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Articles & Papers | PhD


Epiphanic Resolution: The Effect of Video Compression on the Believability of Computer-Generated Characters

Article written by Jason Kennedy, preprint published at

Abstract: This article examines the effects of video compression on the believable integration of computer-generated (CG) characters among live-action film elements. Compression is requisite for the delivery of moving-image content to a variety of end-user applications. The most common standards for compressing consumer-targeted video content provide separate pros and cons depending on the type of footage and the degree of compression required. This research investigates to what extent the type and degree of compression impacts how well virtual actors (vactors) appear to coexist within profilmic scenes. By extension, what visual results linked to compression have the greatest impact on compromising a vactor’s believable integration within a shot? Analyses of two feature films and two web-based promotional films at various compression strengths provide data that suggests compression is more detrimental to the believability of CG versus profilmic characters. Additionally, as compression strength increases, CG characters become more graphically abstracted – negatively impacting the quality of their visual integration – whereas profilmic actors remain recognisably human and plausibly integrated. This research provides novel insights regarding the relationship between the finished video product as delivered by a film company versus how it may be perceived when viewed at different formats by audiences.


The Animator’s Sensorium: The Impact of Acting and Animation Experience on Creating Reference Performances

Article written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Animation: Practice, Process & Production Volume 10, Issue 1
Open access version of full paper available at Tuwhera Open Access

Abstract: This research provides an initial investigation into strategies for creating reference performances for animation. The term reference performance has various meanings in animation production; in this article, I use it to refer to a recording of a person performing physical and emotional cues, from which performance elements of an animated character may be derived. Beginning with Max Fleischer’s invention of the rotoscope process in 1915, animation studios began to record actors as a means to inject greater believability – that is, a “[reconciliation of] realism within the animated form” (Pallant 2011: 41) – into the movements and expressions of animated characters. While various methods exist today to capture reference performances, it remains axiomatic that the utility of the reference is only as good as a performer’s ability to produce the desired performance. While seasoned actors would seem ideally suited to the task, large-scale animation studios frequently require animators to film their own reference performances, even though the animators may have limited (or non-existent) acting experience. By comparison, smaller studios and independent productions may not have the time or ability for each animator to self-produce reference; instead, they may opt for an animation director/supervisor to record reference for every character, to work from clips available through online video sites (e.g.: YouTube), or to forgo video reference altogether. This research examines the potential for acting experience to enhance reference performances, and specifically explores three different preconditions of experience when producing animation reference: an actor with no animation experience; an animator with no acting experience; and an academic with both acting and animation experience. As an additional site of inquiry, this research explores the use of head-mounted cameras (HMCs) in the production of animation reference as a means to more fully and reliably capture the research participants’ expressive range. This research engages with ethnographic and autoethnographic research models to compare the creative choices of each participant and their ability to produce meaningful expressions, gestures, and body movements as reference performance for a short, auteur 3D animated film in a predominantly realistic style. From these analyses, the maximal performance utility of each participant is gauged. By extension, this limited data provides an initial suggestion that acting experience is an essential precondition when producing useful reference performances for the type and style of animation explored in this study.  Furthermore, this article relates the acting strategies of its participants to the acting theory of Ivana Chubbuck (2004) and the theory of emotional effector patterns as described by Bloch et al. (1987). This research suggests that these practice-informed performance theories may prove useful to animator when producing their own reference, regardless of performance experience.

Multidisciplinary in Earth-Mars Analogue via Augmented Reality Technology: A Feasibility Study of Space Type-Terrestrial Tourism in Sri Lanka and Morocco

Abstract written by Aravinda Ravibhanu Sumanarathna, Majda Aouititen, Jason Kennedy, and Abdelouahed Lagnaoui, published in
The Mars Society: 25th Annual International Mars Society Convention Published Abstracts

Abstract: Within the next decade, it is speculated that humans will build habitats on Mars to conduct research and make long-term settlements, including harbor life stations. The practical intention that underpins our research is to test the ability of human’s thinking patterns to develop microbusiness approach via space-type terrestrial tourism. One such example would be an augmented reality (AR) experience at a specific Earth location analogous to being on Mars. For instance, AR provides excellent scope for creating the experience of interacting with a Martian harbor life station while remaining on Terran soil. To accomplish this goal, we developed an AR application that uses 3D computer-generated models of assets such as the Curiosity rover, an astronaut, a space shuttle, and a few other open-source extension models. These models synchronize in real locations of Sri Lanka [Usaangoda and Aruwakkalu] and Morocco [Central High Atlas], including a few urban areas and in-situ places as a test trial. Our approach supports monitoring the value of space-type terrestrial tourism as an accessible means to support sustainable microeconomies at the trial locations. Within this study, we use AR to produce immersion within a computer-simulated environment designed as a tourist attraction. We suggest that this approach can be used to stimulate and enhance eco/geo-type tourism. General and practical implications of further research are required in order to properly evaluate the sustainable and mega economy components via virtual reality or terrestrial type of advanced Earth-Mars analogues.

