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Feature FilmIdeas/Commentary

Two Animated Films Nominated for Best Picture Oscar

Up and Avatar

News media stories about the Oscars are cropping up all over and all of them are parroting the same factoid: Up is only the second time since the inception of the award that the Academy has nominated an animated film for Best Picture. (The first time was Beauty and the Beast in 1991.) What they should be writing is that today is a milestone day because two animated films were nominated for an Oscar: Up and Avatar.

There is little doubt in the minds of both Brewmasters, Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi, that Avatar will eventually be recognized as an animated feature as more and more films are created using the constantly evolving performance capture animation technique. Within the industry, most already recognize the film as heavily animated, from top feature film animators who wonder why Avatar‘s animators are receiving so little credit for their work on the film to animation union rep Steve Hulett who stated that if, “Avatar isn’t halfway to three-quarters animation, I will eat my computer.” Most importantly, had this film been submitted to the Academy for consideration in the animated feature category, it would have qualified under the Academy’s own rules.

While James Cameron’s publicity machine may be unwilling to acknowledge the extent of animation used in creating Avatar, let us be the first to congratulate Mr. Cameron on his nomination for his groundbreaking piece of animation.

  • squirrel

    Wow. Up is only the SECOND animated film to get a Best Picture nomination?!?! :O Way to wake the Academy up!

    Despite all the hard work animators did on Avatar, I have to side with Cameron on this one: it is not an animated film. Keep in mind that we are talking about the film in the broadest sense- a film can be called ‘live-action’ but have tons and tons of animation effects work.

  • I can’t take it anymore. Avatar is NOT an animated film. It’s just plain stupid to say it is. It’s also not a good film, but that’s a different argument all together.

  • I normally agree with Jerry. But I don’t agree that Avatar is an animated feature. It definitely benefits from animated effects, but the plot is carried by live actors, it’s just that we see a synthetic representation of them. I realize that the performance is heavily manipulated by animators, but the base performance is from an actor, and I consider that different from watching an actor on video and using that as a reference. It may be a subtle difference, but when I watch an animated film like Up or The Princess and the Frog it’s clear to me that I’m watching an animation performance; watching the main characters in Avatar I see human motion.

    It is true that under the Academy rules it would have qualified for inclusion in the animated feature category. But I believe that to be a technicality.

  • Isn’t this the place that doesn’t consider Linklater’s movies to be ‘animation’?

    Truth be told, I don’t know how much actual animation is in Avatar but it’s being sold as motion capture. Is it not motion capture?

  • Spike

    Why are people so afraid to admit that Avatar is an animated film?
    Isn’t it just animators being elitist?

  • Randy V

    Well what’s it to be? I see Zemeckis movies lambasted on this site for not being animated, but the moment a mo-cap film gets nominations suddenly it IS an animated movie?

  • Avatar is NOT an animated film, according to James Cameron:

  • Yea Cameron vehemently defends Avatar as having no animation in it. I guess he had 63 invisible “animators” on it :P


  • I know, it gets all cornfusing. Remember Happy Feet? Beowulf? From Suite 101 in 2007:

    “The combination of Happy Feet’s win, and Beowulf’s confirmation in the category, has sealed the notion that motion capture qualifies as animation for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”


  • Mark Sheldon

    I realize the Academy has thier definition, but I personally don’t agree with it. The defining characteristic of animation is and always will be the performance by the artist. Avatar is no more animation than the Muppet Movie. It is essentially digital puppetry. I felt the same thing about Happy Feet. Just because it’s not live action doesn’t mean it is animation.

    That’s not to sat it wasn’t ground breaking but that ground is not shared by Pixar.

  • I’ve never seen anyone at Cartoon Brew say Zemeckis’ stuff was not animation, just that it was lazy, crappy animation.

  • Mac

    Up has been nominated for best picture?! That’s good to hear – listening to the BBC news at lunch time most of the other films were mentioned apart from Up so I assumed the best reviewed film of the year had been ignored because it’s a cartoon. Glad to see I was wrong.

  • FigmentJedi

    Avatar’s not an animated film. Cameron says it isn’t animated, which just gives you a sign that he really doesn’t care about the medium and that mo-cap isn’t really true animation. All that movie was is just a CG tech demo with a flimsy Pocahontas plot.
    Besides, if he wins, it’ll inflate his ego to galaxy size.

  • Jonathan

    “I got a bad feeling about this”

    I’m afraid Pete Docter’s gonna get skunked big time. As much as I like UP, I’m cynical about the academy. I can imagine him not getting best picture, and I’m betting “Fantastic Fox” will lure all the live action voters.

    It would be an absolute shame, since Docter lost to Shrek all those years ago.

