Saturday, June 13, 2009

I aint afraid o' no Mo-Cap!

This is a repost of a myspace blog I wrote a little over a year ago. I think it's still relevant today...

So I recently visited ILM in San Francisco where several of my friends from CalArts work as 3D animators. I heard from them and have been hearing a general buzz lately that Mo-Cap is coming and we should all be afraid. Very very afraid. For those of you who don't know, Mo-Cap is a fairly new technique that blends live performance with animation. It's where an actor wears a body suit with sensors on it that are picked up by a computer that translates the actors movements in to 3D character animation. Smeagol aka Gollum was made this way in the Lord of the Rings. King Kong was done that way in his most recent incarnation, and the movies "Polar Express" and "Happy Feet" were done with Mo-Cap as well. This is something that has a lot of animators grousing. "It will take work away from us" they say. 'It looks too literal" they say...and they may have a point but you know what? I'm not joining the bandwagon on this one. Not this time. I already had this freak out Ten years ago with CG and it cost my career at least five years. I grew up wanting to do classical 2D animation and Claymation working on characters like Bugs Bunny, Popeye,Peter Pan and the California Raisins. 2D is what I got my first pro experience in and that's what I was trained in at CalArts. All the time I was there though, 2D traditional animation work existed less and less in the world and there was more and more of a demand for 3D CG animation. I TRIED to learn Maya and had a little bit of pro experience working in 3D studio max but ultimately the 3D stuff just didn't do it for me the way 2D cartoons did. I didn't become an animator to make video games, special effects or motion graphics. I became an animator because I wanted to make cartoons. The thing I loved the most about doing cartoon animation is that it was a way to act with my drawings. I wasn't just drawing I was performing. As though on stage. There was plenty of room and opportunity to improvise or "riff". If I wanted to squash the character flat or stretch him out infinitely, all I had to do was draw it. If I wanted to do that in CG, I would have to go through a whole drawn out beurocracy in the computer program and "get the computer's permission" to do these things first. That just didn't sit right with me. What I like about Mo-Cap or "performance animation" as it's called, is that you CAN improvise (if you're the guy in the suit or the puppeteer) . It's another way of performing which as I said is why I got in to animation in the first place. When I was a little kid I actually wanted to BE a cartoon character when I grew up. Maybe with Mo-Cap I will get to. As for the animators who point to Polar Express or Beowulf's literal looking crappiness, I agree. But the art form is in it's infancy. There's still a lot of room for what can be done with it. So I learned my lesson from freaking out about CG. I don't see Mo-Cap as something that will take creative opportunities away from me. I embrace it as something I can really sink my teeth in to. As someone who has had experience with acting, animation and puppetry it seems like the best way to combine all the mediums I love in to one. Part of my fear of and frustration with CG back in the days(mid to late 90's) was that 3D programs were too expensive to buy and not many people were around who could teach me how to use them anyway. Nowadays that has changed and anyone can buy a 3D program fairly cheaply and learn them fairly quickly. I predict that Mo-Cap programs and rigs will be just as easily available in the next few years and it will be just another tool that any artist can use. In the mean time, I look forward to having an opportunity to learn Mo-Cap, work with it and really see where I can take it. So take it from me my fellow animators, don't make the same mistake I did. Don't fear the new. Embrace it. Even if Beowulf does look like shit.