Month: April 2015

King Camp Gillette: Utopian Avenger

razorsThis morning the Gillette World Headquarters in Boston was converted into the East Coast R&D center of Stark Industries. Unveiling new razors called the Repulsor 1, UltraStrike, Thunder, XL Gamma (each corresponding to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk) Gillette has placed itself onto the razor’s edge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Another cross-promotion of movie franchise into the consumer world is nothing new. Yet, in a strange way, the fantastic was the dream of the man that gave Gillette it’s name.

King_Camp_GilletteIn the late 19th century Wisconsin-born King Camp Gillette (left) was deeply invested in the world of personal shaving razors. With mens grooming dominated by traditional forged and sharpened straight razor, Gillette was struck by an idea- what about a simple, disposable razor and blade? After several years Gillette’s disposable razor hit the market and was an immediate success. Gillette’s first year, 1903, saw sales of five dozen razors and few hundred blades. A year later Gillette’s mass-manufactured 90,000 razors and nearly 12.5 million blades.Gillette_razor_patent

Success was his and Gillette’s imagination wasn’t confined to the world of grooming. Not unlike the fictional Howard Stark and his “Stark Expo” a place where the future could be experienced through modern technology (circa 1943,) Gillette saw a world rife with potential for harmony, social, economic and cultural advancement.

In the years before finding success as the razor brand, Gillette was an author with visions of utopia. Written by Gillette in 1894, The Human Drift and 1910’s World Corporation were both works bursting with optimism about humanity. Before the fictional Metropolis of the DC Comics universe, Gillette envisioned a mega-city in western New York that was planned down to the finest detail.gillet06

From the shape and height of the buildings, to the glazed tiles of each apartment, to the sewage and electric lighting, Gillette envisioned a world spreading from Niagara Falls in the west to Rochester, NY in the east. Sixty million Americans would live in Metropolis on the Niagara in the world considered a form of 19th century Utopian socialism. Organized by engineers and removing competitive destruction, humanity would flourish in this mega-city.

For three good views of King Camp’s Gillette’s Utopian visions check out posts at The University of HoustonCornell University and UCal Berkley.

Advertisements

You Got Computer Animation in my Live Action!

avengfx

Shooting indoors, instead of out, modern movies rely heavily on visual effects to build not only characters but also surroundings. In The Avengers actor Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk (right) was entirely rendered based on ‘motion capture’ of his body. An important note, the lack of realistic flexibility in Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man means he too wears motion capture to fill in arms and lower torso.

In a 2002 interview with the late Roger Ebert, Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki noted with  amusement the amount of computer animation appearing in film. It was the Spiderman movie franchise that apparently caught Miyazaki’s attention for its level of animation in a film that is otherwise billed as live-action. Miyazaki told Ebert, “In a way now, live action is becoming part of that whole soup called animation,” where his traditional form of animation holds its own niche.

As you’ve seen by reading this blog, you notice that I am more a traditionalist when it comes to visual effects- miniatures or practical- with the sparing use of smart or visually striking computer effects. The best recent example of this blend of traditional, physical effects and digital work was in 2014’s Interstellar. While imperfect, the Christoper Nolan film attempted to reach lofty heights in visually striking ways. I remained engaged in part because the VFX matrix was nuanced and diverse.

Computer/digital generated effects found in a vast majority of modern films is a tricky balance and often overused. Without delving into issues with the Uncanny Valley, ultimately computer generated images have become so interwoven into live-action films that a preponderance of frames are entirely digitally rendered.

So I must ask the question- how much of a movie is required to have physical actors in order to be live-action? 70%? 60%? 51%? When does a modern action “live-action” film go from being live into animation?

In 2012’s The Avengers, director Joss Whedon assembled a superhero battle royal that relied heavily, if not almost entirely, on CGI. For a good look at the immense number of computer generated effects, check out this article from FxGuide. In The Avengers there are “approximately” 2,200 effects shots in the film, with many characters entirely computer rendered throughout the entire length of the movie.

Combine this with the heavy movement towards high-definition all digital film-making and you have the recipe for live-action shots in an otherwise animated movie.

In a Screen Rant article it was estimated that this year’s Avenger film will have 3,000 VFX shots. By contrast James Cameron’s Avatar, a movie that spanned 162 minutes and panned by some for its CG over dependence, there were 2,500 VFX shots. Contrast that number of VFX shots with the landmark and continually beloved Star Wars, which had just 360 special effects shots most of which were miniatures and travelling mattes.

With each passing year actors are rapidly siphoned out of live-action movies. Their likenesses scanned and digitized to be placed on computer generated character that move so blindingly fast and without a sense of connection to the physics of the real world that our “live-action” films of the 21st century feel more like computer animation.

I adore traditional 2D animation. I respect modern digital animation that combines the smooth precision, with washes and tones more like traditional hand drawn animation. What I don’t like is a “live-action” film that feels more like a 2 hour cut-scene from a video game.