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The Art of Pixel Performers 101

scriptedfun writes "The BBC features the growing role of computer graphics in movies, but points out that it is still the human actors behind the CG characters which make them alive. From the article: 'It seems that the performance artist can still bring something to a performance, which [ a CG ] artist cannot.'"
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The Art of Pixel Performers

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  • Oh yeah (Score:2, Funny)

    by ericdano ( 113424 )
    Oh yeah, Tom Hanks' performance in Polar Express [imdb.com] totally made that movie.
    • Re:Oh yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 02, 2006 @01:55PM (#15646372)
      It is unfortunate that many animated movies (CG or otherwise) use celebrity actors rather than professional voice actors. There are many talented professional voice actors and they do not get the roles because their names do not draw people to the box office - even though their performances would likely be superior to that of celebrity actors.
      • Celebrity actors are usually much more interesting. I don't think Shrek suffered too much for having Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers rather than the person who voiced the third policeman in episode 13 of Futurama.
        • I don't think Futurama was too bad for having relative unknowns. There's a lot of character in all the voices in that series. Same for Looney Tunes, Mel Blanc has done nothing except voicing cartoon characters. When he was hired, he was hired for his talent. Shrek worked because they got good voice actors, but I've been disappointed by a lot of animated movies because the voice actors became famous for their physical performances.
      • Re:Oh yeah (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ucklak ( 755284 )
        I'll take Frank Welker [imdb.com] over Tom Hanks any day.

        In case you're too lazy to folow the link or read through the 518 entries he has, some of his notable characters:

        Fred from Scooby Doo - and now that Messick has passed away, Scooby Doo as well.
        Boo Boo Bear from yogi Bear
        Jabberjaw
        Dynomutt
        All the other Gremlins and Mogwai that weren't Gizmo/Howie Mandel
        The following Transformers Blades/Buzzsaw/Chromedome/Frenzy/Galvatron/Groove/ Laserbeak/Megatron/Mirage/Mixmaster/Ratbat/Ravage/ Rumble/Skywarp/Sludge/Soundwave/Ste
      • Re:Oh yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

        by orasio ( 188021 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @06:46PM (#15647401) Homepage
        That really shows.
        I live in a Spanish-speaking country, and here we can watch them subtitled, or spoken in spanish.
        Some time ago, it was a no-brainer, subtitled pictures were much better.
        Recently, it does really notice that proffesional voice actors are much better than tv/cinema stars at doubling CG characters.
        I like Elen Degeneres, but Dori (?), her character in Nemo, pales in comaprison with its spanish counterpart, my friends and I keep laughing at some lines we heard in that movie (in spanish; -tortugas!!- ). Then we rented it in english, and we didn't laugh at all at the same spots, and little anywhere else.

        Shrek is great in spanish, too, its played by the same guy that doubles Homer Simpson in spanish.

        That shows that the guys who did the translation did a better work than the original actors, while playing with the handicap of a translated comedy script, that loses lots of lines and jokes.
        • With all due respects, I think we're talking about two different things here.

          I will, first, agree with you that animated movies often are indeed funnier when we see them in our native tongues, than in their original languages. In Disney's Alladin, for example, there's a scene where the Genie asks Alladin to wish for the Nile. When Alladin wishes for the Nile, the Genie says no (and thus demonstrates his independence). When they dubbed the movie into Telugu, my mother tongue, they changed this line to a ver

    • Re:Oh yeah (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Wow, is that why the Wachowski brothers chose Keanu Reeves for the role of Neo; because he moves and acts a bit like an algorithm and could be easily replicated using CGI?
    • Before you dismiss the contribution of a motion capture performers, I suggest you watch this documentary [ryantown.com]. It will really give you an appreciation of the sort of talent necessary for motion capture.
    • If you click through the "Buy Windows Now" prompt, you are taken to a page which offers to send you a real live version of XP Pro at OEM pricing. So the cheapest way to buy Windows retail (not Edu, not OEM with hardware) is to pirate it first, then pay for it later.
  • by MarkByers ( 770551 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @01:53PM (#15646367) Homepage Journal
    It seems that the performance artist can still bring something to a performance, which [ a CG ] artist cannot.'"

