Pulling off a mixture of live action and animation is tricky, but one with a noble tradition, stretching from Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks through to Roger Rabbit and Space Jam. In more recent years, 3D animators have taken up the challenge of landing a CGI character in a largely live action universe and these examples have all succeeded in squaring the circle, creating characters that are as lovable as they are believable.
- For more 3D goodness, see The 20 best 3D movies (opens in new tab) for 2012
The "fugitive celebrity slacker joker alien" encountered by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's sci-fi geeks en route to the annual San Diego Comic-Con International is an obvious forerunner to Ted in using motion-capture CGI for (foul-mouthed) comedy purposes. Paul was created by Double Negative, who also developed and animated the other alien crew members, each one being based on crew members from Nostromo in Alien. The DNeg team also worked on Paul's invisibility, the mind-meld sequences, the digital bird and a multitude of greenscreen driving shots.
Director Greg Mottola says: "The CGI of Paul was one-third of our [$40m] budget. The actual production budget was kind of small. We wanted Paul to look really good and be good CGI and not bad CGI, so we gave up 10 days of shooting and a second unit for the action scenes, just to pour more money into getting Paul right."
WATCH THIS! The making of Paul:
It's fair to say that the Lord of the Rings trilogy had a slightly higher budget than Paul, but it was used to stunning effect - none more than the work on gaunt, bi-polar ancient ring bearer Gollum. In case you've been living in a cave for the last decade, Gollum was voiced and performed by Andy Serkis, with the CGI character being built around Serkis's movements and facial expressions.
Using a digital puppet created by Jason Schleifer and Bay Raitt at Weta Digital (opens in new tab), the films' animators led by Mike L Murphy created Gollum using a mixture of motion capture data recorded from Serkis and key frame animation, along with 'rotoanimation' - a process involving digitally rotoscoping Serkis's image and replacing it with the digital Gollum. Complex, time-consuming, brilliant.
WATCH THIS! Bringing Gollum to life:
03. Stuart Little
Sony Pictures Imageworks (opens in new tab), led by senior visual effects supervisor John Dykstra (opens in new tab), was responsible for ensuring the Michael J Fox-voiced, EB White-created mouse interacted beautifully with his live action co-stars, Geena Davis and a pre-House Hugh Laurie.
Effects guru Dykstra explained to Animation Magazine: "When the actors were doing a scene they [...] had a little laser that they pointed to wherever the mouse was, which the camera didn't photograph because the laser was synchronized with the shutter [...] Of course, the first few days were kind of awkward, because they were used to having another actor against whom to play. After a while, however [...] they got to the point where they treated Stuart as an entity."
Stuart Little received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but lost out to The Matrix. Aaaaaw.
A number of 3D CGI characters featured in the Harry Potter series, from Aragog the talking spider to Buckbeak the Hippogriff. But none made quite as much impact as Dobby, the house elf, who journeys from slavery to freedom to a heroic death, all the while straddling the line between annoying and endearing.
The character was created by the London-based Framestore, Europe's largest visual effects and computer animation studio. For details of the motion caption process they employed, check out this article by our sister site 3D World.
WATCH THIS! Creating Dobby and Kreacher:
To make Ted, a foul-mouthed comedy about a talking teddy bear, Seth MacFarlane worked with visual effects supervisor Blair Clark to adapt the kind of motion-capture technology traditionally used for sci-fi and children's adventure films.
Visual effects producer Jenny Fulle's production service company The Creative-Cartel oversaw the effects, putting together the teams of artists from Iloura in Melbourne, Australia and Tippett Studio in Berkeley, California.
FXguide.com has a detailed explanation of how the visual effects were achieved, while the video below shows MacFarlane used a Xsens MVN motion capture suit to create the CGI character's gross movements.
WATCH THIS! Motion Capture - Ted:
Did we miss YOUR favourite 3D character? Let us know in the comments below!