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Working with Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital, which provided animation and special effects, Spielberg doesn't attempt to create photorealistic human actors. The motion picture version of the TinTin character is a representation of the comic book version (early in the film, a street artist creates a caricature of the reimagined TinTin that brings the two interpretations together). Like most cartoons, foreheads might be large, noses might be big - proportions aren't quite "right." This isn’t a cartoon, though. This occupies a special territory somewhere between real and imagined.
As I watched TinTin, I found myself wondering how much more of an experience this film would have been with live actors. Though the motion capture technology used here really allows for an effective "performance," I felt a curious emotional detachment from the characters and experiences on screen.
Is such a comparison fair? After all, TinTin is clearly a comic book character. This is "The Adventures of TinTin," not the coming of age of TinTin. As an adventure, it's succeeds probably beyond any previous comic book adaption. Even in this success, though, there's a unsettling awareness that something's missing.
The advancing nature of the technology, in my opinion, is creating a subtle expectation of humanity. With the creation of characters like TinTin, with his full range of emotions and human-like movement, we're beginning to instinctually expect these creatures to be more human, with all of the imperfections and inconsistencies that entails. Though TinTin's performance is motion captured (from actor Jamie Bell), even the most sensitive motion capture can't recreate the distinctive human texture that makes a live performance wholly unique. As biological creatures, humans are never perfect. Even so-called “beautiful people” simply inhabit imperfections that happen to be considered attractive. Humans are not symetrical. We aren’t “believeable,” we’re simply the real thing. TinTin is engaging, but he can’t quite generate empathy, even in him most harrowing moments.
I highly recommend seeing both The Adventures of TinTin and Martin Scorcese’s Hugo back-to-back to gain a real perspectives on both the wonder and (current) limitations of CGI and motion capture technology. Both are cinematic masterpieces – and enjoy the most effective 3D yet. Compare the performance of Asa Butterfield as Hugo and the motion-capture interpretation of Jamie Bell's performance as TinTin.
Let me know what you think.