spielbergcontroller spielbergcontroller
Feature FilmIdeas/Commentary

“Tintin” Ushers in a New Era of Photoreal Cartoons


This is not a review of the Adventures of Tintin. I think we can all agree there have been enough of those already. My primary interest in checking out Tintin was to see the animation approach taken by Steven Spielberg and New Zealand animation studio Weta (as well as Giant Studios, which handled the motion capture recording). These two studios are at the cutting edge of exploring new forms of character animation, and Tintin has proven to be an important stepping stone in the development of our art form. To my eyes, it’s the first successful example of “photoreal cartooning.” By successful, I don’t mean perfect, but rather that the technology no longer disrupts the overall viewing experience. It takes a generous imagination to see where the technologies in Tintin are headed, but think back to the creepy baby in John Lasseter’s Tin Toy. It took less than twenty years for CG character animation to evolve from a deformed lopsided infant into the most common feature animation filmmaking technique.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to judge the animation in Tintin. Photorealistic cartooning–which some will argue is an oxymoron–makes even keyframed CG animation look traditional. Many will say it isn’t even animation. The confusion is understandable. Animation is evolving so rapidly before our eyes that we can barely keep pace with these changes. We desperately try to apply old labels and definitions and find them insufficient. Still, Tintin at its core is pure animation created frame by frame. True, it was augmented by other processes, but the end result was achieved distinctly through frame-by-frame techniques. And if the mark of a true piece of animation art is the director’s control over every element within the frame, then never has this been truer than in Tintin.

Motion capture is a flexible technique that can be stretched in multiple directions. James Cameron used it in Avatar to mimic the performance of live actors. Ironically, Cameron had to employ a team of animators to tweak and mold the motion capture data to achieve greater realism. The technology cannot yet accurately record the nuances of human behavior without the intervention of animators.

Spielberg, on the other hand, appears to have made animators a more integral part of the creative process. Instead of demanding that the animators make the motion capture data look more realistic, he allowed them a degree of freedom. In this LA Times interview, he explained, “I can underwrite or overwrite a performance and through the animators put [something into a performance] that even the actors didn’t bring to the bay.” In that quote, Spielberg acknowledges that the actor is not the be-all, end-all of the motion capture process (much to Andy Serkis’s dismay I’m sure) and that animators play a role in creating the performance, much as in traditional animation.

Spielberg’s attempt to marry motion capture and animation is a step forward, but not entirely successful. The photorealism of the design jars with the disturbingly wacky behavior of the characters. Watching a pliable, squash-and-stretch cartoon character like Daffy Duck wrapped up in a spinning plane propeller and spit out is funny; watching the photoreal Captain Haddock perform that same gag in Tintin looked awkward and uncomfortable. This discordance between design and performance will be ironed out when the technology is placed in the hands of experienced animation directors who more fully understand how the medium works.

There’s another component to Tintin that’s been largely overlooked and it’s this:


Producer Peter Jackson explained what Spielberg is doing in the photo:

For [Tintin] we wanted to create a virtual studio — we haven’t even got a name for it — where Steven would be able to pick up a virtual camera that looks a little like a PlayStation controller with a six-inch screen and use it to step inside the world of Tintin that we had created. All the locations had to be built in advance of us doing the motion-capture shoot, as it were; so for the best part of two or three years we were building all of the sets, all of the cars, all the airplanes, everything in the film was constructed but then the key thing was to break away from all of the technical restraints and make it as much a live-action experience as we could.

This is a transformative concept, much like 3-D was hyped as being, except this is the real deal. Whereas animation in the past was a labor-intensive process, and each scene was carefully laid out from a single angle that was drawn by the layout artist. Even as we moved to computer-generated imagery, artists were careful not to overreach the boundaries of their world. Brad Bird told me how he stayed on budget on The Incredibles by carefully selecting shots in the storyboard/animatic stage and not modeling the world beyond the confines of those preselected shots.

To open up the entire world to the animation filmmaker creates a tantalizing array of possibilities. It is a paradigm shift in animation production that pushes it closer to the world of the live-action camera, while still remaining firmly entrenched in the realm of cartoon fantasy. The technology also raises interesting questions. For example, if a director is selecting all his shots via a specialized hand-held controller, what could that potentially do to the role of the previz/layout artist? These roles won’t disappear anytime soon, but the job descriptions must undergo an evolution. The “virtual studio” approach will mean more planning upfront and more work for people who have to design and build the worlds, but less control over the finished film for the layout artists.

