Dr. Toon: Is Avatar Good for a LAFF?
Now that James Cameron's techno-driven blockbuster Avatar reigns as the top-grossing film of all time, discussion runs rampant on how much of a game-changer this film actually may be. Cameron clearly sees it as such; he's gone so far as to say that future action films can star actors in their seventies looking very much like they do today. It would be easy to fill this column with recent quotes by MoCap technicians and virtual artists who now believe that anything in animation is possible, including our most extreme sci-fi dreams. But is it really true? In one particular genre, probably not.
Recently I considered the following scenario that seems to have been overlooked by many, if not all, in the field. Having an utter disdain for Live-Action Animated Features (LAFFs for short; films in which live human actors attempt to portray animated characters), I wondered whether the advanced performance capture and CGI of Avatar had unwittingly saved the day for LAFFs. I thought about a recent column of mine blasting the (allegedly) upcoming Jetsons live-action feature.
Some bloggers have been casting the film in advance and were nominating Danny DeVito as the dead-lock, perfect choice for Mr. Spacely, George Jetson's dyspeptic boss who fires him at least once per episode. Suppose, my reasoning went, you hired DeVito, put him in a MoCap suit, filmed him and then altered his features until he actually became Cosmo G. Spacely? That way, the live actor still carries the role but has been altered by CGI to complete the illusion of being an animated character. After all, if Zoe Saldana can be turned into a large blue felinoid with a set of neural dreadlocks, what can't be done?
Well, maybe that's a point, but perhaps not. Debate raged (and still does) over whether the Na'vi known as Neytiri of the Omaticaya was a human actress capable of an Oscar nomination or a fantastic simulated variation of her produced through the extreme cutting edge of visual FX. Mr. DeVito would undoubtedly lend identifiable characteristics to the Spacely construction, but would it be him? If you could not tell, wouldn't this be an animated film rather than a LAFF? In this journalist's opinion, no, it would not be, for a number of reasons, and the film (also IMHO), would still fail miserably.