    I'm probably going to get modded as troll again but never mind!

    A Hollywood actor can get $zillions because everyone recognises their face. Few people will recognise an actor from behind the CG mask. Actors for computer generated will be easily replacable and probably not earn anything like their Hollywood counterparts. In fact the computer generated character will probably be worth more money than the actor that played their part behind the scenes.

    Voices though... that's a different story.
    • The voices is a big thing. If you look at all the latest CG cartoons that have come out, they all have big name stars doing the voices. I don't think the actors get paid as much, and you could probably get just about anybody to do the roles and the audience wouldn't care. However, the good actors are still good actors, and many want to do the voice roles just because it's so fun and easy compared to filming a regular movies. I think that a lot of films will move away from using big name actors. They co
      • I think that a lot of films will move away from using big name actors. They cost way too much. I think that most movies could be made for a fraction of the price of one big time actor's salary.

        Assuming that people still go to watch films about Lara Croft and her computerised friends even thought the whole thing is CG, and assuming that CG does indeed prove to be cheaper than current production methods...

        Then there is going to be a lot of extra cash floating around. The natural question is, who will get it?

        H
        • by Anonymous Coward
          "Hopefully some of it will be invested in R&D for better graphics so that we might actually get to watch some decent special effects."

          You do realize that the movie industry isn't some monolithic affair? Now as far as the groupthink complaint about pay. I don't see any of you "'celebrity' programmers" giving up your paychecks, to someone more deserving. e.g. India
      • Big-name actors are hired not just because their names will draw fans, but because their performances really DO make the movie. You can't "get just about anybody" to do a great voice performance. Some voiceover talents out there are naively bitter, saying "The celebrities get all my work." Um, that's because they have awesome voices and they deliver great reads. See, big-name stars are big-name stars in the first place partially because they have great voices and know how to bring dialogue to life. "T
        • But there are nonetheless hundreds of good actors that aren't stars, and many stars that are not good actors. I don't really see why names bring people in as much as they apparently do, though, since a name is relatively unrelated to the performance. That only goes for not putting the name to an acting ability, but still.
    • Voices though... that's a different story.

      Yes it is, my precious.

      -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
    • by aymanh ( 892834 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @02:22PM (#15646488) Journal
      I don't remember if I read the following somewhere, or just thought of it while reading your post:

      A CG artist creates an exceptional 3D character and manages to attract enough movie producer attention to create a movie for their character, the artist keeps the right of using the character instead of giving it away to the producer (in return of offering their exceptional character to appear in the movie), the artist then may build popularity and demand for their character, and attract more movie producers, slowly achieving the success of real-life actors.

      With CG movies becoming more common, is this scenario possible? I know it's easier said than done, and my knowledge on movie production is shallow, but I wonder if there is anything that stops this from working for CG artists.

      The hard part may be keeping the character usage right, this is where the difference between CG artists and real-life actors lies, but with a character interesting enough, is it possible?
      • you need modelers, texture artists, riggers, animators, etc... to build a convincing character
      • Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe in Japan there is the role of Character Designer. And depending on circumstances (he may be the producer as well), the CD can make character designs for an anime and keep the designs and may decide to withhold them if he's not happy with how the anime is going (I have watched several anime where the following episodes had completely different designs, specifically with a hentai drama called Masquerade). That doesn't mean the studio can't use the characters again, bu
      • ### With CG movies becoming more common, is this scenario possible?

