EDITORIALS

Spielberg Explains the Importance of Motion Capture for Tintin

by
February 19, 2010
Source: LA Times

Peter Jackson & Steven Spielberg

With all the buzz around the skyrocketing popularity of 3-D after the record breaking Avatar made it big, there should be a much bigger reception for the far more impressive and prominent work in performance capture and the animation that accompanies it. There's a big problem when a spectacular performance from Zoe Saldana doesn't get one bit of serious awards consideration despite plenty of campaigning. LA Times' Hero Complex has some great bits from Steven Spielberg speaking with great wonder and passion about his work on The Adventures of Tintin, which was shot in 3-D with performance capture just like Avatar.

Word from Spielberg comes from a follow-up to a big front page story in the LA Times about the angst of Hollywood actors as more filmmakers embrace performance capture (it's a hell of a read). Spielberg clears up right from the get-go that the choice to shoot in 3-D and use performance capture isn't just a gimmick or part of a growing trend. "It was based on my respect for the art of Hergé and wanting to get as close to that art as I could." Hergé, of course, is the man responsible for creating the comic series, which follows a young intrepid Belgian reporter and his canine sidekick Snowy, mostly taking place in pre-World War II Europe.

Spielberg says the performance capture technique is what helps make the Tintin world more accessible:

"Hergé wrote about fictional people in a real world, not in a fantasy universe," Spielberg said. "It was the real universe he was working with, and he used National Geographic to research his adventure stories. It just seemed that live action would be too stylized for an audience to relate to. You'd have to have costumes that are a little outrageous when you see actors wearing them. The costumes seem to fit better when the medium chosen is a digital one.”

Interesting, because you would almost think that creating a stylized world based on Hergé's art through motion capture and animation might be a little harder to accept because of its artistic style, but I get what he's saying anyway. It's the same reason something like Scooby-Doo, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Alvin and the Chipmunks look so damn silly on screen. So rather than dressing actors Jamie Bell (Tintin), Andy Serkis (Captain Haddock), Daniel Craig (Red Rackham), Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Thomson and Thompson) in silly outfits in a realistic world, you get a completely custom crafted universe where everything feels right.

Not only does it feel right, but it feels genuine as, much like Cameron's success in Avatar's presentation of performance capture, the head-rigging captures every bit of an actor's performance, especially on the face, which avoids the glass-eyed, moving doll look that Robert Zemeckis can't seem to avoid. For Spielberg, it was pure magic seeing the actor's performance come alive, not simply watching them with green screen and equipment, but on the digital presentation in the animated world (created by co-producer Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop) which appears on monitors as filming takes place. Spielberg praised the experience:

I just adored it. It made me more like a painter than ever before. I got a chance to do so many jobs that I don't often do as a director. You get to paint with this device that puts you into a virtual world, and allows you to make your shots and block all the actors with a small hand-held device only three times as large as an XBOX game controller. When Captain Haddock runs across the volume [the name for the motion capture stage], the cameras capture all the information of his physical and emotional moves. So as Andy Serkis runs across the stage, there's Captain Haddock on the monitor, in full anime, running along the streets of Belgium. Not only are the actors represented in real time, they enter into a three-dimensional world."

But the most encouraging and important thing that Spielberg says about motion capture is what everyone, especially acting awards shows, need to understand. No matter how different someone like Jamie Bell looks on-screen with Tintin's likeness, “it will be Jamie Bell's complete physical and emotional performance. If Tintin makes you feel something, it's Jamie Bell's soul you’re sensing." I couldn't have said it better myself. But we still have to wait two more years, until December 23rd, 2011, which is when The Adventures of Tintin finally hits theaters in the US. How do you guys feel about motion capture nowadays?

