How Seth MacFarlane Created The Animation In “Ted”

It’s looking like this weekend’s box office crown will belong to Seth MacFarlane’s Ted. Even though it’s a largely live action film, the main star–Ted the bear–is an animated character. The character animation was divided between two studios–Melbourne/Sydney, Australia-based Iloura and Berkeley, California-based Tippett Studio.

In the film’s promotional materials, Universal Pictures is encouraging the idea that the character was created by recording the actions of MacFarlane wearing a motion capture suit. There’s a video posted on the LA Times website that compares MacFarlane’s live-action performance to the animation.

But that’s only part of the story. This interview with visual effects producer Jenny Fulle explains that motion capture wasn’t used nearly as much as the film promos would suggest. Fulle says:

“We really focused on motion capture from his waist up–because he has a lot of mannerisms with his hands and he rocks back and forth and moves backwards and forwards and stuff like that. What we would also do is keep a high-definition camera on his face. That way we could also capture a visual representation of what he does with his eyebrows and when his eyes go wide and that sort of thing. We would then give that to the animators so they could just manually take that look and apply it to the bear.”

Not only was all the facial animation keyframed, a lot of the physical performance was too, according to one of Ted‘s animators, Jonathan Lyons, who wrote an informative post on his blog Comedy for Animators:

“There was motion cap­ture used on the film. MacFar­lane would put on a Moven suit, on set and act out the parts for the Ted scenes they were shoot­ing that day. It was mostly used for scenes of Ted sit­ting and talk­ing. So it was a lot of arm ges­tures and head and shoul­der motion. That’s about it. For the larger action, it was all keyframe animation.”

The film, which is pleasantly amusing if overlong, succeeds largely on the merits of Ted’s animation, which serves the needs of the story quite well. While motion capture was undoubtedly part of the filmmakers’ toolset, it’s clear that a large portion of the animation was keyframed–the same kind of animation that we see on Pixar and DreamWorks films. Motion capture will continue to receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage simply because it’s more exciting to show an actor jumping around in a fancy suit than it is a sullen animator sitting behind a monitor. But at the end of the day, it’s still traditional character animators who are most responsible for bringing to life audience-pleasing favorites like Ted.


  • Gobo

    The surprising thing about TED was how seamlessly Ted was integrated into things. Tippett did a brilliant job of making the audience forget that Ted’s a CG special effect; he’s so well done that I quickly stopped thinking about things like fur textures or lighting and just accepted him as a character sitting next to Mark Wahlberg.

    Credit also has to go to Wahlberg… I never thought of him as a master of physical comedy, but he completely sells Ted.

    • cc

      Don’t forget Iloura, they did a really good job as well.

  • wever

    Okay actors are exciting, animators are boring. We get it.

    I wish the press wouldn’t hype up one aspect of the film to the point where it needs to basically lie to tell you how much it took up the entire phase of production. Ted doesn’t even look like the kind of model that needs to be motion-captured anyway (I do like how they chose to manually animate his legs though)! It’s all hype. Hype!

  • Madmartigan

    Based on the clips I had seen up to this point, I just assumed Ted was a puppet that had a CG replacement mouth and digital rig removal. Guess I’ll have to see the bloody thing now.

  • Scarabim

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, "Stay on-topic. Comments are not a place to discuss ideas not directly related to the post."]

  • http://elblogderg.blogspot.com Roberto González

    Ted must be sort of good if even Amid thought it was enjoyable. We’ll have to wait for it to watch it in Spain, but I’m also finding me a little more interested in it than I usually am for other MacFarlane’s works.

    About the video I agree with wever. Not only Ted doesn’t look like the kind of model that needs to be motion captured but also MacFarlane is not a real actor,well, he is a voice actor but he’s not Andy Serkis, so I’m finding this whole motion capture advertisement kind of pointless. I don’t know if they are trying to promote actors over animators or attempting to sell MacFarlane as some sort of Renaissance Man who is capable of doing every aspect of the job, but it certainly doesn’t seem necessary.

    • wever

      Glad you agree, but I also think that putting Seth down is a bit of a risky opinion. Think before you do. With Ted now becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, Hollywood MAY ACTUALLY see Seth as a Rebaissance man anyway, greenlighting more stuffed animal movies, Seth movies, or more R-rated movies with a twisted kid-friendly premise! Hollywood is like that.

  • Funkybat

    “Motion capture will continue to receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage simply because it’s more exciting to show an actor jumping around in a fancy suit than it is a sullen animator sitting behind a monitor.”

    I found this quote thought-provoking, because my reaction is totally the opposite. As a lifelong artist and animation lover, I have never had more than a passing interest in “mo-cap,” and thought of it more as a VFX tool than anything artistic or even related to actual “character animation.” To me, animation *is* keyframe animation, where an artist draws, or maneuvers a clay or 3D puppet using their sense of acting and body language.

    When I see hype about how mo-cap was used on thus-and-such project, and footage of an actor jumping around in a stretchy suit with ping pong balls on it, I am definitely not as excited as I am when I see rough drawn animation or even still concept art. I suppose the idea that the former could possibly be more exciting than the latter (to anyone other than a VFX artist) was unimaginable to me. But Amid’s probably right in assuming that most people would find the ping-pong ball man getting his actions digitally approximated in a computer more exciting, if only because it’s so “technical.”

  • cc

    When I started working on the movie, knowing that mocap was used, I expected that a lot of the advertising will be focusing on that process.

    In my work I didn’t used any of the mocap datas, specially because as soon as the shot was a highly physical one (running, jumping, climbing) no mocap was recorded for those. But even for acting shots, the quality of the datas being so low, I was pretty much only using the video reference as a starting point.

    I agree with one of the comment above saying that McFarlane is more of a voice actor than an “on camera” actor, because often times we really had to improve what he acted out on set. But I would admit that for most acting shots it was a good base to start with.

    What really amazes me, is that, in the promotional clips they are showing how poor the quality of the mocap material was (the picture in Amid’s post is a good example). Even bad mocap is considered more interesting to show than animators …

  • Taco Wiz

    “Motion capture will continue to receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage simply because it’s more exciting to show an actor jumping around in a fancy suit than it is a sullen animator sitting behind a monitor.”

    As depressing as it is, I actually think this is because standard keyframe animation is considered to be “for kids”, and motion-capture, for some reason, isn’t considered animation or “for kids” as long as it’s not a Zemeckis film.

  • Pedro Nakama

    All the press about Motion Capture never includes the animators who have to fix shots that did not come out properly.

  • Ian Failes

    fxguide also has an in-depth article about Tippett Studio and Iloura’s visual effects work for Ted:

    http://www.fxguide.com/featured/ted-the-bear-facts

    Thanks,
    iAN

  • Una

    i don’t care how it was done, i think Ted is one of the best movies i have ever seen and Ted’s animation was fantastic