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I've got to admit it's getting better
January 1, 2009 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Brad Pitt is no spring chicken, but it still took some work to put an 85-year-old version of his face on a child's body in his newest movie. The first step: a new markerless, wireless, uncanny-valley-clearing motion capture process, termed "volumetric cinematography" by the effects studio.

And that's only the beginning of the magic routine a single movie can go through: a story spaning ninety years might pull out CGI, old-fashioned matte painting, "youthening", and more.
posted by peachfuzz (49 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
It also took some work to turn an 85-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald story into Forrest Gump.
posted by Knappster at 9:20 PM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


... uncanny-valley-clearing motion capture process...

One man's valley is another man's chasm, apparently. Here's some great footage of that motion capture process clearing the uncanny valley.
posted by koeselitz at 9:34 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Plus, the movie is only dubiously entertaining (and follows neither the letter nor the spirit of the story...not like that was ever intended as some great work of art anyway). But the effects! Are marvelous, and interesting to read about!
posted by peachfuzz at 9:34 PM on January 1, 2009


I went to the natural history museum with my brother a while back. While standing near the dinosaur I said to him,"This dinosaur is two billion years and eight months old."

My brother looked at me weird and asked, "Where did you get such exact information?"

"Well, I was here eight months ago, and the guide told me that dinosaur is two billion years old." Volumetric Geobiology.
posted by netbros at 9:34 PM on January 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


What threw me off the most was the weird CGI/makeup zits on Teenage Button's face. It's like they ran out of money at the end and drew on some acne with a red sharpie.
posted by jschu at 9:35 PM on January 1, 2009


Why does everyone on Metafilter seem to hate Forrest Gump?
posted by Corduroy at 9:39 PM on January 1, 2009


Loved this movie.

Also, loved Forrest Gump.

While I'm at it, I loved Crash too you nattering nabobs of negativity.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:48 PM on January 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


That motion capture system is brilliant! For those of you who haven't clicked on it yet. They paint an actor's face with a phosphorescent paint and then have the lights blink on and off really fast so that they get a normally lit version and (due to several cameras encircling the actor) several glowing skin versions. This gives them a 3D surface they can track to. Bah, I can't explain it right, go watch it! It's really a brilliant idea.
posted by Brainy at 9:50 PM on January 1, 2009


Corduroy: "Why does everyone on Metafilter seem to hate Forrest Gump?"

I do not hate it. I merely dislike it.

As for this movie, part of me wants to see it. Another part of me wants me to stay well away. I think it's likely I'll do the latter.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:57 PM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Corduroy: Why does everyone on Metafilter seem to hate Forrest Gump?

People on Metafilter are very strange that way. They seem to have uniformly good taste in film.
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 PM on January 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


Too long. Waaaaaaay too long.
posted by flipyourwig at 10:08 PM on January 1, 2009


Why does everyone on Metafilter seem to hate Forrest Gump?

It does that classic thing where Forrest is retarded, and therefore good and kind. Because even normal intelligence is morally suspect.

It's yet another in the endless dreary series of things that panders to boomers.

It is glurge, and glurge is despicable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:12 PM on January 1, 2009 [12 favorites]


It's weird, because Brad Pitt can be very charismatic, but when he gets all 'serious cinema' he loses absolutely all affect and becomes this stolid tabula rasa.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:42 PM on January 1, 2009


Forrest Gump?

Vaguely misogynist cultural masturbation.
posted by edgeways at 10:56 PM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Interesting post - was curious about the variety of techniques used to produce the picture. Unfortunately the film itself was dire; made it about 1/2 through before walking out - the constant 'return' to 3-inches of make-up caked Cate Blanchett dying in a hospital room during Hurricane Katrina (!) was excruciating. Would have been better as 10 minute Guy Maddin flick.
posted by jettloe at 11:05 PM on January 1, 2009


