WHAT DOES "PERFORMANCE CAPTURE" REALLY MEAN TO THE FUTURE OF MOVIES? @ 13 January 2012 08:20 PM
There sure has been a lot written about motion capture, or as many actors prefer to call it, "performance capture." Much of the discussion and debate centers around whether it is true animation or not. Clearly animators are key to the process, but the films such as The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol and, most recently and most pointedly, The Adventures of Tintin really beg the question, "Why aren't they simply live action films with augmented CG animated effects?"
Some felt The Polar Express was a little creepy, particularly because the eyes didn't seem human. This is a challenge in much CG human animation, but it didn't bother me in Polar Express because the entire movie had a dreamlike, eerie quality that fit the process. With Christmas Carol, however, the actors were obscured by their no-cap faces, almost like excessive latex makeup. I would have preferred to see the excellent actors instead of having them hidden under a second skin.
But having seen The Adventures of Tintin, the mo-cap process has certainly come a great deal farther -- to the point where the viewer can forget it's not live action at all. Which brings me back to the question again -- why isn't it just live action?
Is the ability to stylize a reason? Certainly. Some characters have exaggerated features and physical countenances that would be tricky -- but not impossible -- in live action (as so much was contorted in Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which combined both techniques). But maybe the goal on the horizon is bigger than the realization of a filmmaker's vision -- maybe it's economics, politics and practicality.
Tintin, for all intents and purposes, took the viewer to exotic locations, through spectacular sets, over the ocean and among a cast of thousands. All pretty much by using actors with dots on their faces on green screens and environments created within sophisticated machinery.
Other than the mo-cap facilities, there was no need to rent soundstages, camera equipment, Chapman cranes, helicopters, cars, boats, planes, or anything you see on screen. It also means there was no need for a camera crew, lighting equipment, lighting technicians, craft services, transportation, hotel accommodations, dinners at restaurants, wardrobe people, makeup artists, permits from cities and countries for filming, police and security, stunt people, extras -- and all the insurance, unions and other ancillary issues that are part of making even the simplest Hollywood movie, much less a superspectacular, globetrotting adventure.
Remember when Fred Astaire was electronically added to a vacuum cleaner commercial? Some folks were worried that this could mean the misuse of classic actors in roles they never agreed to. It didn't become as much of a problem as predicted. But what happens if, as so much digital technology does, motion capture becomes easier and cheaper? People can create a lot of animation on their home computers that was unthinkable not long ago.
What if mo-cap is used as a replacement for a live action movie -- say a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel? Johnny Depp can play Jack Sparrow for the rest of is life and never age on screen. That does not seem much of a stretch. But how about a movie that isn't a stylized costume romp -- a comedy like Bridesmaids or a drama like The Descendants? Sure, mo-cap can't substitute for George Clooney...now.
I'm not doomsaying here. It's not some Orwellian plot. It's just business. Making movies without locations, sets, costumes -- and actors. After all, once a CG character's performance is saved from one film, it can be used in another. So why not do the same with episodic TV and movies?
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