The limitations of the filmmaking-by-controller approach are evident in Tintin. Spielberg is trapped in a videogame of his own making and can’t stop exploring the world long enough to tell a story. Knowing when to exercise restraint will become even more crucial in this new mode of animation production. Whenever I see the incessant camera moves in animated films today, I’m reminded me of something that French animation director Michel Ocelot told me over dinner a couple years ago. Michel abhors camera pans and trucks. He feels that camera movements pull the viewer out of the story, and he prefers a static screen as much as possible. His austere minimalism may seem archaic, but the argument for Ocelot’s point of view would be the pirate ship battle and the crane-fight finale in Tintin. Despite their nauseating overuse of the camera, both of those scenes lumbered along, failing to elicit any tingle of excitement or adventure. The camera, even in this latest and fanciest iteration, does not compensate for skillful filmmaking.

Many people, including those with whom I saw Tintin, have commented that they have been exhausted after watching the film. Much of that we could presume is due to the repetitive action sequences, but I would also suggest that it was the overwhelming level of graphic detail. There was so much happening that the eye never stopped racing around the screen, in desperate search of a focal point.

Here’s a good example: halfway down this web page, there’s a short scene with Snowy running. Pay attention at the :27 second mark. There’s a guy running across the street for no apparent reason. He may be running because of the oncoming cars, but then why does he look in the opposite direction of where the cars are coming from? To me, it’s emblematic of the entire production: too many artists working on too many individual elements in each scene. There is an inordinate amount of randomness in Tintin and many scenes lacked cohesion or clarity. Audiences may not have been able to pinpoint the randomness but they certainly felt it.

Tintin was, in some ways, exactly what I expected it to be: a typical Spielberg film with hamfisted direction. But it was also surprising and fascinating from a technological point of view. As the animator’s toolset continues to evolve, directors will gain granular control over cartoons in a way that was never possible before. The challenge in the future, as in the past, will be harnessing the technology to work with the artwork instead of against it.

  • PeterH

    Before now I’ve argued that motion-capture was not animation, and that using animators to correct errors did not make an animated feature – but now I agree with what you’ve said: ‘Tintin’ is an animated film because of the high level of manipulation of all the CGI elements. And it is the first of its kind – as you put it, a photoreal cartoon.

    Disney created the concept of an animated feature – and ever since producers have tried to find ways of realising that ‘look’ without having to do all the work. I saw motion capture in that light, but here it is just part of the process, a starting point for creating the total CGI animated end-product movie.

    Spielberg’s obsession with pre-creating the elements of the film so that he could move ‘into’ it and direct it – bring it all together like a live-action movie – is fascinating, and points the way to the future use of this technology.

    However, wonderful as all this is I can’t help thinking that it would actually have been better done as a live action movie. More ‘believable’. But it is remarkable, and the first of its kind – the CGI movie that does not want to look like a Disney cartoon.

    The point you make about the propeller business is a directoral faux pas, a failure to set the credibility level. In a comedy world people either risk getting injured or they don’t – and this must be consistent. I remember feeling bothered by the slapstick elements in Aristocats and Robin Hood, which contradicted the level of ‘reality’ previously established.

  • In no way would I call the MoCap of TINTIN “cartoon” as you do. It is a glorified special effect. It is undoubtedly the future of animation and at the same time the death of animation. Gollum and King Kong are the best of it, and the apes of PLANET OF THE APES:Rising are the true “Photoreality Cartooning.”

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I couldn’t argue there!

      In the case of that airplane propeller bit, I really didn’t think that hard over it since I’m sure Haddock had his ‘plot armor’ on the whole time!

  • Lib

    Even though I still disagree with the overall impression, this is more like what I was expecting to read here, and a very nice article.

    The plane sequence bothered me too, and it’s clearly my less favorite of all. But I believe the first commenter is right on the money: it is a failure to see the credibility limit, which despite the photorealism, doesn’t equal that of a live-action film either. Things that would’ve been outrageous in a live-action movie take place during the bike chase later on, and those feel perfectly alright.

    As for the camera comments, it really baffles me how certain people can not enjoy the camera direction in this film. There’s a monumental gap between what Spielberg does here and what other people do in, say, stuff like Pirates of the Caribbean. But it seems to me that, for some people, there’s no difference at all between those two ways of using the camera and editing tools. And that’s something I will never ever understand. One of the greatest things of modern animation is how it frees the camera, allowing skillful filmmakers to create beautiful flowing compositions that always add something special to what’s being shown.