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  • shige
    They can take theur motion capture and shove it. If even Spielberg starts talking about production difficulties then there is no hope left for Tintin. The whole "live action would be too stylized for an audience to relate to" is just an excuse to take the costs down and bring it to the horrid "it will make 100mil with kids and rest I dont give a shit about" bullshit. Lets face it there will not be a real life Tintin film for the current generation.
  • Jonathan
    Having read nearly every single Tintin book I could get my hands on as a youth, I can't wait for this movie!!! I'm really excited about Spielberg and Jackson basing the look of the film on Herge's artwork (I wish other comics would be given this treatment in cinema; I imagine that Mike Mignola's Hellboy would be amazing!). I hope that that same respect for the source material will carry over to all other aspects of this project.
  • Tim
    Performance capture has gone right over the heads of the Oscar-Nominating crowd. Imagine how restricted Saldana's perf would have been with a prosthetic forehead, nose, and, what? leg stilts? As a pioneer, she loses out on the recognition she deserves. Another hidden part of her perf is that she portrays a female without any of the usual 'female' BS filmwriters love to throw in: the giggling; being indirect about her wishes (unless the female is written as a beyatch); the uninspiring life... Next year's Oscars will likely include a perf cap actor.
  • shadow
    @Tim The leaf cumshot scene says otherwise, and the fact that Cameron chief design concern was that she was still attractive to men.
  • http://www.bradnewsoftheday.com Brad
    Motion capture is important because without it, the whole movie would have to be story driven ;)
  • SlashBeast
    Saldana shouldn't be nominated. Neytiri is a superb visual effect enhanced by an actor, not a performance enhanced by VFX. Cameron could easily have added, eliminated, or altered anything she did to "correct" it. It's a computer performance, not a screen performance. Besides, it wasn't anything special anyway, it's the same cartoon stereotype native woman character we've seen a billion times. People are just desperate to see a mainstream performance get nominated since there weren't many strong ones this year. Anyway, mo-cap is the way to go with Tintin. It completely fits the images from the comics and the feel of the story.
  • DEADPOOL,MERC WITH A MOUTH
    i still think motion capture is pretty cool,the best use of motion capture was andy serkis as gollum from the two towers.also the motion capture on the gorilla in king kong was pretty good.what i've seen of avatar looks very good.i wait for the trailer before i pass judgement.
  • yumyumfish
    my two favourite directors in the world finally team up for a big movie and what do they make?...... a tin tin movie!?!?! i mean....... come on! oh well..... itll be a good film anyway its bound to be a good film!
  • Voice of Reason
    I have the highest hopes for this and am waiting for the right people to bring MoCap to te screen fantastically and efectively. Herges art is AMAZING and will get proper treatment on these collective hands. I cannot wait for Dec. 2011.
  • Cineprog
    Is this Just going to create Motion Capture Actors though?. You will not see there faces just the expresions and movement's Motion Capture new in a way but what about when it becomes the norm. I still say use it yes. but sparingley and not have all the film using motion capture it starts to take away the wow factor of the stroy for the wow factor of the effects which i think is bad.
  • Fuelbot
    #6 - Saldana most definitely deserves to be nominated, especially above Sandra Bullock and Carey Mulligan. It's not a computer performance, it's Zoe Saldana's performance. Sure, Cameron COULD have corrected whatever problems arose but the fact is he didn't. Not in any major way that dilutes what the actors did in The Volume. That was the whole point of this new technology. It doesn't matter if we've seen this type of character before. Every woman nominated this year, we've seen their characters before. The coming-of-age girl (Mulligan), the strong willed Mother (Bullock), etc. Zoe Saldana embodies and inhabits her character (the physicality, emotion, and language) in a way which brings not only her character but also Pandora to life. You buy into the world and culture of the Na'vi, because of her performance. If that doesn't deserve to be nominated, I don't know what does. #10 - Your expressions ARE your face. It doesn't matter what the shell looks like. The emotion is what matters and thats what comes through. It's why you can buy into and feel empathy for the characters in Avatar. Think of it as "digital prosthetics." Or think of stories that would seem too ridiculous to tell in a live-action medium. Like, Thundercats. When you do it for money, it'll look like shit. But if you're doing it for all the right reasons, to drive the story, there's no reason this shouldn't be another tool in a director's box.
  • SlashBeast
    And you were there 100% of the time to confirm that 100% of the performance was unaltered? I thought not. It was an alright performance, but at no point did it make one forget they was watching what amounted to a high end cartoon character. In fact, there is nothing about the acting in ‘Avatar’ that should be praised. Saldana might have been one of the stronger turns in the film, but that’s not saying much. In fairness, Cameron didn’t give his actors much in line of characters to play. The fact is, a computer can’t pick up every nuance of an actor’s work, because great performances have nuances that are ineffable and unquantifiable, not to mention vulnerable to eradication with one thoughtless flick of a digital paintbrush. Nora Ephron did not program Meryl Streep to make Julia Child’s shoulders sag with remembered grief when she’s crushingly reminded that she’ll never have children. Lee Daniels did not use a computer to give Mo’Nique’s voice the unpredictable pitches of rage, fear, shame, and self-justification she brings to the shattering climax of Precious. Avatar deserves applause for many things, including its huge leap in making CG creatures plausible by turning its cast into face-voice-and-body puppeteers. But that’s a breakthrough in animation, not screen acting. Performances “captured” the old-fashioned way still set a standard of excellence that Avatar, for all its innovation, can’t touch.
  • Ken
    This story is completely illogical. How could live action be too STYLIZED??? Isn't this the wrong word? Performance capture is, in fact, a more stylish take on the real world. Second, if they want the art to be like Herge's original, can't they just make it an actual cartoon movie??? The original drawings were colorful, flat, and devoid of CG-ish detail. Even TinTin's eyes are often portreyed as simple black dots. I hate to see THAT in full 3D CG! Finally, how come Zemeckis, the inventor of this technique, is always getting dissed?

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