Monday, November 15, 2004

The Polar Express

I went with my family to see the movie The Polar Express. This movie blurs the line between between acting and animation. Tom Hanks played several characters including a young boy by wearing sensors on his face and body that recorded his expressions and then used for the computer generated characters on the screen. I had trouble explaining to my children (and my wife) how Tom Hanks played the boy even though someone else did the voice. Where in a more traditional computer animated movie like The Incredibles, the actors doing the voices get the credit.

We saw The Polar Express on an IMAX screen in 3-D. Since computers stored the entire movie, converting the film to 3-D could be an automated process. I predicted to my unbelieving children that when they grow up they will not be able to distinguish between computer generated film and those filmed live. Perhaps all movies then will be stored in some specific format like papers in PDF today that could be easily converted and optimized to whatever display device a person has.

Unless you have small children, I would recommend The Incredibles over The Polar Express. Technology does not win over substance. But I have seen the future and it is cool.


  1. i'm no art historian, but i'm pretty sure a goal of painters in the 19th century was to achieve perfect realism - photorealism. and then the camera was invented and they felt as if their lunch had been eaten. so what happened?

    expressionism, cubism, and the rest of modern art.

    so i think if that complete indistinguishability is ever achieved it will might just lead to CGI films becoming highly stylized (and then, if it followed the same path as fine art, they would become ridiculous and incomprehensible to the average person). because if you can make an outdoor scene that the viewer will honestly think is just normally filmed until told it's CGI, in many ways you're back to square one: you have to focus on things like cinematography, screenplay, and other traditional elements of film. of course you can also make monsters and other surreal things that look very realistic, so it might just usher in a generation of ultraviolent slasher films.

  2. Of course, what we might think of as very realistic might look quaint a decade or so later. I looked back on the "amazing" effects in Terminator 2, which blew everyone away at the time, but now so obviously seems computer generated and fake.

    The same goes with acting. Really over the top performances many decades ago were thought to be quite good.