  • Bill Turner

    It is an interesting question. I just read an article that complained that Zoe Saldana was not nominated for Best Actress for her role. I think it would take a comparison of the raw motion capture footage with the final result to see how different they might be. But then, should Marge Champion have been nominated for Snow White? Grim Natwick had said they used maybe rotoscope drawing 1 and 101, but had to make up the rest themselves. Or how about the actor used in Gulliver’s Travels which is more heavily rotoscoped? Or as someone mentioned, the actors in Linklater’s film.

    Certainly I saw things in Neytiri’s character that couldn’t possibly have been motion captured (ears and stuff). We are not going to answer the questions here, but it does make for good discussion!

  • floyd pendershaft

    People who disregard Avatar as animation need to review their animation history. You may not like the fact that it is being awarded along side with Up, but Avatar is still animation.

    John Stuart Blackton is considered the father of American Animation, but many in this posting may not regard him as an animator as well.

    Cameron may be dissing animation as a marketing ploy. He probably considers animation to be a children’s medium. Many fans of Avatar would probably avoid the film if it was marketed as animation, but it is nevertheless animation.

  • Chelsea

    Way to go Up for making best picture list! Congrats!

  • Cameron cracks me up. He was all into Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion all of which being animated films and series. He even had plans on making a live action Evangelion feature. Then he goes and steals from an animated film… *cough* Ferngully… makes a film in which 90 percent of the film is made in Maya (a CG ANIMATION program) but then refuse to give animation ANY credit. To quote his own character, “They’re just pissing on us without the courtesy of calling it rain.”

  • someguy

    so by the definition a lot of people are giving as to why Avatar is NOT an animated film, then Bakshi’s version of Lord of the Rings is also, NOT an animated film. The performances were carried by live actors with animators merely “tracing” over them and adding supplemental effects.

    The same could be said of Snow White… or Cinderella…

    hell, let’s throw in almost any “classic” Disney movie ever made since, at some point, they used live reference to get a performance. Even Don Bluth movies or early Dreamworks films had some live reference.

    the simple fact is… there should be no distinction between either. They are MOVIES. the tools used to make them are simply different.

    but to deny animators were involved at all is simply a slap in the face and really begs the question, “why do we allow this to continue?”

  • If “Alvin & The Chipmunks” is an animated film, then Avatar is.

  • Anne

    I am indifferent to “Up.” I didn’t feel connected to the characters, and I found the talking dogs really weird. Is anyone else in the world indifferent to Up, or am I the only one?

    I loved Secret of Kells, Mr. Fox, and Coraline…and I’d love to see the award go to any one of them.

  • stikkbomber


  • someguy says:
    “then Bakshi’s version of Lord of the Rings is also, NOT an animated film…The same could be said of Snow White… or Cinderella… ”

    Yes, Lord of the Rings is NOT an animated film. It is almost fully based on live performance. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the other hand is not rotoscoped, it used live motion for study and was modified by animators (see Bill Turner’s post); in addition most of the story is carried by fully animated characters.

    “but to deny animators were involved at all is simply a slap in the face”

    Can’t we say a film contains some animation without slapping animators in the face. The reason we watch the 7th Voyage of Sinbad is to see Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant animated creatures, but that doesn’t make it an animated film.

    Razor Roman says:
    “If “Alvin & The Chipmunks” is an animated film, then Avatar is.”

    I agree, neither of them is.

  • Johnno

    Avatar isn’t an animated film! Any animation in there is minimal in comparison to the characters who were all using what’s really advanced mo-cap called performance capture!

    Isn’t this why some were all up in arms over not calling Beowulf an animated film??? That’s because it largely isn’t! Any actual animation is no more than is used in any other live action film for robots or other creatures. The fact is that Avatar’s Na’vi aren’t animated. Frankly The flight paths of the spaceships and banshees were probably mo-capped using hand nodels too and no doubt stuff like the wings. tails etc were animated afterwards overtop the performance capture. No different than any other live action sci-fi movie lik Star Wars or Lord of the Rings for example.

  • Total surprise, but a very, very good one :) Congrats Pete Docter & the crew!!

  • Chris S

    When there are only two categories, and something doesn’t really fit into either one, MAKE A NEW CATEGORY. Mo-cap is a unique blend of live action and animation, and as such should be recognized in it’s own category with it’s own set of guidelines when used to the extent that Avatar had, especially if the technique becomes more widely used.

    For Avatar, it will always be controversial since there was an extensive amount of both animation and live-action. It is however, pretty lame of Cameron to deny animation all together…learn to embrace.

  • Sahra

    Brewmasters, please explain to us in technical detail your opinion why Avatar should be considered animated. Just because it looks animated?

    Under Academy rule, it does not qualify as being an animated film. Under Academy rule, the definition of animation is any motion picture created through a frame-by-frame process. In other words, by artists manipulating and animating frames, one frame at a time. This is also the classical definition of animation you will find in any Basic Animation course. This definition includes rotoscope all the way through “Waking Life” – even though rotoscope involves filming live action actors, each frame is nevertheless broken down and painted by artists, one frame a time.

