The Os­car de­bate

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - The ad­ven­ture­soft­intin Marsneeds Moms

SHOULD a film made us­ing the mo­tion­cap­ture tech­nique qual­ify as an an­i­mated movie at the Os­cars, or is it some­thing else?

Does the an­swer to that last ques­tion change if Steven Spiel­berg is the guy mak­ing the movie?

Those are two of the ques­tions fac­ing the Academy at a time when the ex­pand­ing use of per­for­mance cap­ture has the po­ten­tial to wreak havoc in the Best An­i­mated Fea­ture cat­e­gory.

And it’s also con­fus­ing the act­ing cat­e­gory, where vot­ers have to fig­ure out if a per­for­mance can be awards-wor­thy even if the ac­tor’s face is never seen on­screen.

“I think there still needs to be a lot of ed­u­ca­tion, be­cause there’s still a rea­son­able amount of fear,’’ said ac­tor Andy Serkis, who’s de­liv­ered sev­eral of the most com­pelling per­for­mance-cap­ture per­for­mances and who ap­pears in two of the films in the thick of this year’s dis­cus­sion, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and The Ad­ven­tures Of Tintin.

The per­for­mance-cap­ture process, in which a per­former’s move­ments and fa­cial ex­pres­sions are recorded and then trans­lated by com­puter into the move­ments and ex­pres­sion of an on­screen char­ac­ter, has been used to great ef­fect in the Lord Of The Rings’ films, in Avatar, and more re­cently in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

It has also given rise to a whole genre of films that skirt a mid­dle ground be­tween live­ac­tion and an­i­ma­tion, from Robert Ze­meckis’s The Po­lar Ex­press and A Christ­mas Carol to the Os­car-win­ning Happy Feet.

The Short Films and Fea­ture An­i­ma­tion Branch has been grap­pling for years with the ques­tion of whether films based in mo­tion cap­ture are truly an­i­mated.

In 2010 the branch added spe­cific lan­guage cov­er­ing mo­tion cap­ture to its rules for qual­i­fy­ing for the Best An­i­mated Fea­ture Os­car.

The rules point out that mo­tion cap­ture “by it­self is not an an­i­ma­tion tech­nique’’ and

a look at the fine lines of mo­tion-cap­ture an­i­ma­tion films. stip­u­late that “a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the ma­jor char­ac­ters must be an­i­mated, and an­i­ma­tion must fig­ure in no less than 75% of the pic­ture’s run­ning time”, re­quir­ing that “move­ment and char­ac­ters’ per­for­mances are cre­ated us­ing a frame-by-frame tech­nique”. ’

Three films that could po­ten­tially qual­ify this year are af­fected by this rule: Si­mon Wells’s March re­lease Mars Needs Moms, Ge­orge Miller’s up­com­ing Happy Feet Two and Spiel­berg’s The Ad­ven­tures Of Tintin.

The mak­ers of all three films have been asked by the branch to sup­ply ex­pla­na­tions of their in­tent.

The stu­dios be­hind Tintin and Happy Feet, mean­while, are adamant that those films are an­i­mated and should be in con­tention for the award.

(Jon Bloom, a gov­er­nor in the short films and fea­ture an­i­ma­tion branch, de­clined to com­ment any fur­ther on the process.)

The con­sen­sus among those who closely watch the an­i­ma­tion cat­e­gory is that the branch will ei­ther rule that all three films qual­ify or that all three don’t – and vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one in­ter­viewed is ex­pect­ing them to qual­ify.

One rea­son: Happy Feet Two is the se­quel to a 2006 film that won the Os­car for An­i­mated Fea­ture; to say that it isn’t an­i­mated would be to cast retroac­tive doubt on a pre­vi­ous win­ner.

(Not that the use of mo­tion cap­ture in Happy Feet wasn’t no­ticed: Pixar’s Os­car-win­ning Rata­touille took a sly shot at Miller’s movie in end cred­its that read, “100% Gen­uine An­i­ma­tion! No mo­tion cap­ture or any other per­for­mance short­cuts were used in the pro­duc­tion of this film”.)

