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HBO’s Watchmen Wants to Dig into the Heart of American Racism…by Making You Like Cops

The first 15 minutes or so of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen are some of the most agonizing moments of television this year. They squarely focus on the brutalization of multiple black Americans during the infamous Tulsa race riots—a day when mobs of crazed white people descended upon, attacked, and murdered black Oklahomans because they felt empowered to do so.

io9 had the opportunity to view the premiere episode of HBO’s Watchmen at New York Comic Con this past weekend. Here are our first impressions.

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The attack on Black Wall Street is a real event that Watchmen uses to link itself to our reality while also building out the larger fictional universe Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons first created in 1986—a universe that was specifically meant to exist within the vacuum of a finite number of comic books. Of course, DC Comics ended up having different plans for Watchmen, which has gone on to become one of the integral aspects of the publishers’ intellectual multiverse, which the HBO series is part of. Unlike Doomsday Clock, Lindelof’s Watchmen errs on the side of realism and its curious story set some 30 years after the events of the original comic isn’t particularly interested in the usual superheroic trappings that typically come with live-action comic book adaptations.

In this universe, the Watchmen were very much a thing, but the legacies they’ve all built have played out in ways you wouldn’t immediately imagine. Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Rorschach, and the Comedian are parts of the show, but not exactly as characters. They’re the atmosphere and context that new characters like Angela Abar (Regina King), Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), and Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) exist in.

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Though the events of the original Watchmen comics play a significant role in the shaping of the series’ world—a place where the internet and cell phones don’t exist—they aren’t what the show is really about. Rorschach might have been a misunderstood antihero originally, but here his name and iconography have been co-opted by terror cells of white supremacists known as the Seventh Cavalry, who are coordinating a mysterious attack that’s meant to change the world as the series begins. In the show, Robert Redford has been the president for decades and ushered in an era of American liberalism complete with legislation meant to address the country’s history of anti-black racism and socio-political disenfranchisement. The pejoratively-referred to “Redford-ations” have made it so that the victims and descendants of racially-driven subjugation no longer have to pay taxes. Unsurprisingly, there are more than a few enraged white people—like the Seventh Cavalry—who hate that aspect of their society.

Years after being driven into dormancy by the police, the Seventh Cavalry begins operating once again in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Even though the police officers all wear masks, they quickly learn that the terrorists are more than capable of discerning their secret identities and targeting them in their off-duty lives. While the imagery of masked police officers is certainly arresting, it’s here the show begins to wander into messy and at times potentially irresponsible territory with the way it uses metaphors to explore very real problems plaguing society.

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Like all cops, King’s Abar is a woman who wears multiple hats. To the outside world, she’s a baker and something of a homemaker because the police still have to go to great lengths to ensure they aren’t targeted in their lives as private citizens. But she is one of the world’s watchmen who dresses up in an intimidating costume as part of her job taking on criminals who want nothing more than to hurt innocent people.

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King is captivating as Abar. But her performance can only do so much to distract you from the fact the Watchmen (at least in its first episode) frames white terrorists and cops as being diametrically-opposed groups that have no ideological overlap. Because this is a show that’s meant to explore aspects of American society, that framing just doesn’t work, or rather it doesn’t work if you’re actually trying to think your way through the multitude of things Watchmen is attempting to comment on.

Director Nicole Kassell does a wondrous job of immediately pulling you into this story and bowling you over with imagery that’s both beautiful and utterly devastating, and you can see why genre fans with HBO subscriptions are going to glom onto the show. But there are so many moments when Watchmen’s debut episode falls short of saying anything interesting or insightful about its subject matter, seemingly content to be a mirror of our society, albeit a seriously distorted one.

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There’s the reality—What if cops did drugs while on the job? What if kids of color got into trouble for calling out their racist peers?—and then the fantastical: What if we all lived in a world where squids periodically fell from the sky and we all just dealt with it because that’s how things are? Space squids aside, Watchmen presents numerous real-world scenarios ripe for commentary but it isn’t immediately apparent that the show feels the need to engage with the complexities of those scenarios.

The first episode isn’t going to encapsulate the entire series in a succinct way—that’s understandable—but at the same time, one doesn’t need to really spend much time making a definitive statement about whether morally sound people should feel empowered to fight fascists. We really don’t need more examinations of the police that aren’t honest about the organization’s own history of racially-driven terrorism. Watchmen should be more than that.

