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‘Animation Invades Live Action’ at the Academy

Last night (Dec. 6, 2005), the Science and Technology Council of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Animation Invades Live Action in the Academys Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The presentation was billed as an animated performance and dealt with issues brought on by the digital revolution the technical and artistic advances that have impacted not only animation, but also live action.

The opening reel of the presentation exemplified the immense technological as well as artistic progress in the art form with clips that ranged from early animation NORTHWEST HOUNDED POLICE (1946) to the live action/animation hybrid, THE MASK (1994).

Serving as host, Barry Weiss, svp of Animation Production for Sony Pictures Imageworks, commented: I dont believe any of us were prepared for the speed at which our art form has evolved. Reflecting on the early marriage between live action and animation in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? and the current state of the art, Weiss made the analogy that in 1988, Toon Town was a suburb, but now its Main Street.

Another round of selected clips further showed the progressive stepping stones in the marriage between live action and animation. They illustrated how advances in tools, from stop motion and optical printing to the massive strides brought on by the computer revolution, have enabled animators to go from pencil drawings on cells, as in the 1914 animation GERTIE THE DINOSAUR, to creating completely believable computer-generated, photo- real characters, as in the dinosaurs from 1993s landmark JURASSIC PARK.

Topics included creating photoreal principle characters (BABE, DRAGONHEART CATS & DOGS, SCOOBY-DOO, THE HULK, STUART LITTLE and STUART LITTLE 2); the use of digital doubles (THE MUMMY, HOLLOW MAN, STAR WARS: EPISODE II ATTACK OF THE CLONES, DAREDEVIL and SPIDER-MAN 2), the tricks of the trade for including animation in live action (THE TANTALIZING FLY, GULLIVERS TRAVELS, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, TITANIC, WAKING LIFE, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN, THE MATRIX RELOADED, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING and I, ROBOT); the use of Massive software in animating large crowd scenes without an obvious repetition of action (RETURN OF THE KING); and how to performance capture (THE POLAR EXPRESS).

The program included panels with award-winning visual effects and animation supervisors as well as notable actors whose performances have been impacted by the combination of live action and animation, a concept now referred to as Blended Cinema. Bob Kurtz, writer, designer and director for Kurtz and Friends Animation Co., moderated a panel with members of the creative team of STUART LITTLE and STUART LITTLE 2: director Rob Minkoff, cinematographer Steven Poster, animation director Henry Anderson III, with actors Jennifer Tilly, Bruno Kirby and Jonathan Lipnicki sharing their experiences. Anderson pressed the point that the actors performance is essential to a good animated performance.

Richard Hollander, president of the Feature Film and Theme Park division at Rhythm & Hues Studios, moderated the making of SPIDER-MAN 2 panel. He was joined by visual effects designer John Dykstra, animation director Anthony LaMolinara and actor Alfred Molina. When the topic of technology eventually taking over the role of the actor was broached, Molina responded, Ive always thought that technology without soul is tyranny.

Bill Kroyer, director and current senior animation director at Rhythm & Hues, spoke with THE POLAR EXPRESS team visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, senior character animator T. Dan Hofstedt and actor Chris Coppola about the advances in performance capture that were continuing even during the course of their production. Hofstedt explained the connection between actors and animators, saying, An animator has always felt like an actor with a pencil.

Tom Sito, president-emeritus of the Hollywood Animation Guild, moderated the final panel that brought back Anderson, Dykstra, Hofstedt, LaMolinara, Minkoff, Molina and Ralston to discuss the future of the art form. Dykstra believes that the no matter where the technology goes, it is merely a tool to improve storytelling. We always invent new technology, but all the technology comes back to contribute to the depth of story. Ralston perhaps summed up everyones goal when adding, Its all about the humanness of the performance.

Reported by Mary Ann Skweres