    That camera movements pull the viewer out of the story? Right. Tell that to Stanley Kubrick, Alfonso Cuarón, Brian DePalma, Brad Bird, Sam Mendes or David Fincher. Saying such thing for a case like this is not just archaic, it’s plain wrong.

    • The Gee

      On the wacky action camera, (or, is it a Magic Wand Camera, that is just waved around and produces Magic!) :

      Here’s the link Amid provides in his piece:

      The sequence with the dog, Snowy (?), running up the stairs:

      re-imagine how that could have been made.

      think about how important it was to follow the dog. Was it important to view it from the dog’s standpoint? Or, from the standpoint of a dog at all?

      I couldn’t look at it and not see how it was floaty and the skating that briefly happens.

      That could have been hidden if a different choice were made for that scene.

      Coppala. In his Dracula movie, he used a wolf-vision camera and a bat-vision one; as ridiculous as the hats in that flick or the reverse Superman The Movie opening scene, but at least with those camera views we saw what the characters saw.

      In that Snowy clip, there was room for the character to think and act and he just ran and “we” just follow. Maybe that wasn’t important add character to him because he was going to make it from point a to point b anyway, but, it would have been at least nice to see some of his character instead of his posterior.

      sometimes too many options doesn’t lead to the best choices. I’d think that would be even true for Spielberg. It certainly sometimes seemed true of Zemeckis.

      • Lib

        Yes, we follow. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just like we followed the little kid through the corridors of The Shining and it was fine. The point of view shot you are suggesting may have not been wrong either, although it might have cut weirdly once we get to the window and need to set up the jump and everything that follows, which is designed to be an slapstick action sequence and therefore it’s important to show the placement of the characters and their interaction with the environment as stuff happens.

        Also, I think Amid’s reference to that clip ultimately summarizes the differences between those who like this film and those who doesn’t. I watched it several times after reading his article and I honestly struggled to see what was out of place or distracting about it. I never felt that the man crossing the street was stealing my attention from the cars. The camera is tracking backwards through the street, following the cars’ motion, and the cars themselves are placed in the most relevant point of the entire composition the whole time. Everything else is just incidental, it’s there just to add a sense of rush and it works.

      • The Gee

        I got caught up in how the dog was moving on the first viewing and began questioning the shot choice on the second. Then I guess I wanted for some antics. Which probably isn’t fair on my part.

        The shot is too short to compare it to the big wheeling kid in The Shining though. That was building up suspense and accordingly was played out, wasn’t it?

        With that scene from “Tintin”, most likely what we are seeing is indeed a considered, well-reasoned choice. And, I’m sure that every shot in the movie was considered well-chosen.

        In fairness, the busy-ness with the street walking character…didn’t notice it.

        My eyes just followed the white dog (hot spot).

      • Liesje

        Comparing that sequence to the bit from the Shining is ridiculous. In the Shining it was all about the suspense of what was coming around the corner and what may be following close behind. It’s a tactic often used in thrillers and horror flicks. This film is neither and this sequence in particular is, most certainly, neither.

        The camera in CGI is both a blessing and a curse. It does allow for some otherwise impossible shots but the question we should ask ourselves as filmmakers is why? Why should we have the camera follow the dog? What do we gain from it? And if the answer is simply “because we can”, maybe we should take a step back…

      • Lib

        What I find ridiculous is how people can even complain about a simple shot of a dog going upstairs. When I wrote my first message I imagined that I might end up arguing about the plane sequence or that spinning shot when Tintin is almost run over. Instead, here we are, talking about a dog running from one room to another. I’m amazed that some of you guys aren’t bothered by color pictures or surround sound.

        I guess we don’t need to see the dog going from the main door to the window. I guess we could just cut to him sticking his head out like an ordinary dog, right before throwing him into an extraordinary situation. Way to get the audience into the movie, as the lady below would say.

        And what’s worst of all this is that I bet none of you would be saying a word if this was a traditionally animated film, and this particular scene still showed the dog going upstairs and jumping on a couch, only that from two different angles after a cut without any tracking motion. And you know what? that way of depicting the scene wouldn’t be wrong at all, just like the tracking camera isn’t wrong either. Because let’s be honest here, this isn’t about character motivation, scene mood or story needs, this is about a completely irrational aversion to technology in general.

        I’m sorry, but no. It’s been way too many years of instant classics to just come here and say that someone like Steven Spielberg would do something ‘because he can’. Actually, it’s the other way around. Many other filmmakers don’t do some of these things… because they can’t. Not because they are bad decisions, simply because they either don’t have the resources yet or don’t know how to take advantage of the tools. Unfortunately, whenever a talented person does get the chance to use those tools and do something visually interesting with them, even for the tiniest details, there will always be the conservative voices demanding a pianist in the room in order to have the most pure cinematic experience.

