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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Notion Capture

I've not posted for a while...if anyone's still reading, I've got some more 'professional' news. I said I wouldn't do it after being trolled a few weeks ago. So I lied.

A group of students showed me the latest entry in the Let's-Eliminate-the-Animator Sweepstakes. The site is unapologetic, and blatant in its intent: the site announces that it is "Stealing from the Masters."

What masters, exactly? Why, the cartoonists who made such films as PINOCCHIO. Why, precisely, are these cartoon animators of interest to the new computer animation producers?
In the words of the site, they "use traditional animation principles and cartoon physics" and this is "more compelling than traditional motion capture".
Why bother to learn how to animate by yourself, when you can simply motion capture Jiminy Cricket and turn him into something else?

Leastaways, you can motion capture his hat. The inventors have been able only to work, so far, with inorganic shapes (including the broom from FANTASIA'S Sorceror's Apprentice sequence).

There are quicktime videos on the site explaining how they locate points on Jiminy's hat for this process.

There are a few problems with this system, however.
When he animated the scene in question, Ward Kimball did not draw the entire Cricket hat. He would have constructed it on his roughs, but the cleanup drawings used for the final film are only partial drawings of the hat. It does not resemble a three dimensional hat; only the idea of one. The action on the hat is not realistic; it 'pops' frequently from one extreme to another rather than smoothly transitioning as Jiminy runs and shakes his head.

The computer system was used to capture only the portions of the hat that show onscreen. In other words, the curve formed by the brim and opening of the hat is not constructed in 3D by the program; they only grabbed outlines. The 'motion capture' of the hat that results resembles a floppy bicuspid. It has a blocky shape with two points, rather than consisting of a cylinder based on a torus (if I was managing a computer 'grab' program, I'd make sure that I was using primitives in the construction.)

Well, when a witch's hat is assembled using the 'point system' for replacement, and placed on Jiminy's head instead of his usual top hat, the resultant 'cartoonmotioncaptured' action results in extremely poorly analyzed animation. The brim is illogically placed and appears to be flapping up and down rather than maintaining a consistent shape.

I think there is also a good reason why they did not try to motioncapture Jiminy's face or body, concentrating solely on the hat.

Cartoon animators do not make logical or truly three dimensional drawings. The illusion of the third dimension is created by fourth dimensional drawings--a series of drawings that create the feeling of a character moving through three dimensional space. It takes years to learn how to do this well.
Many of the drawings in cartoon animation are illogical; the professional term is 'cheated'. A left arm can become a right arm if the proper arc is followed. I taught a student to do this in his scene this past week and he and I were the only ones who knew he did it. The motion carried the action and it was accepted that a character could grab an object with his left hand, then cheat the arm into his right to make a better silhouette and arc.

Drawn Cartoon characters are distorted, the faces can morph into strange shapes on the breakdowns, or distort into something else altogether.

This is the opposite situations from computer animated characters, which have to be forced to distort. They are constructed in the round and are usually quite symmetrical.

If they want to make a going concern of this new system, they would do better to 'cartoon mocap' puppet films, which do have characters who work in three dimensions and obey the laws of the third dimension (unless you try to mocap George Pal Puppettoons, which have the same distortions as the cartoons since they used over five hundred replacement parts to create similar fluid action.)

I can only wonder who would want to boast to all the world that they were stealing artwork from other artists. It's apparently not uncommon to rotoscope pre- existing computer animation, and sooner or later someone is going to apply at a studio with a reel consisting of grabs of that studio's own scenes. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when that happens.

But of course, the implication of this system is that it is no longer necessary to hire animators at all. The audience will not notice the same moves showing up again and again. No need to learn all that tiresome cartoon physics, or study living forms in action, or create a new character of your own. And now, you don't even need to hire a human being to move around for your mocap session.

You can just Steal from the Masters.

Some people must really hate animators.