    Avatar is motion capture. Do not ever confuse mo-cap with rotoscope. Motion capture is not a frame-by-frame process. It is a live action process that is digitally manipulated in real time. This is a crucial distinction that strictly defines motion capture as a non-animated process.

  • Mike Lucy


    The inclusion of that line by the academy, “frame-by-frame” shows how outdated their definition of animation is. 3D animation is not created frame by frame, there are keys set and people manipulate graphs and curves. Under a literal interpretation of “frame-by-frame” then only drawn and stop-motion would qualify as “animated films.”

    I really don’t understand everyone’s problem understanding here… The academy has recognized all other mo-cap films as “animated films” so why is Avatar any different? The main characters were animated.

    Personally, I think that mo-cap is not animation. I think that if a computer is making a majority of the artistic decisions then that is where the line is between mo-cap and rotoscoping. At least roto involves decisions made by a human and interpreted by their hand.

    Up is to Avatar as Snow White is to those Charles Schwab commercials

  • Donald C.

    If people consider Ralph Bakshi’s rotoscoping to be animated, then I see no reason why not to consider Avatar as animated.

  • Sahra

    Mike Lucy: You are incorrect. 3D animation is indeed considered a frame by frame process, because an animator is still working with and manipulating key frames. It is not a live action process.

    Wikipedia’s definition of computer animation: “Computer animation is essentially a digital successor to the art of stop motion animation of 3D models and frame-by-frame animation of 2D illustrations.”

  • amid

    Sahra: I suggest reading about how the film was made before spreading further misinformation on the Brew. To claim that Avatar is “a live action process that is digitally manipulated in real time” is an inaccurate description of the process and diminishes the efforts of all the animators on the film who labored on it frame-by-frame.

  • Sahara: Since when has Wikipedia been a quotable source?

  • Sam Sleiman

    “Animation is not a category. Otherwise, ‘Pearl Harbor’ would be slugging it out with ‘The Mummy Returns’ and ‘Driven.’ And as a general rule, animation that looks like cartoons is considered separately from animation that looks like special effects.” -Roger Ebert

  • Erin

    Hee, anyone who thinks Avatar isn’t an animated film has been convinced by Cameron’s PR machine. Anyone familiar with mo-cap, who has worked in mo-cap, or knows people and talks with them who work in mo-cap knows it’s animation alright. Very much animation. The actor’s performances might provide raw material, but animators have to go in and add those human details that distinguish the characters from robots (caused by computer error or artistic license). Where isn’t there frame by frame manipulation? And if this doesn’t qualify as frame by frame manipulation, than what of the myriad of experimental animation that uses less animation by comparison?

  • Lucky Jim

    The thing about “Avatar” is that Cameron isn’t aiming to create animated performances; he’s aiming to capture live-action performances augmented by digital prosthetics (there’s a reason why Stan Winston’s studio was involved).

    The motion capture in the film is meant to be an evolution of the traditional make-up and prosthetics used to create creatures in sci-fi or horror movies. Rather than have the actors sit for hours in the make-up chair, Cameron can now create any alien he wants using an actor’s performance and digital make-up.

  • For the sake of argument… if we’re considering Avatar to be an animated film, what exactly is it that differentiates this from the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Or District 9? Surely these also are considered to be animated films.

    Personally, I consider these all to be live action films with animated elements. Just the same as I would consider Wall-E to be an animated film with live action elements.

  • Well, I know who I’m cheering for to win that Oscar. Avatar was amazing to look at, but if it’s awarded “Best Picture” then something isn’t right at the Academy…

  • Mark Sheldon

    Erin. You may have convinced me to be more open minded on mo-cap. I enjoyed Avatar but never considered that animators are rounding out the performance.

    I’m not 100% conviced but I will certainly thinker about the artists envolved. I think the reason we as animationfans feel so passionately about mo-cap is the feeling that it takes animators out of the equation. And that there some corner office orgar chomping on a cigar and thinking “Now all I have to pay for is Will Smith and an xbox”

  • Chris S

    Lucky Jim, I agree. I think that a digital enhancement of a live-action performance is very different than something that is fully animated, and different than something purely live-action. That’s why there needs to be a distinction.

    It’s unfair to take credit away from the mo-cap actors and call it animation, and it’s unfair to take credit away from the animators and call it live-action. So until there is a category that gives fair recognition to both sides, there will always be conflict.

    …In someways, however, the mo-cap actor may be seen as an animator. The motion capture suit is an animation tool; it tells the digital rig how to move, in the same way an animator would, but in real time. So if the actor is doing most of the animation by means of recording their movement, they are technically animation artists. No less than the people who adjust the movements using a mouse instead of a body suit.