    • The thing is that Spielberg is not Kubrick nor Bird nor Lasseter nor Cuarón. He’s not interested in -introducing- you to the fast pacing– for example, in the Incredibles, when Dash realises he can run on water everything stops for a moment and introduces you to a different “state of the movie”. It makes sure you get INTO the movie. Spielberg does not do that, he slaps it onto your face. I have no problem with that, but I hope they give someone else the role (CUarón, or DePalma or Fincher) to , like Amid said “harnessing the technology to work with the artwork instead of against it”. I mean, even if the baby from Tin Toy or Andy in Toy Story were creepy, the guys who created that jewel of a movie had the brains to only show the creepy stuff as a “bad thing”- e.g., in Toy Story, the only human that appears most is Sid, who has to be creepy, Scud is another real creature, who also is the “bad guy”. Heck, even the “Freaks” parody of the doll head is scary as hell.
      As much as he loves Pinoccio and everything, Spielberg (at least to me) isn’t enough for animation.

  • You are getting suckered by the technology, Amid. Being able to move around virtual sets is not “the real deal.” It’s no less labor-intensive than animation as it took them two to three years to build the world so that Spielberg could wander around in it. And it’s more labor intensive than live action. How many live action films can afford to spend two to three years building sets before the director arrives? If the names Spielberg and Jackson were not attached to this film, how many other directors besides James Cameron would have the clout to wallow in this self-indulgent approach to film making?

    This approach gives directors the ability to postpone creative decisions until everyone else has done the heavy lifting, rather than force directors to develop a creative vision before the work gets done. Directors should lead, not simply edit the work of others.

  • I can’t help but think the ‘immersive, virtual-world’ approach to directing (which has already been pioneered in video games) is an expensive dead end in feature film production. It reminds me of what Walt Disney learned on Pinocchio. He spent a huge amount of time and money on the opening multiplane shot, which is a technical masterpiece of which he was justifiably proud. But the audience had no reaction that shot. They reacted to simple shots that showed character personality.

    Most live action directors have discovered the same thing over time. It’s not how large a sound-stage you rent and how big a set you build, or how much scenery you chew up in location shooting with cameras strapped to helicopters and trucks. It’s the character performances people almost always care most about.

  • Barney Miller

    Amid, this is nothing new. The major studios have been pre-building sets to allow directors more “freedom” for a while now. This is exactly why the camera seems never to set still in many animated films. A lot of people (studios) think ,” Hey, I paid to build this world, we should see as much of it as possible!”

    Also, people mistakenly compare this kind of filmmaking to the live action process all the time. Live action directors do not and never have been able to shoot anywhere they like. They scout location, lock the cameras down to a specific area and shoot within the confines of that area. OR they build partial sets and shoot around the limitations of the sets to create the illusion of a complete world. This is exactly what Brad did on Incredibles. He created limitations for himself in order to create the illusion of a world.

    Limitations, in my opinion, are the filmmakers greatest asset. When the world is “opened up” as in KING KONG, TINTIN, POLAR EXPRESS, LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS etc. the directors tend to over indulge and create the kind lof constant camera movement you’re talking about- where there is no rhythm or contrast. Instead of what SHOULD we do, it’s what CAN we do and the next thing you know, character and story take a back seat or are lost to crazy helicopter shots and simulated hand held work.

    I’m not saying it’s all rubbish. I’d just like to see the inventiveness that can come out of a more expansive shooting location balanced with the restraint of a practical set. Unfortunately, a kid in a candy store, left untended, will usually eat themselves to death.

    • The Gee

      There’s a saying about when one’s eyes are bigger than their stomach…

      • toolman

        Here’s another saying: “When you own a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

  • A specific point I don’t concur with is that this is an evolution from Tin Toy.
    That baby was the bad guy and a monster. It was a deliberate intelligent choice to present the baby as a distanced entity and the toy as an endearing character, informed by the limitations of the technology. And not I think the limitations of the day, but what Lasseter understood as the mediums limitations period. This is reinforced by the creepy baby character in Toy Story 3 some twenty years later, who coinhabits a world with cartoonier, less uncanny valley ‘human babies’.
    TinTin, the title character specifically, only shows that some people still havn’t learned this one simple lesson, and still think poly-count can work around it.

