which had more humanity in any given single frame…..
    ——-P.S.: I don’t think the ’39 ‘GULLIVER’S TRAVELS’ was TOO bad, JERRY…….I saw a late ’60s theater release of this, and though it is slow in getting under way, I loved it as a kid.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    though I wish it could be as simple as taking a roll down to the drug store.
    I believe that in the states you can still send super-8 for processing at any Walmart. You have to know what you’re doing tho, what to write on the processing envelope or whatever to get it to go to the right place! Don’t ask the staff, they will have no idea. Look on http://www.filmshooting.com forum for more info maybe.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    to clarify they don’t process it of course, it just gets sent off to some lab somewhere via their system.

  • Joel Brinkerhoff

    I thought the Mark Mayerson definitions of motion capture and animation to be very good. Someone also mentioned rotoscoping and live action reference. There is a difference between the two that I tried to address in an earlier posting on my blog: http://joelbrinkerhoff.blogspot.com/search?q=rotoscope

    Cheers

  • chris

    Well, here comes a bit of a rant….

    I’ve read some of the comments here, so sorry if there were any retractions…BUT I have to say I’m sick and tired of the attacks on the individuals who worked on Beowulf, or films of that genre. Don’t like the movie?…don’t go see it. Simple as that. The idea though that working on a mocap film somehow makes you at the bottom of the Animation Caste system is ludicrous.

    The animators on Beowulf (yes…I did say animators) worked on Open Season, Surf’s up, Spiderman, Monster House amongst others. They are NOT incapable of producing fantastic animation. Quite the contrary in fact. What they are are individuals who are striving to realize the director’s vision on HIS project. They are professionals, crewed onto a show…doing what they are asked to do.

    When you walk the halls and see a group of animators working as hard as the ones on Beowulf, it goes beyond irritating that anyone should be able to take that away from them…and classify them as sub par.

    You want to prove you’re a better animator?…throw up your reel….let’s all take a look and see if you can back up your claims of being a superior artist.

  • red pill junkie

    I don’t know, it may very well be that the studios are endorsing this technique so strongly because they envision the day when they can claim the rights for the “digital appearance” of any actor.

    It kind of makes you feel bad for guys like Brad Pitt. With these kind of tools, the studios would NEVER let him age, get fat or bald, or develop any other kind of character than the attractive male stereotype he is so handsomely paid for. Rather than follow the steps of Robert Redford or Paul Newman, who changed the types of role they played as they got older, 50 years from new the studios could still make movies with his undated digital appearance.

    And of course, it will be all the more profitable when the actor dies and the studio no longer will have to pay any kind of royalties for image use.

    Mmmm. Creepy.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Tim Drage says:
    >
    > I believe that in the states you can still send super-8 for processing at any Walmart. You have to know what you’re doing tho, what to write on the processing envelope or whatever to get it to go to the right place! Don’t ask the staff, they will have no idea. Look on http://www.filmshooting.com forum for more info maybe.

    I remember reading someone say that, but I thought that was a joke. Yes, these people would never even heard of Super-8mm in this day and age or what I’m doing with it.

    > to clarify they don’t process it of course, it just gets sent off to some lab somewhere via their system.

    That’s true (as to be expected). Perhaps it could be cheaper dealing with Wal-Mart than places like these that force you to pay extra for both the film and processing…
    http://www.pro8mm.com/main.php

    Earlier I mentioned the Fujica Single 8 cameras, here’s one site with some good info on that…
    http://www.single8film.com/

    Really, I should’ve started this 20 years ago than now. :-(

    > red pill junkie says:
    >
    > I don’t know, it may very well be that the studios are endorsing this technique so strongly because they envision the day when they can claim the rights for the “digital appearance� of any actor.

    I would no be surprised if that was the case.