        I don't think so. The only 'usefull' reuse of CG actors is advertisment, but if a new movie gets created I expect to see new characters, not recycled ones. I mean isn't the great thing about CG that it lets us produce a character thats a perfect fit for the movie, instead of having to rely on an actor to more or less match the role? I seriously don't want to see King Kong, Aki Ross or any other CG character again in another movie, it just wo
      • Short answer: no

        Long answer: Characters as well as buildings, objects, etc, are designed with the style of the particular picture in mind. Characters from something like Over the Hedge just wouldn't look right in something like Shrek or Toy Story and the same goes the other way. In more realistic films, if you took a character like Kong and put him in LotR, he wouldn't fit. The style and design principles are too different. A character like the Hulk (ignoring that you wouldn't use it for anything but a
        • Long answer: Characters as well as buildings, objects, etc, are designed with the style of the particular picture in mind. Characters from something like Over the Hedge just wouldn't look right in something like Shrek or Toy Story and the same goes the other way. In more realistic films, if you took a character like Kong and put him in LotR, he wouldn't fit.

          What you say is true of a lot of live action as well. Actors act differently according to the role. But consider someone like John Wayne or Owen Wils
      • If Matt Groening can get rich from creating the Simpsons I don't see why not the same thing could happen in the future with someone who creates some popular CG characters, it'll probably be rare though.
      • There is not _A_ CG Artist, there is a team of them. The characters they create are already handed to them by their bosses, who are working under contract from the studio (who thought up the idea in the first place for the character/movie).

        If anyone has the kind of control over a single character that you suggest, it would be the concept/character 2d artist who draws sketches to hash out what the character will look like in the movie- and he's only trying to realize the director/producers vision for the fil
      • The hard part may be keeping the character usage right, this is where the difference between CG artists and real-life actors lies, but with a character interesting enough, is it possible?

        The nature of the animation / comics industry is to hand over the rights to your creation to those who are going to publish and/or distribute it. That way, you can be replaced without the publisher/distributor losing money on their investment, should you breach your contract or become unable to continue working on the proj
      • This does make sense. However, before all that I imagine we first need to see a CG character getting fameous enough to see it appear in different unrelated productions. I imagine that CG characters would even appear on Oprah eventually, of course the live public would only see the CG actor. mmm who says the public at Oprah is live in the first place? Maybe they are all CG's
      • The celebrity worship won't extend as far into CG, there is a need for a real person to worship; maybe something to it, or its just cultural.

        I suggest you see the film S1m0ne.
    • A Hollywood actor can get $zillions because everyone recognises their face. Few people will recognise an actor from behind the CG mask. Actors for computer generated will be easily replacable and probably not earn anything like their Hollywood counterparts

      HOWEVER: even if the A-list star is mediocre as a voice artist, the CGI is invariably a caricature of them, thus capitalising on their "brand name". And even more importantly, the stars have an entre to the talk show circuit to promote the film. Bruce Wi

  • What's the difference in pay for a live actor, and a likeness with their voice?

    How many commercials are on now where they've made an animated form of the human actor, and still have that human's voice behind it? They could have shown the actor speaking, but I've been told that there is a huge decrease in pay when they can animate the person, and only pay for the voice.

    Is that true?
  • True (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tx ( 96709 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @02:01PM (#15646392) Journal
    it is still the human actors behind the CG characters [CC] which make them alive.

    Only a human could make Jar Jar so f*#king annoying!

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @02:05PM (#15646409)
    I don't know about everyone else, but I thought that most dazzling and endearing scene in the new Pixar movie was when Tow Mater went backwards at high speeds through dusky, misty, wooded landscape with his hazard lights twirling. The voice actor (Larry, the proverbial "cable guy" comic) was mostly contributing things like, "woo hoo!" Otherwise, that bit of manic choreography didn't involve any actor motion capture - it was completely, crazily synthesized out of untold hundreds of hours of desktop work.

