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.
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.
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 . . .