Our first glimpse of Tintin was luminous

Illustration for article titled Our first glimpse of Tintin was luminous

The first footage to come out of today's Tintin panel was actually not from the movie itself, but the first test footage Spielberg requested from Peter Jackson's special effects production company, Weta. Spielberg had asked Jackon's workshop to show him an animated Snowy next to a live person. On the screen, against the backdrop of a docked ship, none other than Peter Jackson himself appeared dressed as Tintin's Captain Haddock — and holding a handle of dark rum. "I know that we're just supposed to be doing a test," Jackson says. "But I wanted to take this opportunity to put myself on screen in the role of Captain Haddock."


Jackson makes his case for being cast as Haddock, bumbling his way through the catchphrases "10,000 thundering typhoons!" and "Blistering barnacles!" (and claiming that, when he grew a beard by age seven, all the kids at school called him "Haddock").

Meanwhile, CG Snowy appears, dancing on his hind legs, vying for attention but remarkably seemless in the scene. As he bounds around the dock, Jackson hisses at him, "This is my moment!" but Snowy continues until he bounces himself right into the water, and Jackson, horrified, dives in after him. It was a nice joke for the audience, but also an impressive test; Snowy and Jackson actually looks like they're standing in the same scene — same lighting, and nearly the same level of reality (although Jackson's cartoony clothes helped). You wouldn't quite mistake Snowy for a real dog, but you could certainly believe that Snowy and Jackson existed in the same world.

With that, Jackson appeared on stage, and he and Spielberg discussed their shared love of Herge's stories. Spielberg admitted that he had never read Tintin until a French reviewer compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to the books. He picked up a Tintin book in French — a language he didn't speak — but found he had no trouble understanding the adventure story, and quickly became a fan. Jackson, on the other hand, was looking at Tintin books before he could even read. "I looked at Tintin as the older brother I never had, having the adventures I wanted," he said.

They emphasized that their aim in the motion capture film was to translate Herge's art into a world that felt real, a world the audience could step into. Spielberg explained, "We love art so much that we wanted to honor Herge by getting as close to the characters he invented instead of having big movie stars looking like big movie stars." But at the same time, they wanted their movie to have a dimension of reality, to capture the stubble and seat that you would see in a live action film.

Spielberg described the Hall H footage as some of the earliest renderings from Weta, but it did a nice job of showing off the textures he and Jackson promised. In the first scene, a man has come to the door of Tintin's building, and, through crack in the chained door, shouts warnings to Tintin while Snowy cowers on the stairs. Suddenly, we see gunshots burst through the door, and the man falls into the antechamber, dead. Tintin's landlady appears and Tintin tells her a man has just been shot dead on her doorstep. "Oh no," she says, lightly covering her mouth, "not again." Tintin races out in pursuit of the killers.

In a second scene, Tintin is skulking around a ship, listening in on the crew through a porthole. He's discovered, and starts throwing punches, until he encounters Haddock, also sneaking around the ship, who helpfully knocks Tintin's pursuer out. Tintin thanks him, and Haddock relates his backstory as they slink through the bowels of the ship, ducking and hiding from the rest of the crew.

Illustration for article titled Our first glimpse of Tintin was luminous

The textures in these scenes are remarkable — the rays of light through the bullet holes in the door, the reflection of street lamp light shining off the stone streets, the grime on the walls of the ship, the sheen of sweat on characters' faces. The details are carefully crafted. Similarly, in the trailer sequences, there are hints of fog in the distance, dust kicked up from a car, rocks kicked up from the road, and leaves twirling in the streets. The characters, that strange blend of the cartoony and the almost real, have clear muscles beneath the skin, and they move with an organic movement that lets you almost forget they are animated (although one might never fully suspend their disbelief past Haddock's giant nose).


Jackson noted that one of the remarkable things about motion capture is that they can pull from the entire pool of actors, regardless of whether they look like the characters. Spielberg remarked that Daniel Craig's performance is very much Daniel Craig "under a thin digital skin" (metaphorically — the animators created an entire anatomy for Haddock's face), and both Spielberg and Jackson said Jamie Bell embodied Tintin long before he put the Tintin suit on. And, as Jackon said, "This is the only movie where you'd cast Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as twins."

Spielberg said again and again how much filming Tintin was like filming a live-action film — with plenty of hand-held and Steadycam work. He could even look at a screen and see a loose animation of the characters, giving him a pretty firm sense of what the final animation would look like. But he said mocap has certain advantages. He likened directing Tintin to being a painter — having so much control over the canvas of the film. For the grand action sequences — which are still being processed — he could put his camera he could never put a live-action camera, which makes him excited about the possibility of returning to mocap in the future. "It's not a medium that is right for every film, but it was right for this particular story. It's a medium I might go back to if you decide this is something worth watching."



Dr Emilio Lizardo

So why exactly did Spielberg have to ask WETA for proof they could do it? I'm not in the biz but it seems to me that, all due respect to ILM and Pixar, if WETA can't do it, it can't be done.