Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The last of motion capture etc

Hi Neil,Allow me to be one of the many who will doubtless recommend the (*outstanding*) bonus features DVD of "The Two Towers" Extended Edition, in case you haven't seen it. It has a fascinating and astonishing feature on the process of bringing Gollum to life, including the motion/performance capture, as well as a wonderful sequence showing Andy Serkis' performance alongside Gollum. It also highlights some interesting ways in which Gollum's "performance" is actually subtly *more* than Serkis' every expression and motion and tic and hiss - where the animators "refined" what he had already done. (Which is not to take away from his performance in any way whatever.)If you've already seen it, then sorry for the bandwidth! Ian

I hadn't seen it, although I've got the DVD on the shelves. Although the shelves are several thousand miles away. Thanks for the tip.

Hi Neil. I just wanted to respond to this particular statement. I was fortunate enough to have been a part of the crew at Weta to work on Lord of the Rings. My fiancee was one of the animators on Gollum and I can guarantee you that Gollum's facial movement was *not* performance captured. The animators used video reference of Andy's acting, but it was all key framed by hand. I'm not sure where the contrary information is coming from but it seems disrespectful to the team of tallented animators who were able to bring Gollum to life.--Terrance

Thanks for the correction. That was what I got from Jim Rygiel's presentation at Sundance, and all the little dots on Andy's face on the footage Jim showed, which probably just means I wasn't paying close enough attention. I didn't mean to imply that the animators didn't do anything, or didn't do a lot, but to stress that the performance was Andy's.

Neil I really think you should go back and read Jess's question again. She didn't have anything to say about the technical limitations of performance capture, just that performance capture gives the animators less input into the character (using your example, the animators didn't get to do even the slightest expression of Gollum's.) It seems to me like her concern would *grow* the more the technology advances. Personally I don't really share her concern, but I just wanted to point out that you'd misread her question.

You could be right. I thought I was answering the first question of "Was there an artistic reason for this choice or does Zemeckis just want to play more with his new toy?" although I rather took the long way around. I blame jet-lag.

So yes, I think there are valid artistic reasons for not doing it live-action (mostly the freedom of casting, and the huge time lapse between the Grendel and his mother sequence and the Dragon battle -- not insoluble problems: Roger Avary had various options open to him when he was going to do it live action; but they stopped being problems to be solved as soon as it became performance capture). And I think that, yes, Bob Zemeckis definitely wants to explore the technology further.

To repeat, it's very obvious that the world of performance capture is in its early days. (Someone wrote, for example, to ask if the problems with eye expressions in Polar Express are still going to be a problem in Beowulf, and from what Bob's told me and Roger, the answer is no, they have a solution for that one.)

From everything Bob's showed me and Roger of the visual ideas for Beowulf (and Bob Z keeps things close to his chest, so I know we've seen very little of what there is) it looks stunning, and, er, nothing at all like Polar Express (no reason why it should look like it).

And don't expect any more posts on motion capture until, at the earliest, October, when with any luck I'll be on the Beowulf set and will report back.

Tomorrow I'll be watching a much more traditional form of performance, in the form of real actors on a stage workshopping some early ideas for how to get wolves into the walls...

And here's a link to Poppy Z Brite's public service announcement for the 2006 BFS calendar.

& so (sleepy andjetlagged) to bed...

PS: people also kept writing to ask what "off site" meant on the list of places I'd be signing. It means that the bookshop decided they couldn't handle the number of people who'll show up in store, so they are going to find a better location for the event.

And a few people with good memories (all of them having been part of the 400 people at B&N Union Square sent away at the 2002 Coraline signing) wondered why I was signing there again, after what happened with the Coraline signing. And it's because they apologised very nicely and promised to get it right this time. We'll start a little earlier, and I think they're now prepared for it to go a lot later.