New Oscar Rules Deem Motion Capture ‘Not an Animation Technique’

Zoe Saldana in Avatar
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Last year I wrote an editorial headlined “Should ‘Avatar’ Be Considered for Best Animated Oscar?” I asked this based on the fact it was using motion capture techniques such as those used in Disney’s A Christmas Carol, which was one of the 20 animated films to make Oscar’s short list last year. So why was one film considered animation and the other wasn’t?

I took a look at many different aspects of animation including Marge Champion who acted out the role of Snow White for Disney animators oh so long ago and included a video of Helene Stanley who served as the live action model for Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Anita from 101 Dalmations. Is there really much of a difference between using a live model for hand animation and using motion capture for computer animation? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has all the answers and it’s the primary update to their just released rules for the 83rd Academy Awards.

Below is an excerpt from their official press release with the newly added line in bold:

[In] the Animated Feature Film category, a sentence regarding motion capture was added to clarify the definition of an animated film. The language now reads: “An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of greater than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is not an animation 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.”

Just as 3D is taking over the multiplexes as a result of James Cameron’s Avatar, the “Avatar Effect” has now directly effected the Oscars as I have no doubt this line was included as a direct result of the amount of animation in Avatar versus live action. However, look at that pic just above, the motion capture was only part of the animation as adding the landscape in the background was the rest. This, to me, means Avatar was not “motion capture by itself,” but motion capture mixed with traditional CG animation. Am I looking too deep or just evaluating the rules as they are written?

However, why films such as Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel are considered animated and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not is probably a question best left for next year’s Oscar rules.

I now ask you, do you agree with the distinction? Should motion capture as used in Avatar be considered animation? If not, do you still see Disney’s A Christmas Carol as animation or is that too something of a different beast?