Spielberg Explains the Importance of Motion Capture for Tintin
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?