Year of the Fish: An Animated Feature?

Year of the Fish

As the line between live-action and animation blurs, there are more and more controversies about what qualifies as animation. Is A Scanner Darkly animation? Is Beowulf animation? It’s all up for debate. Here’s an easy one though. Is Year of the Fish animation? Most definitely not.

Year of the Fish is an indie film that opens next week in New York and San Francisco. I’m perplexed why the filmmakers are billing the film as an “animated feature film” when there is nothing remotely resembling animation in the trailer (watch it here). Movement that is created in real-time and then digitally-enhanced does not fit the definition of animation, which is generally acknowledged to be movement created frame-by-frame through the manipulation of static images. The confusion with films like A Scanner Darkly and Beowulf stems from the fact that there is possibly enough frame-by-frame enhancement and distortion of the recorded live-action footage to constitute animation.

Year of the Fish, on the other hand, appears to have had minimal work done on it by animation artists. Here’s the description of the “animation process” from the film’s website:

Using Synthetik Studio Artist….Kaplan and his small group of part-time assistants were able to work quickly and efficiently, doing with 3 people what would normally employ 40 full-time animators. A single miniDV live-action frame was upconverted to a high-definition painted frame, and that one frame was interpolated into a technique for converting an entire shot. After rendering these shots, Kaplan and his team were able to go back and refine the images frame by frame, add particle effects, and hand-paint details. This entire animation process was achieved on four Macintosh G5 computers and two Wacom tablets, and took only 6 months.

The process described–which is setting a stylistic filter on one frame per scene and rendering out the rest of the scene with that filter setting–is not animation. The filmmaker does say he went back for frame-by-frame manipulation, but it’s evident from the trailer that they were enhancing the filter effects frame-by-frame, not creating or enhancing movement frame-by-frame. The number of digital crew (3) and amount of time it took to do the “animation” (6 months) also makes clear that this is more a case of digital processing than animation.

In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has qualified films like Waking Life and Beowulf for Oscar consideration in the animated feature category. It’s a slippery slope that has now opened the doors wide open for experimental live-action films like Year of the Fish to claim that they are animated.


  • Rachel Rauch

    At this rate, couldn’t any film with CGI or special effects be considered “animated?” Harry Potter, all the super hero movies . . . heck, even Mamma Mia included “digital effects.”

    First the powers that be shove animation into its own little pigeon hole (“best animated feature” . . . gee thanks) and now they’re letting stuff like this bleed into the small niche they’ve allowed us. Sad sad sad.

  • Saturnome

    I think something visual got to be “crafted” by man to be animation. If they just adjust something made by a computer, that’s more like special effects. To me rotoscope is animation, but I’m not so sure about motion capture things (though I don’t know much about it, you still sculpt a character).

    This is not animation, sure.

  • http://alonefancryinginthewilderness.wordpress.com Mark Morgan

    I don’t really care about this. People who love animation will see this turkey coming a mile away, and people who don’t, if they like it, might come away considering that animation is more tha kids stuff (even though Ralph Bakshi already proved that in the late 60′s.)

    As for the Academy Award Nomination … look, not to sound negative, but who the heck cares anyway? The Academy’s been a joke for years now. Most of the films they pick for Best Picture are all alike in mood and tone. Those guys don’t pick the best films, they pick (arguably) the best ones that fit into a certain mold.

    I know this show gets blasted a lot on the Brew, but in terms of animation, the only awards I care about are the Annies. I realize all of us are not always happy with their picks, but all the same, at least the people who work there are familiar with animation and know a thing or two about it.

    The Academy can go to cartoon hell along with Yosemite Sam for all I care. As for ‘Year of the Fish’, I think I’m actually more excited about ‘Space Chimps’ than I am that one, and I’ve seen ‘Space Chimps’ and I’ll tell you, my excitement numeral for that film has a minus sign in front of it.

  • Dave

    Saw this and not sure why the filmmaker bothered with the special efx. It just distracted from the story of what is an ok independent feature film.

  • Charles

    “Animation” process? Slapping filters onto frames isn’t animation. They’re labeling movies as animation willy nilly now.

  • Wes

    I don’t know, it looks like one of After Effects “Paint” or “Brush Strokes” filters to me. It’s one of those effects you try the first night you get the software, but never dream of actually using on real project.

  • Chuck R.

    “At this rate, couldn’t any film with CGI or special effects be considered “animated?”

