Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Normally, I don't like to go on huge rants on my blog ( I save that for work), but I was watching Inside the Actor's Studio the other night and my blood began to boil. James Lipton was gushing about the superhuman talents of an actor, in this case Robert Downey Jr., and he went through each and every film that Mr. Downey had graced his talent with (except Back to School). Eventually he came to A SCANNER DARKLY and after educating the audience on what rotoscope was, Mr. Lipton said this:

"In theory, if you rotoscope a really good performance by a really good actor, it ought to be much more effective than an animated performance that's been drawn or computer generated to match a voice."

Now... Mr. Lipton normally takes great pride in making sweeping statements with no evidence to support those statements, but this one seemed more like an attempt to push an agenda. Animators, in Lipton's estimation, are worse performers than even a second rate copy of an actor's performance.

Below, I have two images and I'll let you be the judge.


Blogger Charles Tinney said...

This must be why The Polar Express is artistic and animation genius.

Hand drawn features tended to have a team of animators for each main character. In the current world of computer animation an animator will, more often than not, animate the entire cast of lead characters in a film. Thus, having to take on the personality of and act as several different characters throughout the course of a project.

Funny how rotoscoping and motion capture animation tend to leave a dead, lifeless, unbelievable performance if untouched by an animator or utilized as gimics for a film rather than storytelling elements by "great" directors.

To be suggested as a second rate actor by the unfathomable Lipton makes my day!

12:22 PM  
Blogger Jim Mortensen said...

Meh. I stopped listening to Lipton after he made the Simpsons cast do their characters' catchphrases.



2:05 PM  
Blogger shannon said...

Actually Charles, the old Disney films followed the sequence direction model in which animators would work on every character in a scene. Some animators are known for specific characters, but they didn't have character leads.

However you slice it, it just shows how clueless Lipton is. The thing that bugs me most is that he doesn't give any proof to support his "theory".

2:16 PM  
Blogger Ben Balistreri said...

I would like to see the Dumbo clip done in Cee-Gee and then rotoscoped back into Two-Dee. And have him voiced by Downey Jr. while your at it. Then have him battle Mr. Freeze!

2:31 PM  
Blogger OV! said...

i stopped watching Lipton after he had Julia Roberts on the show.


2:59 PM  
Blogger Charles Tinney said...

Shannon, you've just proved that I'm as clueless as Lipton. Making things up with zero factual backing. :( God help me!

Hehe, I was mainly referring to this setup on Tarzan. But, yes, at times animators would handle all the characters in their scene.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Are you seriously trying to prove your point about acting with a single image? It's what the actor DOES that matters, not what he looks like. And more importantly, it's what it does to you. And Robert Downey Jr. IS a fantastic actor. But so was Bill Tytla. But animation acting and live action acting is so different that it can hardly be compared, let alone by a single image. It's all based on what direction and style the film should go/is going. A rotoscoped performance is worse in a film like dumbo, or pretty much any disney(-type) movie, than an animated performance. And in an "A Scanner Darkly"-type movie, animated acting wouldn't work nearly as well as a live action performance.

Both types can be great, both can be horrible. But your lack of nuance makes you sound almost just as bad as Lipton himself.

3:31 PM  
Blogger shannon said...

Whoa, slow down a minute! Dear Mr. Benjamin, never in my post did I suggest that Robert Downey Jr. was a bad actor. In fact I think he is a great actor. I also never suggested that animation performance was better than a live action or rotoscoped performance.

I just wanted to point out that the quality of something can't be measured on technique alone; a point both you and I seem to agree on.

I actually intended to pull clips from both films to illustrate the point, but at 8:00am, just before work, the two images is all I had.

I certainly don't agree that animation acting and live action performance are different or why they can't be compared. If you have some examples of why they can't be compared, I would love to see them. Both are used to elicit an emotional response in the audience member. If they don't make you feel something, good or bad, the actor or animator isn't doing they're job. Some performances are successful some aren't, but none of this has anything to do with the technique used to deliver the performance.

I'm simply trying to illustrate why Lipton is so off base. I'm sorry my comments didn't contain enough nuance for you, but I'm writing a blog, not a master's thesis on performance. I'd rather draw than write and maybe I should just stick to drawing.

I appreciate you're point of view and I'm sorry if you misunderstood me. However, you certainly could have made your point without resorting to insults.

Now, maybe I'll get back to postin' some doodles!


4:51 PM  
Blogger Mukpuddy said...

Right on man!
Man another thing I'm sick of is idiots plugging this film as an "Animated Film", it's just about to get released here in NZ and every dipshit in he media thinks this shit is the greatest thing they've ever seen!!