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In the end, the series could very well end up doing an excellent job of unpacking all of these things with the kind of care, grace, and honesty that the story (and audiences) deserve, but also, it may not. You can’t really get a definitive sense either way by the first episode’s end, which very much seems to be the creative team’s questionable intention.


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Source: Kotaku.com

Joker’s Trick: Todd Phillips’ Joker Takes Home the Highest Honor at the Venice Film Festival

The Joker loves to dance, I guess?
Image: Warner Bros.

Inspirer of meme accounts and Blockbuster films alike, the Joker has a new honor to lay at his unstable feet: film festival winner. That’s right, seriously, it happened: Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the DC supervillain, won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

The film, which premiered at the festival, is now the highest honored movie of the 76 edition of the oldest film festival in the world. Previous honoreers include Rashomon, Brokeback Mountain, and Roma.

It’s an unusual victory for a comic book film, though, for a dramatic title that owes massively to Taxi Driver and stars an auteur’s actor like Joaquin Phoenix, it’s a little less surprising. Accepting the award, director Todd Phillips thanked Warner Bros and DC, “for stepping out of their comfort zone and taking such a bold swing on me and this movie,” and his star, saying, “There is no movie without Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin is the fiercest and brightest and most open-minded lion I know. Thank you for trusting me with your insane talent.”

Before you go praising Venice’s wisdom and cultural progressiveness in giving a superhero movie the award, though, you should know that convicted rapist Roman Polanski won the second place Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize. Gross. Maybe let’s just cancel all of this, on second thought.

Joker premieres October 4th in the United States.


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Source: Kotaku.com

In a Neat Video, Shazam’s Director Talks the Art of Problem Solving in Film

Zachary Levi, some extras, and some production staff, in Shazam. Did you see ‘em?
Image: Warner Bros.

Film is all about compromise: taking a massive amount of people, resources, and time, and making it all harmonize into a single cohesive artistic product. Even if the way you got there was driven as much by circumstance as vision.

In a delightful video published by Shazam director David Sandberg on his YouTube channel, he expounds on the involved problem-solving logic that goes into making a feature film. Using a simple, not very notable scene in Shazam, he goes through the compromises and adaptations that led from the version of the scene as it appears in the script to what made it on film. Guest starring: a doing-its-best costume department, complicated velcro shoes, and Sandberg’s charming wit.

It’s a fantastic showcase of the way movies, well, don’t happen easily, and without care can become absolutely messy with inconsistencies. And Sandberg is an excellent guide into this complex world. Check it out above.


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Source: Kotaku.com

In a Neat Video, Shazam’s Director Talks the Art of Problem Solving in Film

Zachary Levi, some extras, and some production staff, in Shazam. Did you see ‘em?
Image: Warner Bros.

Film is all about compromise: taking a massive amount of people, resources, and time, and making it all harmonize into a single cohesive artistic product. Even if the way you got there was driven as much by circumstance as vision.

In a delightful video published by Shazam director David Sandberg on his YouTube channel, he expounds on the involved problem-solving logic that goes into making a feature film. Using a simple, not very notable scene in Shazam, he goes through the compromises and adaptations that led from the version of the scene as it appears in the script to what made it on film. Guest starring: a doing-its-best costume department, complicated velcro shoes, and Sandberg’s charming wit.

It’s a fantastic showcase of the way movies, well, don’t happen easily, and without care can become absolutely messy with inconsistencies. And Sandberg is an excellent guide into this complex world. Check it out above.


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Source: Kotaku.com

Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Director on the Movie’s Biggest Spoiler

The great Godzilla.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

Have you seen Godzilla: King of the Monsters yet? Okay, then continue reading. If you have not, stop right now.

During a visit to Toho Studios in Japan last month, io9 asked director Michael Dougherty and star Ken Watanabe about the death of Dr. Ishiro Serizawa in King of the Monsters, namely if Watanabe was going to appear in future films.

The scene is the most moving part of the action film, and Watanabe was terrific as Serizawa. The movies won’t quite feel the same if he’s truly gone. Dougherty chuckled and said, “No one’s really gone.”

Consider our eyebrows raised.

Watanabe and Dougherty.
Photo: Brian Ashcraft for io9

“Akihiko Hirata, the first Dr. Serizawa, he appeared many times in the Godzilla movies,” Watanabe said, adding that “hopefully” he will return.