    That’s another issue altogether. The gorilla effects in King Kong are definitely animated (mocap use notwithstanding). The film is considered “live action” because most of what you see is live action (although I’d love to know the exact ratio.)

    This film seems to employ one simple technique throughout, as does “Waking Life”. The question concerns how much creative manipulation there needs to be to make it animation. I’ll leave definitions up to the people who need legalisms in order to present awards. I’m nuts about animation and I just can’t get excited about this, nor the techniques used in “Waking Life”, nor the high-contrast cheats used by Bakshi in “Lord of the Rings”.

  • matt

    Maybe it’s because “In fabulous Photoshop-vision” isn’t very catchy?

    Or “Fabulous Filter-rama”? ;)

    In retrospect and following what Chuck R. said, it’s funny that the guys at ILM who did Episode 1 jokingly referred to it as “the animated movie”. The only reason people don’t think of it that way is because it didn’t look as cartoony as say, Clone Wars. And because there were a few live actors and partial sets in amongst the 2000 vfx shots. It had more animation than some ‘animated’ movies though! Not talking general movie quality, obviously.

    P.S. There would have been even LESS physical set if Liam Neeson wasn’t so tall. Truth.

  • http://rohitiyer.blogspot.com Rohit Iyer

    I’m with Amid on this. Calling the film animation is a stretch. And like Dave said, after seeing the trailer, I was wondering why it wasn’t just a normal live-action film.

  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    That looks horrific. It’s like those little linking sections in episodes of Becker. And about as high quality. Slapping on an After Effects filter does not make it animation, or visually appealling for that matter.

    So, no, it’s not animation.

    It’s just cack.

  • Vintage Season

    Well, I just watched as much of the trailer as I could stomach (about 60%, from the progress bar) and frankly, it’s fairly easy to see why they went with a rotoscoped approach… since it helps to disguise the fact that they have basically just used a commercial-grade digital video camera with ineffective lighting, poor costumes and insufficiently-trained actors/actresses.

    What would have helped? Might have been more convincing as animation if, while they did all that post-processing, they also dropped every third frame and did some sort of frame-blending. Too many of the scenes I saw have that “daytime TV” appearance.

    To be fair though, as I said I was only able to stomach ~60% of the trailer. The actual film MIGHT be better.

  • Gobo

    Mark: You can be as cynical as you want about the Oscars, but seriously, be realistic. The Academy Awards have massive clout in the industry and are known worldwide as THE awards ceremony for the art of filmmaking. Yes, they tend to give the big awards to a certain style of film… but this is the same Academy that nominated Beauty & the Beast for Best Film and gave Lord of the Rings more Oscars than any other film in history.

    As ghettoized as the Best Animated Film category is, it’s still important to consider what constitutes an ‘animated film’ for that award.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    “Using Synthetik Studio Artist, a digital painting software based on cognitive neuroscience studies into the nature of human visual perception,”

    The person who wrote this (probably the director of the film) is an idiot.
    The same thing can be achieved on this very laptop in After Effects, a digital software based on making things look fancy with a low budget.

  • Chris Webb

    I think these independent film makers are using the word animation as a sales hook. They know that what they did is not REALLY animation. They are co-opting the word for their own purposes.

    I have used this software. Just like these guys, I thought I could make a cartoon with filters and tricks. But I saw one of Jerry’s showings of “The Worst Cartoons Ever” where he played an example of a 60′s live action video that had been heavily processed. His comment stuck in my mind: “It’s amazing the lengths that people will go to to NOT animate.” I realized he was right, so I grabbed a pencil, paper, and lightboard and haven’t looked back since.

    Steve Worth had a good idea – the animation community should do more to educate the public about what animation REALLY is.

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    Did I read that correctly? Three people and six months? I wonder what type of energy drink allows people to create feature animation that fast… The rotoscope Korean film Life is Cool took 140 animators and two years…

  • http://www.kohrtoons.com Rob K.

    It looks like something out of a Photoshop 101 filters manual. Its interesting to look at in small doses but not as a film. I think that this underscores the idea that there should be a reason behind choosing animation as a media; animation isn’t something you just toss onto a live action film.

  • http://www.alanrhodes.com protogenes

    Looks like it was made by people who have just discovered Photoshop filters.

  • BQ

    Ugh!
    Just plain old After Effects filters that only an amateur would use and think it’s cool.