  • Hal

    If I ever wanted MORE reason for AVATAR NOT to win the Best Picture oscar, its so that CartoonBrew will not have even more gasoline to douse the fire of AVATAR IS AN ANIMATED FEATURES. This argument is like the rake scene with Sideshow Bob in THE SIMPSONS – maybe if it keeps going on and on it will get REALLY hilarious. I’m more upset that A.) 10 Best Pictures means crap like BLIND SIDE getting best pic nods so my aunt and mom will have an inevitable disappointment to look forward to, B.) The odds of UP, HURT LOCKER or BASTERDS deservedly winning Best Picture being moot C.) Ponyo getting shut out of Best Animated Feature, but MOST OF ALL (D.) THE FACT THAT “UP” can get a BEST PIC nod, but NOT a best Director nod. THAT is what we should all be pissed off about, as there is no good reason PETE DOCTOR SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHUT OUT OF THAT CATEGORY. All this sound and fury over Avatar by the Brewmasters – it will never be qualified in cinematic history as an animated feature. NEVER. It shouldn’t, either – it is the sum total of all VFX work in feature films – lots of animators have been used in the process, and I agree they deserve more credit than they have been given, but I’ll be damned if I think the intent or end result of this process is anything less than the work on DISTRICT 9, LORD OF THE RINGS, SPIDER MAN series, STAR TREK, BLADE 2, THE ABYSS, TERMINATOR 2, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT or even ADVENTURES OF YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES but on a grander scale. Brewmasters – would you consider any of those films to be animated films, or simply films with animated elements that merge with live action footage? WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT is one of the most important films to establish the integration of live action dynamic photography with animated elements (regardless of whether they are 3d models, 2d elements, or puppets/stop motion) – I see no difference between the Na’Vi of AVATAR and Roger, Jessica and the weasels in ROGER RABBIT – would any of you define that film as an animated feature? BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS or MARY POPPINS? FORBIDDEN PLANET? I see this whole AVATAR argument as a double edged sword that joins my disappointment over Doctor (and Bird in the past)’s snub – with fully animated films, there is a mentality that the whole staff made the film happen, so the director is undermined. With AVATAR it seems the opposite is happening – that the director is overshadowing the production, and getting credit for the whole. I’d feel a lot better if the visionary directors in animation got the credit THEY are due by the Academy as well.

  • Hal

    Equally – I think the morning’s sound and fury over Zoe’s Best Actress omission for Neytiri is as ridiculous as the Brewmasters’ argument – much like Gollum, that WAS the result of both an actress and team of animators (remember, 90% of the facial tracking data for ALL MO CAP actors in AVATAR was useless, and animators recreated the performance from reference footage) and should be recognized as such. We niw exist in a grey zone where the line of live action and animation intersect in amazing ways – to try and define in black and white terms does a disservice to where things are heading.

  • Hal

    ERIN – I’d agree that films such as HAPPY FEET and A CHRISTMAS CAROL/POLAR EXPRESS are animated films through your definition of the MoCap process, and if AVATAR had no live action elements guiding the film as a whole it would be a different story. However, incredible work of amazing animation team be damned, those blue cat people had to measure up to the humans around them, just like the dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK, just like the Prawn in DISTRICT 9 and just like the Rancor in RETURN OF THE JEDI. They did not exist in a world defined solely by the rules of the animators – FINAL FANTASY THE SPIRITS WITHIN may have attempted “photo-realistic” digital actors, but the stylization of those characters created a hyper-real animated world that is self contained – just like a Pixar (or any CG) film, just like any 2d animated film, just like any stop motion film. AVATAR is not in the same ballpark. It is somewhere inbetween – it could never allow the same abstraction as something like THE CLONE WARS animated series in its CGI, or even Carl’s blocky look in UP, since the defined world FROM THE VERY FIRST shot when we are introduced to JAKE SULLY as a flesh and blood, real human being. From that moment, Cameron drew a line in the sand and essentially said THIS IS MY CINEMATIC REALITY, and if the CGI does not match this then I have not succeeded in my vision on film. The MEANS TO THAT END does not trump the result – a live action film with a TON OF VISUAL EFFECTS WORK on all fronts. BREWMASTERS – if we give AVATAR the definition of an animated feature, do we not undermine the whole magic of the “animated world” – one in which we are freed, on all fronts, from the restraints of the very cinematic reality which Cameron has spent so much time battling to overcome? Look only to WALL-E’s brilliant “Captain’s Portraits” sequence – it is the moment that film confronted exactly this uncanny valley head on and engaged it, producing a brilliant series of images depicting our metamorphosis from human actor to virtual animated character. WALL-E is an animated film, despite the integration of live action, is it not? I’d say yes, on the grounds that the animated reality established its dominance in that one, brilliant shot.

  • Dock Miles

    I think a brand-new term for such complete fusions as AVATAR is in order. Live action and animation have been rising toward each other since Disney made Alice in Wonderland shorts. When they meet and blend so you can’t tell where one leaves off and the other begins, a fresh name has to apply.

  • I think if we had a rule like if a movie contains a certain percentage of digital or traditionally created artwork then it’s animation. Personally I’m not looking at the process of animating the characters but rather how much of the film does not exist in reality. Considering 90% of Avatar did not exist and required artists to create 2-D art then had CG artists create a virtual reality based on the art then the film by it’s very definition cannot be considered a “Live-Action” film.

