Spielberg on Mocap

Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg at work on The Adventures of Tintin - The Secret of the Unicorn 01

In a follow-up to a front page story in the Los Angeles Times entitled “’Avatar’ stirs an animated actors debate in Hollywood,” the paper’s Rachel Abramowitz posted this interview with Steven Spielberg on his use of motion capture in his The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, which utilizes the same technology James Cameron did in Avatar. The comments of Spielberg, who has played an important role in nurturing the current animation renaissance, are indicative of why mocap has proven so attractive to live-action directors:

For the director … the new experience was transporting.

“I just adored it,“ he says. “It made me more like a painter than ever before. I got a chance to do so many jobs that I don’t often do as a director. You get to paint with this device that puts you into a virtual world, and allows you to make your shots and block all the actors with a small hand-held device only three times as large as an Xbox game controller.”

With that small monitor, Spielberg could look down and watch what the actors were doing — in real time — on a screen that showed them in the film universe. Working on the motion-capture stage — which is called the volume  — Spielberg was routinely dazzled by the liberating artistic value of the new science.

3D Cinema is Art’s New Renaissance

James Cameron's Avatar

While part of the animation blogosphere has been agitated by the apparent resemblance between James Cameron’s Avatar and Marc Adler’s Delgo (see here and here), Jonathan Jones’ On Art Blog for The Guardian uses the film’s impending release to make a rather bold statement on the importance of stereoscopic movies. He feels that the technology’s ability to provide an “unprecedented depth of field it creates and the convincing sense of looking not at a flat screen, but into a world of solid forms in real space” is a artistic revolution comparable to the Renaissance.

In the 15th century, artists discovered how to paint bodies and landscapes as if they had depth and solidity. Painting triumphed over the flat surface to create the illusion of a real scene glimpsed through the square enclosure of the wooden panel or canvas, as if you were watching a play on a stage.

The effect was just as dazzling, just as unexpected as 3D cinema–and it has lasted a lot longer than the gimmicks of 1950s science fiction. Visitors to the National Gallery stand fascinated by the illusion of a real room, with real shadows, depth–even real air–in Jan van Eyck’s painting the Arnolfini portrait [see below].

Arnolfini portrait by Jan van Eyck

3D TV: Fears and Hopes

The Sydney Morning Herald has a story by Louisia Hearn on the state of 3D TV. Although it tends to emphasize the possible negatives in the public accepting this technology, it is nevertheless a useful survey of what’s happening. She begins by noting that:

3D movies are all the rage in Hollywood once again, and this time flatscreen TV makers are joining in the party, promising to release a slew of 3D-ready TV sets for our lounge rooms as early as next year. …

While some [manufacturers] claim their products may be in stores as early as next year, when it came to actual availability, very few TV makers were prepared to discuss upcoming products or possible timeframes.

However, last week’s announcement by Britain’s BSkyB satellite service of its plans to roll out the country’s first 3D channel next year gives a certain sense of real possibility to 3D TV becoming more than just a gimmick.

She cites a report by the Gartner Group indicating a strong pent-up demand in “the consumer market for watching 3D movies at home.”

However, the lack of available 3D content and the wide array of display technologies have led to a “confused situation for consumers at this very nascent stage”, it said.

For its part, BSkyB has

said it had already recorded a number of events in 3D including a special performance of Swan Lake by the English National Ballet and an England v New Zealand rugby union Test match.

The main problem, she seems to feel, is the problem of glasses.

While eye strain, headaches and motion sickness associated with the early days of 3D have largely been addressed, one of the main barriers to the technology persists.

None of the display makers has managed to overcome the need for special glasses.

“Anecdotal evidence from cinemagoers does suggest that wearing 3D glasses can become tedious after a short time, or they can induce headaches, and in the home practical issues can arise when the viewers in the room outnumber the available sets of glasses,” Gartner said.

The Gartner report concludes:

“For the consumer home market, the 3D TV is likely to remain a niche product, not only because of the global recession, but also mainly because the technologies available are not ideal in terms of their ease of use, cost or practicality, let alone the range of available 3D content.”