    Knowing Pixar's people, they were probably playing with toy trucks or watching video of kids scateboarding, or something... but the magic, comedy, and sweetness of that scene was entirely visual and not about the actor(s), per se - though the cast vocalizations and great foley work certainly added to the atmosphere.
    • by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @02:33PM (#15646522)
      I think you're absolutely right -- just because a lot of CG characters are modeled directly from human actor footage, it does not mean that the state of the art is at a stand still. Companies like pixar are taking it to new levels as far as fully-imagined characters from scratch. Note, however, that all their best characters are non-human: toys, bugs, fish, monsters, cars (even the incredibles are comic-book stylized). It is simply too unconvincing when they try to modal humans from scratch. However, I'm not sure there will be that many technological leaps required to achieve a convincing effect -- it is party also a matter of psychology. We are ingrained from birth to recognize and characterize other humans, so essentially, we're a very tough audience. But some subtle changes in modeling -- more grime, more wrinkles, more blemishes, will help humanize the CG characters.
    • by LocoMan ( 744414 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @05:19PM (#15647083) Homepage
      The main difference between Pixar (from what I've read around) is that most companies get the famous actors first and build the characters around them (see Shark Tale), while Pixar seems to go the other way around, they set the character and personality first, and then they start looking for an actor whose voice would fit the character.
  • Nothing new. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eightyford ( 893696 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @02:09PM (#15646426) Homepage
    Motion capture is nothing new [wikipedia.org]. The real credit should still be given to the animators.
    • Re:Nothing new. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Goeland86 ( 741690 )
      Motion capture isn't new, that is a fact. However, it's still the most used technology for CG animation of big projects mostly because it's the cheapest way of achieving realistic results.
      Quality animators are hard to find in the CG market, thus they cost more, and they take more time to get the same realism into movements, it's a fact, and it will remain so for a while.
      That's why the article says that the actors animating those CG chars are the ones who deserve the props.
      Also, there will always be some sor
  • No kidding! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wellington Grey ( 942717 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @02:13PM (#15646445) Homepage Journal
    That Andy Serkis [wikipedia.org] didn't get nominated for best supporting actor speaks to how out of touch the accademy awards are.

    -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
  • John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, keeps an awesome blog [blogspot.com] that deals with this topic from time to time. I think that he'd suggest that artistic craft and technique can add a whole lot of reality to the performances of cartoon criters. The golden age of all this stuff, 1930s and 1940s Warner Bros, demonstrates that the state of the art can get pretty high.
  • It seems that the performance artist can still bring something to a performance, which [ a CG ] artist cannot.

    Yet. The state of this particular art is nowhere near its peak. And there are things that an animated character (CG or otherwise) can bring to a performance that a live actor never could. Unless you're Jim Carrey, and while I'm not suggesting that he's computer-generated, he's definitely animatronic at the very least.
  • by mix4pix ( 963253 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @02:50PM (#15646574) Homepage
    This is so lame that I just have to comment on it.

    The BBC article says: "So are we moving towards a time when we can get rid of human actors and just use voice artists and computer generated characters? [Visual effects supervisor] Joe Letteri says: "I don't think so. That was the lesson we learnt on Gollum. Andy Serkis was brought in just to be the voice, but what worked really well was that you had an actor there present in the scene doing all of this."

    Hmmm . . . "Get rid of human actors and JUST use voice artists"?? Oh, so I guess this Joe Letteri assumes a voice talent ISN'T an actor? Or human, for that matter? Gee, thanks.

    Voice artists ARE actors. Acting is just as much about the voice and the way lines are delivered as it is anything physical. If it wasn't, we would just cast models and stunt people in all our live-action films.

    Nope, acting requires a voice. That's why it's called an "audition": acting is an auditory medium.

    I think it's difficult to pick apart voice and physical action. You can't really have one without the other. Anyone who has seen a decent voice talent at work in the recording booth can see that they're acting using their whole body. The guy who plays Homer Simpson goes nuts inside there. He's an actor all right. The body backs up the voice.

    And if voice were only a small part of what makes a good actor, then Julia Roberts and Morgan Freeman would never be doing any voiceover work. (They do lots.)

