Tag Archives: motion capture

The Best Stuntwork of 2014

Need for Speed open

by Gabriel Valdez

Let’s talk about stunts, the forgotten category long left hanging in the wind by an Academy that has failed to award an element of filmmaking as old as film itself. And then they wonder why people think the Oscars are boring.

There will be a separate article for best choreography of the year, but I want to focus on stunt work for the time being. This is an article awarding the most singular achievements in stunt coordination this year.

Stunts can include everything from someone sent flying out of a building to being lit on fire, from precision driving to retraining an actor how to move like a different species. Stunt teams do some of the most difficult work on film, often to little or no credit.

I’ll be avoiding CG stunts. A performance can be aided by CG, motion captured, even take place in a set created through visual effects, but a stunt still has to be a performance. I won’t list anything here that’s entirely created through visual effects.

3. FURY

Hayley Saywell, stunt department coordinator
Ben Cooke, stunt coordinator

Fury, aside from being one of the most egregious awards show oversights, pulled off a rare trick. For a mid-movie tank battle, it employed a real German Tiger tank. It was the first time since 1946 that one was used on a film set. Mock-ups were used to develop the battle choreography. On lend from the Bovington Tank Museum for exactly one day of shooting opposite the American M4A2 Sherman tank that played the film’s namesake, the crew had to practice the sequence to the point where they knew what every member was doing every second of each shot. They had to recreate in their mock-up the exact control scheme and sense of response a Tiger tank has so that there were no surprises in the choreography once they were shooting.

It’s the rare mechanical stunt whose complexity won’t be realized by most viewers. On top of all that preparation, the sequence required the crew pave unseen paths in a muddy field, keep to a tight schedule, and keep an eye on mechanical issues.

Fury is filled with other stunts as well, but this tank battle – the above clip only represents a brief moment in the entire sequence – is the showpiece that demonstrates one of the best displays of coordinating a battle scene in recent memory.

(Read the review)

2. NEED FOR SPEED

Pamela Croydon, precision driving team coordinator
Lance Gilbert, stunt coordinator

That clip is all practical. None of the stunts in it are CG. Look, Need for Speed is a very average movie, but the sheer amount of stunt driving crammed into it is pretty audacious.

In an age when Fast and Furious is making money hand over fist with ridiculously CG driving sequences, Need for Speed focused on making everything practical. To do so, it employed no less than 38 stunt and precision drivers. It shows in the end result. Whatever else one says about this film, what you’re really paying to see – the chase and race sequences – are second to none.

(Read the review)

1. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Charles Croughwell, Marny Eng, Terry Notary, stunt coordinators

This doesn’t look like it involves much stuntwork. It’s just a bunch of CG, right? Not exactly. When you watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and realize that each of those CG apes spilling out of the woods is being played by an actor: climbing rigging, leaping, and bounding across sets in coordination with each other (often using prosthetic extensions to do so), it becomes one of the most overwhelming stunt accomplishments in recent history.

Motion capture has to have an actor performing the role in order to work. To coordinate dozens upon dozens of actors playing apes requires extensive movement training, complex staging, climbing coordinated between dozens at a time, and a brand new and unique fight choreography based on another species. The list of accomplishments here is stunning. It begins to blur the lines between stunt work, acting, movement training, motion capture, and fight choreography, and it does so to brilliant and moving effect.

(Read the review)

In the lead-up to the Oscars, we’ve named several Best of 2014 Awards, with a special focus on some categories the Oscars don’t include:

The Best 3-D of 2014

The Best Diversity of 2014

The Best Original Score of 2014

The Best Soundtrack of 2014

The Most Thankless Role of 2014

Where Johnny Depp’s Career Is Now

 

Dark Shadows

by Gabriel Valdez

Is Johnny Depp still Johnny Depp? Did everything he touch once turn to artistic gold, and has he lost that now? Has he sold out? This reaction is to an argument I’ve heard many times, but was most recently written up by Stephanie Merry’s Washington Post article “What happened to Johnny Depp? How ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ made him, and ruined him.”

