Monday, September 11, 2006

Animated movies

I have to confess to a not-so-secret passion - I love animated films, whether they're created using stop motion such as Tim Burton deploys in The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Corpse Bride, or the "claymation" used by Aardman Animations in the short Wallace and Gromit: Three Cracking Adventures films, Chicken Run and the Oscar-winning big screen feature Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, or the amazing Computer Generated Images films created by Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar, such as The Incredibles or Ice Age: The Meltdown.

Recently I went to see Monster House at the cinema. Monster House is slightly different to most CGI films, in that the film makers used a technique known as performance capture, wherein the performance by the actor is interactive and the film makers capture the body, the hands and facial expression all at the same time (as opposed to capturing data for reference motion and editing the motions together later, as was done with Andy Serkis' performances as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films). It's effectively a digital replacement for the furry or latex rubber costume, thereby allowing the actor to give the performance without wearing a heavy latex suit. (The performance capture technique was used to great effect in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie for Davy Jones and his crew.) The technique was first used in The actor usually interacts with models of the objects in the scene. The recorded performance data can be used to animate different actors. In The Polar Express, the first CGI film to extensively use performance capture Tom Hanks played five roles - an 8-year old boy, his father, the train's conductor, a hobo, and Santa Claus.

The story of Monster House revolves around teenage boy DJ who is convinced that there is something very strange going on in the house opposite his. The house in question is well known by the local children as the house to avoid at all costs. It's owned by a crotchety old man named Nebbercracker, who is infamous for seizing anything that lands on his property, particularly children's toys. DJ's parents leave town for the weekend to attend a dental convention, leaving him in the care of his apathetic Goth babysitter, Elizabeth, who refuses to be referred to as anything other than "Zee". Zee's boyfriend Bones is lured into the house to retrieve a kite taken from him as a boy — and is promptly swallowed up by it.

DJ's best friend is Chowder (an unfortunately fat boy - why the film makers did this, I don't know !); he's been saving up all his money to buy a basketball, and he decides to break in his new basketball with DJ. Whilst the two boys are playing basketball, the ball bounces away and lands on Nebbercracker's lawn. When DJ tries to recover the ball Nebbercracker suddenly appears and grabs DJ, lifting him off the ground and screaming at DJ, until his own face goes white and he collapses on top of DJ. Nebbercracker appears to have died and DJ feels responsible for the old man's death, even though no one likes him. Soon afterwards DJ notices that the house seems to be taking on the characteristics of Nebbercracker's behaviour, seizing and concealing everything that approaches it. DJ recruits Chowder to help him uncover the secrets of Nebbercraker's house. They then recruit an intelligent schoolgirl from Westbrook Academy named Jenny, who has come round selling candy to householders for them to give out to the trick-or-treating children who will be arriving.

I won't tell you the rest of what happens, as that would spoil the film for you. Suffice it to say that the animation is awesome, and the ending is satisfying.

This weekend I watched another CGI film, the incredibly detailed Robots which features characters voiced by Robin Williams, Halle Berry and Ewan McGregor. There's a totally awesome scene in the film featuring dominoes, which, in my view, makes the entire movie worth watching for the sake of seeing that one scene !

And I confess, I'm excited about the forthcoming Aardman Animations/DreamWorks film, Flushed Away, which features a pet rat who is literally flushed away by a sewer rat: with stars such as Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy voicing some of the characters this sounds as if it will be as stunning as anything else Aardman have produced. Unusually for Aardman, it's a CGI film, because they quickly decided that the complexity of moving water is impossible to recreate using claymation !


Kelly said...

I'm looking forward to "Flushed away" too! (This is Kelly if the sign in doesn't go right)

Michele said...

Kelly the sign-in worked fine ! I saw a trailer for Flushed Away when I went to see Monster House - and my eyes lit up !!