Link to recording of presentation


Vactor Ontologies: Framing Acting Within a Motion Capture Context

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media
DOI: 10.1080/14794713.2021.1974727

Abstract: While an actor’s performance in a stage play may be seen as a continuous and unmediated form of acting, an actor’s performance in a film is constructed through shot framing, editing, effects work, and other cinematic apparatuses. With the advent of digital filmmaking, constructed performances have become more complex and nuanced, especially through the use of motion capture (MoCap). This research explores how we frame acting within a motion capture context – and specifically, how this affects our larger understanding of what is acting and how acting can be constructed. What does acting become when the product of acting starts as data and finishes as computer-generated images that preserve the source-actor’s ‘original’ performance to varying degrees? Is the source actor solely responsible for the MoCap performance we see on screen, or should other people within the production pipeline receive credit for their creative contributions to the finished acting result? What is at stake in differentiating film acting in MoCap from profilmic performances? Through consolidating and linking theoretical and practical considerations of screen acting in motion capture, this paper proposes a number of ways to conceive of acting and presence within a virtual acting context.

Link to prepress version of article here.

Cataloguing Vactors by Performance Style and Genre in Films from 2010-2013

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Illustration & Animation (CONFIA) (Full text)

Abstract: This article describes a segment of data produced as part of an ongoing research project that attempts to catalogue the performance of every vactor (virtual actor) in feature films from 2010-2019. Vactors are computer-generated (CG) characters that produce performances alongside profilmic elements. While vactors are increasingly common in films, they are poorly catalogued and often regarded among both academics and film critics as disdainful, monolithic performance strategies. A comprehensive list of vactors can be used to extract trends about the number of vactor performances by year, as well as how certain vactor performance styles become more or less predominant with time. By expanding on prior research that focuses on vactor performances from 2010, this article explores trends in vactor performances across multiple film genres between 2010-2013. By analysing this data, this article suggests that vactors are not monolithic but rather encompass a wide variety of roles featuring various degrees of performance nuance and complexity.


Cataloguing Vactors by Performance Style in Films from 2010

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Illustration & Animation (CONFIA) (Full text)

Abstract: This article expands upon categories of vactor performance previously proposed by the author and provides a comprehensive list of vactors by performance type based on an exhaustive review of films from 2010. Vactors are virtual actors – computer-generated (CG) characters that produce performances alongside profilmic elements. Vactors are often lost in the background of films and may be unlisted on websites meant to produce a full record of performances, such as IMDb. Some vactor performances are produced via animation, motion capture, or a combination of both, which complicates proper attribution when multiple individuals are responsible for the creation of a single performance body. Likewise, some vactors are non-human and even non-sentient, meaning that a standard actor catalogue is inadequate for encompassing the full range of vactor performances. A comprehensive list of vactors can be used to extract trends about the number of vactor performances by year, as well as how certain vactor performance styles become more or less predominant with time. While this article focuses on the vactors present in just a single year, the method proposed in this research may be extended to more recent films and is the basis for ongoing research that provides a full list of vactors in feature films from 2010-2019.


Acting-Centred Definitions of Vactors, Synthespians, and Digital Doubles

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the 25th International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA)
(Full text)

Abstract: This paper is an attempt to formalise definitions of different types of performance common to computer-generated (CG) characters in feature films, and to create a taxonomy of modes of performance among these characters. Terms such as a “virtual actors” (vactors), “synthespians”, and “digital doubles” are frequently, but incorrectly, used interchangeably due to a lack of established definitions. What is the relationship of these terms to each other, and how should they be understood from both technological and performance-based perspectives? By articulating clear definitions for these terms, it is possible to theorise a variety of performance types specific to CG characters in feature films. These categories provide an expanded understanding of how performance is created among CG characters, and draws into question whether classic examples of synthespians are really synthespians at all.