  • http://stovepipedotnet.blogspot.com/ J. Michael Stovall

    I’m concerned that people don’t think that A Scanner Darkly is anything but an animated movie. It’s completely hand made, one frame at a time. Sure we rotoscoped the actors, but animators have been doing that since Snow White. I know this because I worked on Scanner for eight months. There is some misinformation out there that we used “filters” on the video, completely untrue. There is not a single frame of that film that was not drawn by an animator, not one. Sure some of it looks real, especially some backgrounds, but that just shows the talent of the artists. And we took a lot of creative license with the video also, it’s not a straight copy at all. Clothes and backgrounds were changed or added, and the animators working on the actors had model sheets to abide by just like any other production. The Color Engine software is really just Photoshop that can animate, the video was on the bottom (and it wasn’t even very high res to begin with) and we drew on multiple layers above. Color Engine would let you tween shapes to a certain extent, not just move them in space, but so does Flash and ToonBoom, are those considered unfair cheats in those productions? I don’t think so. I (along with the 50+ other animators on Scanner ) would be happy to answer any questions readers of this blog might have about the production.

  • TomTom

    This look only makes me feel that they are trying to hide some flaws in the quality of production, since it adds nothing to the film.

  • http://thelink.concordia.ca Christopher Olson

    Did my eyes deceive me, or was the ending tag line, “A modern american fairy tale, with more than one HAPPY ENDING.”

    Could they be insinuating something?

  • http://vincemusacchia.blogspot.com Vince Musacchia

    Animation?
    No. More like augmentation.

  • http://tstazer.www4.50megs.com tom stazer

    Oh, good greif. Every 8 year old has a watercolor filter. This is an embarrassment. If this is animation, then so is every low res cell phone video ever shot, or any channel with bad reception. The fact that the image has been degraded to blobs does not even qualify as interesting, much less animation!!!

  • http://www.timothyhodge.com Tim Hodge

    So, it’s “Cinderella” set in a massage parlor. Does the fact that it’s a fairy tale push it into the world of animation? Because the look of it can be achieved in iMovie with the Watercolor filter.
    Like all of us, I’m not trying to dismiss the merits of the storytelling based on the art direction. It looks like a film I’d like to see, I am intrigued by the visual effects. But yes, the qualifications that make a film ‘animated’ need to be defined and protected, especially when it comes to award categories.
    Also, the story also seems influenced by “Yeh-Shen”. It’s an ancient Chinese tale that’s like Cinderella, but predates it by about 1000 years. In in, the girl talks to a fish instead of a Fairy Godmother.

  • http://torontoanimation.blogspot.com TempleDog

    Hey, I can batch process an image sequence with the Posterize filter in Pshop…I can has Oscar?

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    I did stuff like this 11 years ago with Debabelizer and Impressionist. I didn’t think it was a very useful technique.

    There are better filters to make stuff look “animated”, as seen here:
    TOON TEST 1

    TOON TEST 2

    Tuh duh buh duh buh test

  • Yoon

    It sounds like what they did amounts to nothing more than digital color timing, which doesn’t equal animation.

  • AztecChihuahua

    If the criteria for determing animation is the scale of animation or CGI effects used, then the Transformer movie also qualifies as animation. I don’t buy that. To me, animation is still the medium in which hand-drawn or computer-made pictures are used to produce the look of a smooth, film-like movie.

    > Sure we rotoscoped the actors

    Here is the problem. This is why the Scanner is not animation. You can add any amount of effects on top, but the end result is that you’re just tampering with a traditionally acted and filmed movie. In effect, it’s really nothing than going into post-filming special effects overdrive – I don’t see how that can qualify as animation at all, regardless of how much animation methods played a part in the visual processing of the movie.

  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    Mr. Stovall, thanks for coming on and letting us know more about A Scanner Darkly.

    Whatever about this filtered thing (whatever it is), I would certainly consider rotoscoped animation to be animation. I worked on a rotoscoped short many years ago and loved the experience. It’s a whole different thing, trying to achieve a whole different thing and I think it has its own value and worth when applied to the right idea.

    Was the Color Engine software the same one used for Waking Life?

  • http://www.spitandspite.com SpitAndSpite

    Animation? Obviously not, no need for a monologue on that but I would like to point out the director, probably knowing that “up-rezing” straight miniDV would look like crap on the big screen, he needed a workaround.