“Yeah, Dr. Serizawa’s evil twin,” Dougherty joked. “That’s where you get to wear the eye patch.”

I asked Watanabe if he was sad when he read the script and saw that his Serizawa dies in the movie. He replied that when he read it, he loved how the story centers around a scientist and how philosophical the movie gets regarding the relationship between humans, civilization, and science.

Even though Dr. Daisuke Serizawa died in the 1954 Godzilla film, Hirata remained closely associated with Godzilla throughout his life, appearing in King Kong vs. Godzilla as “Doctor,” Son of Godzilla as “Fujisaki,” Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla as “Prof. Hideto Miyajima,” and Terror of Mechagodzilla as “Dr. Shinji Mafune.”

“I like the idea where he comes back as 400-foot tall radioactive Serizawa,” Dougherty joked. “Like, Serizilla.”

“That would be great,” I said. Well, it would.


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Source: Kotaku.com

The Cool Kaiju Easter Egg Godzilla: King of the Monsters Just Flies Right Past

Mothra flies into battle.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

Godzilla: King of the Monsters does a lot of things—the vast majority of them delectably silly—in order to rapidly veer its dumb-as-rocks human heroes from Monster Fight A to Monster Fight B. But at one point, the movie was barreling along so fast, it dropped a very sneaky, very cool throwback I was almost unsure had actually just raced past me.

Over the course of King of the Monster’s globe-hopping chase to stop eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) from using the Orca—a sci-fi MacGuffin developed by Doctors Emma and Mark Russell (Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler) that can influence the gigantic titans of Godzilla and his ilk—to unleash havoc across the planet, we’re introduced to a whole host of new scientists acting as part of the no-longer-super-secret monster research organization, Monarch. There are familiar faces, like Doctors Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Graham (Sally Hawkins) from the 2014 Godzilla, but they’re mostly new characters—including Zhang Ziyi as Ilene Chen, who for a very brief moment, drops some major hints to a piece of classic Toho monster lore.

Zhang Ziyi as Doctor Ilene Chen.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

Mothra enters and exits the picture in Michael Dougherty’s King of the Monsters early on—after hatching in the opening scenes before Emma and her daughter Madison are faux-captured, the beast scurries away to a waterfall nearby to Monarch’s base in China to cocoon and recover. Later on in the movie after Godzilla is seemingly knocked down for the count by a combination of Ghidorah’s frenzied assault and the U.S. Military’s new Oxygen Destroyer bomb—itself a callback to the weapon used to slay Godzilla back in the 1954 original—Mothra is glimpsed as emerging in her final, beautiful winged form by…Zhang Ziyi, despite the fact we’ve just seen her thousands of miles away witnessing Godzilla’s seeming death aboard Monarch’s flying battleship, the Argo.

Because it’s not Ilene Chen that Ziyi is playing in that moment, the character we’ve seen across the rest of the movie so far. It’s a Doctor Chen: her twin sister, named in King of the Monster’s credits as Ling Chen.

She’s out in the rain, quietly watching over Mothra’s rebirth as an ethereal version of the kaiju’s iconic Toho theme swells into the soundtrack. That’s all there is to her appearance—the movie, bafflingly, just refers to her as Doctor Chen, and never addresses that she’s Ilene’s sister, so for a moment you suddenly think she’s learned how to teleport herself from place to place.

The film brushes past it as quickly as it brings it up, but it doesn’t really confirm anything until after the fact when at one point in the ongoing chase for the Orca, Ilene reveals to Mark that she is actually the latest in a long line of Chens who’ve worked for Monarch. Her grandmother and her mother, and their female siblings, all worked for the organization prior, dedicating themselves to researching the mythos and history around Mothra’s slumber on Earth specifically. Back aboard the Argo Ilene shows Mark old family photos, pictures as being marked as taken on Infant Island—and you see an eerie similarity between the prior generations of Chens, beyond just being sisters, or mothers and daughters.

While it’s never explicitly acknowledged in the film, having a set of female twins so intimately linked to Mothra’s backstory and evolution in the movie is itself a subtle acknowledgment of over half a century of Toho moviemaking history.

