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Zemeckis Continues Motion Capture Obsession with 'Airman'

by
October 20, 2009

Airman

At least Robert Zemeckis will leave the directing to Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember) this time, as Variety reports that ImageMovers and Disney will be producing a $150 million motion capture adaptation of Airman, an action-adventure book by Eoin Colfer. The story centers on Connor, a boy who lives on an island off the coast of Ireland, where his father has the honorable job of protecting the King. But when the King is murdered, Connor is blamed for the crime and thrown into prison where he designs a flying machine that uses to escape. Oh, how I wish all prisoners did that while passing the time during their long sentences.

This continues Zemeckis' undying interest and dedication to motion capture films after adapting three other stories (The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol most recently) into the computer animated world. And while I respect and in some ways admire his love of the new technology, after three attempts, I'm still not impressed with the motion capture animation in his films. The characters still don't feel real or emotive enough for me to get lost in the story with. The key fault in this blunder is that for some reason Zemeckis and his crew still haven't mastered the ability to create lifelike eyes and not glass balls resembling human eyes. And not to stir the already overflowing hype pot behind James Cameron's Avatar, but the level of motion capture quality in what we've seen of that film is leaps and bounds above any of Zemeckis' film.

On the other hand, maybe that kind of motion capture look has become Zemeckis' unique style, in the same fashion that strange, dark, gothic, circus-like elements and environments are expected of fellow director Tim Burton. Either way, I think motion capture still hasn't reached it's full potential, but I'm hoping Avatar and the upcoming Peter Jackson/Steven Spielberg Adventures of Tintin series will be much bigger steps in the right direction towards the hopeful mastering of this interesting but challenging new technology. Agree?

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  • Cineprog
    The Technoligy is getting there slowley A Christmas Carol look's good it not purfect? how long is going to be before they do away with Actor altogeather.
  • beavis
    seriously,i can't wait to see how they explain how NOBODY running the prison notices the "flying machine" that he's building.
  • shadow
    I hope this is successful, just so Artemis Fowl gets made.
  • William
    This sounds like Icarus.
  • SlashBeast
    Zemeckis needs to start doing something different. This motion capture thing doesn't have any future.
  • teyhtr
    I feel like Zemeckis is wasting his time on mo-cap... he's been at it with only minor improvements and it's seriously time to move on. Go back to making quality live-action flicks Zemeckis! You used to be so good!!!!
  • krieg70
    Agree with #3.....they should make that movie instead. Anyway i always have the same problem with these films. Everything looks good and detailed except for those dead eyes. they always look lifeless.
  • Tra la la la la di da
    Polar Express was alright but it was a kid's movie as well as A Christmas Carol so the unrealistic look is fine. Beowulf was simple crap because it was suppose to be some action movie that looks like a cheap cartoon. Doesn't help the story is beyond lame...never understood why that is a classic. I'll state this one thing for the incompetent...Avatar and Zemeckis' animation are two different areas. Get over it. Still, the close that animation has come to looking awesome without going the route of kiddie movies were the Final Fantasy movies. The one that had nothing to do with the game and Advent Children. Why they don't run with that more, I don't know? The first one received bad publicity because it was called Final Fantasy. Grow a brain, remove the title, and you'll see it's not a bad movie. People can't do that and all we recall is that it was bad. It was way better than Zemeckis' stuff though.
  • Otacon
    Motion Capture has gotten to the poitn where it can create incredible imagery and lifelike characters. Zemekis unfortunately bought his mo-cap kit in the discount bin or the special effects store. Even video games, Uncharted 2 comes to mind, seem to have more advanced mo-cap technology than Zemekis', creating life-like characters who emote, live and breath in their world. Zemekis' characters all seem to be floating in it. Granted there seems to be good texture work in the skin details but when he renders other objects (Bob Cratchit) it looks like it belongs on a Playstation 2.
  • Fuelbot
    Ethan, to be clear, AVATAR was aiming for photo-realism but I understand what you're saying. I know that it was Zemeckis' intention to go more the Pixar route where things are animated, but familiar to real life. However, his characters just look like weird and plastic, and there's ABSOLUTELY no reason any of the films he's made couldn't have been done live-action. Monster House was made by the same studio, and the characters are more alive than any of Zemeckis' films. Kenan somehow gave it an intensity and urgency and REALISM that Zemeckis' films lack. Also, those stories just suck. Gil Kenan is perfect for this.
  • Mark
    The reason why Peter Jackson's motion capture looks so good is because of the huge amount of real animation done as well. Tintin's motion capture is finished, but there's still 18 months of animation and effects going on. Motion capture is a tool, but it shouldn't be used to make an entire film. In response to #10, yeah, James Cameron went for photo-real... but only with the shaders. Design-wise the aliens are still caricatures (which I think is part of the reason there's so many people saying it doesn't look real). Put a female Na'vi next to a male one... The differences are so exaggerated, especially the eyes. The girl almost looks like Jasmine from Aladdin. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't sit well with me for the tone Avatar seems to be going for. Got a little off topic. Sorry. Monster House wasn't bad though. Still very dead and floaty, but better than Zemekis's films (though he did produce Monster House). I just get depressed when I think these could've been good animated films, not hokey mo-cap.
  • LuckyLoser
    Balloon Boy!!! Grown Up!
  • Fuelbot
    #11 - I don't think Cameron's designs are caricatures, per se. Obviously things are exaggerated, but his goal (at least from the interviews I've seen) was to find a common ground between the familiarity of humans and the exotic nature of the aliens he's creating. Sigourney Weaver's avatar looks flat out weird because it looks so insanely like her. With Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, however, you can see their musculature moving the characters -- not only their bodies, but the musculature beneath the facial expressions. It's not exactly new, but I don't think I've seen it as refined as this. Especially in IMAX. I brought up the Monster House thing, because Zemeckis produced it and to point out that with the animation house Gil Kenan turned out a movie that was much better than anything Zemeckis has ever done with the medium.
  • Airman Fan
    I don't know about it being in motion capture. I absolutely love the book Airman. Believe me, the 'flying out of prison' thing sounds pretty cheesy. But in the story, everything works out and is explained. It's like J. Verne's scientific books, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (not Disney's version) which is explained in such a way that everything seems real and believable. I had to check my history to make sure that Airman had not sneaked in as historic fiction. I just saw City of Ember, and though there could have been alot of improvement, I enjoyed the movie and loved the art part of it. Okay, I really am not feeling good about the motion capture part of it. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen a motion capture movie that was the better for it. Live action would be best, and the most real, for Airman. I want to see a favorite book of mine make the headlines and box office for once! (Ones that haven't-Stormbreaker, City of Ember, Inkheart, Treasure Planet) But in this instance, the story should NOT be messed with! The characters are amazing. Stay true to the book!
  • Heather
    Does this mean that Airman is going to look just like The Polar Express? I will NOT be pleased if it is, this book is too epic for that!

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