  • WhurdsDeRodan

    What would Walt do with this technology? I doubt what SS did… though it’s pretty darn fantastic. Just a preference, but I still think I’d love to find out what he would do.

  • Scarabim

    From what I’ve read of Walt’s notes on animation in general, I kind of think he wouldn’t be interested in using mo-cap to create “realistic”-looking cartoons. I think he’d be more interested in creating more believable-looking fantasy.

  • Ok we’ve done photo-real now. Lets swing the other way and do something different. Style over tech, an interactive work space for artists to play in is something we should be shooting for. Not this wait for the sim and lighting before you can see how what you’re animating is going to look junk.

  • Toonio

    Guess if the media repeats this kind of statements a million times it might become true.

    After watching the chase sequence in Morocco I realized that mocap works wonders in Universal style rides like the Amazing Spider-man in Islands of Adventure.

    So for mocap “cartooning” is still a little far fetched, but who knows, it might transform into something unique afterwards.

  • Ben

    Kevin Koch, who should know better, cites the wrong scene in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. It wasn’t the opening multiplane shot, which isn’t all that fancy, it was the one about a third into the film that begins tight on the clanging bell in the village tower and trucks through several planes of action, running on for a long time without a single cut. That shot cost in the neighborhood of 35K in late 1930s dollars and elicited nary an audience peep at the premiere, while the held cel of the riverboat with minimal water effects later in the movie registered solid applause. Walt is said to have uttered “Never again!” when his expensive camera move drew crickets. Critics have used this visual contrast in several books without mention of the most obvious reason for the riverboat scene’s impact: it comes at emotional high point, with the orchestra swelling under it. But what am I doing commenting about 2D in this thread? Less is more was the past.

  • Doug

    I haven’t yet seen Tintin, though I plan to. My question with regard to this, The Polar Express, and other animated films of the like, is: If you’re going to go to all the trouble and expense of replicating (albeit in exaggerated form) the appearance and movement of real people, why not use . . . real people??

    The advantage of this type of CGI eludes me, frankly.

  • GW

    I’ve often maintained that motion capture should be a temporary phase. In the long run as techniques of animation improve, it makes more sense to create a truly animated ‘realistic’ looking film that doesn’t have the constraints of motion capture. But there’s still the roadblock of people’s voices and convincing artificial voices are, I’d imagine, a difficult thing to achieve. There have been basic automatons that can behave physically, I believe for a Grand Theft Auto game. Improving on something like that, I can imagine simulating a basic proto-performance with simplified rig automatons and then using that to inspire the final work somehow.

    That day, should it ever come, is a long ways off. But I can’t see motion capture based works as any more than a phase in the long run, or a less important outlet for directors who like working with actors, maybe animals.

  • Harry P

    I thought the animation was like nothing I had ever seen before mostly because they got rid of the motion capture “zombie” look. These characters’ eyes looked alive, not dead. I found myself taking them for granted as living characters until a new character came along and I would think “that woman certainly has a peculiar nose”. I sure didn’t hate it and I hope to see it again in the home (2-D) theater so I can study the backgrounds at length.

    I agree that the film ws too visually busy, but I disagree with the example of the man running across the street. It looked quite natural to me. He was running for the safety of the sidewalk because he could hear the roar of high-speed traffic approaching. Under those circumstance, he would be an idiot to look back until he had safely mounted the curb.

  • Billy Batz

    we know there are different animation styles, just because you find this hard to understand doesn’t mean you have to try and teach us that mo cap is pretty good.Its a non issue, stop motion still exists, as do all the other forms of animation under the sun.And yes limited animation is valid as well, it by no means indicates a lack of skill.

  • Mike

    They’l never be able to do this virtual studio faster or cheaper than a board artist who can conceive of the cinematic space and draw the shots, draw the of the formal elements of the film in moments. This will be a toy of the super high end productions and their directors bored with putting a picture on screen.

  • Principal Dondelinger

    I just wanna see cartoons, not live action mocap 3d wanna be cartoon.

  • What is the point of making animation “photorealistic”? Showing off how great they are? Or how far they can go?

    That type of animation(or better: effects) should be used in live action movies, when they really need it as a support.

    I’m really tired of all the CGI-movies lately! Animation is not just CGI!
    Would be nice to see more 2D and stop-motion cartoons in the movie theaters, instead just CGI-movies!

  • I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re absolutely right about what made Tintin so exhausting to watch: my eyes were darting around everywhere, all the time, never resting. What made Hergé’s Tintin so good is that the “cartoony” characters read so easily against the more realistic backgrounds; your attention was always focused on them rather than on the mise-en-scène. The movie characters don’t stand out from their surroundings in the same way.

