Outfitted in a rubberized suit complete with sensors and a primitive looking headset, Chris Walker hardly looks like the future of computer animation. But when Walker, 42, moves and the cartoon image on the screen in front of him mimics his moves right down to Walker's squinting eyes, his contraption seems uncannily futuristic.

Walker the founder of Modern Cartoons in Venice, Calif., and a pioneer of so-called real-time animation, is speeding up the clock on cartooning, making animation an nearly instantaneous art and much more affordable. With animation's popularity, and with the demand for "content" exploding in the entertainment industry, nothing gets Hollywood's attention these days like cheaper and faster.

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It's no surprise that Walker, who aspires to bring real-time animation to prime-time sitcoms and feature films a la Disney and DreamWorks SKG, has traded in his animation suit for a jacket and tie. And is doing a lot more lunch these days.

Standard animation such as the kind used for Mickey Mouse, Rugrats and the Simpsons, requires artist to draw every movement of a character on what is known as a cell. Computers are then used to replicate the drawings, but it still takes roughly 20,000 cells to bring Homer and the gang to life for half an hour. Even computer animation such as the type employed in a Bug's life, requires adding the "third dimension" by manipulating lighting and backgrounds - a costly and time-consuming process. With real-time animation, a sequence of normal movements is programmed just once into the computer. An actor then dons one of Walker's unique sensor-laden suits and camera-equipped headsets that will translate the actor's motions to the character on the computer screen. Characters, which can be changed by computer in less than two minutes, may be anything form a hippo to a gender-bending dancer to Al Gore. The suits (and their cameras and computers) are expensive - roughly $300,000 a pop - but production time and staff are scaled way back. There are no wardrobe changes, makeup artists or pampered stars complaining about too little Evian in their trailers. Real-time animation can create the kind of subtle human expressions that cartoon figures or virtual characters on the internet so often lack. Jay Jay the Jet Plane, co-produced by Modern Cartoons, features planes with human faces that are as realistic as anything that animation has to offer. The television show also is produced at a rate of 11 minutes of animation a day, a pace unheard of until Walker came along.

Raised in Berkeley, Calif., Walker, an artist by training and a garage-tinkering inventor by passion, has been working the real-time animation system since the early 80's. Back then, his days were spent in a fledgling computer-graphics house. With a stack of drawings on his left and the image of a spinning cube on the screen of a crude computer to his right, Walker's idea for revolutionizing animation started as little more than a day-dream. "I always thought that stack of paper could be that spinning cube" says Walker. Now that he's conquered the cube, that leaves only Mickey and Minnie to worry about. 

Born:  May 18, 1956, Champaign-Urbana Ill. Education:  California  Institute  of  the  Arts.      Role  Model:  Orville Wright.                        Proudest  Accomplishment:   Running a suc-  cessful studio.                                                       Goal: To  make  a  movie  in  real-time    animation.                                                            Favorite  movie:   Naked  Lunch

A man and his suit reanimate animation

Chris Walker