Pikachu as Mimikyu. Charmander as Cubone. Lucario and Celebi as live-action role-players. This year’s batch of special Halloween-themed “Pumpkin Parade” plushies from The Pokémon Company are adorable at first glance. But if you look closely, the cute facade begins to crumble. Let’s start with Charmander wearing another Pokémon’s dead mother’s skull as a costume.
Depending on its generational description, Cubone is either wearing the actual skull of its dead mom, staining the eye holes with its tears, or it’s a random skull the unfortunate critter wears in honor of its dead mother, eye holes similarly stained. That in mind, what the hell, Charmander?
No really, what the hell? Even if it’s only a replica skull, it’s at the very least evocative of another Pokémon’s deceased parent. I’m imagining Charmander getting into an elevator on Halloween night with a Cubone. The awkward silence. The quiet weeping. You bastard, Charmander.
Pikachu isn’t being any more sensitive of his fellow Pokémon with its Mimikyu getup. Yes, seeing Pikachu wearing the skin of a costume resembling a creature whose whole deal is dressing up like Pikachu is a cute juxtaposition. But why does Mimikyu disguise itself as Pikachu? Because it wants to be popular. It wants to be loved.
Imagine you are lonely. You feel like no one loves you. You idolize a more popular Pokémon, hoping to be cherished as much as they are. You go to a Halloween party, alone, and there is the most popular Pokémon ever dressed as you, surrounded by friends. Friends you will never have. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how serial killers are born.
Lucario isn’t quite as menacing. He’s just sort of pimping it incredibly old school. I call him Lothario Lucario, and I suspect he has plans to sleep with my wife. Look at that cape. That’s a sleeping-with-my-wife cape if I ever saw one.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the LARPing grounds…
Celebi wants to know if you want to hang around after the Renaissance Fair closes. Things get “pretty wild,” it says. I’d be wary.
The remaining three new plushies for the season are pretty harmless. Bulbasaur’s Shedinja costum is incredibly on point. Zorua looks like it’s being eaten by a Crobat, which is a pretty cool effect. And Squirtle? Squirtle is just wearing a top hat and holding a wand. Squirtle is the guy who shows up late to the party wearing just enough to get free candy and booze. We all know a Squirtle.
Hopefully we don’t all know a Charmander. It’s just wrong.
Hello! This week we fight Thanos with our friends, prepare for some Gears of War beta action, discover what a flattened Pikachu looks like, play a hellish Mario Maker course and worry about our dear friend, Patrick Star.
Great Kotaku Content From The Past Week
Like most weeks, Kotaku was filled with some great stories. Here are a few of my favorites!
I’m excited to play this, but I can’t stop thinking about what this game would have looked like if it was released on other platforms.
Look, if Respawn can’t make more Titanfall anytime soon, others need to step up and fill that void.
The Devil is real and he is making Mario levels.
It is a classic tale of a former country star turned star pop star meeting a beloved animated woman and mother. Tale as old as time, really.
“Pika Pika. Pikachu! Pika!”
Translation- “Help. Help. PLEASE! Help!”
I remember when folks would say cartoon shows on Nick and Cartoon Network were ruining kids brains and not good for them. Now we have this shit on YouTube. Yeah, this is better than a kid watching Catdog…
Patrick… blink twice if this hurts. Also, is the back of the thumbsticks like…your asshole?
Trailers And Videos You May Have Missed
Grab your Infinity Stones and super suits, it’s time to beat up the big purple weirdo again.
Hey, the Switch is finally getting a good baseball game.
Ubisoft is releasing the last major update for Wildlands and adding a whole new game mode into the game too.
I’m not the biggest fan of Gears multiplayer, but this still looks fun and is making me more excited to play the full campaign later this year.
For visual effects house MPC, Pikachu stood as the ultimate thesis for its approach to designing the world of Pokémon for Detective Pikachu. io9 recently spoke to MPC VFX Supervisor Pete Dionne about his work on Detective Pikachu, and the particular challenges behind bringing the most vital Pokémon to life.
Detective Pikachu’s adorably weird approach to the world of Pokémon was a risky gamble—but it would’ve fallen apart if its titular hero didn’t work. For MPC, that meant one of the biggest tasks of the whole movie was making one of the most iconic characters of all time come to life in a whole new way.