    As for the technological aspects, well, technology is what you do with it, and Spielberg’s use of it was like a kid in a candy store: everything all over the place, no focus, no relief. Once the focus is off the toolbox, I’m sure better artists will use these new tools in a much more interesting AND entertaining way.

  • FigmentJedi

    Huh. Amid likes something and Jerry hates it. What is this, opposite day?

  • Matt

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you just say that Spielberg’s films are typically hamfisted?

    • swac

      Have you seen War Horse?

  • B.Bonny

    I kept getting “Team America” flashbacks while watching Tintin.

  • Talkies. They’ll be the DEATH of cinema!

    • The Gee

      Does this advancement make you wish you could use the technology?

      If so, do you think you might use some constraints as opposed to making it an adventure ride of sorts?

      I know if anyone had a big budget, that might lead to wanting to experiment and push that envelope to the bleeding, cutting edge but…. I’m just curious. My gut says most people would start with what they know instead of shooting for the moon, trying to outdo themselves as the movie progresses, over the course of the production time.

      Live action directors, and I think Spielberg in particular, do like the notion of having too much footage and multiple shots and then editing down. This is even with storyboards. In animation, the process is a bit more prudent than that….sometimes.

      • Interesting question. Left to my own devices – able to choose the “technology” I would like to use, I would go with live action/puppets/green screen. That’s just a personal choice for the stories that I’d like to tell. And no, although I enjoyed Tintin, I wouldn’t (given the chance) make a movie like it. I’d prefer to tell a “people story”.

        Which isn’t to say for a second that I didn’t enjoy Tintin. I thought it was a lot of fun.

  • E. Nygma

    I like this animation technique, but I hope it’s not the kind of thing that takes over. While I feel it is a breakthrough and looks fresh, I also feel it lacks style (Like the square hands, head and angular ears of Carl from “UP” for example).

    The look sort of feels like it is trying to make cartoon characters look real. My response to that is…why not just hire real actors. This style is good for a change, but I hope there is always room for many different styles of animation. I wouldn’t want to see the majority of animated films from now on done in this style.

  • TINTIN was okay. Solid movie. Lots of CG porn for fanatics. I lurvs the tech on full-blast display.

    I just got the OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT DVD. It was a lot more entertaining.

  • Ruramuq

    ..and what happens when motion capture becomes another tool to simulate ‘realistic’ actors. e.g Crowd systems. What visual difference there would be, from a regular live action filmed with a regular camera..

    Actors are already animated!
    And they also have already been created.

    This is not about how it looks, or how much cg / sfx work was done. It’s about “Motion projection”. Making it look like cg won’t magically turn it into animation.

    This urge to sabotage the word Animation, which is already clearly defined like: “give life to..”
    Instead of using it’s own category or sub-category as correspond, and benefit from it.

    We don’t define things just for appearance or ‘personal convenience’, but for content, process or functionality.

    For those who get confused with appearance.
    This mocap is like an actor using makeup or wearing a costume. Like a clown or mimo would. Only that this time the Actor uses an expensive cg suit, with all it’s defects and advantages.

    There is no reason, not to use mocap,
    but to create “motion capture movies”.
    like Tintin, Avatar, etc..

  • This TinTin Movie is most definately NOT a cartoon.
    Cartoons are/were 2-d and ususually of abstract and humorous content.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Where does that leave “anime” then? :-P

  • Arran

    please can we turn around and drive from the uncanny valley before it’s too late?

  • I agree with Arthur, and carry that further to say that most CG movies, which strive for realism are not cartoons – they are essentially computer renders of live action. CG could be “cartoony”. If studios wanted to go the cartoony route they could – but the holy grail for computer animation is to look as real as possible – hence the snow and clouds in Happy Feet, or renderings of food in Ratatouille. (in fact I would call CG hyper-real i.e. reality perfected). I’m still longing for the cartoony surrealism that has been a staple of hand drawn animation to appear in CG – a good “cartoon take” for example, such as eyeballs popping out of the head, racing around the world, and slamming into the back of a character.

    • GW

      There’s the short film Elk Hair Caddis. Not everybody’s out to make realistic computer animation. You might also like this long commercial, Shooby Shooby Do Yah for its surreal cartoony train:

      There’s also some occasional character surrealism on Pato in Pocoyo. And the adult aimed Usavich has some minor surreal elements as well.

      There’s not much of it, but it’s out there. Also, if funny 3D animation can’t be called cartoons, what should it be called?