    Good try. I think he shamelessly failed in promoting this as animated film but hey, at least he succeeded in finishing a feature length film right? That’s something.

    I’m curious, can he justify (or bullshit his way to) the reasoning that led him to make such a dramatic visual approach to this film? Or is he just honest about trying to package a film?

  • http://www.austinartist.blogspot.com Aaron Sacco

    I think it is a laughable mistake to lump A Scanner Darkly (2D animation) in with CG movies – that are not hand painted and do not carry the idiosyncrasies and personal touches of the artists that worked on them. I think it is quite obvious to the discerning eye that Scanner was not generated by a filter, but painstakingly hand drawn and painted. No filter could make them look better, as evident by Year Of The Fish. As an artist who worked on A Scanner Darkly I can say first hand that our movie looks so good because of the hugely talented artists that took bad source video and made a beautiful, edgy animated feature.
    If you think what we did was easy, I invite you to read my article at http://www.layersmagazine.com/imitating-a-scanner-darkly.html and try it yourself.

  • Dan

    pretty sure we’re not going to have to worry about this movie being nominated for an academy award…

  • http://stovepipedotnet.blogspot.com/ J. Michael Stovall

    “Here is the problem. This is why the Scanner is not animation. You can add any amount of effects on top, but the end result is that you’re just tampering with a traditionally acted and filmed movie.”

    But we didn’t tamper with it, the footage as filmed does not exist…at all… in the finished movie. There is not a single pixel of what was filmed, it has been completely redrawn, by hand, a frame at a time and the video layer deleted. It most certainly is animation in any definition of the word.

  • Brad

    I don’t even *need* to watch the trailer to see that they simply put the equivalent of “smart blur” in Photoshop on the whole thing.

    I’d bet $100 that they didn’t even intend to do it this way, initially. Using MiniDV tape for a feature production has a limited, low-budget quality to it and when you’re faced with that – you do the same thing you do with a low res JPEG: remove the artifacts by putting an artsy filter over it.

    Stupid. No animation whatsoever.

  • http://www.csjennings.com Christopher Jennings

    Bitter Animator, yep. Color Engine is the same software used for Waking Life. (I, also, was an animator on Scanner.)

    It’s a tricky one, I’ll agree. I specialized in illustration before coming onto Scanner. I had a working knowledge of animation, and when the project was over, I understood the nuts and bolts of it. I refer to myself as a “rotoscoper” but Mike’s right, every frame of the movie is hand drawn. (Mike’s right about everything he said.) He’s also right in saying that there is a lot that we drew straight out, that was not in the film, that fits the definition of animation straight up.

    One of the primary reasons for going for this technology for the film is the Scramble Suits. As PKD described them in the book, they were a challenge for a lot of technologies. If anything makes the argument for Scanner as an animated film, these do. The suits are made up of multiple layers of animated threads. Faces and clothing not on the film.

    Look, I’ve seen commercials and illustrations where they tried to emulate what was done on Scanner with a computer filter and I haven’t seen anything that comes close. As a team lead, I was fully aware of the things that a computer can’t do, that only a human can. The studio wanted us to reduce the “individual artist’s style,” so we didn’t get the varied look of “Waking Life.” I know why they did that, shooting for a wider release we needed to fit into the “traditional” paradigm, but we missed out on some really beautiful work (that was redrawn). Also, we had a scores of artists try out for this film, and lots of them didn’t make it. The technique takes a craftsman, an artist, and someone who has a keen understanding of movement.

  • Danny S

    let’s avoid the baseless opinion that rotoscoping is not animation. please, AztecChihuahua, give us a list of your qualifying “animated” films that are in no way touched by rotoscoping or other direct referencing techniques. you might be surprised if you do some research into your beloved, purely hand-made films. what about photographic textures? motion-captured or -derived movement? underlying visual reference for lip and mouth positioning? photo reference for facial models? this gets into semantic breakdown and will probably go nowhere in this discussion.

  • mel

    ” To me, animation is still the medium in which hand-drawn or computer-made pictures are used to produce the look of a smooth, film-like movie.”

    Isn’t that what Scanner is?

  • Chris Webb

    If this film maker were smart he’d hire a bunch of people to picket his screenings saying it’s not animation. He could generate a little controversy/publicity for his film.

  • http://www.nranimation.com James Nethery

    I looked at the Year of the Fish trailer… I think it looks like an interesting effect but it is certainly cannot be considered animation… heck it can’t even truly be considered Rotoscoping.