“Being the most recognizable and iconic Pokémon, and character designs, in the last few decades, he was probably the most difficult character [to get right] from the point of, ‘How much do we bend his design before he no longer looks like Pikachu?’,” Dionne told us. “Other characters, there’s a little more leeway poking through than with Pikachu—the slightest deviation from the original TV design and he stopped looking like Pikachu. Knowing that we’re throwing fur on him and putting Ryan Reynolds’ snarky personality in him, how were we going to find the balance?”
MPC started with a mandate it never wavered from while breaking down Pikachu’s design. “It became really clear that we needed to embrace every single aspect of that design, the original 2D design, as possible,” Dionne revealed. “So, as we were designing him, we started with just the silhouette of Pikachu, and fundamentally, we chose no matter what we come up with, we’re not going to change the silhouette. From the very beginning of our process, building him out, we were always comparing him against that original design.”
Once MPC established that Pikachu’s silhouette couldn’t change, Dionne and his team turned to the animal kingdom for inspiration from the ground up—right down to his musculature and bones.
“We did research into animal anatomy—I think it was a bushbaby, or a lemur. We took their skeletal system and stuck it into the body of Pikachu and started changing proportions. Along with the muscle system inside, as well,” Dionne said of the early process. “We just started looking at all these different animals. “What kind of animal could exist within this [silhouette]?” Like, physically, within this form. And then we came up with something we were happy with, like, ‘This could exist, this could make it through the night in the real world as an animal.’”
Once Pikachu had a body that made sense in the world of Detective Pikachu, the team faced another tough question that arose from familiarity with his design as a flat, 2D creature for the best part of two decades. “In surfacing, there was a debate whether Pikachu had fur or not,” Dionne said, once again turning to real-world animals as a source of inspiration. “We went back and forth, trying versions with him, starting with the process of, ‘What is the cutest furred animal we can come up with?’ So we started referencing that—fluffy bunnies and kittens—and we started adding the fur on top of Pikachu.”
It wasn’t just a case of whether Pikachu had fur or not though—the exact nature of the fur in order to properly emphasize his trademark cuteness was a major factor. “[We started] paying really close attention to, ‘What makes this kitten look so fluffy and cute and adorable, compared to this other kitten that looks coarse and rugged?’,” Dionne continued. “And [we] built little fine details into the quality of the fur and flow and distribution in certain regions of its body. We really tried to pay special attention to that.”
And that attention applied everywhere—even when it brushed up against the rest of Detective Pikachu’s approach to realistic design. “[The] anatomy on the inside of ears, you know, there’s no way to make that look adorable,” Dionne joked. “So, we embraced Pikachu’s lack of an ear cavity and groomed it with a fuzzy fur you’d expect to come out of a bunny’s ear, where a cavity would be—so it still implies, without having any details that break the adorableness of it.”
Those debates continued throughout the process, not just for how Pikachu would look, but how he’d walk the walk and talk the, uh, Pokétalk. “We’re going through this process, as well as motion studies about how well he moves through the environment,” Dionne said of the other side of designing Pikachu’s model. Once again, real animals that had first inspired Pikachu’s underlying skeletal structure provided a reference point. “We went through and looked at upright quadrupeds navigating on two feet and how steady and unsteady they are,” Dionne continued. “What are their physical limitations? So we started talking about how to make Pikachu move around his environment upright throughout the majority of the film, but still make him feel like a quadruped. [When] we got to that place we felt pretty confident.”
For all MPC could pour into making its Pikachu move and look like a realistic version of the classic design, the team still had another issue to contend with: They were designing a motion-capture creature for a star that had yet to be cast. “The biggest challenge, though, was getting Ryan Reynolds’ facial performance in the Pikachu,” Dionne said of the design process. “Interestingly, one of the things that was great was, early on in the process before Ryan was cast, when we were initially building our Pikachu, we were at the point where we built an additional facial rig, and we wanted to start exploring this against an actor and see what we could learn from it,” Dionne said. “So, we got the list of all the actors being considered and grabbed clips of them on YouTube and started animating our Pikachu to all those different actors.”