      • GW, these are great examples, (I’ve always loved Pocoyo btw.) also the work produced at Studio Gobelins and the good folk at Meinbender do great cartoony 3D. http://www.meindbender.com/work.html

        So in my opinion, this kind of funny 3D animation as you put it, is most definately of the “cartoon” variety. I just call it 3-D cartoons as opposed to 2-D cartoons.

        Perhaps when the “realistic” fervor quells we might get to see more cartoony stuff enter the mainstream.

  • Josef

    It’s always strange to hear the “this is animated, this is not” debate. A lot of people working in animation have strong opinions about this, but to the audience at large it’s simple. If what they see on screen looks like animation, then that is what it is to them. When CG finally becomes ultra realistic, then that’s the day it will stop being called animation.

    • And when that day comes, some hacker prankster will cause a heart attack by manifesting Huckleberry Hound on the holodeck.

  • Mister Twister

    R.I.P. 2D animation ;_;

  • Mark Sonntag

    I think there is room for all types of animation, 2D, 3D, mocap – whatever. It’s all relevant. One cannot look at say Picasso and then Da Vinci and say one is more relevant than the other. Both are important in their own view and technique. I think we are seeing animation grow up and be on the verge of breaking away from being just one type of animation – just for kids. I’m making a short film in CG that I’ve always wanted to do, it may be passe and may not, it depends on what of myself I put in it . . . if I had the money I’d love to try this tehnology.

    I used to be a layout artist at Disneytoons in Australia and always wished I could walk the sets, I envied live action film makers for that. There will always be a need for good planning and for me it is still the story and then the actors.

  • Brad Constantine

    Nice piece, Amid. As someone who occasionally uses MC data for my professional work, It’s nice to see a piece that gives it some historic context. Walt would have been all over this, and used it for his animatronic figures, as well as his film stuff. The industry demand for more affordable,faster produced,”realistic” motion is what drives this technology forward. In a very photo-realistic environment, Hand-keyed just doesn’t look right anymore. The decisions to go 100%”stylized” or not for the overall look, is also usually the desicion to go more quickly, and less expensive.(usually the former)hand keyed takes a lot of time and usually more people) I agree with most that if you are going to make a movie with all human characters in a real world environment,then you might as well just photograph actors. Unless, of course, you are James Cameron , who can talk investors out of 700 million, in order to do it correctly…

  • No need to be up in arms. This is NOT the death of animation nor hand-drawn animation. CG is just a TOOL, another pencil in the art bin. It just so happens to be the new tool so it’s the flavor of the…generation. Might as well ride it out and see how far this medium will go.

    In the long run I believe analog will still prove to be king because of its inherit organic qualities and tangibility. I may be out there, but I believe people just don’t react emotionally the same way to CG. There is this intrinsic quality in hand-drawn that touches people’s nerves I have yet to see in CG. Maybe its the way CG is being used now or maybe there is some human or “magical” element that will always elude CG.

    The second a hand-drawn film breaks the $1 billion mark, (don’t scoff, it could happen) producers and executives will come back praising hand-drawn saying how indispensable it is.

    (….and why do I always have flashbacks of “John Henry” whenever this debate comes up?)

  • It would be interesting (not necessarily good) to see motion capture applied to a “flat” traditional 2D character, like Flip the Frog or something like that. Has anybody done that yet?

  • Mitch Kennedy

    The animator’s toolset is not evolving, rather the animator is becoming part of the live-action director’s toolset.

  • It’s very nice and all that they’ve managed to replicate realistic sets and surroundings for directors to play in; but I got to ask, why? Why go through the clearly astronomical trouble of recreating a realistic space in cg when you can film a real live set? It seems like less of an artistic choice and more like a way for obsessive-compulsive directors to control every second of their movie. But that level of control means that you’ll never achieve the natural chemistry or ‘happy accidents’ of live action, which just underscores the fact that your cartoon is trying to be something it’s not.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that cartoons should not have the same criteria/standards/what-have-you applied to them as real-life movies and actors do. Mickey Mouse looks absolutely nothing like an actual mouse and he’s been popular for how long? Would he be more of a money-maker if he had every individual hair modeled on his pointy little rodent nose and realistic lighting on his grubby little rodent claws?

    But hey, what do I know…

  • Lailany Magno

    Based on the article and the comments read, I therefore conclude that Tintin is not the one who is not ready for America. It’s AMERICA who is NOT ready for Tintin! The Adventures of Tintin holds true to what it says on the very first trailer: the groundbreaking motion-picture event. This 3D film is the ultimate game-changer that other studios will surely imitate soon!