    The difference between Year of the Fish and a film like A Scanner Darkly or Waking Life is that there was was actual frame-by-frame drawing involved in Scanner and Year of the Fish (from what I can put together) is a filter effect. I can literally get almost the exact same effect as Fish from my “watercolor” filter in iMovie.

    While I don’t really consider rotoscoping or motion capture animation unless it’s majorly tweaked and not just copied frame by frame (ie Titan A.E. for roto or Peter Jackson’s King Kong or Gollum for mocap), Scanner is MUCH closer to true animation then Fish is.

  • sean w.

    as an animator, i’m insulted that this being called ‘animation’ by the film makers.

    they clearly have not blurred/filtered the line enough between animation and a post production process.

  • slowtiger

    Welcome to the 2008 Paralympics of Filmmaking. Right now we’re at the start of the 90 minutes “filming without using a camera”, right next to the “I touched every single frame” competition. Yesterday we had the Actors fights in all weight classes, from 0 kg (complete CGI) to 50 kg (Motion Capture) to Heavyweight (live action in real rain). Tomorrow we’ll see the Processed Tweening vs Handdrawn team challenge. As you know, all athletes will carry an individual handicap depending on the percentage of computer usage …

    Seriously, who cares about how a film was made as long as it’s a good film? We don’t need to discuss in length what constitutes “animation”. We should concentrate on good filmmaking, whatever that is. And one point of filmmaking will always be the choice of the right technique for a certain story or concept.

    “A Scanner Darkly” done in rotoscope was an acceptable choice for that story, but it didn’t make it a better film, I’m sorry. And it wasn’t the only choice for that, either. I had the feeling that the potential of contemporary, software-assisted rotoscoping was wasted in that film. This doesn’t diminish the work of all involved, but I’d like to claim another rule: It doesn’t make a better film if the amount of work gets bigger.

  • Joep

    Forget the “animation”, how did they get any Asian actor to appear in this degrading crap? I hope the Asian community gets really mad about this.

  • http://stovepipedotnet.blogspot.com/ J. Michael Stovall

    I don’t have any problem with your comments Slowtiger, but I’m pretty sure you are missing the point of this thread. Not a single poster here said Scanner was a great movie, we didn’t say how we felt about it at all. All we are discussing here is the whether it is considered animation. And I’m not here to discuss the merits of whether this was the best technique to tell the story, I’m just presenting the facts of HOW it was made and WHY I consider it animation. You are the one that played the quality card.

    “We don’t need to discuss in length what constitutes “animation”. We should concentrate on good filmmaking, whatever that is. ”

    Well I’m pretty sure that is the whole reason Amid started this thread. So lets save the “didn’t make it a better film” debate for another thread, ’cause I’ll probably agree with you there anyway. :)

  • http://www.lorinwood.com Lorin Wood

    I thought I’d jump in on this discussion. I too was an animator on ‘A Scanner Darkly’; my area was the scramble suit animation segments, which required 100% imagination from myself and our team with no augmentation to the actors themselves. The footage was reference for movement for our purely original interpretations…animation, if you will.

    Bottom line is this: I work in live-action film production and pre-visualization and I know what delineates a live action and animated project…one has live actors and the other is completely synthetic. ‘Scanner’ was completely synthetic. Bottom line. It was animation. In this vein, the live action was interpreted by the individual animator, so that further removes the film from reality.

    Frankly, I think this discussion has wrapped itself around a silly axel. I don’t see the benefit to the filmmaking/artistic community. I agree with the above remark…it’s all about the story…animation, live action, vfx is simply a tool which gets FAR too much attention.

  • tgentry

    So basically they have after effects and a cheesy filter. Amazing how much they pat themselves on the back for that.

  • Amadee Van Beuren

    It’s time someone rotoscoped stop-motion clay. The world is waiting.

  • Openface

    “A Scanner Darkly” done in rotoscope was an acceptable choice for that story, but it didn’t make it a better film, I’m sorry.”

    Have you even seen it!? It’s an essential aspect to the movie.

