Tissa David tells how she came to New York from Hungary via Paris with no other dream than to animate for UPA.
She went up to their offices at 666 Fifth Avenue with a portfolio. "We may have work in the trace and paint department." "No, I'm an animator." That was kind of shocking, since women were not considered to be animators in 1958. But her foreignness somehow outweighed her femininity and she was told that Grim Natwick just fired another assistant and he might need another. So she was introduced to Grim, and said he'd work with her -falsely claiming they both spoke a little German to make up for her lack of English and his non-existent Magyar -if she could answer one question:
"What is animation?"
"Animation," she stuttered, "is animation."
Taken aback, "I've been asking people that question for 30 years and that's the best answer I've gotten yet."
Grim Natwick, one of the principle architects of this field, was searching for the meaning -the spirit- of his craft.
I'm nowhere near Grim on the talent meter, but I could probably out-talk him in any language neither of us knew. So I've talked it through some, and in light of James Cameron's assertion that his film "Avatar" is not animation thought I'd come to his defense.
Let's look at the world of being made of two things: nouns and verbs. (forget all those pesky adverbs and prepositions)
Nouns and verbs. Form and process.
Painting is form. Watercolor is process.
Travel is form. Running is process.
Film is form. Animation is process.
The debate on whether motion capture is animation is seeded in the feeling that calling it animation is "good" or "bad". There is no value to the term it's simply a process.
To define animation, you can look at what distinguishes from other processes of the form. The most obvious one is live action -in which thousands of images are captured in camera, altered through lab processes and projected in a new state.
If capturing the image is paramount to the form -and in film it is -the manner in which that image is captured will define subsets of process.
Here's where history comes into play. At an early point, it was discovered that imaged can be recorded onto film through a temporarily stopped camera. This is a clear break in process. In order for this process to meet the requirement of form, images must be manipulated one frame at a time.
It's clear, "animation" is the frame by frame manipulation of images for the film form.
What about puppets? Seems like a live action process.
How about clay? Seems like animation.
How about this swooshing logo? Wait a second...
Swooshing logo. Like this:
There's a different animal. Some images were created/captured single frame, but most were developed through trickery. Not exactly animation, not exactly live action.
This is a middle way: motion graphics
It can be created using crafted elements such as the logos above, or live action elements:
The process of animation has always been riddled with shortcuts -cycles, pan and scans, reused art, and rotoscoping. All of those are components of the process. As Richard Williams says "Animation is an extension of drawing", with that in mind drawing develops with tracing and with model study.
Rotoscoping is still a single frame process, therefore animation.
Along comes this technology. Motion capture. Is this something new? Neither fish nor fowl? It may be.
It's not animation, that's for sure. It's not a single frame process of creation -no matter how much re-rigging needs to be done. In that regard it's similar to flying logos, it's akin to motion graphics. Information is used and technology (whether its an optical bench, motorized camera, video generator, or computer) creates a picture from the inputs by interpreting the missing information.
At the moment, motion capture seems an awful lot like motion graphics. But let's look at the original definition of live action: "thousands of images are captured in camera, altered through lab processes and projected in a new state." Couldn't this just as accurately define "motion capture".
One thing it doesn't resemble is animation.