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.