Chasing Reality
Issue: Volume 40 Issue 2: (Mar/Apr 2017)

Chasing Reality

In March, Disney brought its animated classic Beauty and the Beast to life, transforming the fairy tale into a live-action remake (see “ Beautiful!”!”). Was the remake a risky proposition? Hardly. Audiences flocked to theaters, excited to be a guest to the tune of $357 million worldwide on opening weekend, shattering various box-office records. By the end of its second weekend, Beauty was dancing to the tune of $690.3 million globally. In comparison, the popular animated version, released in November 1991, has grossed $424 million worldwide over its lifetime. A healthy return, but nowhere near what we can expect from the most recent version when it hits the 25-year mark. 

What makes Beauty so adaptable to live action? A better question may be, What makes nearly all Disney’s animated films so popular, and thus so adaptable? It has a timeless story. It has great music. It has lovable characters, even those you want to hate (but find it hard to do so). And its settings are gorgeous. Could all of that be replicated in reality, as it had been so successfully in fantasy? The answer, obviously, is yes.

The studio proved the concept sound in 2010 with Alice in Wonderland, which used a variety of novel effects to create the trippy live-action adventure. More followed, including the Oscar-winning The Jungle Book, which utilized virtual cinema techniques honed on two of the most innovative feature films made to date: Gravity and Avatar. With many awards and an impressive global take of $602.5 million, The Jungle Book remake was unquestionably a success.

Disney continues to look at its impressive animated film library as a source for live--action reboots. For instance, Niki Caro is set to direct Mulan (slated for November 2018 release), having described it as a “martial arts epic.” Other animated Disney classics that are expected to have a live-action release: The Lion King, Dumbo, Aladdin, 101 Dalmatians, and The Little Mermaid

No doubt Disney will spin these tales into remake gold, just as they did for Beauty
In a different application of “reality,” Epic Games and The Mill recently revealed the fruits of their recent technology collaboration, called Project Raven. Epic, which has been pushing the boundaries of real-time technology, and The Mill, which has been exploring unique methods of production, worked together to obtain real-world information on set and apply it to CG imagery that was then inserted into live-action scenes, all in real time. The key points here being photorealistic CGI in real time. To top it off, they used the information from the film shoot to create a short film – produced and then shown in real time. You can read about this cutting-edge collaboration in “Photorealism in Real Time”.

Even the most fantastic often is rooted in reality. For Kong: Skull Island, real-world locations served as important backdrops for the CG Kong and the other supersized creatures in the film, resulting in “more plausible and tangible action sequences,” says the senior VFX supervisor on the film (see “ Beastly Beautiful FX”).  

In the same vein, the TV series Emerald City used as much practical magic as possible, mixing it with CGI when necessary to send us down a very unique yellow brick road to a very different Oz, whose characters are somewhat familiar, whose story line is somewhat recognizable, and whose worlds are somewhat discernible to our previous perceptions of this classic story (see “ An Oz Odyssey”) Live action was used as much as possible to make it seem more real.

That CGI can transform the fantastic to the real, and even the real to the fantastic, and do it so well, is a story worth telling.