Below are insightful posts from Digital Media FX forum posters
on the subject of Waking Life: Has Anyone Seen This Movie?. Some
posts have been edited for length or spelling and grammar.
Durrien on November 5, 2001:
I have seen this movie - twice, in fact. I liked it very much.
With regards to movies yet to come to theaters, I'm not too interested
or "worried" about Jimmy Neutron breaking any
new ground, in terms of artistry or story; but I am looking forward
to Metropolis. Of all the films I have seen this year,
Shrek and Monsters included, I would have to say
that Waking Life is my "favorite." If I was a
member of the Academy, I would certainly vote for it as Best Feature
Animation. While the other movies are great technological achievements,
and funny, they do not seem to me anything very outstanding or
As to the
question of whether Waking Life is "real" animation,
I mean, jeez, is computer animation "real" animation?
Is motion capture? Is Flash? With all of the data interpolation,
camera moves, frame tweening, and whatnot, are digital animators
else pointed out, Waking Life uses just another "technique."
The character design and environments are created/fabricated -
whatever you want to call it. If you see the movie, you'll know
what I am talking about. On more than one occasion, the director
Richard Linklater had scenes reworked because the style of the
animation, and the emotion, was not correctly captured by the
animator - or it was not "communicating" properly.
I have a friend
who takes photographs - live-action still-frame photography -
*gasp* - and then she uses these images as a template to paint
her artwork. The photograph does not translate exactly into the
painting, but it is the obvious foundation. Should I break the
news to her that she is not creating a painting? Is her work any
less valid if she paints in Photoshop?
Maybe we should
discount all animation that uses footage of live-action film or
video as reference. Edward Muybridge set a bad standard. Or if
tracing is the gripe, then I don't want any animator ever to trace
any picture ever again, ... not one.
I love animation,
and I love the craft of hand-drawn animation. But I don't buy
into this whole "elitism" that animation is any one
anything. Animation, in my thinking, is the single-frame-by-frame
creation of some narrative or non-narrative idea - whether I'm
using legos, paint, sand, zeroes/ones, plasticine, graphite, or
human beings (god bless Norman McLaren). For me, Waking Life meets
all of that, I can easily see that the Academy would vote for
Monsters, Inc. as the first ever Oscar winner. Why? It is a good,
entertaining, enjoyable film. It looks like it will be a huge
success. And it allows the Academy to honor Pixar for its superior,
pioneering work, while at the same time tipping its hat to Disney
- which, of course, for all these years, has been the benchmark
and touchstone of American animated movies.
Penanimate on November 6, 2001: (in response to post directly
Before Durrien irrevocably plants his flag in the moral high ground,
let me address some of his (admittedly rhetorical) questions.
McLaren used humans in his animation. The difference is he shot
them a frame at a time, or used optical printing techniques to
create art from the live action (Pas De Deux is one of my favorite
films). What Linklater did with Waking Life isn't significantly
different than what was done in Traffic with the scenes in Mexico.
The images are digitally manipulated to give them a different
look, but it's still live action. Or, to put it another way: In
his attempt at an animated version of The Lord of the Rings,
Bakshi employed a process where he shot live action, printed it
high contrast to create black on white images, had those images
transferred to cels and painted, then shot them onto film. This
technique certainly uses the tools of animation, but calling the
work itself "animation" is a big stretch. Same thing
applies to Waking Life.
me to Durrien's question, "are computer animators cheating?"
Of course not. There is far too much work - creative, artistic
work, that goes into creating characters, environments, props,
lighting, and all the other minutiae in a CG scene to suggest
that CG artists are "cheating" by using the computer
as a tool. While the artists that painted over the live action
in Waking Life certainly did have control over the colors and
techniques they used, they certainly didn't have any input into
where to place their characters or what poses they took. If you
boil it down, these artists were glorified ink and paint folks,
working from the poses handed to them. And for this they want
an animation Oscar?
that Durrien seems to think that the best animated feature Oscar
needs to go to a film that has "meaningful" content.
If that 's the criterion, then there are quite a few Oscars that
need to be recalled. Did Titanic have meaningful content?
Did Shakespeare in Love? How about Marissa Tomei's Oscar
for her meaningful role in My Cousin Vinny? And of course,
in between its gory combat scenes, Gladiator taught us
much that was meaningful, most of which can be gleaned from the
average after-school special.
out loud when Durrien's post suggested that Waking Life
has character design. Please. The only character design that took
place regarding that movie was by the actor's parents years ago,
and even that wasn't a process they had any say in.
