Friday, July 27, 2007

"Crappy Feet", and Sodenberg does Fritz Lang

Subject: Cinema
Yes, I just called the popular computer animated film "Happy Feet" "Crappy Feet". Kind of an easy one, eh? Didn't take a lot of effort, huh?

I'm sure it's fine for kids and is otherwise entertaining. But I was totally "meh" about it. I didn't read up on any of the aspects of how it was produced, but when I saw the credits roll with all the motion capture details therein, I was like "yeah, figures. No actual animators were harmed in the production of this movie."*

I guess I have a bit of an anti-mo-cap bias. I'm all for shortcuts as a means to an end, but frankly, the whole exercise was a lifeless, overwrought ball of "ooh-this-will-be-cool", with precious little attention paid to making "life" out of a bunch of pixels. Pixar can do it. It's a shame that a prestigious company like Rhythm and Hues can't anymore.*

*[EDIT: Factual errors corrected in the comments]

Well, it had a few minor moments and all, but from the very first lame musical "mashup", I could tell that a committee was in charge and that any little glimmer of "soul" was going to be a total accident. It's true that technically, there's some extremely impressive modelling and motion and effects. But like I've said many times before, I would have been impressed 10 years ago. Nowadays, not so much. Money != storytelling.

Back to the total opposite of mo-capped computer-generated mediocraty, Stephen Sodenberg goes and proves that he's an even bigger technique whore than I am, and I'm loving every minute of it. "The Good German" is like a post-modern post-war pre-noir 1940's thriller kind of experience, where he gets his chance to put George Clooney in a sharp uniform and subject him to even sharper key lighting in a classic 4:3 high-contrast B&W homage to Fritz Lang and Casablanca and a myriad of old-skool 40's Hollywood post-war classics. The sets were soundstage or local, the lighting and lensing and recording was straight out of the era, and the cinematic tropes were classic and familiar.

Yet, they were twisted just enough to give it a modern edge. The message and the moral were classic, but totally antithises to the blissfull propagandizing of the time. The grim details and little touches of post-surrender bombed-out Berlin during the Potsdam conference spoke volumes to the fact that the end of that colossal conflict was quite a mess indeed. The sorts of things that were romanticized back in the day were turned upside-down a little; yet the core of the story was still classically romanticized in and of itself, but with a dark noir-ish sensibility.

Again, it comes down to the old-skool technique, and Sodenberg lovingly makes that one of the stars of his film, almost overshadowing Clooney, but totally glorifying Cate Blanchett's post-modern Marlene Dietrich resurrection along the way. It's a grand bit of geek-out that challenges you to name every single historical title being quoted (I'm not up to that task myself), and it's a heck of a bit of entertainment while it's doing it.


Anonymous said...

Your comments about "Happy Feet" and Rhythm & Hues are at best misinformed.

You say you didn't read any of the production notes, and that's obvious. The CG production house responsible for 95% of the work on HP is Animal Logic out of Australia. The mocap you mention was used to capture the tap performance of Savion Glover. The rest of the movie is key frame animated if I 'm not mistaken.

Oh, and by the way, it did win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, in a surprise upset over Pixar's "Cars."

Fellini 8.5 said...

Your comments about "Happy Feet" and Rhythm & Hues are at best misinformed.

And at worst, a bout of ignorant drunken late-night mouthing-off, perhaps borne of a fit of frustrated jealousy that I had given up on trying to be an animator many years ago due to a lack of talent...

Or something like that. Heh.

I don't entirely hold academy awards as a measure of the qualities I like or dislike, and "Cars" wasn't all that hard a target to beat.

But I'm still fascinated by the fact that a bunch of virtual hunks of metal with simple black-dot-on-white-field eyes could capture the "spark" so well, and a meticulously crafted accurately textured penguin left me "meh".