I know, the age old question, but I do get emails about it and I know I rant about it a lot, but might as well post my answer here as well. Feel free to argue, flame and curse, but as someone who's used mocap before, here' s my take (and email response):
Manipulation of images on a frame by frame basis. Isn't that the rule
set forth by the Academy?
Isn't a regular film animation as well then? They do color timing and
lots of other stuff on a frame by frame basis, which is the definition
of animation, no? Manipulation of images on a frame by frame basis? I
know, I'm really stretching it here...
Animation gets created from scratch, film is being recorded and
That, to me, is a big personal distinction. And the moment you add
something to the mix that is based on a real time recording, it messes
up the clear distinction of work being animation.
Looking at the whole process of using mocap, then my take is yes, it's
animation. It's just a tool. Each tool gives the artist a certain amount
of freedom. Although mocap gives you none. Mocap is very hard on
animator's egos (including mine) because their creative choices are
ignored since someone else is doing the work for them. The animators are
just here to clean up the data. But once you get the data, people have
to clean it up and even after that, animators tweak the data in order to
get the right performance out of it and often times chunks are being
deleted completely and replaced by keyframe work. So there is
manipulation on a frame by frame basis. Hence for me, animation.
The big problem that people have is that the acting choices are being
recorded in real time. Since it's real time, it's not animation. True,
but people are only focusing on one section of using mocap. When you
shoot reference and use it, you are also basing your animation on that
footage that a camera recorded in real time. But instead of a computer
and a mocap wrangler taking that data and making it useful for the
animation, it's the animator themselves that have to take (or choose and
take) what frame and pose is good and then they put that onto their
character. So instead of an automated process by a computer and then
manual process by a data person, the artist does it all. It's just a
different way of using the recorded footage on your rig. Yet when an
animator does it all, it's called animation. That's just people's egos
being hurt and people being hypocrites, don't you think?
It's also based on people who haven't used mocap and don't understand
the process. They think that a camera records it all and then voila, via
magic, it's in the movie and no one did anything to it. If it were that
case, then I wouldn't call it animation either. But no mocap goes
untouched. But then the movie is being announced as a mocap movie and
people cry foul, "It's not animation!".
[Added: And that's where most of my pissy attitude comes from, to dismiss a movie like Avatar as being "just" a mocap movie with no animation. The creatures were not mocapped, a lot of the action scenes were keyframed, but that gets lost amidst all the mocap hate... No, the mocap recording process is not animation, just like shooting reference isn't, but the end result often times is, due to the manual work involved to fix it or the fact that it gets redone from scratch by hand. Imagine someone shoots reference, then does rough blocking, then you get the shot and fix some parts, do others from scratch and polish the rest. Does that mean you're not an animator doing animation because you didn't do everything?]
Personally, I couldn't care less [about the process]. Whatever it takes to get the shot done
for your client/director/whoever. It's the end result that matters, not
the tool. Should I refuse to use the mocap data at work because they are
not using my brilliant acting choices? Good luck explaining that to the
client who wants the acting choices of his actors. Or when you have a
scene with 50 characters in it. Do you want to keyframe 50 characters?
Mocap will be much faster. Mocap can look very mocap-y, but it will feel
more real than keyframe animation and if the project is based on a
photoreal look, then it will be more convincing and better for the
project. Again, it's not exactly fulfilling on a creative level, but I
think being a professional animator is more than just creating animation
by hand from scratch. It's about bringing someone else's vision to the
screen. That's what you're hired to do. So use what is at your disposal
in order to get the job done, regardless of what your preference is.
Animators always complain that there shouldn't be a distinction between
2D and 3D, that it's just a tool, it's the story that matters. Well,
once mocap comes into play, people forget that very quickly, no?
If I had a choice for my own personal work, I wouldn't use mocap. Why?
Because there's no creativity on your part. You are just a tool, you're
not given the option to create the performance (which is in my opinion
the main reason why people are opposed to it, if they're honest with
themselves). It's just too much fun to come up with your own animation
and acting choices.
So yes, if you look at the whole process of mocap, from the beginning,
the fixing and tweaking and reworking to the end result, then yes, there
is enough manual work behind it that makes it animation.
If you just look at the process of recording the mocap artists, then no.
Just like filming yourself acting things out is not animation. And if
you look at possible future ways where the mocap actors are being
recorded and the data is being put onto the rig and rendered and it
looks finished, then no, because no one has manipulated and tweaked and