Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Blog #5 – live action and animation

As far as I can tell, Gertie the Dinosaur can lay claim to the first time live action footage and animation were combined into a single film.  (easy to find on Youtube.)  I suppose it was only logical; after all, there were no dinosaurs around for them to film.  The trend followed – animation was added to regular film only when the real thing was unobtainable or impossible, or a specific animated character was making a cameo appearance.    Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry Mouse, or Pete’s Dragon, for instance, or monster movies like The Black Scorpion.  Some producers  played with the concept artistically, if not well, like Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings.  (the link shows the bizarre scene of the orcs at Helm’s Deep if you’re interested, but not vital to watch.)  Who Framed Roger Rabbit embraced the concept and ran wild with it.  Overall, the combination was mainly used to produce fantasy characters that could not be replicated easily using regular film technology.

Enter the computer age, and computer assisted animation.  Suddenly a whole new world opened up.  Animated characters no longer had to look cartoonish.  Unless they wanted to.  Stories with awkward visuals, like Lord of the Rings, could now easily combine the varying sizes and species of the characters.  Whole films could be filmed in a green screen room.

Let's take a walk.

The first time I saw Pirates of The Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl, I was hopping up and down in excited hand-waving freak-outery over the underwater ‘pirates taking a walk in the moonlight’ scene.  The scene where Elizabeth had run out onto the deck and got her first glimpse of the pirates in their cursed form hadn’t yet sunk in, but by that second scene I was excited and interested, having never encountered anything like it, and so very realistic to boot.  And yet, they

followed the same trend of drawing monsters or unrealistic characters because they didn’t have the real thing to film.

And then I saw Captain America, which confused me for a while until I researched what they had done.  They took buff Chris Evans and turned him into scrawny Chris Evans for the early scenes using CGI.    They manipulated the hero of the film to look like . . . himself.  The irony delighted me, as well as the realism.  And the buffness, of course.

The actor had already buffed himself out to superhero status, so they used CGI to fake scrawny Steve.

Captain America after his transformation, and how he actually looked. You're quite welcome.

Apparently now they can do anything.  Will they make shorter actors taller?  Less curvy actresses curvier?  The limitations of the camera had previously allowed off-screen tricks to fool the viewer into believing that, say, Tom Cruise was taller than the female lead, but now computers can manipulate it.  I don’t believe this will mean the end of live screen actors, but already we have a growing number of movies that just could not be done a decade or two ago.  take note of the series of movies based on comic book series.  Hellboy, X-Men, etc.  Superman had his day in the high tech industry, but his movies were clever blue-screen set and camera manipulations, and archaic compared to today’s films.

Our only limits are our imaginations.  Now if only we could get Lucas and Spielberg to stop making changes to Star Wars . . .

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8 thoughts on “Blog #5 – live action and animation

  1. That was a great arguement! I hadn’t accounted for why animation was put in live-action films, most certainly to be imaginative and more crazy but it never struck me as a mode of creating what was unattainable! Your example of Pirates of the Carribean is great since I remember first watching it and thinking “holy crud! they look so real! how are they doing that”. It made me think of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland that came out two years ago, where not so much Alice was manipulated but the Red Queen and her Knave most certainly were. Their body structure is practically all green screened and then computer animated. When live action films manipulate fantastical things or non-reality based things the need for animation makes sense but now we’re using it simply to change an actor’s apperance?
    Before Captain America came out i read the article that described how they transformed the guy from scrawny to buff, before I just assumed they filmed him skinny and then let him spend time buffing it out to shoot the rest of the film. It makes sense since making him THAT tiny would have been asking for a lot but making actors taller, thinner, better looking? Oh jeez, new form of perfections may come out. It makes sense to do that for films that are the ideal and not reality but its a little unsettling how far technology can change things. I guess we’ll have to see though where computer manipulation will go, will it stay in the realm of fantasy or mess with reality as well?

    • elaineziman on said:

      Ooh, I totally forgot about Alice! That’s another great example. It wasn’t required animation to make up a queen, but it just made Wonderland seem all that much more surreal.

  2. Pingback: Blog Comments for Week 5 | animusoflife

  3. cruiz89 on said:

    Hey Elaine,

    Our blogs are somewhat similar this week, except I focused more on the motion capture technology used in Happy Feet. You gave some great examples such as Pirates of the Caribbean (especially with Davy Jones, he was in a grey suit the entire time) and of course Captain America. Another example would be in the Harry Potter films, especially when it came to creating Lord Voldemort. They had to use markers to digitally erase Ralph Fiennes nose so he could really become Lord Voldemort. I think this is the type of technology that animators and film makers will be taking more and more advantage of to make this fantasy creatures come to life.

  4. Kendra Prasad- Hist 389 on said:

    Elaine, you bring up some very interesting insight into the combination of live action and animation. The Captain America example is very intriguing. As you mentioned, there have been filming alterations used in order to make characters look taller or positioned in a certain manner, however, the process of making an extremely muscular character look abnormally small is quite a new phenomenon. What seemed impossible years ago is doable and accessible today. It can only make one wonder what is to come in the future.

  5. Pingback: Comments for Week 5 « cruiz89

  6. Hello Elaine,

    The way technology has developed recently has truly changed we view animated films. In watching Pirates of the Caribbean the mermaid scene where their tail looks very realistic. These were fantasy creations that could not otherwise be created. Another recent film as you mention is Captain America when Steve Rogers went from a regular GI Joe to a Captain America. His “genetic alteration” was created by technology that was changed the way films are viewed today. They have been able to make the unreal seem very realistic and possible in today’s technological oriented world.

  7. Pingback: Comments for Week 5 « jeovannypaz

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