Posts Tagged ‘motion capture’

Let’s Hear it for the Red, White and Blue!

August 5, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): ***½

Steve Rogers is a young bloke living in the US at the time that the country has just entered the Second World War. He is passionately patriotic, and wants to fight the Nazis, but is not considered physically up to the task. An interesting bit of CGI here: the filmmakers have taken the head – not of Alfredo Garcia – but of the movie’s star, Chris Evans, and digitally grafted it onto a body that is so skinny, so horrendously ectomorphic, that one expects him to implode at any moment.

I understand, of course, that the effects guys wanted to create a contrast to the muscled, looming figure that was to come, but this is as unsubtle as they could possibly be; one can’t help wondering how such a scrawny specimen even managed to make it past his first birthday, let alone attain adulthood…

The technology used is probably of the motion-capture variety (as was employed in ‘Lord of the Rings’ to create Gollum). Essentially, what happens is that the actor is covered with hundreds of sensors that convey his body movements to a computer, and this, in turn, informs the movements of the digitally-created body.

Poor Steve is turned down by military assessors, who – quite understandably – don’t believe that he’ll last a day in a combat environment. And you must remember that this is a good 70 years ago, when young Americans wanted to fight (unlike the 60s, when many guys would even self-mutilate rather than be called upon to face the atrocities of the Viet Nam war).

Dr Abraham Erskine (played by the marvellous Stanley Tucci), is a mysterious but warm-hearted academic who has helped the industrialist Howard Stark to develop a special serum… (dramatic chords, please!). Erskine has noted the young fellow’s courage and resolve – and offers him the opportunity of a lifetime. It involves being strapped to a laboratory chair and injected with the above-mentioned power-juice. And the result, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is a new Steve Rogers; towering, masterful, and with chiselled torso all a-glisten.

But this is only the first phase in the development of our soon-to-be avenger, as the US Army starts using him in ridiculous musical cavalcades which tour America’s military camps in foreign lands. Their intention is to build morale – but the only thing they inspire soldiers to do is taunt him for his silly outfit. However, when Steve learns one day of a friend who has been captured – and possibly killed – in enemy territory, he springs into action – and a hero is born!

Much as I’m not, generally speaking, a fan of movies that have been based upon superhero comics, this film is blessed with a strong cast and an engrossing and believable script – which is quite a feat when you consider the amount of disbelief that needs to be suspended…

Most importantly, the film’s a visual treat – and they keep the best for last, with a closing title sequence that parades a rapid succession of classic US WWII iconography. “Your country needs YOU”, Rosie the Riveter – all those familiar images pop up in colourful montage; all beautifully converted into super-immersive 3-D.

The film was post-converted into 3-D, but here’s the thing: (a) it was shot with the 3-D conversion in mind, and (b) the conversion was skilfully and carefully executed, unlike some of the awful rush-jobs of which Warner Bros has been guilty. (Can anyone say ‘The Last Airbender’?) My only beef with the conversion is that people’s faces suffer from front-to-back elongation. Evans’s face, in particular, frequently looks as if it’s been squashed between two aggressive elevator doors… And whilst we’re talking about Mr Evans’s face, perhaps he isn’t the ideal guy to play a superhero, as he lacks the square, granite jaw that I would’ve imagined to have been necessary for the role. But he’s not unbearable, and there’s enough whizz-bang going on around him to keep us entertained.

This is upbeat, old-style entertainment, and one would almost expect little American flags to be handed out to audiences, so that they’d have something appropriate to wave about at exciting moments!

Good intentions, but Disney dips

April 27, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review: MARS NEEDS MOMS 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): **

Smart tagline; you gotta hand it to them.

The premise is entertaining enough: a young lad, Milo, who lives with his mum, is bratty and lippy. After a heated exchange with his mother (who has bust him for trying to avoid eating his broccoli by feeding it to the family cat) he expresses the wish – as petulant kids often do – that he didn’t have a mom. Unbeknownst to him, however, planet Mars is on a mission to harvest earth moms with good child-rearing skills. It’s a long story, and I’ll leave the film to bore you with those details, but the long and short of it is that the evil Martians abduct his mother that very night. Milo manages to stow away aboard the aliens’ spacecraft, and an adventure is born. Needless to say, the boy will soon regret his harsh words – and prove his love for his mom.

