Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tintin Done Right

Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have announced that they're making several films based on Herge's Tintin using motion capture. Variety reports that,
Jackson said WETA will stay true to Remi's original designs in bringing the cast of Tintin to life, but that the characters won't look cartoonish.

"Instead," Jackson said, "we're making them look photorealistic; the fibers of their clothing, the pores of their skin and each individual hair. They look exactly like real people — but real Herge people!"
Show of hands. How many people choose which movies to go to based on whether they can see skin pores?

DreamWorks bought the film rights from Herge Studios in Brussels, Belgium. Company is led by prexy Fanny Rodwell, Remi's wife when he died in 1983.

"We couldn't think of a better way to honor Herge's legacy that this announcement within days of the 100th anniversary of his birth, May 22, 1907," Rodwell said.

Now I understand. There's no better way to celebrate Herge's 100th birthday than by taking the cartooning style he developed, the "ligne clair" school which has influenced generations of cartoonists, and adding all the details that Herge was too stupid to include. What a shame that Herge didn't live long enough to see his work corrected. I look forward to the day when Spielberg and Jackson have their work corrected as well.

15 comments:

Pete Emslie said...

I'm certainly in full agreement with your take on this matter, Mark. One of the inherent dilemmas in doing CG animation, in my opinion, is knowing what to show and where to show restraint in regard to physical detail, especially on the characters. In traditional drawn animation you never really had that problem. The deft pencil strokes of a skilled animator (as well as those of their clean-up assistants) were enough to suggest whatever material you were supposed to be seeing. Flesh and muscle was suggested through the curved lines depicting compression of the form, while straight lines connoted underlying bone structure with the tautness of the flesh pulled over it in tension. Hair was depicted by flowing curved outlines with just enough separation into stray hairs and tufts to suggest some credible texture.

There was never any need to show more interior detail - the "mind's eye" of the viewer simply filled in that bit of information. In CG, however, you have to fill in all that info as virtual solid form, with the play of light and shadow leaving nothing to the imagination. So what to do with that surface? Does one leave it completely as is, at the risk of it all coming across as shiny plastic? Or does one approximate some feeling of surface texture to at least suggest what organic matter it may be?

Clearly some films have taken it to a ridiculous degree, showing every hair, skin pore and clothing fibre in extreme detail. Personally, I tend to favour Brad Bird's approach in Pixar's "The Incredibles" and the upcoming "Ratatouille". The flesh of the human characters is given just a slightly dappled texture that suggests skin texture but not overly so. There is still a rather delightful sculpted figurine look that is somehow retained, betraying the hand of the artist's work. I think this approach has found a happy medium, as the characters are so appealingly cartoony that to strive for more photorealistic surface detail would work against their stylized design.

I'm sure that you also would far prefer that the Tintin characters be animated traditionally, remaining true to their linear cartoon roots. Sadly, Hollywood doesn't agree with us on that and it sounds like this movie is going to end up as another Mo Cap monstrosity like "The Polar Express". Too bad...

SurferBen said...

Great post. I'm glad there are others who remember what animation is about, and who realise that computer animation doesn't necessarily imply the death of imagination in favour of photorealism. It's just sad that so much money and attention will pour into this project, and so many talented animation directors and more worthwhile projects will continue to languish without funding.

Cooked Art said...

I don't really even want to imagine what the 3D model for Tintin would look like, not to mention the mo-capped movement.

I truly hope that the final look that they go for captures the same feel of Herge's great style, but judging by the news so far, I can't imagine it being even close.

It's strange that so many people expect 3D animated films to be photorealistic, yet that's exactly what live action film is. I guess people want to see the effects trick them into thinking they're real and upon doing that, filmmakers will be somehow more free to make any kind of film they want.

I definitely think photorealism as a stylistic choice for Tintin is a depressing choice.

The most important thing, though, is still the story - and we'll have to wait and see about that one. They could have Tintin sock puppets on the screen as long as the story and the delivery is believable and engaging.

Rafi said...

well put Mark. it's so sad this photo-real bollocks is now become so out of hand.

Steve Schnier said...

Hi Mark,
I agree with your comments on the photorealistic portrayal of the Tin Tin characters. On the other hand, I think that the French Tin Tin figurines are charming and that Herge's designs translate well into 3D. As always, I'll take a wait and see approach.

Storywise though, I'd prefer to see something new. We've all read the novels and I'd like to have a new adventure. But under the terms of the license, I'm sure that will never happen.

Mark Mayerson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Mayerson said...

Steve, I agree with you that 3D is a valid choice for Tin Tin. Herge does not use a lot of stretch and squash in his drawings of characters and his use of space is very important to his storytelling. Those things would fit quite well with a 3D approach.

I'm confident that somebody could write a cel shader that would approximate the clear line style, too.

However, just as the clear line approach leaves out unnecessary detail to concentrate on the lines that are most important, key framing also leaves out all the small, twitchy movements in favor of movements that have meaning. I think the decisions to go with photorealism and motion capture are bad ones.

I would hope that Jackson and Spielberg would be sensitive enough to understand the nature of Herge's work, but it appears that they're just as boneheaded as typical film or TV executives who routinely ruin projects due to their bad taste. Unfortunately, Herge's widow doesn't seem to be any better.

Galen Fott said...

Of course, Spielberg has already "corrected" his own work by taking the magical work done for "E.T." on set by a team of puppeteers responding in real time to the other actors, and stamping over that with CG.

Benjamin said...

I adored the early 90's TV series, based on the albums. They did amazingly well in capturing Herge's style, building up atmosphere, excitement, etc. And the animation worked great too. (Let alone the fact that I just won't be able to watch any TinTin animated movie without those voices)

But I completely agree with this post. How can you keep in Herge's style - as they claim - when you don't grasp the basic concept of it?

willrmass24 said...

ioono, this sounds like overkill. I have nothing against realism in animation as long as it's mannered (evocative of original tastes/skill/ or stylized, I used it in reference to the old art movement). 3d or 2d animation can approach realism but should only to a certain point, hyper-realism will be a tremendous achievement, but fultile when it could be done in live acton.

But I don't see it working visually. I'd much prefer to see a fully animated 2d film based off the linge claire style. That's actually not cause I'm two 2d biased this time, it's just cause I don't think this idea will work.

David N said...

Speilberg and/or Jackson are so influential that all they would have to do is decree that the film should be done as hand-drawn animation in Herge's
authentic ligne claire style and it would be done.

But they want all those "hairs and pores" ... the same pores that most live-action actors spend a lot of time in the make-up chair to conceal from the camera... so why not just film the thing in live-action ? (rhetorical question ; I know the answer)

Gabriel said...

if someone really wanted to adapt hergé's stuff to moving pictures, they should make it animated, in 2d. Oh wait, it's been done already...

Anonymous said...

with all do respect to your previous writings, I must say this comment here is absurd... why not create something different, why see it as a "correction" of the original tin tin, and not as a remake? if it was a cartoon remake of a live-action movie, that would have been ok... because it's ok to make a caricature of a real thing.... but it's not ok to make a realistic - or semi-realistic - remake of a caricature... it's absurd, because diversity and creativity is not in "what's normally considered OK to do", but in doing things because you love doing them, and if you can do them differently, so much for the better. this being said, I don't necessarily suppose spielberg and jackson will make a cool tin tin. but let's wait and see

-karen ann. said...

um, it's tintin, not tin tin!

Mark Mayerson said...

I made the correction. Thanks for pointing it out.