However hard they try, the Screen Actors Guild just won’t let them join

It’s getting mixed reviews, it cost years of work and it ran up a bill of $125m, so why is FINAL FANTASY getting the movie business so animated?

Words: Jack Mottram

y all accounts. l'llltl/ l-imrusy: 'l'lu' .S'pir/Is Hit/1m isn‘t

the best lilm you‘ll see this year. American critics haye

lampooned its lumpen dialogue. and the plot has heen dismissed as a rag—hag assemth ol' sci-li llicks from Star Trek to Stars/zip 'l’mo/u'rs'. But regardless of its merits. the film has already earned its place in the annals of cinema history.

The tall tale l'ollows ;\ki Ross. a stock-in—trade heautil‘ul hut plucky lantasy heroine. ller mission is to collect 'spirit keys‘ to construct a ray gun ol‘ the soul that will destroy the ghost-aliens inl‘esting a post-apocalyptic planet earth which. for reasons that remain unclear. look like giant transparent craytish. So lar. so summer hlockhuster. hut l-‘inu/ lint/(try is set to change the lace ot' lilmmaking l‘oreyer for the simple reason that no human beings appear“ on screen.

Instead. :\ki Ross and her co-stars haye been built from scratch. pixel by pixel. inside a computer. .-\nd. where pi'eyious (‘(il endeayours such as 'lhy' Story haye raised the bar w here animation is concerned. l-‘inu/ l‘kuuusy has rewritten the rule hook. with the IOU-strong team of software experts and animators behind the scenes aiming squarely t‘or true—to-lile Photo-realism. And. while for the most part cinema—goers will he aware that they are watching an animated feature. l-i'nu/ I'imlus'y has its lair share ol‘ scenes that look chillingly real.

'l‘his groundbreaking departttre from standard tilmmaking has taken years of painstaking programming and somewhere in the region of 8125111 to achieye. liach and eyery hair on the yirtual thespians‘ scalp is indiyidually controlled the o().()()() glossy lt'c‘sscs on the heroine's head alone costing 85m to generate. liyery hlemish. pock-mark and pore on the lead characters. laces has been lahoriottsly hand drawn. and each nod and wink sets off a thoroughly lit'elike chain reaction ot skin-wrinkles.

4 THE LIST ": Raj: .“

Every hair is individually controlled - the 60,000 glossy tresses on the heroine’s head alone costing


ett lllil


liyen the hell ol‘ a thick leather jacket has its own set ol' complex algorithms to fool the eye into thinking it's sewn l‘rom genuine hide. And before the characters had their \‘ll‘lllill skin grafted onto their Virtual skulls. the animation team used motion-capture techniques to precisely map the way we real humans run. jump and lire hulky laser pistols.

This step change in the quality ol computer graphics has some quarters ol‘ the Hollywood machine spooked. The Screen Actors (iuild is said to be keeping a close eye on the careers ol‘ digital actors. aware that a hard disk—hound stud or babe is hardly prone to the on-set crises and lengthy salary negotiations layoured hy llesh and blood prima donnas. liyen Tom Hanks. who hardly struggles to attract meaty roles. is on record as being ‘yery trouhled' about the prospect ol‘ being traded in for hits and bytes before the end ol his career.

Most pundits. howeyer. are sceptical about the chances of high-tech heroes o\ertaking their organic counterparts. "l'he idea that this lilm sounds the death knell ol' liye action is nonsense.’ says ('am \N'instanley. features editor of 'Ith/ l-i'lm. and one ol‘ a handful ol' British critics to tour the Honolulu headquarters of the I’l‘nu/ l'imlusy animators. ‘lt took two actors to hring each character to life. they had a voice talent and a mime lot‘ doing motion capture. so it‘s certainly not going to put actors out ol‘ business. because they‘re employing two for every computer- generated person you see on screen. And people might have been saying. “Isn't it great. we won‘t haye to pay actors millions. we won't have to deal with their tantrums." but this film has cost SlZSm to get tip and running. so the idea that it‘s a money-saver is ridiculous. And why would you spend hours and hours creating each eyebrow raise and smile. when the human face is perfectly capable ol' creating those nuances instantly."

It the star system looks likely to heat oil the threat ol pixelated performers. it seems likely that extras. stunt doubles

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