Sunday, January 17, 2010

WRITING FOR MOTION CAPTURE

Ideally, you don’t want to escape from a cinema. You want to leave it reluctantly, thoughtfully or happily humming something.  However, after two and a half hours of AVATAR, it was a relief to be outside where the colors suddenly looked too red and yellow, where everything was sharp and focused and fire-engines screaming down Sunset Boulevard seemed more exotic and thrilling than the movie.  And my eyes could stretch all the way to the end of the street and all the way up to the sky instead of being strained and constrained by goggles and layers of glassy 3-D.
     While AVATAR’s design was stunning, the lighting stupendous, the 3-D effects suitably flinchable, I had to flee before the end, because I just didn’t care what happened to the hero or the numb-faced, big-eyed blue people, I just wanted to get out of there. I couldn’t take anymore thundering sound, eye-crossing 3-D effects, nose-crushing goggles, or hackneyed halfwit dialogue.
    All the twelve year-old boys in the world may go and see this movie twenty times, but it still has no heart, it can't move you beyond a gasp.  And that, finally, is my point.  Writing for such intricate, carefully wrought digital and even hand-drawn films must catch up to the splendor of the art which is light years ahead of the scripts.
    AVATAR may be in 3-D but the characters aren’t.  We don't care about them, how can we, they’re so 1-D, so wooden and predictable.  They have none of the things we identify with: fears, flaws, foibles, suffering, struggle, transformation, comeuppance.
    Violence and beauty alone don't make a story or a character interesting. The same effort and knowledge that go into the graphics, must go into the writing of a MOCAP film.  A digital character must have at least as many layers of personality as the images do, if not more. 
     I’m tired of seeing fabulous CGI art with terrible dialogue and boring, sappy stories.  Keep up screenwriters, wake up producers: there are more than twelve-year-old boys in your potential audience.  CGI art is no longer restricted to children.  It’s a glorious, versatile medium that can express all emotions, represent all situations.  It has everything live-action has: technology, lighting, camera angles, technique and the many talents of digital designers.  Studios, you can rake in just as many millions if you use digital artists’ talents for more than just blasting eardrums and eyeballs . Screenwriters, be adventurous, write for a medium that has surpassed its childish limitations. Write some fresh, new, thoughtful scripts for MoCap, with nuance, subtlety, emotion, plot and depth. Stars, demand better scripts to lend your voice to.   
    Digital animation is not just for cuddly fish and talking animals anymore.  Imagine what MoCapped actors could do with real dialogue instead of juvenile tough talk and sentimental pap. If artists and film-makers can provide such dazzling multi-layered images, whether hand-drawn, CGI, rotoscoped or motion captured, why not let writers do as much with the words?
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4 comments:

3dsketchbook said...

All the technology in the world can't make a good story. It is a visually amazing film but the story lets in down - in my view. I even looked at my watch at one point in the movie.

Mocap was used for this film but what they don't tell you is how Mocap is normally just used for reference and the animation is then hand keyed, as the mocap is next to useless. This method was used for Lord of the Rings and King Kong - all made at Weta too.

The film is a rich blend of 3D and live action.The team behind this film and the technical advancements that have been achieved from this film will help future productions. Mocap was used in this film but an animator has to clean up all the mocap and refine the animation so much that really only tiny fragments of the real performance are kept..

I wonder what this film would have been like with a great story and not very amazing visuals?

From talking to people myself, there is a mixed reaction to the film. If you love your Scfi this film is for you. If not then you will enjoy the visual world James Cameron puts you in, but will quickly lose interest in the needs of the characters and paper thing story in my view.

Nora Lumiere said...

Good writing with interesting characters and the same or even lesser visuals, would have been a classic. The lack of dramatic context really undermines Cameron’s graphics leaving them devoid of meaning. There’s nothing in AVATAR as powerful as STAR WARS’ marvelous characters and dialogue which have become part of world culture because George Lucas had the good sense to consult Joseph Campbell, which made all the difference.
James Cameron claims to have written AVATAR in 3 weeks and it shows. I think he disrespects his own graphics by not supporting and complementing them with superlative characters and story.
MOCAP is a sexy toy for directors who don’t really understand the complex art of animation and will never provide an expressive face no matter how many sensors and cameras they use.
Thanks for the interesting comment.

notwoodyallen said...

Cameron claims to have written Avatar in 3 weeks? That's news to me-iirc the movie took almost 15 yrs to conceive, with about 2 yrs of dedicated script development & 4 yrs of production, according to Cameron himself during an interview on G4TV.

But I believe that more than just a film, this was a showcase of new technology that we'll see being used in future movies the way Star Wars gave birth to ILM. I think on that front, Avatar is successful. I agree this was not a writer's movie, & would be hard pressed to encourage an aspiring professional screenwriter to write something similar on spec.

It does seem a shame that in Hollywood, most movies follow a template that almost feels like colouring within the lines, especially the larger the budget gets, while anything deemed "risky" gets passed on or relegated to the bargain budget sheet. It blows from a creative standpoint but is understandable from a business standpoint, as the studio culture today is largely dictated by marketing heads, not actual filmmakers or film aficionados.

Across the pond, the Japanese generally do a much better job of injecting rich material with beautiful animation. Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, to name a couple. Tekkon Kinkreet is amazing & surreal; Millennium Actres is beautiful & moving; Grave of the Fireflies is heartbreaking & poignant. They make anything Disney makes, new or old, seem downright old fashioned, patriarchal & white-washed by comparison, even the successful examples you cited, like The Lion King.

The truth is, this will never change, no matter what writers decide to write. If you're on the outside, you won't get in by writing outside the lines; if you're on the inside, it's hard to do anything else if you want to make a living. The studio executive's motto in this business tends to be, "Give me the same thing, only different". So the writer has to be subversive-create great characters, interesting concepts, have a singular pov, whilst satisfying producerial requirements & knowing the rules of genre. It's very, very hard to do this but once in a while we see a District 9, or an Up-movies that don't really deviate from classic formula or story structure but offer something compelling to the audience.

Nora Lumiere said...

In his December 2009 interview with Charlie Rose http://bit.ly/6PohPv , James Cameron says “...It just flowed out very rapidly and I probably wrote the whole thing in about three weeks.”

My point is that the quality of writing for animation, whether it be hand-drawn, CGI, MOCAP or Rotoscope, is vastly inferior to the quality of the graphics and my post was a call for writers, studios, directors, producers (and I should add, star actors) worldwide, to call for scripts to rise to the superlative quality of the visuals. Audiences worldwide should demand better writing for animation, including Disney’s hidebound family franchise which has long been surpassed by the modern family. Family values don’t have to be saccharin and simplistic and need to rise to the level of their beautiful hand-drawn art.