Friday, December 25, 2009

Ramblings and Rough Women

Wait, I have a blog? Time to post so here is a WIP of an old sketch. Never got it to where I wanted to so I shelved it for the time being. This was the second of my female Gladiators.

As the year comes to an end its time to reflect. Now I've been with Ubisoft six months and hopefully I can start showing some of my stuff soon. For example I got to do some quick sketches for the Avatar game cover which was loads of fun - which leads me to the movie itself. Decided to write a little review about it, since I am a movie fanatic.

My problem with most action - sci-fi - fantasy movies nowadays has been that they rely on awesome effects to occupy you for the length of the film so you won't notice what a crappy story it actually was. So I am a little ashamed to admit that.... this time it worked. I guess James Cameron's 500 mio payed off because it had me stunned from the very first opening scene. Here is how I justify my thumbs up: For me there has to be a purpose for the use of cgi in a movie. The reason for that is that nothing can replace real settings, actors or props. As soon as you use cgi you are taking the viewer one step further away from "reality" and people are less emotionally invested. Actors also come less sincere across if working in pure green-screen studios talking to tennis-balls on sticks; or so I feel. This is also the reason why they still build real sets and haven't replaced real actors yet - cgi just feels fake if over-used. Sometimes I have not been aware that something was cgi and not real. For me THAT is special effects! I don't want to be taken out of the moment by going: oh, that was cg...

The dilemma comes when doing sci-fi or fantasy. There you often can't get around it simply because the stories are about fantastic things that don't really exist. Mix-matching real actors with fake surroundings or fake characters is always really hard. This problem was something Cameron avoided pretty well. Apart from some minor scenes the "real" human actors never entered the cgi world and had so much interaction with the creatures or the Na'vi. For the most part the story was split from the moment the main character entered his Avatar. From there on it was pure cgi and somehow I had less problems with that. So for me the entire movie was more of a fairy tale than a sci-fi action movie. It was just that thing about leaving your body behind to go into that new-beautiful and vivid world. And man, they did a hell of a job creating that world.

While watching the movie I never stopped staring, trying to take in all the details, colors and shapes they put in it. It was playful and took your imagination for a ride. The world they created was breath-taking to me and the 3d enhanced the experience by bringing you closer to it (or right in the center of it!) I for one was sucked in by the simple scale of things (the trees, the human digging machine)

But enough of the cgi. Now to the design.
I have to agree with people that have said that the design of many things could have been better. The creatures all had that extra set of limbs (two more legs, two more wings) but then resembled a lot the animal world of earth (the horse, the rhino, the wolf). Somehow I felt they could have taken it further being that you have a new planet and within that a whole lot of room to play with.
The human tech was not really innovative either - resembling so many things that one has seen before. And as simple and sturdy the AMP suit was it reminded me a lot of the suit Ripley used in Aliens to fight the Alien Queen --also a Cameron movie surprise.
And I had the feeling they deliberately kept the suit rather sturdy and less streamlined or sophisticated as to make it not too unrealistic. But when I then saw how it moved, ran(!) and even jumped(!!!) out of an exploding airplane without the guy controlling it looking like he was shaken at all.....!!!! I felt they could have designed it more high end.

The Na'vi were well done in detail and character expressions. But it was still a cat-human hybrid and not so unfamiliar to those kind of fantasy characters.

And that leads me to the story. After 5 min I already knew how the movie would play out and the trailer had also given you a pretty good summary of it. There were absolutely no surprises or plot twists... or even character reveals or developments that didn't meld perfectly with the set direction. This made me wonder - if you have 500 mio budget.... you should be able to hire someone talented to write you a little more sophisticated story, or not?
Personally I really didn't like the native American analogies they put in there. It felt like taking the values of a pretty much extinct people and going - oh its kinda cute, lets put it in the story. They could have for example had similar values - and not EXACTLY the same ones.... the whole praying for the animals as they take their lives...

Again, for me this was thus a very naive, simple story and more of a fairy tale that anything else. I do think that Cameron has set a new standard for the use of cgi and as sad as it makes me saying this - I think simply for the effects its worth watching.

Hey, Johannes....less talking and more drawing...

ok ok!