  • http://www.calcetinanimaciones.com Fernando de Anda

    It’s not about the movie but the technique, soon we’ll see the day in which any actor could have a chance to perform any character, regardless the body proportions or the esthetic of the actor, but his talent… and yeah, this is not an a animation movie, but in some aspects, the future

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Fernando de Anda says:
    >
    > It’s not about the movie but the technique, soon we’ll see the day in which any actor could have a chance to perform any character, regardless the body proportions or the esthetic of the actor, but his talent… and yeah, this is not an a animation movie, but in some aspects, the future

    Seems more like a cheap excuse to say your (noun) is bigger than everyone else’s in the digital age. That’s how I see this play out.

  • http://spritzer93436.tripod.com/ Art Binninger

    I sent a roll of Kodachrome that I shot in September through Wal-Mart here in California and it was back in about a week, which alone surprised me. It was only about $5 or so and it looked fine considering its expiration date was 1999. Last Thanksgiving, a friend came by to de-bug my computer and his teenage son noticed a Super-8 50 foot reel on the desk. I unspooled a bit for him and he exclaimed “There’s pictures on this!”. Fashion and technology, they change so fast. I hope we’re not getting too far off-topic Jerry. :-)

  • Dave

    One of the best Super 8 cameras was the rock solid Nizo S560, though its intervalometer was NOT connected with its single frame shutter. The other big drawback was Kodak’s design of the Super 8 cartridge, which physically limited the number of frames that could be backwound. As much fun as that bygone format was, the sad fact that one was limited to shooting on reversal film meant one worked one’s tail off to shoot the ONLY COPY in all existence of any given stop motion filmic adventure. It was a labor-intensive way to go blind which technology arguably improved over time.

  • Brad Bird

    Hmn. Gotta say I disagree with a few of you folks. I consider mo-cap and rotoscope very similar in a few important respects; both have a performance foundation that begins with someone other than the animator, and the ultimate success of each is dependent on how skillfully they are altered from that foundation.

    The best characters to begin with a mo-cap foundation (Gollum and Kong–both courtesy of Peter Jackson & co.) were re-worked extensively by animators (some of Gollums best scenes were entirely keyframed– the Andy Serkis reference studied and interpreted by eye rather than by computer).

    This is true of rotoscope as well. When great animators extensively rework the live action base you get Cruella DeVil, Captain Hook, Smee, Chernabog from Night On Bald Mountain, etc…

    But when an animator simply accepts the live action perfomance without strengthening the poses or finessing the timing and lazily traces a hand over a hand, a shoulder over a shoulder, you get the watery, dull, unconvincing Prince in “Snow White”, Gulliver in “Gullivers Travels”, Anastasia in “Anastasia”, and EVERYBODY in Bakshi’s “Lord of the Rings”, “American Pop”, “Fire & Ice”, etc.

    I would argue that talented animators did some fantastic reworking of Andy Serkis’ very fine initial interpretation of Gollum. Like most animation, not all scenes are created equal, but the best scenes of Gollum have weight and life behind the eyes and a physicality that is lost in most mo-cap.

    I agree that rotoscoping is at the very least touched by human hands holding a pencil, but as someone who was shackled to some truly awful live action footage and tasked with rotoscoping something presentable from it (the director would not allow me to animate the scenes from scratch) in my animating days, I can’t share in any misty-eyed nostalgia for rotoscope.

    It was a tedious, joyless, awful process that, when strictly adhered to, nearly always yielded uninspiring results.

    The last similarity for me is economic. Movies are made in the real world, and certain characters demand HIGHLY skilled animators to pull them off convincingly. Disney turned to rotoscope for CINDERELLA because he didn’t have the resources (money/time) to experiment with the large number of human characters.

    Likewise, although Peter Jackson had a big budget for LOTR, it was barely enough to execute the vast vision he had in mind… and mo-cap was the fastest good way to get Gollum integrated with the live action and consistent performance-wise, with the myriad other elements Jackson had to juggle.

    Bottom line for me: Mo-Cap is a tool that can be used well or badly, much like rotoscope, and like rotoscope the most successful examples of mo-cap have been significantly altered by animators on their way to the big screen.

    For me personally, I think mo-cap works best as a tool to create convincing digital characters that are intended to share the screen with live actors (ala Peter Jackson).