The Shobijin in 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.
Image: Toho

Back in Mothra’s self-titled cinematic debut in 1961, the gigantic creature resides on the isolated Infant Island—but when a Japanese expedition lands on its shores, they discover miniature twin priestesses who act as both guardians and translators for the legendary beast: the Shobijin. The Shobijin have been a part of Mothra’s cinematic legacy from the beginning, and have appeared in nearly every one of Mothra’s movie appearances. Sometimes, they have different names: in Godzilla vs. Mothra, they’re called the Cosmos, sole survivors of an ancient civilization destroyed in Mothra’s fight with its dark nemesis, Battra. In the Rebirth of Mothra films, they’re the Elias, and there’s actually a trio of sisters rather than a set of twins. In the most recent CG animated series, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, they’re represented as human-sized characters named Maina and Miana, part of a human subspecies called the Houtua that were biologically altered by Mothra’s presence.

In all their appearances, the fairies have similar roles—they’re agents of Mothra, who act as not just her guardian but her ambassadors to the human world. Capable of psychically communicating with the creature (often through song—the original Shobijin were played by Emi and Yumi Itō, a twin pop act known as The Peanuts), they could both act as translators for whenever Mothra encountered humankind, but when the threat of various kaiju made themselves known to the world, the Shobijin would often venture out beyond Mothra’s hiding place on Infant Island and communicate her will, or be capable of summoning her out of her larval states across vast distances.

From 1961 to 2017, in one form or another, psychic twins have been a part of Mothra’s legacy.
Image: Toho/Polygon Pictures

As far as we get to see in King of the Monsters, the Chens are simply human twins rather than secret psychic fairy people. Even in a world of futuristic stealth jet battleships, sonic monster cry manipulation, and even titanic, atomic-breath-spewing monsters, such an idea might be a little too out there. Ling Chen only appears for a tiny scene, and although she and her sister share a connection to Mothra, it’s all left in a rapid series implications for diehard fans rather than made particularly clear, swept passed unsuspecting audiences as quickly as it’s brought in.

But among the monster carnage King of the Monster gleefully engages in—and all the other classic Toho easter eggs it weaves throughout—it’s a moment that stands out as one of the coolest, weirdest throwbacks to the bizarre monster movie history that inspired King of the Monsters in the first place.


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Source: Kotaku.com

How the Team Behind Detective Pikachu Answered the Existential Questions Around the Movie’s Strangest Pokémon

A lot of work went into making these two look the least nightmarish they could.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

Pokémon come in all shapes and sizes. Some are cute little sheep, some are giant bugs. Some are gods. Some are ghosts. Some are…your keys? They can get weird. Weird enough that one of the VFX teams behind the movie found themselves asking questions they thought they’d never have to ask themselves.

Outside of a few notable additions, Detective Pikachu mostly sticks to the first generation of Pokémon—the 151 creatures that made up the roster you could catch in the original games in the series, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Although Pokémon have gotten even stranger in the years since those games (there’s now over eight hundred of them), that didn’t mean that FX studio MPC avoided contending with some very important, really bizarre stars in Detective Pikachu—namely Mr. Mime and Mewtwo.

Tim and Mr. Mime engage in some stagecraft.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

“Mr. Mime was one where, when we were designing him, it was a bit ambiguous in terms of, ‘What is Mr. Mime?’ And what material do we think he’s surfaced in, anatomically? What is he? And so, when we were developing him, a lot of our initial biases were ‘Well, he’s the Pokémon who’s humanoid with cartoony proportions…’,” VFX supervisor Pete Dionne told io9. “But then as we were developing him, it became clear about two steps into it that it was going to turn into the creepiest, most kind of odd-looking human/Pokémon hybrid. We landed in Uncanny Valley. So, we kind of changed gears on that one and tried to figure out, instead of—where we looked for all the other characters, to nature, to try and bring realism to the characters—that was one character where we did the complete opposite.”

While most of the animalistic Pokémon in Detective Pikachu took inspiration from real-world creatures, Mr. Mime had to take inspiration from real-world materials in order to avoid becoming a total nightmare.

“Our biggest design challenge with Mr. Mime is, ‘How do we not make him look human?’ And how do we make him look real without looking humanoid?’ So, that’s where we had a little bit of fun with it,” Dionne explained. “His shoulders, for example, big red balls—so, what’s the realest big red balls you can think of? We sourced those rubber kickballs that we’re all familiar with, and the texture on top of those. And the same things for his blue horns and white torso, he’s squishing around, and there’s no getting around these proportions, so we embraced it and treat them as foam, but like, a Nerf football you leave outside for the winter and all the paint crackles up on it.”

