Trailer Trashin’: Tintin

14 07 2011

Spielberg, Jackson, Wright, I’m so disappointed in you guys. You’re smart enough to get it, but you’re not getting it.

Tintin and his friends are cartoon characters. They live in a cartoon world. CGI is fine, motion capture is fine, even 3D is fine, but why on earth didn’t you use cel shading? the Polar Express hyperrealism is all wrong. Those big round noses on hyperreal characters just look creepy and weird.

I understand the impulse to bring cartoon characters to life. I remember seeing some Looney Tunes style CGI back in the early days of computer animation, and it was a little rough, but magical. The notion of giving believable solidity to Bugs Bunny’s elastic, physics-defying antics has enormous appeal. But even with all the advances in technology, no one has come closer to solid ultra-elasticity than the merely-digitally-assisted Roger Rabbit. 3D rendered CGI relies too much on replicating real physics.

Tintin, granted, is far more grounded in reality than the Looney Tunes menagerie. But he’s still a cartoon character, and if you read the books, you’ll find he totally comes to life without the benefit of porous skin and reflective eyeballs. Just like 2D animated characters have been coming to life for decades. The abstraction of cartoon characters is a kind of gestalt that engages our brains, causing the viewer to participate in the life of the character, and bringing a vibrant energy to the whole experience. Piling on obsessive photo-realistic detail does not help the effect.

I’m willing to let go my preference for Tintin as traditional 2D animation– 3D rendered CGI has well and truly taken over– but cel shaded CGI (see Bender below) would have preserved the visual spirit of Tintin that is so beloved all over the world. But no. This movie is one more vehicle to show off the latest advances in surfacing technology. I am not impressed.

It’s possible that the story and dramatic characterization will make up for the visual missteps, but I am very skeptical. The presentation screams formulaic blockbuster, and I can’t imagine the content doesn’t fall in line as well. Especially given the shot of the ship sailing over sand dunes that morph into ocean waves. That belongs in the incoherent fantasy of Pirates of the Caribbean, not the down-to-earth adventures of a globe-trotting boy reporter.

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