It’s a good thing Reynolds eventually agreed to the role, according to Dionne—because tests with his footage provided the perfect canvas for Pikachu. “Amazingly, Ryan Reynolds stood out among the bunch because a lot of the other actors had big, gestural performances in their face and body, and Ryan—he’s so dry,” Dionne revealed. “It’s that little cock of the eyebrow or that little smirk as his lip rolls up, that conveys so much expression and character. And so, what was great about Ryan from a facial performance point of view—we were really able to have a constrained performance and not contend with anything that was too big and over the top, which becomes cartoony very quickly. It was a gift having Ryan as Pikachu because right from the get-go, his face translated quite well.”
As good as Reynolds was to work from, however, another problem arose when trying to incorporate human facial capture animations and Pikachu’s finalized design. “To actually capture what’s fun about Ryan’s performance and have the face still look like Pikachu—that’s another problem,” Dionne said. The team at MCP found very quickly that too much of Reynolds’ performance broke Pikachu’s “feel” as a working design. “Any time we started articulating the face like a human’s—with human anatomy and expressions—it didn’t look like Pikachu at all,” Dionne noted.
There was an unconventional solution however, according to Dionne, to act as a bridge between Reynolds and Pikachu. “What we did was build Pikachu’s facial rig with underlying anatomy and muscle structure as a feline, like a cat,” Dionne told us. “Using that as our base, we mounted a headcam on Ryan, and ran him through an entire facial expression workout. There are pretty much 80 different facial expressions—we’d just get him to do [those] poses, and from them, we’d have a library of all his individual expressions. Then we did the same thing for Pikachu, using 2D animation.”
Pikachu might be incredibly expressive, but in the games and anime he doesn’t have anywhere near as many facial expressions as a human does. “We kind of came up with the equivalent, which is funny, because with Ryan, every one of 80 poses is different from the next. Pikachu, he only has six or seven poses,” Dionne said of Pikachu’s time in the expression workout. “If he’s happy, his mouth is a ‘W’ and if he’s sad, it’s an upside-down ‘V’. Even beyond his mouth, his upper brow tucks into his eyes, which does all the heavy lifting. There’s not a lot to work with. But that’s what Pikachu is, and that’s what we needed to embrace. So, we just kind of built up an equivalent library of Pikachu doing all these different expressions. Then we were able to kind of cross reference and build our library of CG Pikachu [expressions].”
Then came the toughest part of the whole endeavor, according to Dionne. “How do we find a really calculated compromise between the two,” the VFX supervisor pondered, “so that we can capture the nuance in Ryan, but never break the design of Pikachu’s face?”
The answer, in the end, was actually a more hands-on approach to animating the Pokémon, instead of solely relying on motion capture. “As Ryan was performing for the film, every time he’s performing, he would have that head-mounted camera capturing his performance,” Dionne said. “For technical reasons, it wasn’t that beneficial to use that technical data explicitly to draw out that performance. We found we got more out of it if we just took that captured performance, and an animator would use that side-by-side as a footpath with the facial performance, driven by Ryan’s face.”
A little less Ryan Reynolds, and a little more Pikachu—but 100 percent adorable.
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Based on the Nintendo 3DS game by the same name, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is the first live-action Pocket Monster adaptation. Hollywood has an abysmal track record with video game movies, but this time, it seems to have pulled off the impossible: Making an enjoyable live-action Pokémon movie that will delight fans and non-fans alike.
This piece was first published on May 3, 2019. We’re bumping it today for the movie’s release.
Set mostly in Ryme City, where Pocket Monsters live alongside humans, the movie follows the game’s basic plot. While trying to find his missing father, a young man named Tim Goodman discovers he can talk to a crime-solving Pikachu. The central mystery isn’t only what happened to Tim’s father, but also, who is making the drug called “R” that makes Pokémon go berserk. Detective Pikachu follows a rather formulaic detective film plot but so does the original game.
But Detective Pikachu doesn’t share the same burden that weighs down so many adaptations, whether that’s video game or anime. For example, one thing that continually plagues made-in-Japan anime and manga adaptations is how many fans want the live-action version to simply be that: the anime and manga brought to life, as is, with humans. This means that character costumes and attributes, which might look cool when drawn, get directly translated to live-action, often with awkward or off-putting results that do not look realistic but instead appear downright goofy. The other extreme is something like the Attack on Titan cinematic movies which completely disregard the character’s original designs for a localized version. Detective Pikachu takes a different approach.
