Animation becomes real

Getting true-to-life animation has always been what companies strive for, but one group in California looks like they might be onto something.

With Wall-E about to hit cinemas in Australia, everyone’s eyes are on what the world of technology and film will do next. Already this year, we’ve seen the incredible imagery put out by Dreamworks in the form of Kung Fu Panda and now it’s Pixar’s turn to bring back the spark in people’s lives with the cute & loveable Wall-E.

But while these animated adventures take people for a ride in imagination, other companies are striving for animated excellence in the form of life-life animation. Called “uncanny valley,” directors and animation houses are constantly working on new ways of overcoming the obstacle to make animation perfectly lifelike.

One company in California looks like it might have found something that’ll work.

What you see above is a demo from Image Metrics, one of the companies responsible for much of the animation found in the latest Grand Theft Auto game. The work above of Emily, while looking true-to-life, is actually an animation.

The process Image Metrics are using replaces motion capture technology, or mo-cap as it is more commonly known in the industry.

Traditionally, little white markers are placed on actors in a motion capture studio and while the actors perform in front of cameras, movements and motions are captured for use later on. While Image Metrics’ technique uses their own proprietary system, one thing is certain is that Emily looks fantastic and much like a real person.

But while I can see how the Image Metrics system might be better off for games, I’m in the boat where I’m not sure how valuable it would be for an animated movie. As someone who animates himself, I wonder if this constant strive for realistic animation is a great one.

It’s so much easier to film an actor if we want a performance that looks like an actor. You don’t need to hire a team of 3D animators and short of putting on a beautiful spectacle of performance, the animation is unnecessary.

This past week, the new animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars was released in Cinemas. It uses a highly stylised look to it that accentuates faces and angular lines to emphasise that animated look to it. We’ve already seen the retro look that Valve’s Team Fortress 2 went for when they released it last year and we’ll see something similar out of Electronic Arts when Battlefield Heroes comes out later this year.

I can see the benefits that Image Metrics’ system would have in comparison to motion capture immediately and I love how animation is now getting to the point where it’s hard to tell the difference… but I’m just not sure it’s always a good thing.

After all, I wouldn’t want an animated character replacing me (unless I could have robotic arms and a chin made out of metal).

Written by Leigh D. Stark