    So far (and while I remain open to any filmmaker willing to prove otherwise), when mo-cap attempts to take center stage– I have yet to see an instance when I don’t find myself wishing to see either pure animation or pure live action.

  • Chuck R.

    Brad Bird: We appreciate your comments on mocap, but what do you think about processing super-8 at Walmart?

  • Bobby D.

    Wait a minute…this has all the ear-markings of a civil debate. :)

  • BT

    I agree philosophically with a lot of Jerry’s post. I don’t consider mo-cap to be the same as animation, I think it is a different (and completely valid) storytelling tool. I also think that Zemeckis’s quest to create human life in digital form is wrong-headed and will never work. The “cartoony” humans in THE INCREDIBLES are a thousand times more natural and “lifelike” than the people in FINAL FANTASY, POLAR EXPRESS and BEOWULF because you can accept them as stylized and don’t have to be distracted by the little things that aren’t right in an almost-real character like Beowulf (the eyes, the perfect cornsilk hair, etc.)

    But just because I feel that way about this aproach to movies doesn’t mean I should pretend like BEOWULF is some travesty. Despite those flaws it actually is a really entertaining movie, at least in 3-D. I saw OPEN SEASON in 3-D Imax too, I really liked the character designs in that, but I would rather watch BEOWULF twice in a row than watch that again. It’s a good story, it has some interesting characters (well, mainly Grendel), it has a pulpy sense of adventure and action, it has some excellent uses of the “camera” (as did POLAR EXPRESS), and even some clever twists on the ancient manuscript it’s based on. And if you’re going to compare it to animated movies, then this is a type of movie I haven’t seen in animation before.

    I don’t work in the animation industry, I just watch ‘em. So maybe I don’t take it as personally. But I don’t see mo-cap as a threat to any other methods. It’s crazy to think that mo-cap or 3-D are going to replace other types of movies, that’s just a line for a couple ambitious directors to tell stupid entertainment magazine writers for their cover stories. I like the post by Tony way up there somewhere, he had a good point that if the public considers BEOWULF to be animation then it only opens up more doors for animated movies which have been stuck in this CGI talking animal rut. Just as far as the subject matter goes, isn’t it great to have RATATOUILLE, PERSEPOLIS and BEOWULF in the same year? It could be two movies about penguins, two about barnyard animals, three about woodland creatures in the suburbs. I’m glad different filmmakers are getting a chance to try different things.

    Being against all mo-cap is like being against all puppets or all CGI. If it’s not something you are into then that’s fine, but you can’t pretend it could never be put to good use. Personally I’m excited to see what Tim Burton does with his mo-cap version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. As an animator turned live action director he might be the perfect guy to use this technique that’s in the middle somewhere. I also can’t imagine he’ll go for the life-like wax dummy look of the Zemeckis movies, which to me is the one major weakness of Zemeckis’s approach.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Art Binninger says:
    >
    > I sent a roll of Kodachrome that I shot in September through Wal-Mart here in California and it was back in about a week, which alone surprised me. It was only about $5 or so and it looked fine considering its expiration date was 1999.

    You were lucky. I found an old role of K-40 in the cupboard I took into a Kmart a decade ago and got back a roll of clear film (it was something my mom had filmed but never got around to developing at all since the 70′s)! Not sure if I still have it or not, but I could’ve took some fine-point marking pens and tried creating a rather interesting piece out of the 2 minutes or so of footage.

    > Last Thanksgiving, a friend came by to de-bug my computer and his teenage son noticed a Super-8 50 foot reel on the desk. I unspooled a bit for him and he exclaimed “There’s pictures on this!�.

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Want to impress those with my 16mm collection if it came to that (also have a Krasnogorsk-3 if I get around to tinkering with that)!

    > Fashion and technology, they change so fast. I hope we’re not getting too far off-topic Jerry. :-)

    Yeah, it did seem monotonous I steered this away from Beowulf and Raggedy Ann into something more esoteric, but that’s who I am, I’m the King of Esotericism!