    But films like Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribean, Alvin and the Chipmunks, had significantly more live-action, at least more than 50%. Whatever digital technology was in the film was enhancing the reality around it. In Avatar there is no reality to speak of. No one can go to Pandora, we can however go to New Zealand and see where scenes were shot for LotR, we can go to the sets of Pirates and physically touch the props. They are “live” in the sense that they exist in reality.

    And for those of you philosophers who are going for the what is reality argument, for the sake of this argument the definition of reality is anything that tangibly exists in this world. In other words the Na’vi do not exist because they are not of this tangible world. They are digital information being manipulated by a tangible being. Which is animation.

  • It will be SO funny if James Cameron will be the one saying “and the best animated film goes to …” xD

  • Hal

    Nick – unfortunately, your final argument is moot. Cinema is intangible – it exists on the screen. Whether you want to wax philosophical or not, we experience whatever reality is there through the veil of the screen. Is an epic stone castle that “tangible” when you feel the foam stonework? No – its the BELIEF those props and sets are “reality.” You can still go and digitally experience all the props of AVATAR through a computer, and when one side of a digital building has no back, its no different than seeing the wood beams holding up a set facade. Many of the foests of LOTR were soundstages, and those giant stone statues aren’t in New Zealand. You’d be surprised how much of the pirate ships in PIRATES are digital. In GI JOE the entire Paris during the power suit/car chase is often Prague or a 100% digital set. If you want rules on what defines animation and live action by a percentage you are looking for an easy quantifiable out. Filmmaking of any kind has always been about smoke and mirrors to create “reality” – it is up to the filmmaker to define that reality.

  • Hal

    What’s wonderful and defines the “animated film” is really that the complete fabricated reality of the artist is free from the constraints of being compared to “reality” – we go along with that world from the get go no matter the style because it creates its own rules. AVATAR still plays by the rules of TRYING to simulate real life even as it pushes that reality farther and farther into surreal images and fantasy – its never free to go completely for broke like UP or even A CHRISTMAS CAROL. If a character looked like Carl from UP or Scrooge in the middle of AVATAR it simply wouldn’t fly. As I said before – WALL-E used live action, but then justified it with the progression of those live action people into the CGI humans that are caricatures. AVATAR doesn’t incorporate the live action into the animation so much as it incorporates the animation into the live action – that WORLD OF PANDORA has to stand beside those humans and we say “that is real” just like the set of LOTR, and just like the digital ships and ocean of PIRATES.

  • I think in the end, Avatar is going to end up being regarded as a hybrid feature, really. It seems like the proper middle road in such a sharply divided argument.

  • Bugsmer

    I don’t consider the 1933 classic King Kong to be an animated movie, even though many of the superb special effects were done in stop motion. There were enough actors and sets to differentiate between the two. I don’t consider The Phantom Menace to be an animated movie, though a good portion of it was animated. Mary Poppins is a little different, but despite the animation in that and Song of the South, I consider them live action because both films featured real humans as the main characters and revolved around the characters’ real lives. Similarly, Avatar, which, notwithstanding the mo-cap performances themselves, uses a great deal of animation for the scenery and for some of the animals, and also for the graphic foundations of the characters and animals that become animated through mo-cap; is not a fully-animated movie. It’s in a similar class to The Phantom Menace, only it looks a lot more realistic. James Cameron’s team have done wonders with digital technology, but they haven’t made a completely animated film. Thus, I don’t think that Avatar should be put in the same category as Snow White, but rather in the same category as Mary Poppins, since both are live action films.

  • Trevor

    It’s even more important to note that Beauty and the Beasts nomination prompted the Best Animated Feature category. Up is the first to be nominated despite the Best Animation category.

  • @Robert Kohr

    Your comment made me think …. so here is Avatar, Distric 9 and Beowulf list of animators ! =D


  • Go ‘UP!’ :)

    uggggggh, Avatar. What can I say that hasn’t already
    been said?

  • Millians

    Unquestionably the great majority of the visuals in Avatar are the product of animation. The issue really is how much of it there needs to be for a film to be considered an animated feature. I don’t think Avatar reaches that level.

    The more intriguing debate for me is whether this is animation or visual effects. I can completely understand the consternation of all the animators involved in not having their contributions properly credited as character animation.

  • HAL- If anything Wall-E only proves my point. There’s no way you could convince anyone that humans will evolve into caricatured stylizations, it was one of the reasons many audience members were offended by the film and hurt it. I mean in all honesty didn’t you find that weird when they first showed live action actors in the film, because I know a lot of people who did.

