True Animation

Steven Spielberg wants his forthcoming movie The Adventures of Tintin, made with performance capture technology, to compete in the Academy Awards’ animated film category. Steven Paul Leiva argues that it is ineligible in his essay for the Los Angeles Times.

Leiva, last mentioned here as organizer of Los Angeles’ official celebration of Ray Bradbury’s 90th birthday, has worked over 20 years in the animation field, as director of animation development for producer Gary Kurtz, president of Chuck Jones Productions and a producer on Space Jam.

Motion/performance capture typically samples the movements of one or more actors many times per second. Then this animation data is mapped to a 3D model so that the model performs the same actions as the actor. Leiva says this process is alien from the true animation that the Oscar category is intended to honor:

In true animation, whether it be the vaudeville fables of the Looney Tunes, the fairy-tale romances of Disney or the deeply human performances in Pixar’s “The Incredibles” and “Up” life is created literally from scratch — the scratch of a pencil on paper — and should not be confused with the embellished documentation of life preexisting.

To include a performance capture film in the category of best animated picture would be a mistake; for it to be nominated and win would be a travesty.

So far so good. Why does Leiva still need to address this controversy, when Digital Acting reported in July 2010 that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had announced that “motion-capture films are no longer considered eligible for the Best Animated Feature Film category”? Because a Paramount spokeswoman is still making Spielberg’s argument that Tintin isn’t a just a performance capture film, says the Kansas City Star:

“Tintin” relies on motion-capture performances for most of its major characters, including Tintin (played by Jamie Bell), a pirate (Daniel Craig) and a pair of bumbling detectives (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). But animators are working with those performances — Pegg and Frost, for instance, who are physical opposites in real life, play twins.

And Bill Kroyer, a governor of the academy’s short films and animation branch, told a Star reporter:

“If it was intended to simply be a copy of a live actor’s work, then we would not consider it animation,” Kroyer said. “At the moment, we have not determined a way to make that decision. It lies with the intention of the director.”

So the controversy lives on.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]