How Animated Are the Animation Oscar Nominees?

The Oscar nominations from yesterday are stirring a lot of controversy in the animation world: the animated shorts for how uniformly mediocre the selections were (a topic for another time) and the features for whether the films are even animated. That’s because two of the three feature nominees – MONSTER HOUSE and HAPPY FEET – use performance- and motion-capture techniques, which means that the acting performances aren’t created frame-by-frame by animators, but are based on live-action performances which are subsequently enhanced by digital artists.

CG animator Keith Lango writes on his blog:

Only one of those three films used actual animation as the foundation for the character performances. The other two films captured live motion for the primary core act of imbuing the illusion of life to the puppets. When it comes to performance they have more in common with The Muppets Take Manhattan than they do with The Lion King. But it’s too much bother to worry about that. Nobody’s keeping score anyhow, so let’s just call it all “animation” and be done with it. And so we are witnessing the end game of the slow redefinition of terms.

Animation directors Mark Mayerson and Michael Sporn offer similar thoughts on their blogs about whether these films deserve the animation label. While I tend to have a pretty broad definition of animation and personally won’t label these films as not animated, when two of the three films in the animation category are contested like this, it’s probably time to have a debate about exactly what does and doesn’t qualify as animation. As it stands, it’s fairly silly (not to mention, demeaning to the art form) to have an animated film like CARS competing against two films whose character peformances were created by live-action actors.