3:53 PM  
Blogger COMPLIFENT said...

Stick ta Iced Tea old man! His, "I know something you don't know." act is getting stale anyway. I guess someone needs to feed that old IBM machine some more punch cards.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

How did I insult you? I can't seem to find any insults re-reading what I wrote, and I certainly didn't mean to. I'm sorry if it looked that way. Perhaps the "sounding as bad as Lipton?". I don't see it as an insult - I wouldn't even have any reason to insult you -, it just was a way to show I felt it was odd that you wanted to reject a "statement with no evidence to support that statement" by doing the exact same thing (comparing acting by comparing images). It's not about essay vs blog-writing, it's about logic. Maybe I just misinterpret what you wrote.

And when talking about not being able to compare the two styles, I wasn't talking about the emotions involved, but about the technique. By the way you wrote "Below, I have two images and I'll let you be the judge" and prior to that "second rate copy of an actor's performance" it seemed like you wanted to indicate that you thought the performance in Dumbo was superior, by comparing technique. Reading your reply, it seems like you were defending exactly the opposite, in which case, I agree wholeheartedly. No hard feelings? :-)

3:19 PM  
Blogger Chris Battle said...

Regardless of where you stand on the merits of rototscoped v. hand-animated, one universal truth remains:

James Lipton is such a fucking tool.

1:02 PM  
Blogger shannon said...

Here, Here Mr. Battle!

2:53 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

I could hardly stand watching the 30 sec. commercial that was done the same way, so I doubt I'll torture myself with a full 90 mins. I already know how much it's gonna piss me off, when I hear people say stuff like....Yeah and the animation is just incredible!
F&#@*!KKKK, see lol just talking about it makes my blood boil!

Have a nice day:)


P.S. Oh yes, and congrats on the character design for "Fosters". Well deserved:)

5:56 PM  
Blogger Gabe Fullilove said...

Perhaps we could put aside the notion that 'A Scanner Darkly' is animation. It was entertaining, but it was not animation as defined by the masters (Jones, Disney)

I would call it tracing with style.

To quote Lipton in his finest performance ever:

"Can I get a copy of caged wisdom?"

- Arrested Development, Season 2.

Nuff said, yeah?

12:02 PM  
Blogger Doctor Jones said...

Yeah, I agree.
Lipton IS a douche bag.
But how bout this scenario: What if Lipton DOES actually think in his own opinion that a rotoscoped style is better than a classical approach.
If that were the case, then we'd all be agruing about the opinion of a total dink. -And who really gives a rats ass about Lipton's opinion on what good animation is anyways.
Whoever mentioned it earlier, I agree. -It all comes back to Lipton being an ass hat.

3:30 AM  
Blogger Ridd Sorensen said...

haha battle. good one.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I don't want to sound like an ass yet again here, but now that it's been posted on cartoonbrew, I noticed something, that looks like most people are missing. I think we can all agree that Lipton is an ass, a douche bag, or whatever. But if you read what he said, he says "In theory"!

He also didn't say "In theory, if you rotoscope a really good performance by a really good actor, it ought to be much more effective than an animated performance."

He said "In theory, if you rotoscope a really good performance by a really good actor, it ought to be much more effective than an animated performance that's been drawn or computer generated to *match a voice.*"

Maybe he isn't talking at all about the technique behind it, but just that with rotoscoping, the performance is in the hands of only ONE person, which means *in theory* that it should be more unified and thus effective.

But he didn't say it HAD to be the case... just in theory.

Or am I missing something?

11:35 AM  
Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Oh, and congrats on the award! It certainly is the best looking animated show on tv right now.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Chuck said...

Benjamin's right twice.

The posting of two still images was a well-intended mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. If you don't have the time to make your point effectively, it's probably better not to bother. I appreciate the where Shannon was going wit it though.

Lipton did say "in theory" and an "in-theory" is often followed by a "but" I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. We all know that in art we have loads of theories, postulates and aphorisms, most of which bring us only halfway to the desired effect.

In theory, we can make every color from just red, yellow and blue, right?

In theory, a realistically drawn character is a believable character, so the more we take from live-action, the more our audience suspends disbelief.

But in practice, the best artists start with reality, and interpret and reinvent until they have the facsimile that produces their desired effect.

Picasso is more succinct: "Art is the lie that tells the truth."

12:29 PM  
Blogger Amid said...

