As I write this editorial, summer is nearly here, that is, according to the calendar. But if you look at the theater releases, the season has already begun. Kicking off the 2007 summer movie fest is a trio of threequals, whose CG technology has set new standards in feature films and beyond.
In early May, nearly everyone became ensnared in Spider-Mans web, as this number 3 shattered box-office records, raking in a reported $148 million during its first three days. (As a result, Spidey bested last years record debut of $135.6 million captured by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest.) In Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker grows into his superhero role, and as he struggles to do so, he has to face not only inner demons, but also more intense villains sporting unique powers that could only be had through quantum leaps in digital technology (see Facing the Darkness, May 2007, pg. 8). A complicated rigging system turns Venom into a creepy, intelligent creature. Dynamic particle simulation and animation makes The Sandman a huge force to be reckoned with. And intricate face replacement, matchmoving, and stunt work give Spider-Man and the villains commanding performances. Overall, the battles are more intense, the performances more engaging, and the action more realistic.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, another third, hit some rough seas during its opening weekend at the box office, failing to surpass the stellar figures for last years Dead Mans Chest but turning a respectable sum of coinage nevertheless. Last year, a compelling performance by a CG Davy Jones and his digital mates resulted in Oscar gold. This year, the VFX crew is hoping to repeat that success by extending Davys performance and that of his cursed pirates (see All Hands on Deck, May 2007, pg. 18). Along with more magical mocap moments, simulations proved extremely seaworthy in the film, especially the fluid sims that result in a CG maelstrom that becomes an unforgettable battle at sea.
In Shrek the Third (see Merry Tales, April 2007, pg. 12), the ogre matures into a father and a temporary king. Likewise, the CG technology in this fractured fairy tale matured at the hands of DreamWorks. For instance, consider the casts clothing. The weave in Shreks burlap outfit is far more detailed than before, but the crowing achievement is the cloth simulation, which opened up more story possibilities. In addition, the films hairy tales boast a new simulation engine that realistically moves Merlin's long beard and Rapunzel's long braids. And when Puss and Donkey become drenched, their matted, wet fur looks fantastic. Already in production on Shrek 4, DreamWorks is planning a Shrek 5, which is expected to bring this endearing series to The End.
A new just-released animated feature, Surf's Up (see Radical, Dude, pg. 12), offers a new spin on penguins, and on CG animation. Last years Happy Feet brought song and dance to the medium, along with an Oscar (see Happy Feat, November 2006). In Surf's Up, the 3D birds show off their surfing skills, and Sony Pictures Imageworks introduces a documentary style to the world of CGI, once again extending not only the technical, but also the storytelling boundaries, of computer graphics.
As we go to press, Disney/Pixars Ratatouille is poised to hit theaters, and the film is already creating buzz in family kitchens everywhere. The imagery, created from some new technical ingredients, is truly unique, and promises to whet theater-goers appetites for more of this type of CG delight.