    A visual effects supervisor who brings in someone not to act the part, but "just to be the voice," clearly lacks the understand that "being a voice" IS acting.
    • Did he not say exactly what you said. That the actor who was brought into do the voice made a huge contribution? Dude he is a VFX supervisor. He was told to get a shot done and he was supervising the shot. Wait why would he supervise a voice session if he did not want to see the actor. Oh because he already knew he wanted to see the actor. Oh wait why was the actor actually in the scenes? I think you are getting bent out of shape over a mis representation. I know that most animator Like to see video
      • I see your point. I just think it's too bad that this VFX supervisor seemed at all SURPRISED to find that a voice artist did more than "just the voice." It shows that we don't give voice talent the credit they deserve as actors. I admit that I'm getting a bit bent out of shape over wording, but the way the article refers to "actors" and "voice talent" as though they're different entities, just makes it worse. Seems like they're propagating the wrong idea here.
  • In fact, it's very hard to make it really believable: the lighting, perspective of the background are often slightly different from the actors, so it appears really bad: you have the actors 'in front' of a scene and not *in* the scene.

    I remember seeing a preview of Kink-kong and decided not to see the movie because the effect was too obvious&disturbing..
    There was the same problem in the arena scene with the monsters in Star Wars episode2.
  • The Uncanny Valley (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilsofa ( 947078 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @03:09PM (#15646629)
    That "something" is natural movement which doesn't trigger the Uncanny Valley reaction in viewers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley [wikipedia.org]
  • I disagree. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tinrobot ( 314936 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @03:14PM (#15646654)
    As an animtor, I may be biased, but I have to take exception with the basic premise of the article. Motion capture still has a lot of problems. Not that I'm against mocap, it's great for making Tiger Woods swing the golf club like Tiger Woods in his latest game, and it's terrific for other types of realistic human motion.

    But when it comes to acting, there is nothing to replace the frame by frame attention that an animator can give to a scene. Polar Express proved that humans acting using mocap still look like humans wearing rubber masks. Gollum in LOTR was a good exception, yet the basic mocap of Andy Serkis was gone over by real animators who could use their knowledge and skill to truly bring the character to life.

    There's also the issue of character design. If you mocap a real human and put that data on something that isn't really human, you lose a lot. The musculature of a human face might not quite match up to that reptillian monster (or whatever) and the result will appear soft and lifeless. If the body geometry is different, you might be able to compensate in software, but the underlying motion will still be that of a human. If you mocapped a human and put in on Godzilla, you'd have what looks like a human in a Godzilla suit (which may actually be a good thing if you're doing an homage to the old Japanese films)

    Mocap is cool, and I'm sure Tom Hanks loved putting on that nifty mocap suit... but the best acting on CG characters today is still the result of animators working one frame at a time
    • QFT.

      I'm also an animator, and it is pretty offensive that it's the human actors like Andy Serkis and not the human animators that get any recognition at all. The computer doesn't do anything. It's a high-tech equivalent of a pencil when it comes to this stuff, but nobody ever complimented Van Gogh's pencil as much as they complement computers for making such amazing images. It's always people behind them, every single frame of the way, and through every single line of code that makes the software that allow
      • It's because celebrity names sell. At some point people go see a movie just because it has some celebrity in it. And I don't just mean celebrity actors, like Tom Hanks, which could at least be defended as "well, he acts well, and people like a movie that's well acted." I mean look at your average rapper, sports star, boy-band/girl-band celebrity manufactured by the recording industry, etc, starring in some movie. Most can't even act at all, yet people go to the movie anyway, just because it has their favour
    • They got it right. Expressive face on top of lots of well-done motion.
      Of course they stayed on the other side of the valley by virtue of animating a robot.
      Polar Express was 'dead people talking'.
  • by SysKoll ( 48967 ) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @03:18PM (#15646665)
    The lame content of the article is not helped by its bad grammar. TFA says: Certainly mother nature has always been difficult to recreate. Fire and water are so infinitesimally complicated to model that animators can only create rough approximations on screen.