Lipton's use of "in theory" doesn't hide the fact that he simply doesn't get animation. What he doesn't understand is that the animation technique allows for performances that extend beyond the realm of live-action. Not only can animators create actions that are physically impossible to create in live-action, but the very foundation of many animation acting styles has no equivalent in live-action. For example, witness the uninhibited manic quality of Ward Kimball's characterizations in THE THREE CABALLEROS, the physically intense acting of a Rod Scribner scene in any number of Bob Clampett shorts, or the abstract graphic acting of Bobe Cannon and Masaaki Yuasa. You can rotoscope a live actor for a hundred years and you would never achieve any of these performances. That's because all rotoscope and mo-cap allows is to capture an existing performance. Animation allows you to create a performance from scratch and to give life to a character in a manner that is unique to the medium. So, "in theory" or not, Lipton is wrong, wrong, wrong.

2:49 PM  
Blogger shannon said...

Well, I posted this topic to get a reaction and I certainly have. I'm a sucker for a good debate and it seems we have a good one going here.

As for the images of Dumbo and A Scanner Darkly, I've admitted to that mistake and I am currently pulling clips from each film to address that issue.

As for Lipton's use of the word "theory", I truly hope that those commenting on his statement have actually seen the whole video. You need to see it in context. Otherwise it's just as bad as using a single image to describe a performance. I mean, I could have made the whole thing up and you would be arguing the semantics of a fictional statement. I didn't make it up, but it would be funny if I did...right?

The thing that's being missed, that you'll notice if you see the whole interview, is how random the comment is. At no other point during the interview does Lipton skew off topic to discuss his opinion (or theory) of a particular process. He could have shared his "theory" on the differences between silent films and talkies when he discussed Downey's role in Chaplin. He could have educated the audience with his view of drug culture when he discussed Downey's substance abuse. The only time he felt the need to provide the audience with a "theory" was when he discussed rotoscope as it compares to animated performance; a subject he is woefully unqualified to produce a theory for.

That's the thing that upset me the most. A guy who has never animated or rotoscoped anything feels he can a provide a theory regarding the supposed superiority of one thing to another.

It happens every day in animation studios across the world. People who aren't qualified to make statements about animation end up telling artists what they feel is the right way or better way to make animation. Because, hey, it's just cartoons and if you WATCH cartoons your automatically an expert ...right?

5:06 PM  
Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Oh yeah, even though I haven't seen the video (that's why I asked if I'm missing something), of course I realize Lipton's lack of understanding of animation, and as an animator I of course love all the freedom and control animation brings us. But it still doesn't change that if interpret litteraly, this quote is completely logical. In theory, he is right. Even though it doesn't work that way in practice.

Unfortunately, the actors studio doesn't get broadcast here in Belgium, so all I can watch are episodes found on the net. So I don't know the way he said it. Even the intonation in his voice could mean a big difference. But *litterally*, I'd say he's right for once.

But you're completely right being frustrated with these types of people putting animation in such a bad light, or just thinking they know what it's about. Those reviews posted on cartoonbrew made me furious!

6:54 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

Yes, I'd be curious to see the entire spiel. I assumed that he was leading up to some other grand conclusion, but if he said it as if it were a truism —as if animators would do well to spend their time digging up Marlon Brando films and photoshopping over them, sure, he's a nutjob.

Don't post Dumbo and Scanner Darkly on my account. Dumbo's a bona-fide masterpiece (at least Gene Siskel knew it) and I disliked Waking Life enough to trust you on A Scanner Darkly.

Normally I don't worry myself too much over the folks who "just don't get it" in regard to animation. Hey, I'm not particularly turned on by westerns and anime, and I'm not going to waste time educating these people.

But I can imagine how frustrating it must be to put several years of heart and soul into getting a perfectly heartfelt performance on the screen and have it seen (at best) as more of a technical skill than real acting. And then watch soap opera stars collect Emmys.

It was nice to see Beauty and the Beast get an Oscar nod, but I think it would have shown some real depth for the Academy to have given a best-actor award to Glen Keane and Robby Benson for that one great performance. Ditto for Gollum in Lord of the Rings. You guys can come up with better examples I'm sure.

BTW, Shannon, that was my first post, and I'm afraid I forgot to compliment you on your fine work. Keep it up!

6:58 PM  
Blogger Carl V. Anderson said...

In defense of A Scanner Darkly, not Lipton, I think the rotoscoping on that film made it a better film than it would have been as a live action piece and really added to the overall mood that the story was trying to convey.

However people who can take absolutely nothing...a blank page...and can bring characters to life are amazing and anyone who would dismiss animation wholesale is a fool as there are some absolutely moving, fun, wonderful animated shows out there.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Jenny Lerew said...

Wow...you certianly did get something going!