Although it bears the Disney badge, this tale, based upon the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, is the product of a Robert Zemeckis outfit, ImageMovers Digital. And therein lies one of its biggest problems. Mr Zemeckis – much as I’ve loved his movies over the years – appears to be irretrievably welded to a technology known as motion capture, in which actors have computer sensors dotted all over their faces and bodies which inform the behaviour of computer-animated characters. He used the technology in A Christmas Carol, the animated 3-D movie which starred Jim Carrey. In that film, most of the characters appeared squint to me. In this film, emotions and expressions still seem trapped within the rigid, computer-animated faces. If you’re going to depend so heavily on the actual actors for facial expressions and body movements, then for goodness’ sake, just use the actors as they are, and place them, if necessary, within a computer-generated environment – as happens in Tron Legacy and Thor.

The sentiments expressed in the film are noble ones, and are quite appropriate to the Disney brand, but I couldn’t get over the bloodless 50-yard stares of these motion-capture avatars. The technology is honestly not worth pursuing. If you’re going to use sensors to (try and) replicate the facial expressions and body language of the characters, then why not cut out the middle man and use the real thing? The whole point of animation, as I understand it, is to stylise and exaggerate, in such as way as reality can’t. Motion capture technology is merely robbing animators of their powers, and I truly believe that Uncle Walt would be mortified to have his name attached to such endeavours.

Men Who Stare at Ghosts: A Christmas Carol

November 5, 2009

A Christmas Carol_reduced

Season's Greed-ings... cute tagline!

An Active3D Movie Review

Rating (out of 5 stars): * * * *

When I tell you that this is the darkest, scariest movie ever to have emerged from the Disney Studios, you’d better believe it. It opens with the close-up of a corpse (that of Jacob Marley), and gets creepier from there…

If it’s a family film, then it’s one for families in which the children are either over ten years of age, or have sturdy constitutions. The film carries a “Mature Accompaniment for Under-Tens” rating in South Africa. (Does this mean that kids younger than ten should cart along an ageing pianist?)

Director Robert Zemeckis and his team have endeavoured to remain faithful to Charles Dickens’ original short story, so Jim Carrey doesn’t trot out his customary ad-libs – which would’ve shattered the credibility of this serious, old-time morality tale. By the end of the movie, Dicken’s ‘message’ (i.e. of compassion toward the less fortunate) is made manifest in the least subtle way, with nothing being spared in the way of stereoscopic and other effects work.

Zemeckis appears to be wed to the ‘motion capture’ technique of animation (as witness his previous animated 3-D movies, the execrable Beowulf and the delightful Polar Express). This system employs hundreds of electronic sensors which are attached to actors’ bodies and faces, which inform the movement and performance of their animated counterparts. I’m not crazy about this technique, as, in its present incarnation, it lacks the ability of either live performances or other types of animation to completely engage and persuade me. These ‘virtual actors’ come across as rather rigid – and squint-eyed – to my disconcerted eye.

The film’s idealised, three-dimensional realisation of old-time London, however, is quite the visual treat. And when the ghosts start appearing, it’s a runaway festival of ghoulish thrills

As the tight-wadded Ebenezer Scrooge, Jim Carrey (or, at least, his animated avatar) is nastier than he’s even been, yet gradually reveals more of his humanity and vulnerability as the tale unfolds and his long-buried compassion is brought to the fore.

The film’s loaded with Christmas carols, although it has a greater, more humanistic appeal which should also access those of us who don’t celebrate this religious holiday. (Forget about those ridiculous councillors in the UK who believe that non-Christians will be offended at the mere sight of a Christmas tree in a shopping mall.) By staying away, you would not only be behaving like a churlish old Scrooge, but missing out on a hair-raisingly wild and unfettered 3-D adventure. Tat Wolfen