  • Ryan Parker

    Wow, I just had to get in on this one… What’s up Topher, Stovall and Ren! Mad props to you guys sticking up for “our” little movie. Screw all the naysayers out there. A Scanner Darkly had BALLS and every day we get deeper and deeper into the emerging police state it’ll only get more prophetic. And as far as whether or not ASD can be considered animation or not I’d like to propose this question: can digital puppetry be considered animation? Cuz if it ain’t then there’s a bunch of academy awards that need to be returned… BOOYAH!! Oh yeah, by the way if any of ya’ll saw how absolutely crappy the footage we had to work with on ASD you’d appreciate how much work (and skill) was put into that movie.

  • Garth

    Well by next year probably they’ll be playing movies in ‘Holodecks’ and anything on a 2D monitor or projection will just be considered animated as a slang for unrealistic or improbable.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    IF BACK TO THE INKWELL was animation, A SCANNER DARKLY is animation.

    What bugs me about Color Engine’s interpolated rotoscoping is the way it oddly alters the distance, during a sequence, between features whose relationship should be fixed by rigid bone. When a character’s eyes drift farther apart and closer together it looks really messed up. Held cels in standard 2D animation, and traditional non-interpolated roto, avoid this freaky “swimming”.

    Speaking of freaky, here’s China’s first, largely-rotoscoped, animated feature from 1941:
    Princess Iron Fan (Tien Shan Gong Zhu) (1941)
    It’s a free download.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    I agree with “Openface”.

    The rotoscopy is integral to “A Scanner Darkly”. It’s a remarkable piece of work which deserves nothing but acclaim.

    As flawed as it may be I would watch 10 “flawed” films like it, before 1 “perfect” kiddie picture by the Disney studio.

    As for the Year of Fish, sure it’s a special effects piece. The question remains: do the special effects make it more or less interesting? Probably more.

    Of course it’s not “animation” there’s no question of that. It’s hardly even “motion graphics”.

    The fetishists of our industry falsely apply values to those terms. “Animation” does not equal “good”, it’s a value neutral term.

  • http://www.visobria.com Michael Veroni

    Just so it’s out of the way, I was also an artist on Scanner.

    When we were all working on Scanner you could often hear people make those “photoshop filter” comments during the trailer, on message board, etc. I still frequently hear this snipe just when walking around the aisles of DVD’s at various stores. I think it’s an easy card to play for anyone uneducated on the process or the thought involved, and that’s understandable. Some of the previous posters, whom I consider friends and peers, have already explained some of the nuances of what went into the effort. So, thanks guys, for at least getting that out there in some capacity.

    Perhaps I’m naturally biased, but I feel as though we did more than “enhance” and “manipulate” or “distort” the footage. We evolved it and resuscitated the shit out of it. We exaggerated life and toyed with it. To say the opposite really demeans the work we all slaved on for a long time, work we did with pride and conviction. It’s unfortunate some of you will never know what we had to work with, but I’m sure if we could have showed the public in some capacity you’d understand the frustrations expressed here. The people’s perception of just filter-izing some footage is just ignorance that can’t be completely resolved by the mere movie’s existence. There are embellishments and considerations taken for every shot in that movie, for good or for bad. Coloring of sets, wardrobe, and entire lighting schemes were at the whim of the animators and leads. None of that existed in the film, at least not anything you’d consider aesthetically pleasing or useable. Not to mention the attention paid to techniques for how to accentuate motion or actor performance, camera nuance, etc. There are chunks of the film where the results are directly linked to deliberate skills of the artists working on them, many of whom had animation background and were hired for that particular reason. This knowledge was brought into the production with the intent of expressing the filmed footage more creatively. If that’s not considered a welcome tangent for the animation world, then I would like to stand in disagreement.

  • A Longtime Observer

    Oookay, I wouldn’t call this Photoshop. I’m not seeing it.

    That being said, if they were going for a painterly movie, they should have spent much more time on this. The only shots I saw that had the quality the website mentioned were the city streets and one crowd shot. Everything else looked like CG rotoscoping–very light rotoscoping. That inconsistency doesn’t make the film professional looking, in my opinion.

    Also, there is no way to describe the technique (decision) the director decided. What would YOU call it? Roto isn’t quite right; using the odd description(s) by the crew won’t roll with audiences; digital processing? Maybe. “Animation” is a mainstream term for audience and media so it was used. It will be shot down at worst and confusing at best.

  • http://www.lorinwood.com Lorin Wood

    Aaron, Ryan, Michael, Michael, Chris! Word up my ani-homies?

