Are New Oscar Rules for Mocap a Power Grab?

I’m writing this from Edinburgh, Scotland, where my wife and I have been enjoying a really wonderful Society for Animation Studies conference. A full report will follow when I get back home, but I can’t help responding to the Motion Picture Academy’s new rules for defining what is animation (see press release here), which states in part that,

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.”

It was mentioned during one of the conference’s many discussions of motion capture and drew some incredulous responses from the packed room (the person reporting it wasn’t sure if it was correct), but a comment by Sheridan Institute of Technology’s Tony Tarantini made around this time about James Cameron’s assertion that there’s no animation in Avatar is worth reporting. He basically felt that at a time when animation is becoming the dominant mode of production, Cameron is try to take it [the field] away from animators.

In the paper my wife Vickie and I gave yesterday, we discussed how live-action directors, like Cameron, liked motion capture because it enabled them to do animation in a way similar to the way they film live-action (i.e., they direct actors instead of animators). For whatever reason, he does not want to see himself as an animation filmmaker and I suspect the new rules regarding motion capture were added in part to assuage people like him; it would also please Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky, as it would reduce possible future Oscar competition. (Needless to say, I feel motion capture is animation.)

In a discussion about the new rules at Cartoon Brew, a number of people felt that motion capture films could still be considered animation if the data was finished by animators frame-by-frame, while Ryan McCulloch asked whether this would disqualify Happy Feet, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature several years ago (I believe it was the same year that another mocap film, Monster House was also nominated)? And the ever sane Floyd Norman said, “This is only going to get crazier.”