You can read her article or go straight on, because I’m sure you’ve heard the Johnny Depp argument before – he’s sold out. He sucks now. He broke your heart.

I haven’t seen Mortdecai, but even if it is the worst piece of schlock ever made, it wouldn’t be the first time Depp makes it. The argument is that he’s making worse films now than he used to, and he’s relying on bigger budgets to do so. One of those things is true.

Let’s make one thing clear: any successful artist is going to start getting more money eventually. This does not equate to selling out. Nor does praising Depp for sticking by Tim Burton’s side when Burton could do no wrong, and shellacking Depp for Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Dark Shadows. Either Depp deserves credit for sticking by Burton, or criticism for it. If Depp stopped supporting Burton once Burton’s career fell off, that would be selling out.

People are also quick to criticize The Lone Ranger, but if you look at how the Native American and other minority communities reacted to the messages inside the film, you might begin to look at it a little differently. Read my review for one take on how The Lone Ranger uses sight gags and film references to present and criticize America’s long history of genocide.

No one bothers to mention Rango either. It’s animated, critics, say. It doesn’t really count. These same critics will fight tooth-and-nail for Andy Serkis to get nominated for his motion capture performances in The Lord of the Rings and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But Rango, which is a fully motion-captured film, doesn’t count because it’s animated. That’s some logic for you.

No one bothers to mention how Depp and other actors stepped in, after the death of Heath Ledger, to help Terry Gilliam finish The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Depp is further blamed for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which he was once lauded for. So, his performance is still good, we’re just upset there’s too much of it? I get that people don’t like sequels – except for all the sequels that they like – and think they’re some new evil we’ve never faced before (the first American sequel that was a true event movie was 1916’s The Fall of a Nation, and that was before we got to making 80,000 Sherlock Holmes movies). But, whatever, fine, sequels are evil, and every actor who’s ever participated in one has sold out. And everyone from Homer to Arthur Conan Doyle should be strung up for making the concept viable before film was even invented. Have fun watching that paint dry.

Seriously, do the same critics who go gaga for every new Marvel trailer really want to tell me about how Depp has sold out? We’re employing some very different standards here. I’ve given you the insane logic that Depp’s sticking by Burton is “selling out,” I’ve taken The Lone Ranger out of the equation, I’ll even remove Rango and Doctor Parnassus for you. Public Enemies wasn’t great, but Depp was very good in it. Screw it, let’s take that out, too.

So we take everything out and the argument is still that Depp has sold out because now he participates in sequels. He shouldn’t be able to. Even though everyone else does. As long as we’re consistent and decide we hate Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr, that The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather: Part II are abominations that should never have been. Aliens, Lord of the Rings, Toy Story 2 and 3, chuck it all in the trash. You know what, if you’re that consistent, you win. I concede the argument.

If you’re not, then what are we even talking about?

Look, Depp used to make as many bad movies as good. Nick of Time. The Brave. Secret Window. The Man Who Cried. The Astronaut’s Wife. Fricking The Ninth Gate.

Seriously, have you tried watching The Ninth Gate? Don’t. Just don’t. Or do, because then it’ll completely make my point.

But Depp’s more ridiculous now than he used to be! He overacts!

Really? Have you seen Once Upon a Time in Mexico? Cause his eyes get gouged out at one point and if you’ve lasted until then, you’ll understand the feeling.

Johnny Depp hasn’t changed. His core as an artist hasn’t turned on its head. He’s not being lazy. He’s not more prone to flops than he was before. Producers are simply putting more money into his projects, and when they don’t turn out now, people notice because they cost more. That’s it.

Nobody notices or cares when a Lawrence Dunmore project flops. They do when a Gore Verbinski movie does. I’m hardly a fan of every modern Johnny Depp role. But if you look closely, you’ll probably find you’re not a fan of every Johnny Depp role from the 90s either.