Flawed but well done at the same time.
When Beowulf was announced I thought it looked like it was going to be one of the most amazing CGI films ever released. As I saw the first trailers for it I knew there would be a few things that I would be impressed with, and some of the things I would find to be problematic. Once it hit the theaters many of my friends clamored to see it on the opening night. I decided against it. Actually I held out until last weekend. Yeah its been out of the theaters for almost a year, and its been on DVD for about 5 months.
To be honest I had lost most of my interest in seeing it. Not because of negative reviews or because of anyone saying that there was anything technically bad about it but because a couple of the trailers had left me questioning whether or not i would truly enjoy the movie.
Now that my preamble is out of the way, I did watch the movie from start to finish and I found it to be enjoyable. The areas that I thought would be problematic were still somewhat noticeable though. I have to say the texturing on this film was very well done especially when the shots were up close. These were obviously the shots that the producers spent their money on. The skin textures up close were perfect. What kind of problems did they create in making such perfect up close shots? The textures they used for skin became muddled at a distance and made it seem more like plastic. The problem is that they took the shots in ultra high def and at a distance the resolution of the skin didn't need to be as high as it was recorded so the rendering software defaulted the intense resolution to something slightly lower and when it was lit it mushed the quality to give it that plastic appearance. Unfortunately this kind of a flaw is all but unavoidable unless you program the rendering software to ignore the fact that it doesn't need high def at a distance and force it to render that way. The downside is that while you may lose the plastic feel, the rendering will take 4 to 5 times as long per frame.
The characters were well modeled, and they fit their actors perfectly with the exception of Beowulf who was built to resemble a warrior... and while Ray Winstone has a great voice for the character his body is certainly not that of Beowulf. Which leads me to question the thoughts of the animators the decided that they would motion capture Winstone and translate the capture to the modeled character. This I feel was a slight mistake on their part. The reason it seems to be a mistake is because the motion capture software captures exactly what it sees. The points that were being captured were that of a man over 200lbs then they were compressed to be on a character that couldn't be more than 160lbs. The muscle structures in every part of the body including the face are completely different and this makes some of Beowulfs expressions feel off. While a a number of the expressions are clear, there are a lot of them where his face looks distorted and I am positive it is because the data that was tracked being on someone that has no semblance to the character that is being animated.
The only other comment I can make about the motion capture which is an issue is that while the motion capture machine can pick up many movements, there is one problem that comes into play on every motion captured character that is not edited by hand. This flaw is that most people being motion captured do no have capture points on the sides of their mouths. This is because there is so much action on the sides of the mouth that the points have a tendency to fall off or get covered up. Why does this cause a big problem? Do yourself a favor get a mirror and make screaming expressions and watch your mouth. Then look all of the scenes in which there are yelling and screaming scenes in this film. Roughly 1/2 of them have no movement at the corner of the mouths. The characters open the mouth up and down but nothing pulls back as a normal human mouth would. A number of the shouting scenes don't look right as a result that it seems as though the faces are lacking certain muscles to pull the mouth back and open when a character yells.
Ok now that I have given my take on the flaws. Let me say that there are somethings that this film had me drooling over in respect to abilities of the artists that created it. Every scene involving water was amazing! The hair effects were also some of the best I have ever seen. What most people don't realize is that to make hair look as though it has come out of water, or to make it look as though it is only half dry is a challenge that most CG artists can't do.
Watching the gold texture roll off of Angelina Jolie's body to reveal flesh was also absolutely brilliant. Textures like that can only be achieved by an artist that is adapt at scripting and they must be able to control every point of the texture. The conceptual artists and the animators that made that work are absolutely amazing!
While this film was not one that I ran out to see on its release day, I have to give credit where it is due. The film does have its flaws as many CG Mocap movies do, but the film itself is quite beautiful.