    I’m so proud being a loyal Tintin fan!

    • Eric Graf

      Your conclusion is unwarranted. The accusation that “you didn’t like the movie because you guys just don’t get it” nearly always boomerangs onto the accuser.

      It’s great to be a loyal fan, and though I may not know Tintin from Aluminumaluminum, I fully understand how you feel. But if the non-fans in America are unimpressed, then that says more about this movie than it does about the non-fans. Or, for that matter, about Tintin.

      Apparently whatever attracted you to Tintin in the first place didn’t make it into this particular movie. The movie I saw in the theater Wednesday was an overlong, meandering, uninteresting story with surprisingly dull characters and a couple of OK action sequences. I have to assume, based on his popularity in Europe, that Tintin is not usually as personality-challenged as he was here.

      From a technical standpoint it was really just a slightly more finessed version of the whole Jim Carrey Christmas Carol thing. I didn’t see any games changing. I certainly didn’t see anything new that other studios would find worthy of imitation.

      And the action sequences in Kung Fu Panda 2 blew these out of the water. (Pun sort of intended.)

      Like so many animated features this year, it wasn’t terrible. It was just … OK. And we’ve come to expect better than that. Maybe the last few years have spoiled us.

  • I thought it was great…1 of the best movies I saw this year

  • In all fairness, this turned out to be a better film than I’d expected. I was intending to avoid it for a while because I thought the human characters would have that “dead vacuous look” that I noticed in Polar Express. Tin Tin has conquered that problem quite well and even has a “feel” of animation in places. Definitely a much more successful attempt than the previous films. Art direction and camerawork is fantastic to say the least. My only critique would be I’d like to have cared more for the characters. The film never slows down long enough to give the emotional beats time to sink in. I think that would have made it stronger. Other than that I thought it was very impressive.

  • Mandelak

    I dunno I saw it and thought the characters looked quite dead. I think the storytelling was amazing the VFX was great, but the overall character animation could’ve been better if tweaked more. it was also a bit floaty at times especially snowy.

  • chris padilla

    Good article, Amid. Thanks. Though it’s been off your website for a few months now, with the recent arrival of “Tintin” on DVD I’m visiting your article for the first time, which is why I’ve arrived so late to the conversation. But I wanted to support your point of view regarding photo real movie making. I’ve always seen the future of this animation technology – as you put it so accurately with “granular control” – evolving to the point where such imaging will be – even presented at Doug Trumbull’s 60 frames per second and in 3-D – undetectable from live action. “Avatar” demonstrates the technology’s out of its primitive phase. In relation to this, if I can go out n a limb, it’s also interesting that what is happening in animation technology seems to parallel what’s been happening in science in replicating a human with efforts like the Human Genome Project, etc. I’m also reminded of how Leonard Shlain’s Art & Physics correlates breakthroughs in the understanding of light in art and science on a parallel course through history. There’s a bigger picture here and it all seems to be connected and heading towards somewhere wonderful :)

  • jaybo

    I think the new style is good. but also i like the real cartoons from the past and not all computer colored

  • dusr

    “There’s a guy running across the street for no apparent reason. He may be running because of the oncoming cars, but then why does he look in the opposite direction of where the cars are coming from? To me, it’s emblematic of the entire production: too many artists working on too many individual elements in each scene. There is an inordinate amount of randomness in Tintin and many scenes lacked cohesion or clarity. Audiences may not have been able to pinpoint the randomness but they certainly felt it.”

    I don’t agree. I can never get enough. I revel in all that detail. And it gives me another reason to go and see the film again, something I love to do. I hate any sense that I’ve got the film sussed, that this is all there is. I love to feel that all around are more possibilities, that around every corner there is a continuation of the world I can’t see, complete with all the other stories entire worlds contain. I want it to to be endlessly explorable, a richly and deeply conceptualised world. More than that, I love the realms of humour and referentiality that are thereby opened up. An example, in Tintin the keys theft scene is watching several times over just to relish the deliciously fun masses, shapes, textures, reflectivity and consistencies of all the objects present in the room, as they are affected by the movement of the ship. worth watching several times over for the object on the table alone!: some eggs, some peaches, a tin, some coins, a torch, a bottle etc. See how the peaches line up in reflection in the lens of the torch. Or the booze cabinet scene, with the light refracted and coloured byt he glass of the bottles and projected on the walls. Wonderful. There can never be too much detail, complexity and even ‘randomness’. The more the merrier!