I am far from being a hater of Fincher's films -- I found Seven silly but enjoyable (and kudos to Khondjii), I liked Zodiac (Savides is truly a genius) despite its many limitations, and even his bad films -- The Game, Fight Club, Alien 3 -- had their spooky/interesting moments. I only really disliked Panic Room until now. But Benjamin Button strikes me as an appalling vanity project -- a Pitt vehicle to let the pretty boy chase that Oscar and the respect that comes with it, and also a Fincher vehicle to let him play with a new cool gadget and explore a crazy new technology. There's nothing there, really. It's an irritating non-film. It's as if a friend of yours had been allowed to take this new Ferrari California for a spin, and then tells you all about it for two hours and a half.
posted by matteo at 11:35 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Vaguely misogynist cultural masturbation.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:01 AM on January 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Point of order: Mova's not the VFX studio involved here, they're the motion capture vendor. The primary house involved with Benjamin Button was Digital Domain, with additional heavy lifting provided by Hydraulx, Asylum and others.

Full disclosure: I work for one of the houses involved, but I did not work on Benjamin Button.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:37 AM on January 2, 2009


"Forrest Gump" confirmed my view of the right as brain-damaged. How could I hate a film like that?
posted by telstar at 1:19 AM on January 2, 2009


Although that detailed list of similarities between Benjamin and Forrest scares me - the difference between the two films proves Eric Roth has matured and exposes yet again how simplistic and ridiculous Forrest Gump is as a film.

The subtext of Forrest Gump seems to question intelligence and personal choice. Gump stumbles through life, not making choices but finding himself in extraordinary circumstances and meeting many famous people. The other characters in the film that choose to live their lives the way they want are either punished or killed or both.

Benjamin Button, as a character, is much more active within the narrative. He chooses every step of his journey, overcoming the strange circumstances of his life - but learning to live with it rather than being coddled or told he is precious because of his reverse-aging. The film, while in a way an ode to the 20th century, isn't fixated on history in the same way Gump was. Button doesn't meet famous people or change history - the references to where his life intersects with history are far more subtle. And even though the beginning and end of the film are very specifically tied to moments of real history, they are almost incidental - or at least work as subtext rather than text.

Button is the film Gump wishes it was.
posted by crossoverman at 1:39 AM on January 2, 2009 [4 favorites]



Why does everyone on Metafilter seem to hate Forrest Gump?

Because it's cultural propaganda. Sure, America's got some problems, but in the end, that was all in the past, and damn, we're an awesome country!
posted by dunkadunc at 2:11 AM on January 2, 2009


It's yet another in the endless dreary series of things that panders to boomers Americans.

Fixed that for you.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:57 AM on January 2, 2009


The subtext of Forrest Gump seems to question intelligence and personal choice.

No, the subtext was that by living by a few simple rules, even a retarded person could have a decent life.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:51 AM on January 2, 2009


I never read the book or saw all of the movie, but didn't the novel version of Gump feature him getting laid quite a bit?
posted by Burhanistan at 6:33 AM on January 2, 2009


While I'm at it, I loved Crash too you nattering nabobs of negativity.

Hold on, which Crash?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:41 AM on January 2, 2009


Interesting, Crash (I) also involves an exoskeleton of locomotive aids. And it's HOT.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:18 AM on January 2, 2009


And just when I thought those Donald Rumsfeld nightmares were going away...
posted by markkraft at 8:24 AM on January 2, 2009


It's yet another in the endless dreary series of things that panders to boomers Americans.

Fixed that for you.


No, not really. Maybe that's how it looks from the outside, but it's definitely a love-letters written by baby boomers to themselves. It's a big alienating in-joke to the Americans in other generations that don't buy into the 60s nostalgia.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:27 AM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


While I'm at it, I loved Crash too you nattering nabobs of negativity.

Hold on, which Crash?


Why can't it be both?
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:27 AM on January 2, 2009


Because if you like the 2004 one then you're right, people are too negative, warm fuzzies yay. If you like the earlier one, however, then we should consider that YOU PROBABLY GET OFF ON THAT SHIT DON'T YOU YOU SICK F*$K

I kid, I was just curious.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:36 AM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was referring the the 2004 one of course, because it's such a target for hipper-than-thou critique.

Haven't seen the Cronenberg one, although I love his other stuff. See, you can be a sick f**k and a caring, sensitive person all at once.