    Also you can’t say that an animated film isn’t constrained to some form of reality, unless it is a purely abstract film, which you can still do with live action. If in the Princess and the Frog the characters suddenly turn into weird masses of ooze and color people would just be confused and hate it because the way the characters are designed we expect them to be confined to some form of reality. The only time you can accept the character’s design changing is when the character is imagining something which falls into the world of the abstract. As for a “Easy quantifiable way out” how else are other things judged? How else do you judge the election that the awards are based on? With quantifiable numbers.

    Also the prop argument falls apart. Johnny Depp is not really Capt. Jack Sparrow he’s an actor that was made up to look the part. He is a real tangible thing PRETENDING to be something else. He is NOT a drawing or a digital model being manipulated by an outside force. Just like a foam castle exists in reality but is being used as a PRETEND castle. And yes Hal I know the stone statues don’t really exist in New Zealand talking down to the person you’re arguing against doesn’t help your argument.

    Finally, not all Cinema is intangible, yes we are seeing projected images on a screen. Projected images that either came from something in the real world or were digitally created. Yes I may not be able to touch what’s on the screen but if the objects in it exist somewhere in the real world then cinema is tangible. And if there are more tangible things in the film it is live action. If there are less to none it is animation. Considering Avatar had more intangible artwork than Who Framed Roger Rabbit I think that makes it an animated film.

  • AE

    Ok, I get it. The mocap in Avatar was heavily manipulated by animators, but for what I understand to replicate the actors perfomances to the most minute detail. If were to draw a copy of every frame from say, Milt Kahl’s animation of Shere Khan, you could argue that I might be a very good draftsman, but nobody in their right mind would say I animated those scenes.

  • Brian Brantley

    Something about this post, and all the others about Avatar really disturbs me. Who cares what Avatar is, it’s a hybrid! Why the need to classify it beyond that? Get over it.

    In the meantime, why don’t you go back and try to claim Jurassic Park, Sky Captain, 300, Sin City, Transformers, King Kong (CG New York/CG planes/CG ape/real woman – similar any to Avatar’s CG environment, CG characters, surrounding a real woman Grace in one scene?), The Matrix trilogy, and the Star Wars prequels? Or would you rather not want to claim the Star Wars prequels?

    Either way, it’s starting to sound weird. Like a serious overuse of the oppressed, “victim” card. There’s plenty of good business going around, and a lot of growing respect for animation. Being so petty and smug about the credit for Avatar, and where it goes, just makes you guys look bad, and shines poorly on the animation industry in general.

    It seems like an awfully convenient time as well, to embrace and call one of your own, a film that has quickly taken spot as the highest grossing film of all time. Certainly I didn’t see this kind of enthusiasm for Beowulf when it came out, and that one had more animation in than Avatar! James Cameron rightfully deserves the credit, as he will continue to get at the Oscars. He can distribute that any way he likes. It’s unfortunate a lot of animation talent isn’t being called to the forefront to receive congratulations – but neither has it happened with the team of Gollum, Kong, or Davy Jones. There’s no difference here but the overwhelming success for Avatar, and the race to claim it for a cause. Jim hasn’t done anything wrong, he’s stated an opinion about his own film, and he has as much right to do so as anyone else.

    It really should change, so as the animation crews get more credit than they do right now, but that should happen naturally, not with one greedy swipe. Whether it’s titled animation or not in an article or at the Oscars is irrelevant, it’s about the men who worked on it. At that point, they can call it whatever the hell they want. I don’t think saying “IT’S ANIMATION!” is helping them any. It’s just staking a claim for a nameless, faceless nerd cause. A self victory.

    Sorry for what could be considered an attack, but the posts on Brew have been relentless . And this is coming from an animation student.

  • I think Avatar has the same animation/live action/ mocap ratio as the lord of the rings.

    And nobody thinks of that as an animated movie. Besides the orc audience. :)

  • amid

    Brian: You asked why you didn’t see this kind of enthusiasm from us about Beowulf. It’s not about enthusiasm. Zemeckis made an animated film and didn’t claim otherwise. Cameron made a film with a ton of animation in it, so much so that it would qualify for an Oscar in the animated feature category, and he’s claiming that there’s no animation in the film. It’s an important issue that the highest-grossing film of all time is primarily animated and the director flatly denies the technique involved.

  • Peter H

    Personally my feeling is that Avatar is a “Special Effects” film rather than an Animated film, in the sense that the aim of the animators working on it was more the “illusion of reality” than style. In other words “technical animating” rather than “free animating”.

    This in no way impunes the work done by the animators, just that the goal is FX based rather than having the freedom to exploit the medium.

    The same could be said of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen. (Harryhausen’s Fairytale shorts are animated films – they don’t intend to make you believe they are photo-realistic live-action – but his features are FX animation.)

    Whether this distinction will hold is debatable, but it does seem to me valid at the present time.

  • This morning’s Hollywood Reporter sez:

    “Oscars Snub ‘Avatar’s’ Motion Capture Actors”

    Although “Avatar” has blasted through boxoffice records and scored nine Academy Award noms, director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau are frustrated that the movie’s actors were ignored by Oscar voters.