Tintin, mean­while, comes from one of the most pow­er­ful di­rec­tors in Hol­ly­wood – some­one the com­mit­tee could be dis­in­clined to cross.

“Spiel­berg is go­ing to say what he needs to say – and my ques­tion is, who on that com­mit­tee is go­ing to call him a liar if they don’t be­lieve him?’’ asked one an­i­ma­tion in­sider.

The third mo­tion-cap­ture film, Mars Needs Moms, is a tricker (but per­haps more in­con­se­quen­tial) case.

Ze­meckis, its pro­ducer, has made a string of films us­ing the tech­nol­ogy but in the past has some­times re­sisted en­ter­ing his films in the An­i­mated Fea­ture race.

“To call per­for­mance cap­ture an­i­ma­tion is a dis­ser­vice to the great an­i­ma­tors,’’ Ze­meckis said in 2007, be­fore his mo­tion-cap­ture ver­sion of Be­owulf was orig­i­nally ruled in­el­i­gi­ble by the Academy. But AMPAS later changed its mind about Be­owulf (which wasn’t nom­i­nated), and Ze­meckis has al­lowed his films to be en­tered in the cat­e­gory.

Still, Mars Needs Moms was such a com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal flop that it’ll likely serve only to pad out the cat­e­gory, with­out any real chance of land­ing a nom­i­na­tion.

Pad­ding out the cat­e­gory could prove to be cru­cial: if the three per­for­mance-cap­ture films are deemed el­i­gi­ble, that ap­pears to bring the num­ber of com­pet­ing films to 15. One more en­trant is all that’d be needed to bump the num­ber of nom­i­nees in the cat­e­gory from four to five.

On the act­ing side, the prob­lem isn’t el­i­gi­bil­ity, it’s that ac­tors are typ­i­cally dis­in­clined to view per­for­mance cap­ture as be­ing wor­thy of a nom­i­na­tion,

“You don’t phys­i­cally ap­pear on screen as your­self, and I guess some ac­tors would prob­a­bly ob­ject to that,’’ Serkis, who por­trayed the ape Cae­sar in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, told TheWrap in Au­gust. “Be­cause they feel that their great­est tool is their face, and that’s that.’’

In fact, he added, per­for­mance-cap­ture act­ing is “in­cred­i­bly sub­tle and very pure’’ – and no more di­luted by out­side fac­tors than any other kind of act­ing. “Ev­ery sin­gle ac­tor’s on-screen per­for­mance is en­hanced to some de­gree by what you wear, by the makeup team that works on your face, by the shot size, by the way the di­rec­tor moves the cam­era around what you’re do­ing.

There is not a sin­gle ac­tor’s per­for­mance on-screen that is not en­hanced by other things.’’

James Cameron made some of the same points two years ago when Avatar came out, in­sist­ing that the ac­tor who played the alien Na’vi char­ac­ters were not an­i­mated, and that the ac­tors de­served full con­sid­er­a­tion for act­ing awards.

None were nom­i­nated – and, in­deed, no ac­tor in a per­for­mance-cap­ture film has ever been nom­i­nated by the Academy.

“I’d like to think it could hap­pen,’’ said Serkis. “I’d like to think it could be un­der­stood as be­ing no more than act­ing. I don’t think there should be any kind of spe­cial cat­e­gory or any­thing. The vis­ual ef­fects side of it is the vis­ual side of it, and the per­for­mance is act­ing.

“And if some di­rec­tors want to en­hance or slightly an­i­mate, that’s mov­ing into some­thing else.’’

In other words, this is a world in which fine lines are ev­ery­where: the lines be­tween act­ing, en­hance­ment and an­i­ma­tion, be­tween a mo­tion-cap­ture film and an an­i­mated one.

Good luck, Academy. – Reuters

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