I appreciate the stills; I was goign to do that myself(who doesn't immediately want to put up any one of hundreds of examples that make the photoshopped face of Downey seem as "meh" as it in fact is by comparison?)...but as you & others have noted, it really calls for a scene, and I have no clue how to even do that on my blog yet. Animation is animated performance, drawing by drawing--or frame by frame. More potential for CONTROL than any other type of "naturalistic" filmmaking in the world. And as for me, I actually do believe that it's worth getting all hot & bothered about stuff like this--because I've been reading junk like this now for 20 years--twenty!--and little has changed; we still get misunderstood, badly reported, disinformation spread everywhere about what we do and how it's done(see my post with my 1982 letter correcting someone who thought Preston Blair rotoscoped "Red" in the Tex Avery cartoons).

In this day and age there's no excuse I can think of for why this should be so. It's not trivial when it's my art, my job, that someone--Lipton or anyone else--is tossing off inaccuracies about!
btw, I've always loved your stuff, Shannon; it's the brightest light on TV for my money. Good show!

11:04 AM  
Blogger I. N. J. Culbard said...

On reading this article just one name springs to mind.

Preston Blair.

3:51 PM  
Blogger claytron said...

No, Benjamin. Robert Downey, Jr. is *NOT* a "great actor." He is Robert Downey, Jr., and he never changes his delivery. Who sounds like Lipton, you brooding fanboy? And what happened to convince everybody and their %*#*@ mother that they ever knew a !&@%$ thing about what a "great actor" was? I'll tell you what happened. We all died and went to Hell. People wonder why the world has changed so much since they were children, and I'll explain that, too. It's because idiots always think their opinions are superior to, say, just about anyone who knows exactly what they're talking about. Whether it's a film reviewer or a guy posting a comment to a blog, idiots will always rule the Earth, and those with enough reason to see beyond their specious flights of fancy will always be heckled by the peanut gallery. "A Scanner Darkly" was crap, especially if you've read the book. Or give a &*%$@ about animation. Or acting. Or the art of filmmaking. Get bent.

1:43 AM  
Blogger Nils said...

wheres the first image from? this pretty realistic one? would like to see the movie which belongs to it...
greetz nils

4:21 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

Right On!
He's got no damn clue what he's talking about, he hasn't for years.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Phillip Boutte Jr. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Phillip Boutte Jr. said...

This is just laughable....not only was Scanner Darkly extremely disappointing and preachy, the rotoscoping effect added nothing to the film what-so-ever. It is like taking a crappy illustration and adding a photoshop filter to it....in the end, it is still a piece of crap illustration. Animators add a sense of life and character to their work that cannot be duplicated by simply making a copy of a performance...there has to be a soul to it...not a blank facade.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Andrew Glazebrook said...

I think just about everything that has to be said about this has been said !!

2:15 PM  
Blogger suizou said...

I read the blog before scrolling to the images...POWERFUL. We don't need convincing, but those who do cannot argue with the evidence.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's foot in mouth syndrome
it's going around:)

people are starting to figure it
out though. No contest between those images though.

11:58 AM  
Blogger nyborn said...

I walked out of "Scanner Darkly" for just the reason you presented so well. I couldn't connect with these unresponsive and unreadable animated faces. They just failed to convey any depth, personality or humanity.

And extra thanks for the comments on the pandering James Lipton. I stopped watching after his ass sucking of Matt Dillon for his performance in the lame and heavy handed "The Saint of Fort Washington." What a tool.

What also annoys me about him and that school is their taking credit for actors who were trained elsewhere like Robert Duvall (a Sanford Meisner student), Robert DeNiro (a Stella Adler student who avoided Lipton's baiting question of "what did you learn from the studio?" and sidestepped it by stating he learned a lot from the directors) and most of all Marlon Brando, who despised Strasberg and praised his teacher, Stella Adler, to no end.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Ems said...

ooooh, My blood is boiling too!!

Frank and Ollie said that every time they stayed too close to exact rotoscoping, their animation got worse. As they got further away from the rotoscoping, the acting got more and more believable.. I personally believe rotoscoping and mo-cap can be a great tool to get basic movements you start from and you improve by animating. but to be honest I hate rotoscoping. For some reason it just always seems to feel wrong.
For my peace of mind I like to keep it as a seperate thing that has nothing to do with animating.

Anyway, the guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Maybe we should send him 'acting for animators' and 'the illusion of life'? you know with one of those yellow post it's:
"know the subject before you make a statement about it. shame on you Liptonboy!" :)


11:09 AM  
Blogger James Sutton said...

This guy is obviously a fucking idiot..

Real people are so limited.

They can't stretch, bend, or have bulgy eyeballs.

Rotoscoping is a cool technique but this Lipton guy is obviously taking it wrong way.

He didn't have to go shit on what is "animation".

5:48 AM  
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11:32 PM  
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