  • http://johnny.persistentperil.net Johnny

    From the website:
    ……………………………

    YEAR OF THE FISH was the recipient of a 2005 Annenberg Fellowship, which provides financial, business and creative support to a new generation of film artists. The Sundance Institute also sponsored a reading of the script at Playwright’s Horizons in New York City. On the strength of his screenplay and a short animation sample, Kaplan was able to attract the participation of producer Rocco Caruso (“Judy Berlin”) and executive producer Janet Yang (“Joy Luck Club”). The private equity for the low-budget film quickly followed suit.
    ……………………………

    It seems quite obvious to me that all this hoopla and wording used to describe this movie and the ‘animation’ technique used is simply a necessity in order for the director to keep up the pretence that the investors of this film actually paid for something. Seriously, anyone with a copy of After Effects and some willing friends could have made this for next to nothing.

    To my eyes the shot composition isn’t very interesting, neither is the lighting, or the use of colour. This is before the filter has been added, so without it, it looks like a very poorly made and cheap looking live action film.

  • Badjoojoo

    Rotoscoping of any kind (be it hand drawn, digital, or motion capture) is not animation, it’s a special effect. Special effects can be applied to either live action or animated films, but rotoscoping in and of itself should not be called animation. I’ve got nothing against special effects in movies, just don’t call it animation.

  • slowtiger

    Yes, I saw “Scanner” in its entirety. At a festival, since it didn’t get theatrical release in Germany. I’d file it under “interesting failure”, and this should be entirely credited to the director, not to anyone else working on it. From my own experience I know how much work it must have been, done by hand, frame by frame mostly. So if “frame by frame” is a criteria, then rotoscopy can be called animation.

    But still I say the director didn’t know what to do with it.

  • Rachel Rauch

    “it’s all about the story…animation, live action, vfx is simply a tool which gets FAR too much attention.”

    Flash is just a tool. Maya is just a tool. Even RenderMan is just a tool. Animation, however, is art . . . and I would venture to guess a good number of people here feel that way.

    Of course story is incredibly important but to call animation “simply a tool” is just incomprehensible to me (in fact the same goes for live action and vfx–people spend a lifetime honing their skills in those areas as well).

    The way a film is animated IS part of its story, and–I would argue–can change the mood and tone of a film and affect the audience’s willingness to believe whatever tale is being told.

    Does anyone really think Pixar’s films–which most would agree have extremely strong and engaging stories–would be as highly lauded and popular if the animation was shoddy–or for that matter even simply “good?” The people that work on those films dedicate so much time and creative energy to getting a coat of blue fur to move just right or a simple piece of bread to practically pop off the screen, and that–along with the work of every other animator out there pouring their heart in producing something with a heart–is a beautiful thing.

    If you ask me, I don’t think animation gets ENOUGH attention from the world at large.

  • amid

    Just wanted to thank all of the Scanner Darkly artists who jumped onto this thread to discuss their work. The descriptions of your production process on that film are very helpful and distinguish what actual rotoscoped animation is versus what this filmmaker is claiming it to be.

    For the record, as far as I’m concerned, A Scanner Darkly certainly fits the definition of an animated film.

  • Aztec_Chihuahua

    > Isn’t that what Scanner is?

    No, it isn’t. Because if you lump Scanner in that category, then any other movie could also qualify as animation, since even traditional film making is nothing more than shots, or frames, shown in cohesion as moving pictures.

  • mel

    “To me, animation is still the medium in which hand-drawn or computer-made pictures are used to produce the look of a smooth, film-like movie”

    But….Scanner WAS hand drawn to produce a smooth movie like film. You gave your definition yourself and technically Scanner falls under your animation umbrella. You said nothing about not allowing existing footage to have to have been the base for said hand drawn film.
    Also other traditional films aren’t claiming hand drawn frames so im sort of confused as to why that was brought up :)

  • philippe

    Rotoscope or filtering is relying on a filmed structure that is often enslaving to the animators. Individual style or sensibility is not welcomed for a feature that must retain the same look thru the distance. It is a pity, i prefer animated films where life was more important than respecting modelsheets/structures. Once the animators are cornered by the ratio of mickey’s ears, the animator’s liberty is shrunk. (I wonder if the loss of life of Mickey Mouse is not directly linked with the model-sheet/tie-in/logo aspect that killed the possibility of transformation that is essential to the medium). That can be very frustrating for animators. How do the animators that worked on A scanner’s Darkly feel about that?

