Often times with digital media art the artist wants to make art work that seems realistic, as if an event had actually happened and took a picture. Some of the projects from our first assignments tried to do exactly that. Going along with this notion of creating lifelike art with digital media, I decided to do my newest post on director Spike Jonze’s newest film Where the Wild Things Are (2009).
Where the Wild Things Are stands out like a sore thumb amongst the trite and formulaic children’s movies that have been produced with in the past 5 years or so by Dreamworks, Disney, Pixar, etc (not to say that Disney and Pixar films are bad, I love Pixar films). Instead of using only CGI graphics to produce the beasts from the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze decided to use Jim Henson’s creature shop to help turn his ideas into reality for the big screen. The only CGI part of beasts is the facial expressions and mouth movements, which are flawless. Based on the drawings made by artist Sonny Gerasimowicz, the Henson shop made miniature models to get an idea of how they would create the massive puppet suits for the actors to fit in. The models were then scanned by a 3-d scanner to recreate the heads into 3 foot wide pieces of foam, which were then sculpted and formed. After this process, they inserted 3 inch wide tv screens into the head, so the actors could see what their movements looked like from Jonze’s camera’s perspective. After making the heads Henson’s crew then focused on the bodies, which were between 8 and 9 feet tall. The suits weighed between 50-70 pounds, most of the weight resting on hips. These bodies were much different from the heads, each having multiple layers of synthetic cartilage, foam, and lycra. They were designed to replicate how some one would actually treat their body . Essentially the Henson crew made the bodies as durable, versatile, and life like as possible (in regards to the movements made by the actor inside the suit).
^Jonze holding a picture by Sonny Gerasimowicz next to a clay model done by the Henson company.^
Bringing it back to the notion I mentioned earlier, it is difficult, particularly in films, to create something not human, and make it look believable ( like creating a piece of digital art based on manipulated pictures/”hand” made elements that look believable). Jonze and the Henson company certainly succeeded in this respect. The effect of the larger then life puppet suits and mixture of CIG is amazing. The interaction between the main character Max and beasts is incredibly natural and fluid, along with the running and tumbling of the beasts. At no point during the film did I question whether or not the beast’s were “real.” What is amazing also is that this film technically started production in 2006. This shows the time and effort that Jonze and the Henson company put into creating the film. As a side note, the film as a whole was great in my opinion. The film was geared more towards the inner child in all of us, rather then children of this new generation (although it is kid friendly and would be a lot fun for them). I also enjoyed the music and cinematography of the film also (the handheld camera was great, you don’t see enough of this in films!).