    > Dave says:
    >
    > One of the best Super 8 cameras was the rock solid Nizo S560, though its intervalometer was NOT connected with its single frame shutter. The other big drawback was Kodak’s design of the Super 8 cartridge, which physically limited the number of frames that could be backwound. As much fun as that bygone format was, the sad fact that one was limited to shooting on reversal film meant one worked one’s tail off to shoot the ONLY COPY in all existence of any given stop motion filmic adventure. It was a labor-intensive way to go blind which technology arguably improved over time.

    Probably why I got rather interested in Single 8 for it’s sturdy configuration and backwinding possibilities.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    Various negative stocks are avaliable in super-8 now, for telecine or there are even a couple of places who will make you a print!!! But that sort of thing starts to get close to the 16mm price range really…

    Anyone interested in super-8 needs to visit http://www.filmshooting.com and http://www.onsuper8.org, great sites which between them contain pretty much all the 8mm info there is on the internet.

    P.S. any movie is 3D if you sit near the front of the cinema and close one eye. Try it!

    We now return to your regularly scheduled argument about mocap.

  • Brad Bird

    8mm? I had a used Leicina. Multiple shutter speeds, including single frame. Automatic through the lens metering when virtually no other 8mm camera had it. Angenieux zoom lens. Awesome.*

    *(But I always wanted a Beaulieu).

    Why did I think we were talking about mo-cap?

  • Chris Sobieniak

    You can blame me Brad for having taken this down that road! I’m the one who somehow just had to sneak in such an analog concept into discussion like I felt it was important. If not, it’s nice to have learned Wal-Mart still offers Super-8 processing. I think the most extreme I would want is to tell everyone to exploit that fact, and flood their stores with roll after roll of Super-8mm film for developing and see what kind of madness may occur, if only to lead to a news story suggesting the possibility of a retroactive super-8 craze was in the works. In a perfect world, that would be sweet (if only as an excuse for people to set up projectors and screens in their living rooms to show off to their friends one last time)!

  • http://spritzer93436.tripod.com/ Art Binninger

    Ahhh! The Beaulieu! I longed for one of those like other teens wanted a new Corvette or Mustang. I wanted a Nizo for the longest time and got a shock when a friend bought an old camera bag at a local thrift store for $6 back in the ’80′s. Inside was a perfectly working Nizo! And I passed it by thinking “Oh, I don’t need another camera bag”. Oh, the pain! The pain!

  • doug holverson

    So if you have Ms. Jolie (who is fetching in the flesh) acting for your movie, why not use her in the fetching flesh instead of using this artificial synthetic plasticy looking substitute?

    Brad, The Iron Giant really got down and Googied!

    BTW, Had a Chinon 506 SMXL way back when….

  • Tom Minton

    Yeah, the Beaulieu allowed for a full two hundred foot backwind, which of course meant it didn’t use the Super 8 cassette system at all. I borrowed one once and shot some animation with it. A very cool camera, though I shot everything else with my old Nizo S560, which cost $487.89 new in 1974, a whopping sum in those days that took me an entire year to save. There is something organic about film that went the way of the Dodo.

  • doug holverson

    I wonder just how much the critics and suits fawning over Mo-Cap being “more expressive” is just an Emperor’s New Clothes herd mentality, or just how much their idea of the supposed non-expressiveness of hand drawn cartoons came from the formative experience of growing up with cut-corner Filmation and Hanna-Barbera type throw-away kiddie fodder.

    Obvious suggestion to Jerry or Amid: Start an all new posting about home-brew 8mm animated films. I have a couple of URLs that I could post there.

  • http://spritzer93436.tripod.com/ Art Binninger

    doug holverson says:

    Obvious suggestion to Jerry or Amid: Start an all new posting about home-brew 8mm animated films. I have a couple of URLs that I could post there.

    Thanks for making that suggestion, Doug. I was afraid that this side discussion of 8mm/Super 8 was going to get us put over at the “kids table”.

  • http://www.okgrillo.blogspot.com o

    They should remake “Beowulf” using the Raggedy Ann and Andy crowd for MoCap. They don’t even need to be altered digitally much to fit the parts.

