March 9, 2011


I loved this film! Let me just say it has been a long, long time since I've had this kind of reaction watching a film (much less an animated film) where I stopped and thought, "Man, how did they do that?" Granted, it wasn't the kind of reaction I had watching Jurassic Park or Toy Story for the first time. I'll explain.

Knowing the ins and outs of the technology and eventually becoming a professional animator kind of ruins the "magic" of "how they do that." What I got wrapped up in watching Rango was thinking about the sheer man power it must have taken to make this possible. How is it possible this could be completed? "How did they do that!?" It's an entirely new perspective on the same question and I think that sums up what I loved about this film the most.

Almost everything about this is refreshing and new.....and surprisingly unassuming. There wasn't much about the trailer that grabbed my attention. Admittedly, I wasn't too thrilled about Johnny Depp voicing the lead character. I just imagined it'd be Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow as Rango; you know what I mean? To my surprise though, I didn't even think about Johnny Depp at all during this film which is exactly the way it should be. When I watch Toy Story I don't think, "Oh that's Tom Hanks." I'm thinking, "That's Woody!"

Even the design of Rango, who you would think as the title character would be one of the better designed characters, is not. That's not to say he's designed poorly but clearly more attention was given to the supporting cast, and in my opinion they steal the show, both in their design and performance. From the get go you realize Rango isn't your typical animated character.

This is as much of a visual effects film as much as it is a fully animated film. The cinematography is unbelievable. There are three or four exciting action sequences and at times I felt like I was actually on a ride. The sets and environments help bring this world together. They are so well designed, every shot is eye-candy. The art direction is on another level. That being said, the other aspect to this film that blew me away was the sound design. Damn. That's all I can say. Unbelievable!

This movie makes use of an old genre. It's a western to be sure, but the experience is completely fresh. As a character animator my most favorite part of this film is captured in the video above. It's not motion capture. It's not performance capture. It's EMOTION capture! Oh God, I love it!

As far as I know, I have NEVER seen this level of commitment to getting the performances from the actors. Usually the actors lending their voices are in a booth behind a microphone. While the animators typically have access to these video recordings for facial reference, most of the performances are tested by the animator through trial and error based off direction and storyboards. While I love shooting my own reference video (it's one of my favorite things about being an animator) I'm not an Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor. Johnny Depp is. I'm not saying this should be the future of character animation, but I can't help but think what a learning opportunity this must have been for the animators.

I don't think I can say enough good things about Rango. I was blown away. I think I'm done praising this film for now. It's a marvel. Go see it.


Colin Brown said...

I love the idea that having the actors film reference for the animators to use, obviously to ADD to the tons of video reference the animators film of themselves.

The only thing that worries me, is how they are trying to sell to the audience the actors footage was used with costumes and they had a great and fun time.

I've just seen too many "fake" stuff from hollywood especially when they are selling it this hard.

Phillip Hall said...

Hey Colin,
Thanks for your comment. I definitely agree with you. I guess I was just happy to learn they all weren't in mo-cap suits. I guess I'm cautiously enthusiastic. Reference is just a tool. I agree with you though. I hope they left some room for the animator's interpretation.