At least that's what The Whispering Voice tells me.

Does not.
Does too.
Does not.
Does too.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:21 AM on January 2, 2009


For my money, the best bit of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was buried deep, deep in the credits.

There is a moment in the narrative when Daisy (Cate Blanchett's character) speculates to Button (Pitt) that as she is now forty-something and he was born about fifty years ago as an old old man, they are probably about the same age. I liked that moment, like escalators (one up and one down) crossing. Daisy starts out as a child, becomes an adult, and grows old; Button starts out as a baby (admittedly an arthritic, cataract-ridden one), grows younger into adulthood, and ends again as a baby, but this time looking like a newborn.

Now, well into the credits, the sharp-eyed film geek will spot an inadvertent echo of this.

David Fincher, Director of TCCOBB, had his first screen credit in 1983, doing special effects for, of all things, Return of the Jedi. He continues working steadily, his star rising somewhat higher through the eighties, and by the end of the decade he is doing videos for Madonna ("Express Yourself" "Vogue"). He gets his first shot at directing a feature film with the sadly underrated AlienĀ³, a topic thoroughly discussed on the blue about three weeks ago. The Alien franchise gets handed around to directors of widely varying talent and vision, and finally, a year ago, lands in the hands of a couple of doofuses, who thoroughly screw it up. So much so, in fact, that these guys get busted back down to the ranks, and are now working as special effects guys on other people's movies. Including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

So:one guy starts out doing special effects for other people, breaks into the big time with an Alien movie, and has a fascinating career. A directing team tries to take the same path, and winds up where they started, working for other people as jobbers.

Or maybe it's just me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:26 AM on January 2, 2009


Now what now?
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:32 AM on January 2, 2009


I'd argue that the Strauses probably wanted a piece of Button for the technologies involved, in any capacity they could get their hands on it, since they're both VFX supes again on 2012 Wolverine.

It's also possible-- and more likely-- that they were called in to do some quick work on a few shots at Hydraulx, things that they could do as well as a regular digital artist could in a vastly shorter time frame, and figured they'd update their IMDB pages with the relevant information.

VFX work is not as linear a career path as one might expect. I'm still pretty new, and I bounce around between artist work and technical services stuff pretty regularly, depending on what shows are coming up and where I think I'll do a better job. VFX supervisors at my house have been known to take on particularly difficult or sensitive artistic jobs entirely by themselves to assist productions along. Shit, there's a guy at my house who's been a tape op, a scanning and recording op, a digital plate restoration guy, an integration artist, the manager of the 3D department, a digital production manager... and now he's a senior systems administrator, puttering around in the back of the office down the hall with some Linux stuff.

"Busted back down to the ranks" happens very rarely. It's possible to fuck up that badly, yes-- but I doubt it's the case here. The ground rule of modern VFX is "Is this going to get the shot out?", not "Is this work befitting my exalted station?"
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:14 PM on January 2, 2009


er, 2012 and Wolverine, as much as I'd watch a 2012 Wolverine movie
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:16 PM on January 2, 2009


See also Rob Legato. It's pretty hard to say that being a VFX pipeline engineer on Battle Angel means he sucked at being the second unit director on The Departed. The two professions don't really have a one-to-one relationship, and people go back and forth.

I agree that AVPR sucks as a movie, mind, but that's the entire AVP franchise for me-- shitty movies. There are a lot of human factors that go into making a truly, truly shitty movie, not just the directorial ones.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:23 PM on January 2, 2009


No, I am oversimplifying it, of course, but in general I suspect that people don't go willingly from directing $40-million-dollar studio movies with the press junkets, the ET interviews and whatnot back to work-for-hire on someone else's movies. As the punchline to ten thousand New Yorker cartoons goes, "... but what I really want to do is direct." Certainly people come out of other fields in film to direct movies, but I don't see many people have other jobs in film (save producing or occasionally writing) after directing a high-profile release. Yeah, it would have been better for the world if, for example, The Incredible Shrinking Woman had tanked and Joel Schumacher went back to costume design instead of doing Batman and Robin. I cannot know the state of mind of, let's say, Geoff Murphy, who went from making a handful of great early-80s New Zealand flicks (Utu, Goodbye Pork Pie, The Quiet Earth) to a bunch of shlocky '90's Hollywood movies with a "2" in the title, to being a second-unit director on Lord of the Rings.

