Thursday, November 08, 2007
The film "Beowulf" has been approved for submission for the Best Animated Feature Oscar by the Academy. You can read more about it here. I haven't seen Beowulf, and I usually keep my negative thoughts off of this blog, but I find this a disturbing development.
To my mind, submitting a motion-captured performance as "animation" is akin to submitting a heavily retouched photo as a "painting". Let me back up a bit and say that I'm not wholly opposed to motion capture (or "performance capture", as Mr. Zemekis would have me call it), just as I'm not opposed to Photoshop and digital collages; these technologies have their places. The fact that I have yet to see a compelling or life-like performance created with motion-capture is beside the point. The question becomes, "what is animation?" I'm sure that many animators worked on Beowulf to clean up the capture data, massage performances and animate non-human characters elements. But does this extra work beyond the raw capture data make it animation? Where do we draw the line between recorded action and creative animation? Between the retouched photo and the painting. The more I ask myself this, the more I realize that these are the wrong questions to ask, because the answer require a level of semantics that distracts from the more important question: "Which is the best film?"
As visual effects and digital cinema become more advanced the term "Animated Feature" loses its significance, at least when judging the merits of a story, because the line between performance and visual effects is becoming blurred. I believe the category of Best Animated Feature should not exist, because it creates an arbitrary distinction between mediums and ultimately ghettoizes animation into a separate category so that it can never compete for Best Picture. If you want to make distinctions, do it by genre, not by medium. Ratatouille is the best reviewed film of the year, but it will never compete directly against the year's live-action films because the Academy has it squarely seated at the kids' table.