Urban Cinefile
"One of the golden things about being the director was that I didn't have to worry about how hard it was to do some of the things. "  -Brad Bird, writer/director, The Incredibles on his naïve wishes in preproduction
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Australian digi-whizzkid James Rogers has already spent over three years in Hawaii at digital powerhouse, Square Co, working as Composite Supervisor on Final Fantasy, the first movie to use photorealistic, or man-made humans. Rogers talks about the next step in digital movie making to Andrew L. Urban.

Compositing is simply the process of combining different elements into one computer image; in a computer generated movie such as Final Fantasy, everything has to be composited. And when the central characters are also just digitally created creatures, the task becomes supremely complex - and important.

“The other thing we do is to make it all look as though the images were shot with a camera,” says Rogers. “So we’ll do things like adding depth of field, or we might add some fog, or shadows. And much to the chagrin of most 3D people, we make things look out of focus - all the time. We’re fairly merciless with what we do to imbue things with a level of realism.

"ability to create realistic-ish human characters"

“It’s been fascinating to see it evolve over the three years or so - to see the technology change and our ability to create realistic-ish human characters,” says Rogers. “And all of us working on the show have become fairly attached to them [the characters] - so they do become actors, rather than just figures with the voice of Alec Baldwin or Ming-Na (or Steve Buscemi, James Woods, Donald Sutherland and Ving Rhames).

In compositing, Rogers and his colleagues “tried to emulate how we’d treat images in alive action movie, so it’s like we had characters shot against a green screen and we were putting them into a scene. We aim to make it look realistic. To do this, we have to really analyse what it is people respond to in a character.”

“the technical wizardry of interactive games”

The creator of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, says “nothing is scanned off a human and the characters are developed from our original designs and storyboards. I have always wanted to create a new form of entertainment that fuses the technical wizardry of interactive games with the sensational visual effects of motion pictures. Final Fantasy takes us one step toward that dream.”

It takes an army of over 200 and enormous resources to make a movie like Final Fanatsy: in excess of A$100 million, in fact. At the heart of it are the photorealistic humans. And at the heart of the process, says Rogers, is compositing. “Previous movies made in full CG, for example Pixar’s Toy Story, didn’t really have a compositing section per se. But we can do things in 2D that are basically a cheat…manipulating the images quickly. In 3D it takes a lot more computer power and it’s less efficient.”

The big question for everyone is how human-like can these computer generated humans look? And sound? And move? Looking at early footage, it seems like an impressive achievement; while it is evident that the characters are not human, they movie with the fluidity of youth, boast healthy skin tones and express emotions as well, or better than, most animated characters (like animals in Dinosaur or Bugs Life, say) in recent times.

"themes of the environment, spirituality and human complexity"

But what do these compumans do? Final Fantasy is not just a showcase for digital design; it is the evolution of Hironobu Sakaguchi’s internationally successful Final Fantasy videogame created in 1987. The ninth instalment was released in 2000; it is sold by the millions and each new adventure feature an original cast. So does the movie - it isn’t based on any of the existing games. It is a futuristic sci-fi thriller set in 2065, when Earth is a scarred, crumbling shell, victim of mysterious alien phantom forces. “Aki stands alone, her eyes revealing inner conflict…” say the production notes.

Aki (voice of Na) is the young woman who believes in protecting Earth through harmony and balance; in an opposing camp, a militant General (voice of Woods) insists on an immediate and severe solution - a weapon of mass destruction. The movie tries to fuse themes of the environment, spirituality and human complexity, in an action driven adventure.

But if we can now generate humans at will out of our computers for the purposes of screen entertainment, what’s next? “That’s a really good question,” says Rogers, “and one that’s difficult to answer. It’s hard to know, but the whole CG industry is keen to make more and more realistic human figures. And people say why, but it comes down to being a challenge. Everyone in the world is familiar with human figures. Everyone’s an expert in recognising a human figure. We’re all very tough critics. So the challenge is to go beyond inanimate objects in a credible way.”

Yes, but how far can we go? In Final Fantasy, two compumans actually kiss; will the next step be a movie in which they make love? How far away is that? “I don’t know,” says Rogers, “but I wouldn’t like to speculate…I’d imagine it’s not that far away.”

Published May 31, 2001

Email this article

Final Fantasy - Australian release, July 19, 2001




See the Final Fantasy TRAILER

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020