Maybe The Brothers Strause (TM) are happy as all get out to be away from the pressures of delivering a big movie and delighted to be working for a month on somebody else's project and then collecting a cheque. Maybe.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:03 PM on January 2, 2009


I love Forrest Gump. Say whatever you want about it, that movie made me want to be a better person. It's not about how dumb and fortunate Forrest is, it's about Forrest overcoming his impediments by adhering to some clear principles: tell the truth, try as hard as you can, never give up on those you love, and keep your promises.

I can understand why some people hate it. If I were my current age in 1994 I probably would have hated it too, cynical bastard I have become.
posted by autodidact at 1:24 PM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


The movie certainly invites Forrest Gump comparisons, and it has some of the same facile, cheapish feel-goods moments. I should have made the post about Eric Roth instead!

But I really was surprised by the effects, and from the breathless tone of the industry magazine coverage, it seems like a lot of insider-y people were, too. Am I just a sucker? It just seems so magical, this new phosphorescent powder motion capture method - and that's just the first step; from there, they aged the 3d map of Pitt's face, and then stuck it on the short actor's body. Amazing! I found myself not distracted at all, beyond the initial shock - the old/young effects weren't perfect (neither was the movie overall), but they felt like tools of the story, and not the other way around. Transparent. And that's quite a feat - it's a long, long way from Gollum or Beowulf.

Or is it not really that good/cutting edge? I know nothing about this stuff, but was fascinated by the processes.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:45 PM on January 2, 2009


I don't dislike Forrest Gump. I have just found that I tend to dislike people who like Forrest Gump.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2009


I don't have much of an opinion on Forrest Gump. I am, however, sick to death of Tom Hanks, who peaked with Bachelor Party, frankly.
posted by jonmc at 2:17 PM on January 2, 2009


Why does everyone on Metafilter seem to hate Forrest Gump?

I'm mostly indifferent, though I did just watch it somewhat recently, and I noticed a clever device I hadn't caught previously;

They repeatedly have the voice-over Forrest say something, and have it immediately followed by the on-screen Forrest say the same thing:

(while getting shot in Vietnam)

V.O. Then it felt like something just jumped up and bit me.

Forrest: Something bit me!


I have no idea why I missed this the first time, but I liked the movie a little bit more or its being in there.
posted by quin at 2:39 PM on January 2, 2009


Fuzzy Skinner: While I'm at it, I loved Crash too you nattering nabobs of negativity.

goodnewsfortheinsane: Hold on, which Crash?


The one that happens when us nattering nabobs of negativity get fed up with Tom Hanks' simpering glop-glop of sentimentality, drink a fifth of whiskey, decide to go for a spin in the station wagon, and end up flying through Fuzzy Skinner's windshield.
posted by koeselitz at 3:06 PM on January 2, 2009


I heart Forrest Gump. I use to watch it everyday (at least once), and I have read the books. There is Forrest Gump & Gump & Company. It's true that in the book Gump is more of a shit eating retard, it is just common that they cleaned him up for the big screen, but still....there is this one page in the book where he is just starting out in the army (Page 46 in paperback) where he is put in charge of making a stew. I won't spoil it, but when I originally read this passage I was in study hall; it got to the point where I was laughing so hard, tears in my eyes, my body flushed, sides hurting, the whole very quiet class looking at me, and it took all I can do to read one word at a time, and than I'd start laughing all over again.

I think it took me 20 mins to read those two sentences...I didn't pee myself, but I came close. Hope somebody out there reads the book and has a similar experience. :c)
posted by QueerAngel28 at 5:31 PM on January 2, 2009


I dislike Forest Gump, if only because of how it was misused...

Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, hailed Forrest Gump as, "a conservative film ... a reaffirmation that the counter-culture destroys human beings and conservative value..."