A particular challenge with Mr. Mime was his third texture: his skin. Actual skin was out of the question for the team, according to Dionne. “In his face, we tried to make it as unfleshy as possible,” Dionne said of the unspeakable horror that is Mr. Mime flesh. “When we were doing special effects make-up and trying to do prosthetic effects [with the Pokémon], instead of flesh it looked like silicone or latex—so we said, ‘Let’s embrace that, don’t try to cover it up. Just make him a thick wad of silicone and latex and all this’ in the scanning, shading, and the light interplay. [He] was one character that answered some questions we didn’t realize existed.”

Mewtwo strikes back!
GIF: Warner Bros./Legendary

Another ended up being the film’s quasi-antagonist, the legendary psychic Pokémon Mewtwo. “Mewtwo was tricky,” Dionne continued, “mostly because of the narrative requirements of the film. We needed to see him and read him as this intimidating villain. And any time we tried to build him up in the spirit of the original anime, where he’s very juvenile, he just didn’t have that kind of menacing presence that we required for portions of the film. But at the same time, whenever we started adding more recognizable musculature to him, or more aging and wrinkling—more maturity—to him, it just really quickly stopped looking like Mewtwo.”

Striking a balance between Mewtwo’s smooth youthfulness in its anime and game design took Dionne and the team to some strange places. “What we ended up doing was finding the right compromise on his overall form of still trying to be muscular, but also a juvenile bodybuilder,” Dionne explained. “So instead of a 30-year-old, a really ripped 14-year-old. That body—how do we translate that into Mewtwo?”

For the actual texture of Mewtwo’s body however, the animal kingdom provided better comparison than humans did. “We started looking at hairless kittens, where they have that very thin, almost translucent flesh that still has lots of wrinkling and clumping on it, but it’s just supple and soft and youthful,” Dionne told us. “As we were detailing and sourcing Mewtwo, we had a lot of development in terms of trying to do the juvenile version of the references we were looking for.”

While getting over the hurdles of trying to make the unreal real, MPC ended up overdesigning the roster of Pokémon it had for Detective Pikachu, in case the Pokémon Company rejected some of their designs. “We kind of overbuilt a lot of these, and we ended up with around 60 Pokémon in the film,” Dionne revealed. “We certainly designed more to account for [situations where] if there’s Pokémon we can’t find common ground, from a design point of view—where we can’t bring into the real world and still maintain the kind of core design principles of that specific character—that we could just kind of cut bait and move onto the next one. There were Pokémon left on the chopping block.”

Alakazam’s official artwork in the Pokémon games.
Image: Ken Sugimori (The Pokémon Company)

One poor Pokémon in particular that got left behind? The Psychic Pokémon Alakazam—and it’s for a reason almost as creepy to contemplate as either human Mr. Mime or ripped teenage Mewtwo. “The one thing we just couldn’t get past on that one was he has his—he’s wearing his traditional gi or, whatever his outfit is called,” Dionne said. “And the Pokémon Company interpreted that as not being cloth, but his skin. There was no way we could get around that one.”

Some things are perhaps better left unseen.


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Source: Kotaku.com

One of Detective Pikachu’s Grossest Moments Is Even Weirder Than You Thought

Open wide, lil’ buddy.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

Detective Pikachu’s trailers were full of wonderfully cute (and occasionally freaky) Pokémon—but one of the biggest reactions came with the debut of Lickitung. Or rather, Licktung’s ginormous, gross tongue as it slathers Tim Goodman’s face with saliva. It turns out there’s actually a much creepier factoid behind that moment than Pokédrool.

We recently had the chance to speak to Pete Dionne, a VFX Supervisor at MPC who worked on bringing the Pokémon of Detective Pikachu to life. Naturally, we’re inquisitively-minded folks, so we asked the obvious: What does a Lickitung tongue actually feel like?

Turns out, the answer is babies.

“It feels like a baby’s tongue,” Dionne revealed. “Ultimately, what we ended up using was a giant, scaled-up baby’s tongue, with the same very soft, but slightly coarse texture, with the slightest level of moisture. And trust me when I say a lot of discussion went into that.”

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) with Pikachu.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

The Pokémon Company—the de facto arbiter of all things Pokémon, from games, to anime, to manga, and yes, even Detective Pikachu in its collaboration with Warner Bros. and Legendary—disapproved of the film’s lone Lickitung scene initially. Mainly due to the significant quantity of drool the licking Pokémon leaves on Tim Goodman’s face, a lighthearted moment in a grim trip for the young man as he ventures into Ryme City after receiving the news of his father’s apparent passing.