I don't hear
anyone taking an elitist attitude about animation being any one
thing, and I resent the suggestion. I do see lots of folks suggesting
that they recognize what animation *isn't* when they see it, and
for us, Waking Life fits *that* criterion. See, the problem
here, Durrien, is that WL doesn't fit the standard that you yourself
have established. It's not the frame-by-frame creation of a narrative
or non-narrative idea. It's an experiment in image manipulation
- an interesting experiment, to be sure, but that doesn't make
All of the
above aside, the question one needs to ask is "could this
movie have been released without the digital image manipulation
and still stand on its own?" In the case of McLaren's work,
the answer clearly is no, as the live action was a means to an
end. In the case of Waking Life, the answer clearly is yes - the
live action footage constitutes a movie in itself. If you believe
otherwise, then we should look forward to seeing Attack of the
Clones nominated next year for the Best Animation Oscar, since
many of the characters, most of the sets, and a majority of the
footage will be digitally manipulated in one way or another.
by Gordg on November 6, 2001:
This debate is certainly *animated*.
to tip toe through this mine field. I haven't seen 'Waking Life',
but it's on my must see list.
It's my opinion
competition and art are not compatible.
The very nature
of art (or entertainment) requires deconstruction of preconceived
ideas. An artist, director, writer, etc. seeks to find new insights
by breaking down established patterns. These insights can evoke
meaningful reflection or spontaneous laughter ... it depends on
the point of view adopted by the creator.
an artist's (i.e.. film makers) focus is content (i.e.. story),
communicated through process. The artist is constantly experimenting
with process to more clearly state content. In affect process
is the artist's obstacle to clarity of intent. Because of this
conflict, I think it's imperative that process remains unfettered
by arbitrary designations.
(such as the Academy Awards) demands art be categorized. The category
definition influences the way a work is perceived. A perception
that is external to the work itself.
Art does not
neatly fit into categories. You could watch a Western (genre)
about "a boy's passage into manhood" (theme), or watch
an animated movie (genre / technique) dealing with the same theme.
But rather than these two both being judged as "rights of
passage" movies, they're judged by genre or technique. Why
is one designation favored over another?
is geared toward the advancement of business objectives, rather
than the advancement of the art form. Artistic value is innate,
while competition is a cornerstone of capitalism.
my point ...
We as artists
shouldn't quibble about process, we should embrace it in all forms.
We should be knocking down the walls, not reinforcing them.
by Durrien on November 6, 2001: (in response to Penanimate's
To address your points, Penanimate ... yes, Waking Life,
similar to Ralph Bakshi's work, makes use of a kind of rotoscoping
technique, from previously shot, continuously rolling live-action
footage ... which has always caused animators to wince, as cheating.
I think this is the point of contention - at the level of the
camera. If I manipulate an image or a block of wood, in the natural
world or in my computer, one frame at a time, click click click
... then I can rightfully call this "animating." However,
if I let the camera do all the EASY work, of just recording events
before the lens, and then later I use this layout, set design
and lighting as a template for my animation ... well, then I am
no longer animating. Perhaps we could think of the live-action
footage as a very-detailed storyboard that the animator faithfully
recreates: because the animator *is* recreating and interpreting
the footage, frame by frame by painstaking frame.
seems to me that the level of where these decisions are being
made is maybe the crux of the concern. A director making creative
decisions on environments, acting, poses - if these decisions
are made before or after a scene reaches an artist's hands, then
this is the distinguishing factor between an animator and a "glorified
ink and paint" artist?
goes for character design. If you have seen the film, which I
am guessing that you have not, then you will recognize that the
live-action actors are not merely cartoon versions of themselves.
There is an element of stylistic decision making
the overarching criticism that this movie, Waking Life,
is just an interesting experiment in digital manipulation of images,
I would have to disagree with: along the lines of what Gordg has
said. I disagree with you that what the film becomes is "still
live-action." Would the film work on its own? Technically,
yes, the live-action footage could be shown on its own. But from
an artistic and thematic standpoint, the film would not work,
it would fall flat on its nose, if it was not ... (dare I say
it?) ... "animated."
As for the
movie being meaningful, I was saying that it was one of my favorites
of the year for this reason, and that I would therefore vote for
it - not that "meaningfulness" is a criterion, or that
it should be, for Oscar victory. There is a distinction.
ATTACK OF THE CLOWNS... Welcome to the brave new world, as the
lines blur between traditional live-action and animation. It's
the end of animation history as we know it. Run for the hills!
[insert Jim Hill article here].
by Penanimate on November 6, 2001:
Interesting theoretical and semantic distinction you make, saying
that the "animator faithfully recreates" a very detailed
storyboard via the frame-for-frame live action. I don't buy it,
but we're into opinion and belief at this point, so if you want
to think of it that way, by all means...
You'd be incorrect
in assuming that I haven't seen this work, and I never claimed
that the actors were merely cartoon versions of themselves. Naturally
there will have to be stylistic decisions made when you're slopping
digital paint all over a live action frame. But character design?