    “People confuse what we have done with animation,” Cameron told THR at the PGA Awards. “It’s nothing like animation. The creator here is the actor, not the unseen hand of an animator.”

    The Oscars snub is “a disappointment,” said Landau, “but I blame ourselves for not educating people in the right way.”

    Landau explained that they needed to make clear that the system they used represents a new way to use “motion capture” photography, or as Landau puts it, “emotion capture.”

    A key breakthrough in “Avatar” involves photographing facial features of the actors with a tiny camera suspended from a skull cap in front of the performer’s face that caught every twitch and muscle movement, all faithfully reproduced onscreen.

    “We made a commitment to our actors that what they would see up on the screen were their performances,” Landau said, “not somebody else’s interpretation of what their performance might or might not be.”

    The issue of what makes an actor an actor first surfaced when Andy Serkis did Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” but skepticism remains over whether it is the same as live-action acting.

    “What an actor is doing when acting is not just looking like something but expressing something going on inside,” says James Lipton, host of Bravo’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” “I’m not sure that motion capture, while it captures the flicker of an eyebrow, the twist of a mouth, a gesture of a hand, equally captures emotion.”

    Critic Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor tended to agree.

    “On one hand, it is a performance, but on the other, it is so aided by technology,” he said. “If I were ‘King of the World,’ I would create a separate category.”

    Film professor Richard Brown doesn’t agree.

    “This is very much the first film of the 21st century,” Brown said. “What we need to do is expand our concept of what the word actor means. It’s unfair to take performances as good as these and not designate them as actors.”

  • My opinion:

    If the movie’s creators see their work as an animated film, then it’s animated; if they consider the computer-generated characters in their film as a special effect (ie, creating realistic-looking aliens), then it’s not animation; looking at Zemeckis’ creepazoid zombies in Polar Express or Monster House – movies presented as animation is one thing – but looking at Cameron’s aliens and not for one second thinking you’re looking at computer-generated characters is something else entirely.

    Something that’s bugged me since the Academy disqualified interpolated rotoscoped animation (ie, Waking Life, Scanner Darkly) from Oscar consideration: then they should likewise disqualify motion capture, because both take live action footage and process it into animation.

  • TheVok

    I would say there’s an awful lot of live action in Avatar. More than any other film I’d consider animated.

  • Amid,
    I’m loathe to take you on in a war of words, especially when the topic has been covered so exhaustively; but you said “Zemeckis made an animated film and didn’t claim otherwise.”

    But I found this quote from animatedfilms.suite101:
    “However, Zemeckis denies that the format even compares to traditional, hand-drawn animation or even CGI.

    “To call performance capture animation is a disservice to the great animators,” he said at the International Broadcasting Convention last September. However, despite Zemeckis’ statement, Paramount will still submit the film for consideration.””

    Ultimately I agree with several of the latest posters that these works are more of a hybrid than anything else.

  • captainmurphy

    Well there was a lot of live action in Mary Poppins, Song of the South, and Who Killed Roger Rabbit. And Sleeping Beauty relied a lot on actors movements.

    But people forget that most of the flora and fauna of avatar was moved about by hand rather than algorithms and motion capture. Not necessarily a lot, but more than your typical video game.

    But if Avatar is animated, so is Star Wars.

    What you are seeing is an uncanny valley of categorization; the academy not knowing what to do, as long as a film may or might not get a chance at Oscar.

  • Hal

    NICK – game on! AVATAR opens a Pandora’s box of cinematic theory worth the investigation:

    “Yes I may not be able to touch what’s on the screen but if the objects in it exist somewhere in the real world then cinema is tangible.”

    You are undermining your AVATAR as animation argument right there. The idea of any prop, regardless of its actual physical being, is to create the illusion of tangibility – that’s what you claim to be experiencing. The chain mail on the LOTR cast may look like metal, but its just rubber rings cut out and threaded then painted metallic, correct? My whole point is that CGI NaVi function exactly the same way – they are meant to look and act like real creatures, regardless of whether it is a success. The world of Pandora is meant to be an extension of this “tangible” cinematic reality – and it did a damn fine job of it too. It is one of the most consistently “realistic” looking virtual worlds, on par with the “tangible” world you consider in LOTR. The process and work that went into it doesn’t define the final cinematic product, which is all that matters. At the end of the day, the live action humans in Avatar feel as much a part of the digital set as the virtual actors. By your logic, is a cheap crappy prop that looks fake actually actually more “real” on screen than a CG prop perfectly integrated because it was made by hand? This is not an argument that real props physically existed – simply that you’re arguing because of that fact the cinematic reality is more “tangible.” No idea why you brought actors like Johnny Depp into a discussion of props.

    This is not to undermine the amount of animation in the film, its simply that this is nothing more than another live action film with lots and lots of visual effects. Cameron’s dog and pony show shouldn’t overshadow that fact.