While Bob Dole declared that his presidential campaign would be based "on the message that has made Forrest Gump one of Hollywood's all-time greatest box office hits: no matter how great the adversity, the American Dream is within everybody's reach."

In director Robert Zemeckis's words, Forrest Gump was a presentation of the baby-boomer generation which, because of Forrest's "blankness" offered no comment or explanation: "everybody could sort of bring their own bottle to the party.

Basically, Solon and Thanks nailed the director's motives, but I would arguably go even further in the criticism.

I see Gump as yet another 'The Big Chill' like 60's lovefest that ultimately uses the largely overblown and unrelated dangers of irresponsible drug use and unprotected sex to try to wallpaper over the fact that so many members of that generation sold out, big time.

While so many of those of the sixties generation turned their backs on trying to make a better world, choosing to put materialism first, Forest Gump went for a long, leisurely run... until it was suddenly a more Reaganesque world, and the prodigal, AIDs-infested former radical came home to the rich mentally-retarded man she never really was in love with, only to fall in love him right before she died. Ultimately, Forest Gump was a kind of a "Big Brother" figure, in more ways than one. Godlike yet infallable, in his wealth, innocence, ignorance, and overly simplistic, developmentally-retarded sense of morality.

Forest Gump himself was also an representation of the generation itself, and ultimately a way of self-justifying how things turned out. He drifted through the events of the sixties, without having the responsibility of actually engaging, justifying his involvement in the Vietnam War, justifying his use for propaganda purposes, etc.

He was like the feather... an innocent, moved by the winds of the time, excused from having to think about the consequences of his actions, or about the politics of the day. Never mind that the rest of his generation were not.
posted by markkraft at 9:12 AM on January 3, 2009


It's a big alienating in-joke to the Americans in other generations that don't buy into the 60s nostalgia

Eh, every generation thinks their youth was magical and they're right.

I dislike Forest Gump, if only because of how it was misused...

God idea, don't judge it on its own, but rather how other people say it.

uses the largely overblown and unrelated dangers of irresponsible drug use and unprotected sex to try to wallpaper over the fact that so many members of that generation sold out, big time.

Sorry you can't enjoy things.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:45 PM on January 3, 2009


The one that happens when us nattering nabobs of negativity get fed up with Tom Hanks' simpering glop-glop of sentimentality, drink a fifth of whiskey, decide to go for a spin in the station wagon, and end up flying through Fuzzy Skinner's windshield.

I love when you talk dirty.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:12 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why is it that whenever music or film or art in general comes up on metafilter, everybody is suddenly The Absolute Final Word On Objective Quality? Your hatred of something does not make it bad. Your adoration of something does not make it good. We do not care how much our favorite thing sucks. We do not care how much your favorite thing rocks.

Disclaimer: I did not enjoy Benjamin Button, but as you can see, I'm not derailing a perfectly good thread about CGI to tell you about it.
posted by tehloki at 8:46 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Amazing technology.

My google fu has been failing me for the last hour.

I remember seeing, more than a year ago, on some academic websites, two demos that really impressed me. In the first one, they have two newscasters reading the news under very specific lighting, and a (cluster of?) computer(s) is fed information on the camera and the lighting. Based on this, the computer can build a 3D model, and change the lighting on the fly, realtime. In the demo, the start with the real lighting, then midway they change to a green and purple spotlight combination, then to candlelight, etc.

The other demo involved using a special lens on a photographic camera. The center are of the lens is normal, but the outermost ring is a fisheye kind of lens. You get pictures that look normal in the center and all distorted in the edges. The outer ring contains a lot of information about the scene, and feeding the picture to the right software gives you a 3D model of whatever is in the center of the picture. The demos used portraits.

This is the first commercial use I see of something similar. If some professors could do the newscasters thing realtime, prepare yourselves for the best propaganda ever to come your way in the next few years. Removing Stalin's former friends from old pictures? Ha! We have LIVE footage of the guy trying to assassinate him, only to be stopped by Stalin's impeccable use of mustache-foo.
posted by dirty lies at 11:32 PM on January 4, 2009


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