Interesting how Ethan Hawk is recognizable as Ethan Hawk...
to disagree over whether this film is "animated" or
not. My concern is over whether films that are traditionally regarded
as "animated", for which this category of award was
created and is intended, will lose out to a film that, I suspect,
was entered into this category in an attempt to garner a high-profile
award with the knowledge that it didn't stand a chance in any
of the "mainstream" categories. Or, to put it another
way - when it was submitted to festivals, was it submitted in
the animation category, or some other?
to Gordg's thoughts about competition among artists - in a way
I agree; we should be pushing the boundaries and trying new things.
However, Hollywood in general and the Oscars in particular aren't
really about art; they're about commerce. How else does one explain
Titanic winning against competition such as L.A. Confidential,
a better film in every way imaginable? Or the "Disney formula",
which only now is apparently being tossed aside, as the box office
for each film drops lower than the last one? Competition between
artists may be bad, but since the Oscars aren't about art, shouldn't
we be interested in the commercial ramifications of who wins the
understand that an Oscar win means more cash in the coffers, and
I've never heard of an actor's asking price going down after an
Oscar win (unless they're doing an art film to practice their
craft, of course). As long as artists and animators continue to
approach the Hollywood moneymaking machine as an artistic pursuit,
we'll continue to get trampled under the wing tips of those who
understand that it's first and foremost a business.
by Durrien on November 6, 2001:
Yeah, truthfully, I don't have much respect for the Oscars, --
or rather, I don't put much stock in them -- though naturally,
like you said, it does have financial benefits for those actors
and studios who win.
have "drawing" power...
the potential upside, if a movie like Waking Life is nominated
for the Best Feature Animation category, it helps to chisel away
the stereotype that animation is only for the kiddies (Waking
Life is rated 'R', I think, and its subject matter is a bit
weighty, unlike the satirical fart humor of the South Park movie,
also rated 'R') ... or that there is only one viable style or
formula for animated films (a la the Disney musical, or the increasingly
formulaic, comedic CGI flick*).
* may "The
Spirits Within" rest in peace...
by Gordg on November 6, 2001:
Well, it's nice to see you two get together ... it's unfortunate
it was to pick on me.
I see, you're
not discussing art, you're discussing business. The integrity
of the film isn't in question, it's the bottom line.
whether it's a quality film, it's only a question of whether it
will receive Oscar notoriety or not. It's all about money ....
I got it.
I guess I
should have checked with my CPA before posting.
is you both agree box office isn't important, yet at the same
time you're stating an Oscar will increase the movies "drawing
So which is
it, important or not important. If neither the Oscar win nor the
box office returns have any relevance to the quality of the film,
why as *artists* are we concerned?
money in the bank will allow the artist some freedom to create,
but if they're only manufacturing movies to fit present box office
pundit's theories on "drawing power" .... what's the
And if the
artist is creating their work regardless of whether it's Oscar
material or a potential "money maker" ... your discussion
has no relevance. And the focus should be on the quality of the
have it both ways.
if the purpose for creating movies is to make money, and quality
is unimportant ... I guess we should all become accountants.
you to your number crunching.
by Penanimate on November 7, 2001:
(responding to Gordg - "so which is it, important or not
important?" comment in above post)
it is depends on what hat you're currently wearing - the "I'm
an artist and must create" hat, or the "I need to feed
my family, so I gotta earn some dough" hat. I think the greatest
failing of the creative side of the animation community is the
inability of most of its members to recognize that what we do
is a business. We use our art and creative skills to contribute,
but at the end of the day, it's a numbers game. One doesn't have
to look too long at the state of the business these days to recognize
that. The two are inextricably linked, but most "creatives"
refuse to see or acknowledge that fact. The only people I see
who steadfastly refuse to compromise their art for the sake of
commerce fall into two categories: the "starving in a garret"
camp, and the "Lucas Ranch" camp. I'm not interested
in the former, and have not yet achieved the latter.
to Gordg - "Sure more money in the bank will allow the artist
some freedom to create, but if they're only manufacturing movies
to fit present box office pundit's theories on "drawing power"
.... what's the point?")
is being able to work in a field that we love, despite having
to work on drek sometimes. All I'm saying is that we need to be
aware of what influences the rest of the entertainment industry,
and it ain't "art", despite all the sound bites one
hears to the contrary. At least that's the way it is down here
- if it's different in Canada, and you have clients willing to
foot the bills while artists create without constraint, then I'm
packing my bags tomorrow.
to Gordg - "Of course if the purpose for creating movies
is to make money, and quality is unimportant ... I guess we should
all become accountants.")