    As for WALL-E – you’re right that the MOMENT live actors and animated characters are on screen together there is an uncanny valley effect. While the integration of live action was perhaps not successful for everyone, there’s no arguing they attempted to justify the transition the idea of our society evolving into the blobs living in space with that single shot of the captains’ portraits – it was a brilliant idea to bridge realities despite its level of success with the audience. I don’t think anyone would say WALL-E isn’t an animated film because of the USE of the live action in it, not the amount. Same goes back to AVATAR – the use of CG animation is why it cannot be defined solely as an animated film.

    “…you can’t say that an animated film isn’t constrained to some form of reality, unless it is a purely abstract film, which you can still do with live action. If in the Princess and the Frog the characters suddenly turn into weird masses of ooze and color people would just be confused and hate it because the way the characters are designed we expect them to be confined to some form of reality.”

    I never SAID that animated films aren’t constrained to reality – rather that they receive the benefit of audience IMMEDIATELY entering whatever reality the film defines, even if its people with ridiculously large heads and frail bodies, or blobs of color with black outlines in hyper exaggerated backgrounds. There isn’t the jockeying for audiences to buy into the world that, say, CABINET OF DR. CAGLIARI (or most Tim Burton films) have with its exaggerated sets. I think there’s a level of abstraction in animation that audience immediately accept – that’s one of the medium’s greatest strengths (and something I think Cameron went to great lengths to work around). Even completely abstract live-action films are defined by our idea of reality – in most cases our “tangible” reality – and generally play off of it. THE MATRIX, VIDEODROME and ALTERED STATES may break the laws of reality as we know it, but most of those still justify those breaks of logic with narrative points (drug use in one, a hallicinatory signal in next, and a virtual world with malleable physics in next). In animation, there really isn’t any comparison with our tangible reality to overcome (though the more realistic the animation the more we admire its simulation of real movement while embracing its exaggeration). While you’re right that PRINCESS characters becoming blobs of color would be as weird in an animated film as live action without proper justification in story, is it really that much more of a leap of faith off the bat than a character just becoming a frog in PRINCESS? The audience goes along with that just fine.

    “Yes I may not be able to touch what’s on the screen but if the objects in it exist somewhere in the real world then cinema is tangible. And if there are more tangible things in the film it is live action. If there are less to none it is animation.”

    I think you’re wrong on all counts, but hey, everyone’s got an opinion. If you are convinced that the world on screen is tangible in the sense of OUR REALITY, that’s the goal and end product of a “live-action” feature regardless of its post-production process. Everything in FANTASTIC MR FOX felt PHYSICALLY tangible, but I never thought I’d be able to exist in that world, unlike most of the cinematic reality of AVATAR or LORD OF THE RINGS. ROGER RABBIT presents a cinematic world I believe people could actually live in alongside animated characters who also inhabit it realistically, that’s why it really isn’t an animated film. Neither is AVATAR.

    Besides, “Less to none” is totally vague – are you saying 49% cgi? 10%? 5%? Leaving things open to interpretation while trying to set defined parameters to measure them is exactly the problem in the case of AVATAR.

  • Hal

    TOHOSCOPE – there’s an intersting article in the AVATAR issue of CINEFEX regarding the “key breakthrough in “Avatar” (involving) photographing facial features of the actors with a tiny camera suspended from a skull cap in front of the performer’s face that caught every twitch and muscle movement, all faithfully reproduced onscreen.” The camera created a fish eye effect, rendering roughly 90% of the facial recognition useless (as the face was stretched at the edges) and animators had to use that footage as well as supplementary reference footage from multiple angles to recreate the facial performance in the majority of the shots. I’d imagine the facial animation team high-fived when they realized the job security!

  • Rick

    It is post like this that make me feel privileged to have the mind that I have. Avatar is NOT animation.

  • Brian Brantley

    Amid, he’s not claiming that at all, that there’s no animation in the film.


    “The thing people need to understand is that is not – it’s an animation process, but it’s about taking 100% of what the actors did and preserving that into the final performance of the computer generated character. So this an actor driven process.”

    “The animators have to be very good observers of human behavior. I mean, our system is semi- automated. you know, we put this rig on the actor’s face that records what they’re doing, records it very accurately. But still it takes the human in the loop, the animator, to see when somehow the technology is failing us in capturing that.”

    You guys seem to take offense every time he says “this is not an animated film”. It strikes me as incredibly over sensitive way. You’re also putting words in his mouth, that he never said. He just doesn’t share the opinion that this is an animated film. I don’t see what is wrong with that.

  • TheVok

    captainmurphy says:

    ” Well there was a lot of live action in Mary Poppins, Song of the South, and Who Killed Roger Rabbit.”

    True … and I certainly wouldn’t call Mary Poppins an animated film, would you? … nor Who FRAMED Roger Rabbit.

    Song of the South, maybe. I haven’t seen it since I was a child, so I don’t remember the live-to-animated ratio.