    Last time I checked, "infinitesimal" meant "extremely small, negligeable", which is the exact opposite of the notion the writer has in mind (that is, that water is hard to animate).

    And it went right through the BBC editors, who are apparenlty easily dazzled by latinate words,

    Poor Beeb.

    I suggest that the author of the article, Spencer Kelly, should be replaced by a random tech news generator. [newscientisttech.com]

  • As a 3D modeler, this doesn't sit right with me. Now, I'm nowhere near as good as professional CG artists, but even I know that a CG character can show just as much emotion and, in effect, act just as well as a human actor.
    So, have they not seen the newest Hulk movie, or are they just ignoring it? Granted, it wasn't a very good movie in most people's opinion, but it sure wasn't the CG artists' fault.
    I don't remember the totally CG Hulk saying much in the movie. So, you can't say that the voice of the actor
    • First, I didn't read the article, but from the summary I don't think they are talking about the "actor" per-se, but rather the "performance artist" who creates the movements for the CGI model - ie, the team and artists performing mo-cap.

      In this sense, the mo-cap performance artist does a lot to help bring the character to life, because he or she must be very flexible and capable of acting (in motion and character) just like how the CGI would actually work (as near as can be determined - after all, it is fan

  • What's the difference between a "performance artist" and a "performer"? Is "performance artist" just an excuse for claiming a bad performer is just misundertood, because they're really an "artist"?
  • Is this really a new issue? Winsor McCay was doing animated movies without human models or voice talent in the 1920s. [imdb.com] Human voice actors and performance models have never been needed for great animation; but many animators have found voice actors and performance models to be very effective. What is The Grinch without Boris Karlof or the Warner stable of characters without Mel Blanc?

    And there is an entirely different direction that filmmakers can go that started with Tron and was used extensively in Lord
  • I'm not an arts specialist, but I do believe that there are an extremely wide number of media and mediums of expression with which we communicate in this world. Sometimes, it's a telephone call, sometimes it's a musical piece, sometimes it's a painting.

    Moving pictures have been with us for over a century. Black and white silent movies with just actors and no sound (or some lovely fellow playing a piano). We've increased the flexibility of expression of this medium by adding sound and colour, and further bei
  • I want to know why human CG characters still look fake. We are missing something. I don't think it's about polygon count any more, it's something more subtle. I can't quite figure out what it is. The eyes seems like a good candidate. Obviously the human mind is very scrutinising when it comes to faces. At some point though, we will have characters indistinguishable from real ones. When that day comes, voice artists will be A-List stars.
    • Re:Realism (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Perspiration, probably. Followed by signs of fatigue or injury. Wrinkles and grime come after those two, but are likely to be better-modelled first.

      The issue is that when a CG character exerts itself, it should get tired. This means its movements, including their speed, acceleration, deceleration, and precision and the character's posture will change in very subtle ways. Even motion capture doesn't entirely address this because the motion-capture actor tends to work in shorter takes - and thus isn't as tire

    • Re:Realism (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nelsonal ( 549144 )
      As an example take a close look at your hand. I'm sure as a child you stuck a flash light in the web between your thumb and hand and noticed the glow. Your skin color comes from a mix of light reflecting off the melanin in several layers of skin of various stages of life, blood near the surface and if you make a fist skin pulled tight over the bone. In addition, there are creases and hair. To make a good skin model you would need to account for all of these items and humans have unbelievably sophisticat
  • the author of TFA never saw complete CGI films, like FinalFantasyVII: advent children (http://www.adventchildren.net/) or he wouldn't claim such bold statements.

    Everyone that has seen that film, knows it's only a matter of time before even real actors can be replaced. At this pace, I predict the first complete CGI films undistinguishable from 'real' movies will come out within the next 5 years.

    Some scenes in Advent Children were already so good it was impossible to tell if it was real or not. If they use hi

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