Great article on "Shrek" & computer animation
May 18, 2001 12:21 AM   Subscribe

Great article on "Shrek" & computer animation by Stephanie Zacharek at I don't deny that the form has possibilities, but I've been getting really impatient waiting for the day the guys at the Pixar/Dreamworks sweatshops realize that the really exciting moments in art only come when you leave some gaps for the viewers to close themselves.
posted by misterzoo (15 comments total)
The same day that the guys at EA and Blizzard and Bungie realize that games are not made in the graphics. This may be a sort of new thing for movies (although we`ve had overblown, underplotted special effects blockbusters for awhile now), but the idea that the technology can get too good has been lurking in the discussion boards and editorials of the video games world for a long time.

It`s wonderful that you can make a stunningly beautiful movie/game, but it`d be really nice if you could make me care.

On another tangent:

If your goal is to make things look as realistic as possible, why bother with animation at all?

Well, one reason is that there is no such thing as a real ogre or talking donkey. Another is that their world is going to be based on technology anyway, even if we use live actors, we`re still gonna need neat special effects for the set.

Another reason is to convince people that the world is real and that this is what an ogre would look like. Maybe I`m totally wrong about the technology (or maybe I`m even further off base with my line of thought) but isn`t this essentially the same computer technology that was used in Jurassic Park? It worked there without building a feeling of "nah, they`re trying too hard."
posted by chiheisen at 12:43 AM on May 18, 2001

One of my best friends works at Pixar (and let me tell you, that place could hardly be called a 'sweatshop'; the new Emeryville building is tres swanky), and I can tell you from personal experience, their main concern over there is story. Story, and character, and plot, and dialogue. The technology is merely the means to an end.

Chiheisen is right on here. The computers are just the tools that creative people use to make pieces of art. The reason they 'bother' with animation is because it's a valid art form, and computer animation (especially in its current incarnation) is well suited to telling stories with fantastic characters or in fantastic settings.
posted by toddshot at 12:58 AM on May 18, 2001

I wouldn't indict the technology, just the way it's applied. If you look at the characters from the movie, it's obvious that the goal isn't 100% verisimilitude, which of course computers are good at. These are still cartoon characters, they've just been given a ridiculous amount of surface finish, along with the environments they move around in. It's like some godawful kitschy painting. The only times I find computer animation interesting is in "behind the scenes"-type specials when they show you the bits that weren't quite done yet.
posted by misterzoo at 1:08 AM on May 18, 2001

toddshot: the "sweatshop" comment was intended to point out the tremendous amount of time these guys spend overdoing this stuff.

Of course it's a valid art form. Doesn't mean it can't be done badly. I just think these people need to rethink the direction they're heading in.
posted by misterzoo at 1:12 AM on May 18, 2001

Actually, I think that what the article is getting at is that the technology can interfere with the desired effect.

[bad analogy]
Like having a car that goes really fast but doesn`t feel fast.
[/bad analogy]

Sometimes when things look too perfect, you realize at some level that they`re not real and lose part of your ability to suspend disbelief. Stories about ogres sort of lose some strength after your disbelief returns.

I think part of what Shrek wants to do is be charming (and maybe immersive). This is tough when it tries too hard to be real and instead becomes incredibly, obviously fake, specifically because it`s trying to be real. It also can be hard to accept a story where on the one hand they tell you "look how real we are" and on the other "accept some really fantastic premise and this story will be great." Yes, I realize that`s sort of the opposite of what I said two posts ago.

CAVEAT: 98% of my information about this movie comes from this article, so I may well be missing important details or fact.
posted by chiheisen at 1:25 AM on May 18, 2001

Anybody remember this? This is computer art for ya. This is a game that gets one caring about the character. I'd like to see a motion picture based off this, looking this good.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:21 AM on May 18, 2001

I think Zacharek is totally wrong. I don't know about this Shrek movie, but Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are among the best, most entertaining animated features I've ever seen: better than Iron Giant, as good as Chicken Run and The Wrong Trousers (the best of the Wallace and Gromitt shorts), right up there with the best of the old Disney films, and better than any of the newer, Little Mermaid-era Disney films.

And while the technology makes it possible, what makes these movies great is the story, the voice acting, the creative jokes and gags, and the well-done characterization. There are some truly great moments in these movies--Buzz's face when he sees the commercial that says "NOT A FLYING TOY," the StarWars parody in Toy Story 2, when the penguin rips off the rubber glove and Wallace says, "It's you!" (sorry, that's from "The Wrong Trousers," but I think it's one of the funniest gags in any movie ever).

Anyway, this article is stupid. The worst of the Pixar and Dreamworks computer-generated movies still has vastly better characters, creativity, and sheer entertainment than the majority of films (animated or otherwise) that Hollywood puts out.
posted by straight at 6:13 AM on May 18, 2001

The stylized characters in Shrek are SO FAR from being photo-real. They are not trying to get to "photoreal" with a movie like that. How can the animators help it if someone is entranced by the hairs on the donkey's back. If it were a real donkey would they still be staring at them?

What is this person going to say about Final Fantasy? (Which is basically the first CG movie not created to be viewed by a 5-year-old, and has moments when it will fool your eyes completely.)
posted by abosio at 7:27 AM on May 18, 2001

Anthony Lane at the New Yorker expresses similar feelings as the Salon piece.
posted by gwint at 7:37 AM on May 18, 2001

I don't see how that Salon review could overlook Toy Story. After being subjected to literally hundreds of viewings for my 5- and 2-year-old sons, I think the characters are as expressive and original as anything Chuck Jones came up with.
posted by rcade at 7:54 AM on May 18, 2001

In actuality, the original model for the princess in Shrek was considerably more realistic looking. And they did a bunch of test renderings and realized that she didn't fit with the rest of the film. So they went back and changed the model to make her less realistic, more cartoony. Now, apparently, she does fit in. (I haven't seen the movie, but some film critics whose opinions I value say it is very good indeed.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:03 AM on May 18, 2001

Anthony Lane doesn't like the movie, but it seems that most of what he doesn't like would have been the same if they'd used traditional animation and kept the same script and actors.
posted by straight at 8:19 AM on May 18, 2001

I can't not mention A Bug's Life here... It's the best thing disney's released in ages, IMO. And as already mentioned, there's Toy Story 1 and 2. It's easy to blast a genre when you don't bother to mention any of its best examples. And it's not like they're obscure things the writer wouldn't know about either... they're disney, for christ's sake.
posted by chrisege at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2001

Zach, there is indeed a film version (live-action) of American McGee's Alice in the works. Wes Craven is set to direct.

posted by toddshot at 1:40 PM on May 18, 2001

shrek just suffers from milquetoast character design and scripting (i saw it for shits'n'giggles as i'm a sometime animator). both of which are trademarks of dreamworks productions.

i'm kind of holding out for final fantasy to hit the screens. if the trailers are truthful, it'll be amazing storytelling.
posted by patricking at 1:08 PM on May 19, 2001

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