While motion capture (“mocap”) has its uses, I don’t think that fully motion-captured animated features should be one of them. Do you agree?
Using mocap to enhance a performance is one thing, but basing an entire film on it is another. I’ll accept that mocap is needed to create characters that simply could not be brought to life through traditional make-up, such as Gollum in ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ or the Na’vi in ‘Avatar‘. However, when mocap is used for every performance in a supposedly photorealistic film – like Robert Zemeckis’ ‘The Polar Express‘ and ‘A Christmas Carol‘ – I think that’s a ridiculously bad-looking waste of time.
What happened to Robert Zemeckis? The guy used to direct amazing films, but then he got caught up in motion capture and hasn’t made a decent movie since. In 1997, Zemeckis co-founded the production company ImageMovers. Although the company started off making live-action films, it was eventually purchased by Disney, changed its name to ImageMovers Digital, and began making sub-par fully motion-captured movies like ‘The Polar Express’, ‘Monster House‘, ‘Beowulf‘, ‘A Christmas Carol’, and this year’s huge flop ‘Mars Needs Moms’.
ImageMovers was not the first company to use motion capture. In fact, we’d even seen better-looking mocap previously. Decent motion capture was used in ‘The Mummy‘, and great mocap for Gollum, both prior to ‘The Polar Express’.
Motion Capture 101: Place an actor in a wetsuit covered in digital trackers, paint trackers on his/her face, and have him/her act out a scene. A nearby computer captures the movements of the digital trackers. Animators take that information and recreate the performance with an animated character.
Zemeckis’ application of motion capture is used in an odd fashion. He captures the real-life performances, only to have them animated into realistic characters in a realistic environment. He’s basically making the same movie twice. In contrast, look at what ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Avatar’ used mocap for. Those movies captured performances and animated them for unreal, impossible, and fantastic characters. Zemeckis uses it to recreate something he’s already got right in front of the camera.
Zemeckis’ use of mocap gives the characters an odd look and distracting dead eyes. This can seriously creep out an audience. ‘Mars Needs Moms’ was such a bomb that it caused Disney to put the coup de grace on ImageMovers Digital. But just when it looked like zany all-mocap movies were gone for good, a trailer gets released for the Peter Jackson-produced, Steven Spielberg-directed mocap family film ‘The Adventures of Tintin’.
It turns out that while James Cameron was perfecting his motion capture technology during the filming ‘Avatar’, he invited Spielberg to visit the set to see his achievement. Spielberg liked what he saw and decided to use the same technology to fully mocap animate his latest adventure film.
What do you think? Considering that Spielberg is using Cameron’s tech, which is far superior to Zemeckis’, will ‘Tintin’ possibly keep motion capture features around for good?