I was talking with a pretty well known Hollywood producer a few weeks ago. He is responsible for a number of popular live action movies most of us have seen. He cornered me one afternoon in Hollywood after walking out of Hamburger Hamlet. We had been introduced a couple of weeks prior by a mutual friend, he asked if I had a few minutes to sit with him while he would eat.
I really did not want to. This guy is an arrogant SOB. He is the prototypical Hollywood producer and I really didn't want to deal with his attitude, not to mention, I had just eaten. However, a large part of me was very curious. After all, he is a big shot, what would he want with me?
I watched him stuff his face full of food and not bother swallowing as he spoke. Before he emptied his mouth, another handful was pushed in and puffed his cheeks out even further. I could barely stand it. I kept looking at my hands, the walls, anything to get my eyes off that disgusting pie hole. As his fat belly started filling up, there was less food and more talking. I could finally concentrate on his words.
As it turns out, I really think this guy just didn’t want to be seen alone. It probably had little to do with wanting to talk with me specifically. Whatever the case, we did have an interesting conversation. Evidently, the guy is involved in a new venture with some others. It was clear that he didn't want me to know very much. What I did gather is that a new movie studio is being conceived and he is somehow connected with it. He had a real gift for diverting a question that he didn’t want to answer. It was quite amazing actually. Unfortunately that meant I didn’t get much information. Anyway, this new studio would also have an animation division to create CG features.
He explained that the reason he wanted to talk with me was to get opinions on a few animation topics. I couldn't help but wonder why he was asking me. I thought that maybe he didn't know too many people on this side of the business. However, I think it was just sheer luck that I bumped into him outside when he had this on his mind.
He was very curious about animation schedules. It was clear he knew absolutely nothing about the subject. It sounded as if he had a discussion with someone and he just couldn't believe what they had said. He was looking for verification. The point of telling this story isn't really the conversation itself, but what it made me think about afterwards.
What I gathered is that this guy, someone very familiar with the live action way of producing a movie just couldn’t grasp the animation process. Why does it take 4 years to make an animated movie? The whole film is storyboarded? It takes how long to complete 10 seconds of footage??!
I tried to explain the reasoning behind the lengthy production schedules. He just didn’t understand or was playing stupid. He was used to shooting hours of coverage based on a script and then making the movie come alive in the editing room. In live action, it is important to shoot as much footage as possible so that they could cover their asses if something wasn’t working. The director and editor sit down and assemble the film. The real magic happens in editing. They have so much footage, they hope that any changes or ideas that they have will be covered. Because of this, there is an extreme amount of waste in live action, however, this is accepted practice and is part of the process.
After we parted ways and I went back to my office, I sat down and thought about our conversation. It quickly became obvious why motion capture is getting popular with producers and directors that come from the live action world. It gives them an opportunity to shoot a lot of coverage, they can review stuff immediately without having to wait a week for an animator to deliver work, they can use multiple camera angles, etc, etc. Some of these guys just cannot wrap their head around the slow process of traditional (non-mocap) animation, where everything is so pre-planned and spelled out before any animation is made.
Unfortunately, I feel that too many live action producers and directors are moving into animation for the wrong reasons. It isn't for the love of the artform. They are looking at the dollar signs. And because of this, they try as hard as possible to adapt animation to what they are familiar with. Right now, motion capture is currently the best way for them to do it. Motion capture will continue to be the flavor of choice for these people. It isn’t as if mocap is better looking or provides a different look that appeal to them. It simply is because it is something they can relate to. It is closer to their experiences for immediate gratification. Instead of learning to appreciate animation for what it is, and understand the bonuses it provides, they cop out.
While this is not a new realization, it really hit home after this lunch discussion. The problem is that while companies such as Pixar, DreamWorks, and Disney continue to stick with keyframed animation, too many of these newer studios are using live action people and they are bringing along what they are more comfortable with. They are afraid or unable to work in the traditional way of making an animated film. They refuse to see the benefits of animation. I'm convinced they really don't want to be making animated movies for any other reason than making the money that can come from it.