The Polar Express – Performance Capture CGI

By Murray Bourne, 16 Dec 2004

We caught “The Polar Express” with Tom Hanks playing a multitude of roles. The CGI (computer graphics imaging) is very interesting. They developed a new technique for the movie – “Performance Capture” – where real actors wore a device which allowed 72 motion cameras to detect tiny facial movements and store the huge amount of data in a computer. The graphics artists could choose between many different camera angles and wrap a digital ‘skin’ over the movement data. The effect is extraordinary – it is like animation but with very real motion. The lighting is particularly interesting – check the nuances in the hair colour as the characters move in the light – especially Lonely Boy. The story was for kids, of course, but enjoy the movie for the technological breakthroughs.

More technical stuff on the CGI effects can be found at: Performance capture CGI technique

See the 2 Comments below.

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2 Comments on “The Polar Express – Performance Capture CGI”

  1. Tang Kim Seng says:

    I pondered over the point on why the movie animators chose to invest such high technological CGI breakthroughs to create human beings which can be quite boring to watch, instead of the more interesting characters like Shriek or Nemo. From the commercial viewpoint, I agreed this is true. But it dawned upon me later that no other living creature in this world ever come close or rivals that of a human being in terms of the complexity, i.e. physique, thoughts, feeling and emotions, etc. (excluding the All Mighty God and the compassionate Buddha, that is). I think back in history at the Renaissance period – so many sculptures and artworks of naked men and women in different poses. Apparently, the creation of the human form is arguably the highest form of creation among artists, e.g. Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangello, etc. Even in today’s science and technology, we see more and more robots emulating human movements, thoughts etc. So while I agreed that it may not be the best way to rake in the big bucks, but the movie animators will certainly share the view that emulating the human being is definitely one of their greatest challenges and an extremely high art form to master !

  2. Anonymous says:

    You raised some good points. Are we looking for some sort of perfection, missing from the real world, in all this? The Japanese are seeing robots as possible companions and essential care-givers as their population rapidly ages. Their scientists are working hard to make the robots as human-like as possible – complete with appropriate facial expressions.
    I think it is rather sad though – there are millions of people in the world who could/should provide this care…

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