Critiquing the Screen Presence of Synthespian Counterparts

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Illustration & Animation (CONFIA) (Full text)

Abstract: This paper critiques the effectiveness of recent synthespian counterparts at producing screen presence equivalent to and indistinguishable from their human referents. While screen presence has been loosely defined for actors, to date there has been no attempt to provide definitions of screen presence specific to a synthespian context. How are we to understand the screen presence of a synthespian when its on-screen performance is a product of an actor as well as the combined roles of many digital artists? How do we conceive of presence when an actor performs through the digital incarnation of another actor’s body, especially a dead one? This paper examines how the screen presence of verisimilar synthespian counterparts is constructed in three recent big-budget Hollywood films: Furious 7, Maleficent, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The closer a synthespian both stylistically and performatively matches its human counterpart, the more it also matches its counterpart’s screen presence. This study provides an updated language for articulating how a synthespian performance navigates the boundary between the uncanny and the believable.


The animator’s (missing) hand: How practice informs seeing in 3D animation

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Illustration & Animation (CONFIA) (Full text)

Abstract: Animation theorist Vivian Sobchack expresses her predilection for animated films that “visibly labor”, and describes 3D animations as “effortless” in appearance [1]. While many theorists may lack the practical experience of creating animation, essential knowledge of the nature of labour in 3D animation is gained through first-hand practice alone. Without this knowledge, much creative work in 3D animation is misconstrued as mere automation. Using my experience as an animator, actor, and educator, I engage in a self-reflective analysis to interrogate how evidence of an animator’s individual contributions can be detected in 3D animation. I employ the metaphor of “the artist’s/animator’s hand” as a means to understand the nature of this involvement. I establish a set of parameters for non-practitioners to employ when trying to locate the contributions of individual animators within 3D animation. With these tools, animation theorists will have a practice-informed lens by which to better understand the act of animating through 3D software, as well as strategies for locating individual animators’ contribution in 3D animation.


Beyond The Mirror: Producing Emotionally-Authentic Facial Performance for Animation Reference

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Illustration & Animation (CONFIA) (Full text)

Abstract: This study examines ways in which actors and animators can create meaningful, emotionally-driven facial performance for animation reference. Most animators are not trained actors, yet they are responsible for producing their own animation reference. Furthermore, when trying to act to a pre-recorded vocal track, many animators produce performances rife with disingenuous acting, which finds its way into the finished animation. The method described in this paper builds on previous research into generating emotionally-connected/authentic animation reference when working with motion capture [1], and specifically expands this research to encompass facial mocap. This paper addresses several technical and acting concerns that emerge when introducing actors and animators to mocap for the first time, as well as suggestions for ways to improve animation reference when working from vocal tracks.

Gauging Meaningful Reference Performance in Animation and Motion Capture

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the Cumulus Conference, Milano 2015 – The Virtuous Circle: Design, Culture and Experimentation) (Full text)

Abstract: This study examines ways in which animators can create meaningful, emotionally-driven performance for animation reference. Most animators are not trained actors, yet they are responsible for producing their own animation reference. Due to their lack of experience, this reference is often inadvertently rife with acting clichés and disingenuous acting (Kennedy, 2013, p.12). However, since animators often have little interest in becoming actors, it is difficult to provide animators with the first-hand acting experience that could improve the quality of their reference – and in turn, the emotional sincerity of their animation. This method described here involves experienced actors engaging with motion-capture to generate emotionally-connected/authentic animation reference. This study provides assessment criteria for what determines “good” animation reference from bad reference, as well as recommended approaches for animators and actors to take so as to improve the likelihood of generating meaningful performance reference for animation.


Character Acting: A Case for Better Animation Reference

Written by Jason Kennedy, published in
Proceedings of the 4th Annual Conference – Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ) (Full text)

Abstract: Animators are often expected to film their own acting reference. However, most animators are not trained actors, and as a result, their performances lack depth when dealing with emotionally-rich subject matter. The result is superficial acting in both reference and final animation. This superficial acting is essentially a caricature of an emotion, rather than the emotion itself, and has been used to create ‘many believable characters with individual personalities’. However, while superficial acting may suffice for some caricatured performances, this paper explores how emotionally-driven and authentic acting reference provides benefits to all types of animated performance. I propose a methodology for achieving emotionally-driven acting reference, based on my experience as an actor and animator. I also compare and contrast superficial animated performances with emotionally-driven animated performances. This research extends the possibilities for greater acting possibilities within animation, including a greater emotional range of animated characters and more emotionally-rich subject matter.