I don't recall
ever saying that quality was unimportant, but it's undeniable
that the purpose behind most mainstream filmmaking efforts is
to make money. Without a doubt, there are those (myself included)
who work on film projects to express themselves, but those movies
aren't what fills the multiplex, as sad as that is. And since
most animators strive to work on "mainstream" projects
(features, TV, commercials, games), it ends up being about the
bottom line. You can dislike it all you want (I'm not happy about
it either), but it's the way it is. I admire folks who strive
for more creative freedom and go about getting it - I've just
never heard of one who got it within the mainstream moviemaking
industry without having poured a lot of cash in the coffers at
some point in the past.
by Durrien on November 7, 2001: (in response to Gordg)
Nope. That's just the nature of the biz, bub. If a film has a
large box office draw, then the suits will follow their noses
toward "greener" pastures.
Thus, a string
of subsequent Puke-e-mon movies, until they are no longer profitable.
animated movies try to cast big name actors is....? That's right!
Box office draw. The execs are trying to lure people into theaters
and to squeeze out of their investment every possible penny of
with the OSCARS is that, even if it hasn't been a huge box office
success, if a movie wins on its artistic merits or what have you,
then people will be more likely, more curious?, to go see it...
And in the long run, it will give studios, or directors, or whomever,
or anyone for that matter, more leverage in telling those kinds
of stories, in those kinds of ways.
by D.E.E.P. on November 7, 2001
(responding to Durrien - "The thing with the OSCARS is that,
even if it hasn't been a huge box office success, if a movie wins
on its artistic merits or what have you, then people will be more
likely, more curious?, to go see it... And in the long run, it
will give studios, or directors, or whomever, or anyone for that
matter, more leverage in telling those kinds of stories, in those
kinds of ways.")
agree with this comment. If there's one thing the Oscars provide
is exposure to lesser known material. Remember that for a while
independent films at the Oscars were much more predominant then
mainstream films. Titanic was an exception, but most of
the awards were usually given to low budget features that the
public would otherwise ignore. And it's for that reason that we've
been seeing a lot more independent films in the last five years
then in the past, when low budget "art" films were almost
So as bad
as some think the Oscars are, when they do recognize an indy film,
they provide a service that nothing else can replace. How many
more will see films like "Memento" if it's nominated
for best film next year?
And I think
that's also why a film like Waking Life should not be nominated
in a category that will serve to boost the currently slow industry.
Durrien, it is my opinion as well that this movie does not fall
into the "animated" category. The technique used only
makes the film APPEAR to be animated. The person on the computer
does not actually go in and move anything, which after all is
what the essence of animation is--movement. A true animator learns
exactly that, how to move a drawing or a model within a virtual
environment. I have always said the same about any technique that
uses any form of tracing or rotoscoping, it is cheating. And I
don't want to see a film that does that win an award for best
Life is worthy of an Academy Award, I say nominate it in the
category it belongs to, best film of the year. Films like Shrek
and Monsters Inc., even though they might not be as deep
and meaningful, deserve to win this one so to give the animation
community the little kick in the butt it really needs. But let
me say this, if Iron Giant had come out this year, then I would
have voted for it in a instant. There's a film that proved art
is still (much) better than commerce.
by Gordg on November 7, 2001
I know how the industry works boys. As I'm sure anyone with a
modem and a modcum of interest, knows how it works (or doesn't
work as it were).
of reasoning reflects the attitude of the "suits" (a
term I don't agree with). Think for yourself. Or as the Apple
computer motto suggests "Think different".
we should be focused on creating, and we should leave the marketing
to the "suits". Yes, management is forever meddling
with creative .... but why does that mean you have to stop thinking
shouldn't be "Oh well the suits are just going to screw it
up again". Or" this is commercial work there is no room
for artistic expression". That's bull!
It is our
responsibility as artist , to bring the people who lack vision,
new insights. Yeah it ain't easy ... but anything worthwhile never
is. NO every aspect of every project may not be fresh, and original,
but if you resign yourself to accepting the staus quo I'm positive
it will forever be mediocre.
Part of what
makes animation a more laborious occupation, is the fact that
only a few people make the creative decisions. This means there
are a lot of people with minimal influence, and a lot of work.
But this is the nature of the art form and has nothing to do with
thinking like the "suits". Stay creative.
there is art in commercial work. But I'm running out of time.
So why don't you start a new thread on the topic and we can have
All in good
fun of course.
by bighead72 on November 7, 2001
OK I'm not an animator but...
95% of the work I do is in the middle grey area between "budget
conscious" and "design freedom". And yes they do
tend to be the two far ends of the spectrum in the architecture
If I were
to throw my hands up in the air and give up every time a client
asked that I redesign a project in order to save some money --
I'd be out of a job. To be perfectly frank, that's real life.
Yeah, I'd love to have a job where the client says "do whatever
you like -- I just want to spend money" but unfortunately
that never happens.
Even if I
am assigned a project that is completely bare bones budget, it
is still my duty to provide as much design as the project can
afford. I have a friend here in the office whose motto is "Poverty
is a poor excuse for bad design." It certainly helps me keep
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