A lot of emerging film technologies seem to be dismissed, most typically as gimmicks. It’s happening with 3D, it’s happening with performance capture, and I expect it will happen with high frame-rate cinematography, as James Cameron is exploring for Avatar 2 and 3. I tend to feel the responsibility to jump and defend these devices and techniques because it’s just obvious to me that they’re tools, and tools with great potential.
So often this is confused for me praising the works so far made with these tools. It’s almost like people can’t make the distinction between painter and paintbrush at times.
Up above is a new promotional image for Mars Needs Moms, and below is the film’s second trailer. This is the latest performance capture film from Imagemovers, Robert Zemeckis’ production set-up that pioneered the tech with Polar Express.
It’s obvious that the Imagemovers films have played an important part in advancing performance capture technology, but at the same time, they’ve contributed to audience apathy. Express met criticism for its sometimes very awkward representations of humans and their movement, and it popularised the notion of the “uncanny valley” in the mainstream, at least in respect of CG movies.
But then, Monster House looked like it was taking a stylistic swerve off in a more immediately profitable direction. While our capability to easily render truly photorealistic CG is still ahead of us, why not go for something more… cartoony? It certainly sidesteps all of the “uncanny” issues.
Without continued attempts to master “realistic” CG images, of the kind that Polar Express, Bewowulf and now Mars Needs Moms and were striving for, then we’ll never get there. There’s real potential – aesthetic, artistic, narrative – to be unlocked in mastering this tech; it just seems that we’re going to have a bumpy ride for a few more films (at least) as we try to get there.
If the ultimate goal is complete freedom, and the possibility of creating any image as required by the story, tone, themes or just the director’s whims (I’ll support the first three, not so much the last), and in any fashion that the filmmakers can understand and control, then performance capture technology could prove to be a very useful tool indeed.
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