    Also, tell Brad Bird that I have a Leicina AND A BEAULIEU in perfect working order.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Brad, The Iron Giant really got down and Googied!

    Speaking of which, had they marathoned it yet this Thanksgiving? :-)

    > Yeah, the Beaulieu allowed for a full two hundred foot backwind, which of course meant it didn’t use the Super 8 cassette system at all. I borrowed one once and shot some animation with it. A very cool camera, though I shot everything else with my old Nizo S560, which cost $487.89 new in 1974, a whopping sum in those days that took me an entire year to save. There is something organic about film that went the way of the Dodo.

    Pretty much what I miss about the analog days when you still got your hands dirty in it! I don’t get the same deal in the digital age the way it felt to do things by hand like with art.

  • Gene

    True, there was a tangible, physical connection to the past in working with film. But there’s a connection to the future in all things digital. It’ll be argued forever whether that’s a good or bad thing.

  • http://spritzer93436.tripod.com/ Art Binninger

    Actually, I’ve reached a very happy working arrangement between the analog and digital world. If things remained as they were 20-30 years ago, I would still be doing what Chris said earlier, showing my old films on a screen in my living room. Now they’re reaching a whole new audience via YouTube. I’ve just finished printing out my hand-drawn, full color Christmas cards that I previously would have to hand color or settle for BW offset copies. As long as protect my originals, they’ll be ready for the Next New Thing.

  • http://jonhandhisdog.com jason

    You know.. I haven’t seen B-wolf yet (but I plan on seeing it sometime this week), so I can’t really say anything about the film.

    However, as an animator.. I DO have to say that I’m not really all that threatened by b-wolf. I worked on LOTR & on Gollum and was able to directly see what worked & what didn’t, and I know there were incredibly talented artists both tweaking the mocap data & creating animation from scratch.. all of it working towards Peter’s vision. That’s what made gollum so good.. peter, fran, andy, and randy cook pushing us towards creating the best performance possible.

    As for whether or not performance capture will replace animation.. I think the live action people have more to “fear” than those of us creating stylized animated films. See, in live action you’re completely constrained by location, time of day, the physicalness of what was shot WHEN it was shot. What props are available, what costumes can get created by the time it’s shot, etc etc etc. Then, once the scene is shot it’s SHOT. You’ve got the coverage you have, from the angles you’ve got. Any kind of “tweaking” or anything you have to rely on 2d techniques, or clever editing. You can’t easily change the camera angles.. lighting.. costumes.. anything. I say “easily” because you CAN do quite a bit with compositing & other techniques.. but currently that’s expensive & time consuming.

    Let’s pretend that in 10 years the “performance capture” technique has improved to the point where it actually DOES capture everything we’re saying it’s missing today.. meaning, it’s so damn good that you really can’t tell the difference between a live action actor and their digital counterpart. Well, you CAN tell the difference.. but only if you suddenly change the angle, adjust the lighting, give them different clothing, etc etc. See, the director/art director/dp/etc will all have the ability to tweak what was shot until it meets their “ultimate vision”.

    But what if they want acting changes? Well, not only will they capture the physical acting of the actors, but they’ll be analyzing that data.. capture the actor long enough & they’ll be able to build a fuzzy logic brain to go along with the actor. Soon enough we’ll have enough data about keanu in order to recreate almost any reaction to any given situation. So while you’d still have to get the actual performance for any of the important beats.. much of what happens can be figured out by the fuzzy logic system.. think “massive” (the crowd simulation program written for LOTR, now used all over the place) but a bit more advanced with a LOT more data running through it. Of course, we’ll still have frame-by-frame control like we do now, so even if the performance isn’t 100%, we can still go in and tweak things to make it perfect.

    Directors will have ultimate freedom to create “their movie”. THIS is where the technology is going.. it’s going to affect live action films way more than our cartoony stylized ones.

    I’m not saying this is a “good” or “bad” outcome.. I’m just saying that this is where it’s headed. And for some directors, it’s already there.