The smartest thing Legendary Pictures did with Detective Pikachu was to not adapt Red & Blue — or any mainline Pokémon game or the long-running anime. The expectations would be too high and inevitably end in tears. Instead, by starting with a spin-off, the filmmakers were able to adeptly sidestep those expectations for how characters should talk, look and dress, giving room for the actors to bring them to life. (The Resident Evil movies, the most successful video game cinematic franchise, previously took a similar approach: Don’t redo the games, but instead, create a cinematic universe based on the in-game one. Detective Pikachu, however, has a far better understanding of its source material.)
The character of Tim Goodman from the game isn’t beloved like Ash from the anime. In both the game and the movie, he’s a former wanna-be trainer turned insurance salesman with a rotten relationship with his father; in the movie, Tim is actually far more interesting and well-drawn than the in-game original. Since the other lead character Lucy Stevens doesn’t appear in the game, there aren’t the same expectations placed on a, say, a live-action version of Misty. Lucy is an intern at a news network, sick of writing listicles and hungry to break a big story.
The makers of Detective Pikachu certainly appear eager to please, but it’s not through cheap visceral thrills. Instead, so much of the movie appears to be set on getting the world of Pokémon as right as a big-budget movie can.
In what must be a cinematic first, the movie adaptation is more fully realized than the game in scope and breadth. The 3DS vision of Ryme City is rather bland, especially compared to the movie’s incarnation, which looks like Neo-Tokyo meets Pokémon. The urban cityscape is filled with layered with Pokémon cameos and layered with Easter Eggs, advertising shops like Charizard’s BBQ and the quite-clever Snap Camera Shop. In comparison, the game’s Ryme City is bland, and interestingly, smacks of the movie’s first ho-hum location, the town of Leaventown.
Early in the picture, when Justice Smith as Tim Goodman is riding the train from Leaventown to Ryme City, a Lickitung sticks out its tongue and then proceeds to lick the side of his face, covering it in globs of salvia. It’s gross but played for laughs, which perfectly sums up what meeting Lickitung would actually be like. This also helps establish that these Pocket Monsters are living, breathing creatures. Some are creepy, others are cuddly, and a couple of them are truly menacing, but they’re all real.
Pokémon are well conceived and fascinating creatures, so the fact that the filmmakers have recognized that and are not content to simply rely on appearances, but have a deeper understanding of what the Pokémon can do, is why this adaptation works so well compared to Hollywood’s other superficial attempts. Detective Pikachu understands Pokémon. It’s why the film works.
Often with movie adaptations, only the barest superficial elements from the source material are referenced on-screen. Characters kind of look how they do in the games or share the same barebones modus operandi, and that’s it. In Detective Pikachu, joke after joke centers around Pokémon, and major plot points hinge on the abilities of certain Pokémon, instead of only a series of hollow spot-them-if-you-can cameos, showing how much thought has gone into the production. The movie is acutely aware that it has two audiences: Pokémon fans and non-fans. Early on, there’s a quick and painless explanation of how catching Pokémon works. Even this is laced with smart quips that fans can appreciate. It’s clearly evident the filmmakers did their homework and are enjoying themselves. The world of Pokémon is fertile, and instead of simply scratching its surface, Detective Pikachu delights in going deeper.
Once Ryan Reynolds does make his entrance as the titular detective, the joke ratio does spike suddenly, with nearly every other line a zinger. Reynolds has proven himself one of the most enjoyable and likable actors of his generation, thanks to his ability to not only craft excellent jokes but to deliver them. This is a kid’s movie, so he’s not working blue like in Deadpool, fart and pee-pee jokes aside. The Ted for kids comparison is apt.
Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures brought in some of the best visual effects artists in the business. Director Rob Letterman cut his teeth on CG animation with films like Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens. The filmmakers had the added plus of The Pokémon Company’s involvement, providing notes on the CG character designs. All of these parts came together in the final film and resulted in Pocket Monsters that didn’t feel like live-action translations, but instead, live-action versions.
The movie does take liberties with the game, introducing several huge set pieces, totally different motivations for the antagonist, a new ability for a truly powerful Pokémon, and a completely different ending. The original game has an unsatisfying, unresolved conclusion, whereas the movie adaptation attempts to wrap everything up. I found it awkward and unbelievable, but the rest of the movie was so much fun that this wasn’t a dealbreaker. The big reveal at the end did make me wonder how they’ll pull off the inevitable sequel. However they do, here’s hoping it packs the same fun.