Monday, July 16, 2001

Easy on the Eyes

I also saw the Final Fantasy movie over the weekend. Great stuff!

I was most impressed by the unrelenting design excellence of the film. From the soldiers' armor to the dozens of different forms of phantom to the vehicles to the landscaping, the entire movie just oozed imagination and creativity (well, except in the area of dialog - plot was pretty standard "quest for the world-saving key" fare). There was also a lot of great algorithm work - the feathers on the eagle at the end, the smooth undulation of the flying phantoms, the motion of ships through the air and as they landed -- especially Aki's as it blew aside the cars at the beginning. Beautiful sound work as well; especially for bass freaks like me. :-)

Where the movie made some of the greatest strides, but where it still has a bit to go, is human modeling and movement. FF does humans better than they've ever been done, make no mistake, but unlike Andy and many, many other viewers I never could quite suspend my disbelief that these were anything other than CGI marionettes. To be fair, I'm probably handicapped in this area, though: I've played so many 3D games with at-best-iffy human motion, and fiddled with animation long enough, that I know how hard it is to get people right, and as such have a finely tuned eye for the tiny things. Like Aki's hands not moving exactly naturally over computer controls, or a neck twisting a few degrees too far, or someone walking while emoting with their hands without the elbows bobbing properly due to gravity or, as Andy noticed, the "skating" effect as feet meet floor less than perfectly.

But still, I don't want to bust on Square's work too badly, because I know I couldn't improve on it personally, and because it's never been done better. There's a famous quote from Alan Kay regarding the first iteration of the Macintosh (of which he wrote a scathing review back in the day): "The Macintosh is the first personal computer worth criticizing." In a way, this is true of the human motion in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Pixar and Dreamworks have made a lot of strides in the area of CGI films, but their people (where there've been any) have generally been lacking in realism, and "cartooned up" to compensate, or to fit with other characters.

Thankfully (or perhaps not, if you're a Hollywood stuntperson or member of the SAG), Square has brought us lots closer to the kind of realism necessary to completely fool the audience.


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