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Tag Archive: motion capture


One of the under-the-radar previews at this weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con was for the new James Cameron/Robert Rodriguez/Jon Landau sci-fi film, Alita: Battle Angel.  If you compare the trailer previewed Friday night at Horton Plaza’s Regal Theater to the earlier teaser from last December (see both below) you will see a stark difference, with clear improvements made in the interim in post-production, especially with the CGI face and movements for Alita the lead borg character in the film, with motion capture performance by Rosa Salazar.  Director Robert Rodriguez and producer and Oscar-winner Jon Landau headlined the panel Friday with Salazar and Keean Johnson, who plays Hugo.

WETA featured an Alita display at their booth. Hundreds of WETA Digital creators worked on the film.

Based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga comic Battle Angel Alita, the adaptation follows a doctor, played by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, whose character is the latest Geppetto, creating Alita, a cybernetic girl.  The screenplay, written by James Cameron, takes the common borg origin sub-genre of science fiction (Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Edward Scissorhands, Ghost in the Shell, etc.), to make the next sci-fi warrior heroine.  The film co-stars Michelle Rodriguez, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Jeff Fahey.

Check out the trailer for Alita: Battle Angel:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After its second week in theaters, Ready Player One is still chalking up sold-out screenings nationwide.  Whether or not you’re a video game fan, and whether or not you read Ernest Cline’s novel the film is based on, it’s a fun way to spend 2.5 hours.  Although his producer credits are hit-and-miss over the past few decades, director Steven Spielberg tends to take on films he loves, and handles them with due care.  Same goes for Ready Player One.  Along with his Oscar-nominated film The Post, Ready Player One proves there’s no slowing down for the director’s success in making good films.  Even if Ready Player One is not as great as the films from the 1980s that it honors (Spielberg’s choice to ignore references from his own films leaves a big, obvious gap throughout scene after scene), it’s a nice story, and a progression of the kind of coming-of-age story the director first created long ago with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Yet the backbone of the film doesn’t flow from the 1980s, but from a 1971 film classic: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

In the year 2045, Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse), and a group of people he has only met as their avatars in a giant MMPORG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called OASIS, embark on a quest to solve the late OASIS founder’s puzzle in three steps, which would reward the winner with control of the OASIS and the hundreds of millions of dollars the company behind it (called IOI) is worth.  The big win is the authenticity of relationships between Sheridan and his co-stars, including Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) as Art3mis (pronounced Artemis), Aech (sounds like the letter “H”) played by Lena Waithe (Master of None), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zhao) as they work together on their journey.  Cooke’s character comes alive as the high point of the film.  The villains are more textbook bad guys, led by Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), with his hulking minion i-R0K (“I rock”) played by T.J. Miller (Deadpool), and a seriously underutilized Hannah John-Kamen as F’Nale.  i-R0K carries the bulk of the film’s best comedy lines.  Surprisingly the story misses the opportunity to give the viewer enough information to solve the three riddles of the film.  Instead we watch the characters move through a great big fictional world only they know about.  But the adventure is a good ride.  Look for Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) and Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Shaun of the Dead) as an interesting odd couple of Gates/Jobs-inspired visionaries.

Get ready for dizzying races and chases with the latest CGI and motion capture special effects–so much so that much of the movie feels like an animated movie.  We’ve come a long way from the 1980s version of the subject matter in Disney’s Tron–the first foray into a video game world.  But Ready Player One is similar in tone to Tron and another video game movie of the era, The Last Starfighter–all good family films with positive themes.  Here that’s the importance of community, leadership, and personal responsibility, and the negative side of new and emerging technologies like drones and having more than merely virtual social relationships.

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A Monster Calls explores the death of a parent by a young child, how a child might deal with death, and the death of daughter from the perspective of a mother.  It is a film with a complicated past.  The story originated with author Siobhan Dowd, who died before the idea for the book was very far along.  Writer Patrick Ness was given her notes and created the novel in 2011, illustrated by Jim Kay, that would go on to win the Carnegie Medal.  For the movie adaptation the story was further revised by Ness as screenwriter, and again by director Juan Antonio Bayona who added an art focus for the film’s little boy, an element reflecting the director’s own youth.

In A Monster Calls: The Art and Vision Behind the Film, approximately a third of the book is devoted to interviews with the cast and crew, a review of the film’s heartbreaking story of loss and an Ent-like monster accompanying a boy on a difficult journey.  The interviews reflect a vast array of views and approaches to the story–everyone involved with the film has a surprisingly different twist on the story and its meaning.  We hear from director J.A. Bayona, author/screenwriter Patrick Ness, actors Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, and the young star Lewis MacDougall, as well as director of photography Oscar Faura, producer Belén Atienza, line producer Sandra Hermida, editors Bernat Vilapalana and Jaume Martí, sound designer Oriol Tarragó, and composer Fernando Velázquez.