  • Gobo

    If rotoscoping “of any kind” isn’t animation, then the film world will be sad to see the following movies relabeled “special effects movies” instead of “animated films”:
    - The entire Alice series by Walt Disney
    - Cinderella
    - American Pop
    - Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings
    - Bluth’s Anastasia

    … among many others. “Scanner Darkly” is animation; “Year of the Fish” is not.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    I think many of you guys should stick to drawing or computing and leave alone the theorizing on what “animation” is.

  • http://www.nickderington.com Nicky D

    The movie above looks like piece of crap. Crappy filter job placed onto a poor made film in an effort to hide its mediocrity.

    The “is rotoscoping animation” discussion is fun though.

    Both “rotoscope” and “animation” carry a LOT of emotional baggage for people in this industry and many of the basic concepts of animation and filmmaking get forgotten quickly.

    I think Frank and Ollie’s ‘Illusion of Life’ made a good point by saying that the word “animate” does not mean to simply make something move but to “give life”.

    That idea get troublesome actual. I’d say that that it’s not only the “animator” that gives life to a character in MOST animated films.

    Voice actors, layout artists, character designers, model builders, art directors, script writer, and the nuts and bolts “animator” are all responsible for giving life to the invented character in the narrative.

    The bigger, weirder and more interesting challenge becomes trying to say who on a theoretical level ISN’T an animator in just about any film according to the Frank and Ollie idea!

    That being said the normally accepted profession of “Animator” is a crazy hard job that takes a lot of smarts, talent, effort and concentration to do well and Animators are extremely defensive of the term “animate” because of it. Deservedly so even. What a true blue animator does is indeed a little slice of magic.

    However, I feel that imbuing life into characters aka “animating” expands out further than what your classically trained “Animator” does. The “rotoscoping isn’t animation” argument can go this way- since you are tracing over a pre-recorded action, you are not giving the character “life”, the filmed actor is.

    With that line of logic, is Japanese animation more “animated” because their animators don’t rely on pre-recorded dialogue to give them timing cues? Lipsynch is kinda like audio-rotoscoping in a lot of ways… Much of the life you are giving your character has been pre-defined by an actors recorded performance. All of a sudden all dialogue driven American cartoons can’t be called “animation” since a real life actor gave it it’s first spark of life.

    “Animation” is a slippery word we often define with our gut instead of our head. Language is falling far behind where we are at artistically. I think we simply need new words.

    The days when you could easily say “this is an animated film and that is not” are long gone and one could EASILY argue that they were never here to begin with. People still argue as to what should be considereed the first feature length animated film!

    It’s now easier than ever for film makers of every skill level and stylistic preference to control, manipulate and influence the characters, worlds, and ideas found their films and I’ll be damned is that is not what truly defines the idea of “animation”.

  • http://johnny.persistentperil.net Johnny

    Live action footage with a filter applied is not animation. Simple.

  • philippe

    To richard O’Connor,
    I think theory and action can alternate and i feel it enlarges the scope of the work. If theory was at work at early stages (and at best, at all stages) of a lot of films we would have much beter productions around.

  • albert

    New York Times
    August 29, 2008
    A Chinatown Fairy Tale

    By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
    An adult fable told with childlike simplicity, “Year of the Fish” updates an ancient Chinese version of the “Cinderella” story with imagination, charm and just the right amount of sweetness.

    Our put-upon heroine is Ye Xian (An Nguyen), a mousy naïf whose new job at a sleazy massage parlor promises happy endings — for the clients, at least. When she balks at fulfilling her job description, Ye Xian is demoted to cleaning toilets and cooking meals for the parlor’s wicked madam, (Tsai Chin), and grasping employees. Little does she know that an enchanted fish, a witchy soothsayer and a handsome musician are about to save her from her servitude.

    Filmed in New York’s Chinatown using a digital variation on the animation technique known as rotoscoping, “Year of the Fish” straddles the wavering line between reality and its simulation with pleasing calm. Instead of the pulsing images of the Richard Linklater films “A Scanner Darkly” and “Waking Life,” you have a more subdued, mellow style that’s easier on the eyes and the equilibrium. And the movie’s smudged skylines and pearly-pastel streets do much to soften the story’s sweatshop-and-slavery grittiness.

    Written and directed by David Kaplan, “Year of the Fish” packs more sadness than the familiar fairy tale but offers its own fantastical delights. Ye Xian’s party dress, made of teardrops, suits her — and her story — perfectly.