Saturday, November 17, 2007

Animators Decry Academy Rules

It seems as though there is more unrest about the rules concerning the Academy Awards® than I thought. I mentioned some issues, and suggested some possible considerations for changes regarding the Best Foreign Language Film (BFLF) category in my post on this blog, "Proposed Rule Change for Foreign Movies," Friday, 12 October 2007.

This month, some animators complained that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'® lack of a clear definition for animated movies, and not keeping pace with changing technology, causes problems. Some have asserted that lack of clarification in the rules muddle the Best Animated Feature category.
Over the years the Academy has tried to address the question, "What is animation?" The most recent revision to the rules pertaining to the Best Animated Feature (Rule Seven) states, "An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture of at least 70 minutes in running time, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time."

Techniques used to blend real actors on the screen with animated characters in Robert Zemeckis' 1988 pioneering WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? have improved immensely as witnessed in this year's ENCHANTED. However that brings us to a statement in Rule Seven, ". . . animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time."

Now, that is really splitting hairs. I'm with those who maintain that an animated feature should either be 100% animation, or it should not be considered an animated feature. There is a new category for hybrid automobiles. Perhaps, there should be a new category for mixed-media motion pictures. Just a thought as technology continues to expand in this century.

Most of the questions being raised involve the statement from the rule, ". . . in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique." Years ago, stop-action claymation was included along with the stipulation of "drawn" frames. Then, animators were allowed to use computers to draw the blue prints for those drawings.

These changes lead to what is known today as a motion-capture process. Simplistically, actors act before a green screen and computers generate computer characters that can be further altered by computers to resemble anything the filmmaker wants. How much more vague can the Academy get than ". . . using a frame-by-frame technique?" All motion pictures use a frame-by-frame technique, but only animated pictures have previously produced each fame individually. No more.

This year, Robert Zemeckis' BEOWULF uses the motion-capture technique as did last year's nominees MONSTER HOUSE and HAPPY FEET, the category winner. Child actors supplied the action for the first, and Savion Glover supplied the penguin's smooth moves from which the computers generated the penguins. The filmmakers use special cameras and computers to capture, alter, edit and transfer the action into frames.

Some animators complain that animated movies now look and move more like video games than movies, while others have openly stated that motion-capture is NOT animation. There is a jab at motion capture at the end of director Brad Bird's RATATOUILLE, just released on DVD. At the end of the film credits on the DVD, a cartoon businessman is pictured smiling proudly as text proclaims the movie was made with "100 percent genuine animation" and "no motion capture or any other performance shortcuts."

Actually, the producers of BEOWULF do not call it an animated motion picture. Actor Ray Winstone (Beowulf) maintains he was definitely acting and has the bruises to prove it.

No animated feature has ever won overall Best Picture. In 1938, the Academy created a special Academy Award for Walt Disney to acknowledge his SNOW WHITE and the SEVEN DWARFS. The separate Oscar® animation category was created in 2001, supposedly to give animated features more of a fighting chance for recognition in the competition. Unfortunately, what it has done is segregate them even more. Thus, animators still feel as though they are second-class citizens in the movie community when it comes to recognition for their work.

Ultimately it will be up to audiences to decide whether BEOWULF and ENCHANTED are animated features. Even the members of the Academy will nominate according to what their eyes perceive. Neither may not receive a nomination in the animation category. Then, all this will have been a tempest in a teapot. For now.

In case you are interested, the standard FPS for movies is 24, for television 30, and for video games 75. Over 75 FPS, the eye cannot see the frames and perceives the screen as blank.

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