Pixar-Flick Tricks (Chick Edition)

Just saw Brave. Not bad…


Tech Good: Merida at the Falls.
In computer animation, one of the hardest things to do is (was?) water effects in general, splashes and sprays in particular.  When Merida climbs the crag, then regards the waterfall, all while the POV “camera” is doing that pan-dolly motion directors like so much, it rang a bell with me. Basically, that scene was saying “F*** You” to competing animation studios.  “We’re Pixar, you’re not.”  (For that matter, Merida’s blowing hair in that scene and others was also a bit of a “screw you.” Getting long hair to move convincingly is also extremely hard. Merida’s loose locks may actually be more difficult than Rapunzel’s constrained “noodles” from Tangled.)

Pixar also gave the fluid finger in Ratatouille (the “Rapids” sequence) and Finding Nemo (the two shots with the Whale’s tongue.) Why did a whale have to flick its tongue? It didn’t. Pixar was just showing off.

Continuing with the flowing hair, there was also some good cloth work. Aside from the tapestry, which barely drapes (no pun intended), convincing fabrics aren’t easy for a computer. Heck, Albrecht Dürer and his peers needed help with drape and flow.

Tech Bad: Facial expressions.
On the down side, Elinor had better facial expressions as a bear than as a human. Uncanny Valley, anyone?

Note that, above, I said water “was” the hardest thing to do in CGI. Apparently, Pixar has figured out water, but still needs to work on extreme facial expressions. Sure, the common expressions are down pat. But the more severe, strained faces still don’t quite have that Pixar touch- crying in particular, of which there was no shortage. For another example, see The Incredibles. Elastigirl’s face in the crying scene doesn’t really work, and it looks like the animators knew it. They positioned her face-down as much as possible, hair in the way as much as possible, and holding a tissue close.

While we’re on the subject of Elinor’s face, she also didn’t seem like a middle-aged woman that much. Again, the Uncanny Valley strikes: a cute kiddie face can be rendered; it’s practically a doll head. A shriveled witch can be rendered, with more effort and CPU cycles. But a regular, everyday middle-aged face is too familiar, so viewers have high standards. In previous CGI works, producers avoided realistic humans, instead going for bugs, ogres, robots, etc. or at best, cartoony humans. Here, Elinor is supposed to be a realistic human, and we already know what that’s supposed to look like. Okay, maybe she had Merida when she was 15-16, so Elinor’s only about 32 or so.  Not unheard of back then.  Still, people were more haggard and grizzled back then, so 32 probably looked like 37-45 today.

If you want facial expressions, I suggest Eddie Murphy and Jodie Foster for model sheets. They might as well be claymation.

Not Technically Tech: Strong Sense of Depth.
Another Pixar trademark is the sheer 3-dimensionality present.  Certain forest scenes just had that “face against the seaquarium” feeling that many other movies don’t.  It’s not that other studios don’t know how; it just takes more processor cycles, and a director that really knows how to direct it all.  I imagine there’s a Pixar animator, taking all the director’s demands and getting all the settings right, then feeding it all to the rendering farm.  Many days later, the servers cough up that hairball, and it’s not quite up to Pixar standards.  So the animator has to tweak here, tweak there, and then schedule days of rendering for another go at it.

Other such scenes included the brief one with the bear and the “Three-Wees” in the same shot, sneaking about.  Then there was the shot of the boats, and the scene at the Falls.  Still, I have to deduct points: the Highland Games sequence could have been a lot bigger and more impressive, as well as the sequence in the brothers’ abandoned “cave,” and the final fight sequence in the circle.  Some shots have to be close, for faces to act and emote, but some should be wide and “seaquarium.”

Not Necessary:  Butts.  Lots of male butts.  Okay, so it’s a Scottish story, there were going to be kilt jokes. Still.


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