“At the core of all the Pokemon design, one thing that the Pokémon Company—who played a very active part in developing these with us—one thing that they were uncompromising on was ‘all Pokemon, no matter what the circumstances, need to remain adorable.’ That’s kind of a core, fundamental principle,” Dionne said of MPC’s relationship with the minds behind Pokémon. “So that introduced a lot of really tricky problems across many characters in the film when we tried to translate them into real life, or tried to service them when putting them in scenarios where they maybe can’t be completely adorable—or maybe we can’t dimensionalize certain aspects in a way anyone would find adorable. They were uncompromising, and we would do iteration after iteration until we found a compromise.”

According to Dionne, it was the saliva was decidedly uncute to the Pokémon Company, so they had to tweak Lickitung’s moment in the spotlight to get it just right. “The first proposal was that [Lickitung] wouldn’t even have any saliva. Saliva is too gross,” Dionne continued. “It would just be a completely dry, soft silicone tongue, which, you know, wasn’t going to work for the whole gag.”

The baby aspect of the creature’s tongue? Fine! “So there was endless amounts of finding, ‘In nature, what is the cutest version of a tongue?’ and then finding reams of reference for that,” Dionne said. “That was kind of our design process, across the board.”


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Source: Kotaku.com

How Detective Pikachu Built Its Adorable Star

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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Source: Kotaku.com

Ryan Reynolds Didn’t Immediately Say ‘Yes’ to Detective Pikachu

Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

When Ryan Reynolds was first offered the role of Detective Pikachu, Legendary Pictures didn’t just send him the script. The studio also sent him a fully-rendered version of the character paired with his voice. “It was pretty mind-blowing,” Reynolds told io9 late last month in Tokyo.

“The motion capture hadn’t been done yet, so my facial expressions weren’t in there,” Reynolds explained. Now that he’s seen the finished motion capture work in the film, Reynolds says he has this “weird Uncanny Valley thing with Pikachu.”

“I’m seeing my micro facial expressions on Pikachu, which is a very odd and an unsettling thing—which would be exclusive to me as opposed to someone else seeing it,” he told us. “But maybe, someone else is going to feel like that, too. I don’t know. It’s pretty wild.”

Reynolds seems like such an obvious choice for something like this. He’s a big star. He’s a talented comedian. He has voice acting experience. His Deadpool movies have earned him loads of goodwill—important when adapting a beloved universe to the silver screen. But when he was first offered the part, Reynolds hesitated.

“When they approached me to do it, I didn’t say ‘yes’ right away, even though I was really excited about the story. It really resonated with me,” he told us. “My first question was, ‘Who is supposed to play this?’ Is there someone I am taking a job from? Specifically, am I in territory where I shouldn’t be in? It turns out it all got the greenlight from everyone I trust and love and off we went. So yeah, there was some trepidation. It wasn’t like me wondering if I could pull this off. It wasn’t that. I felt pretty confident about my take on it.”

“Were you worried about Danny DeVito?” we asked.

“Yeah, I think he was one of them. They tried probably two dozen actors voices with a fully-rendered Pikachu. And whatever this unseen committee over at Legendary decided was that, for whatever reason, mine worked the best with it,” he said. “I wish they could show some of that. They probably can’t, though, is my guess. But it would be great to hear other guys’ takes on it.”

Fan reaction to his roles aside, at home, Reynolds has become synonymous with Deadpool to the point that even his oldest daughter, who hasn’t watched the movie, says “Daddy” whenever she sees the character. But, I asked Reynolds, does she now say “Daddy” when she sees Pikachu too?

“That’s a really different thing because they’re super excited to see Pikachu,” he said. “I’ve never experienced that with my kids. They’re like, ‘I gotta see this movie.’ For some reason, Pokémon is like catnip to children.”

“I haven’t told them [I’m Pikachu], but I don’t think they fully figured out that it’s me,” he continued. “My daughter James, who is four, said that I sound like Detective Pikachu. ‘Sounds like Daddy.’ But I don’t think she’s put that together.”

Reynolds said he was planning to take his kids to see the film opening day, which is definitely better parenting than what he’s alluded to in the past. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, which already has a sequel in the works, is in theaters now.


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Source: Kotaku.com