    So for me, I’m not concerned about mocap. As long as there’s still an audience for funny, stylized characters that do things that people can’t do.. animators jobs are safe. No matter how talented any performer is, he’s never going to be able to have the ability to get from point A to point B in as many ways that I can dream up in my head.

  • red pill junkie

    Nice points there Jason :-)

    You can’t easily change the camera angles.. lighting.. costumes.. anything. I say “easily� because you CAN do quite a bit with compositing & other techniques.. but currently that’s expensive & time consuming.

    I suppose that for director and studios, this mo-cap technology is akin to a sculptor choosing to work with CLAY instead of MARBLE. With clay, if you mess up or change your mind, you can do it all over again, while with marble, one mistake and its “OOPS!”, and the whole block is thrown to the pile.

    But of course, sculpting with clay still needs of talent, and can be as demanding and time consuming (maybe even MORE time-consuming)than chiseling marble. It’s just more on working on the safe side, but it can lead to failing to make good critical decissions because of all the options available.

    Sculpting with marble takes BALLS ;-)

    A simmilar thing happened in my biz of architecture/interior design with the introduction of CAD software. I wouldn’t even dare to imagine how awful it would be if we still had to draw with rulers and pencils, but it’s funny how with CAD you can end up with a gazillion different variants of your design, and how you can’t really grasp the actual “dimension” of your idea until you view it built in the real world. And then of course, it’s too late…

  • Marc G.

    Good points, Jason. What you described is pretty much what James Cameron wanted when he first conceived of Avatar ten years ago, with his “synthespians”. I wonder if he’s upset that Lucas, Jackson and Zemeckis beat him to the punch.

    I don’t know if he’ll be creating humans per se in his next two films, but I’m sure he’ll be pushing the limit of mo-cap technology.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    Jason, thanks for your insight information. Hats off in addition.

    BTW I did not mean to offend anybody by holding the word “artist” apart and apologize if offense was taken. I thought it went without saying that there are considerable degrees of art, skill, craft, talent, and creativity involved, all of which overlap to varying degrees. I still wish to call character animators artists though, as long as their contribution requires imagination and artistic finesse to render it (in addition to the technical skills invariably involved) even in motion capture situations I don’t personally enjoy.

    All previous mo-cap aside however, the advent of movie stars “animating” their own digitally identical figures by necessity marginalizes the unique imprint of individual character animators involved and that is what still worries me, on behalf of everyone. I have overheard too many heavy hitters in the “biz” intone that they would love nothing better than to virtually automate the character animator’s job (for reasons both financial and creative) and while that may not be the case yet, it one day could be.

    If on the other hand I have merely embarrassed myself as an alarmist here, no one will be more relieved than me.

  • http://billfieldtrip.blogspot.com/ Bill Field

    OK—I vote that Zemeckis use No-Cap next time and just make a fuh-reaking live-action feature like the good ol’ days of Back to the Future.
    Now pleasssse don’t throw or lob grenades at me, I totally agree with what’s being said about Bearfwoof (might as well call a charade a charade-you wanna vomit[Bearf] at this dog[woof]) but I was shown about 10 minutes of the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, and–I shudder to say, what I saw was REALLY good-like Roger Rabbit good- it works, period. I saw none of the crap poses posted here on the Brew, it really looks like classic animation in 3D, the characters, both animated and real, are acted without flaw. I was soooo shocked about the quality, I stood there speechless through the clips– that’s a feat for me. I didn’t want to like it, but it took me back to my kid memories of the first version, it’s funny and cute and sarcastic, I hope Amid, that you like it, because of your love of UPA-style, like the original series. I hope folks give it a chance, I’m really looking forward to seeing the whole feature. And, no, I wasn’t “high” or “drunk”(two beers only at that point in the night-that’s not intoxicated for me) at the time of my viewing. Maybe, just maybe– this is a good thing for 2D and 3D– I hope, if it’s accompanied by a new cartoon show that stylistically, it’s UPA-all the way.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    I saw the film tonight and actually didn’t think it was that bad. I took the chip off my shoulder before viewing though. Did I do something wrong?