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Along with its serious topic, the book and movie have fantastical elements, and A Monster Calls: The Art and Vision Behind the Film accordingly provides insight into the creation of the titular monster, Liam Neeson’s first foray into motion capture acting as the monster, concept art, site location selections, animated sequences, model work, make-up, costume renderings, and CGI.  We learn how the miniature work came together, and how the visual and sound effects were created for key scenes, including trial work for effects that did not make it into the film.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finally answers the question of what kind of movie you would get if Hollywood would only, finally, let a diehard fan direct a major franchise film.  For all the great cast of actors and heroic characters in this unique tie-in film that falls outside the episodic trilogies, the real hero turns out to be director Gareth Edwards.  Edwards does so many things right with Rogue One you’ll lose count, and the best of this is surprise after surprise of what is at the next turn.  And if you watched all the trailers that seemed to reveal all too much, surprise again, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  This is, without exception, the most fun movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back, despite its equally dark tone, and it has all the action of the original Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans immediately jumped at the chance of finding its place in the list of the best and worst of the prior six films.  Is Rogue One better than The Force Awakens?  In many ways, yes.  In other ways, such as the use of too many jumps between geographic road marker titles along the way and tightness of story plotting, Rogue One is probably a bit behind.  What fans really want to do is compare Rogue One to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  So how does it compare?  It really is too soon to tell.  The hype and excitement of any new blockbuster in a franchise you love makes you want to heap on the high praise.  Is The Force Awakens as good as we thought a year ago?  Fans will never agree.  But the fact Rogue One is worthy of the comparison to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back should be praise enough.

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The best thing about Rogue One is CGI and motion capture technology improvements.  The best kept film secret in several years should be kept for all to experience, and later we can all chat about it once everyone has had a chance to see the film.  Prepare to be impressed.  Technology is finally catching up with Connie Willis’s future Hollywood novel Remake.  Rogue One also has great writing–an issue that haunted the prequels.  The dialogue is smarter than probably all the past episodes.  The space battles aren’t superfluous like in Return of the Jedi and all of the prequels.  Every step in the film is in furtherance of the goal–find the plans to destroy the Death Star.  This is not a mere MacGuffin, this mission has gravity for everyone.  Delivered like an epic World War II era film, Rogue One is the best war movie of the franchise.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Somewhere around the halfway mark of the new movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a fun action flick comes together.  If you can get to that point without falling asleep.  With the modern special effects this movie should not have needed to have been compared to the original 1990 film version.  Unfortunately the slow start and less-than-appealing villains keep this one from the top tier of this summer’s would-be franchise blockbusters.

So what’s worth the admission price?  First off, Megan Fox.  Not for a second does she flinch from a strong portrayal of April, the well-known friend of the Turtles.  She delivers even the silliest lines as if she’s playing serious drama.  And the film is better for it.  Although the perpetually young looking actress may be typecasting herself with films like the original Transformers and this similar action genre entry, she may also be simply carving out a niche she’s darned good at.

The biggest failing of Iron Man 2 was the “annoying guy” played over and over in movies by Sam Rockwell.  That same caricature is in TMNT, but played by Will Arnett, who I have not seen before simply because I don’t watch his admittedly popular series including 30 Rock and Arrested Development.  Here he offers what seems like an impersonation of the Night Shift and Batman era Michael Keaton, and it’s some funny stuff.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We all know the apes win and rule the Earth from the original novel and film Planet of the Apes.  But how do they get there?

Not intended as a post-apocalyptic story as much as a chronicle of the birth of an ape civilization, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its July 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are films that manage to have no villains–by design–where the viewer can empathize with both the human and ape characters equally based on the characters’ histories and individual viewpoints.  Writers Sharon Gosling and Adam Newell have created a deluxe volume documenting the art and design of both movies with the newly released Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes.

The Planet of the Apes reboot was an outgrowth of the technologies emerging from Weta New Zealand’s work on The Lord of the Rings franchise, coupled with Andy Serkis’s experience playing Gollum as a motion capture character, and later the giant gorilla King Kong, Serkis was uniquely suited for the role of the sci-fi classic character Caesar from the original novel and film.  The crew credits the acting and chemistry of Serkis and co-star James Franco in part with the success of the reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

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The challenge for the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?  For the first time in film history, digital characters finalized in a post-production process would be realized by total performance motion capture of actors initially, and not on a separate green screen soundstage, but alongside live-action characters on a standard movie set as well as on location.

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