Blogtober Technology

Technology at the Movies: Is Gemini Man is the New Toy Story?

Blogtober day 30: Let's talk movie magic!

Both Toy Story and Gemini Man are the first to use completely new technology and both waited a long time for the opportunity to do so.

Alvy Ray Smith and Ed Catmull started “proto-Pixar” in 1979 when they did computer affects work for The Empire Strikes Back. Their belief in computer animation started long before that. Smith was first hit with the future of computer graphics and animation in the early 1970’s when he hung out at Xerox on Dick Shou’s SuperPaint machine.

Eventually he was kicked out of Xerox. That’s what led him to computer special affects for George Lucas, then backed by Steve Jobs. “Pixar limped along for almost a decade wile Catmull and Smith waited for the inexorable advance of computer power to catch up with their movie-making ambitions” (Fisher 193).

Like the creators of Toy Story, the script for Gemini Man has been waiting for its technological breakthrough since 1997. “Almost a dozen A-list actors had been attached to the lead role before Will Smith was cast. All walked away from the film that was impossible at the time to make (atomtickets).”

Digitize the movies

The history of Pixar is fascinating. After the success of The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas hired Ed Catmull in 1979 to work on some projects. “They were insane ideas at the time: digital nonlinear film editing, digital sound editing, digital optical printing, and 3-D computer animation…” (Fisher 195).

In 1980 Catmull was given the go ahead to hire a team. They were set up in an office that was “a renovated Laundromat in the San Anselmo that Geroge Lucas owned” (Fisher 196). There was just one problem. There were no computers in the entire building. “So [the team] decided to build this machine for Geroge. It was basically a supercomputer for images” (Fisher 196). The name of this supercomputer? The Pixar Image Computer.

Disney puts the technology to the test

Woody Mocks Buzz
Source

In about 1993 Disney came to Pixar with “a boutique film” to make. The film was the concept of Toy Story, where the toys are alive and have to make their way through conflict. The script however was in shambles. Joss Whedon recalls, “I went up to Oixar and stayed there and wrote for four months and completely overhauled the script before it got green-lit” (Fisher 202).

The animators were able to create the characters and scenes digitally, down to every leaf on the trees. They realized they could give the characters personality through movement. But the boutique style film created edgy, unlikeable characters. “The characters were yelling, they were cynical, they were always making fun of everybody” (Fisher 203).

Disney went to shut the project down but in a last ditch effort, the team got two weeks to re-write the script and from the trenches emerged Toy Story as we know it.

Enter Junior

Source

Like Toy Story, Gemini Man was also set up by Disney. Think about that, Toy Story was made in 1993 and Gemini Man was set up in 1997, that’s only a four year difference! It’s taken 22 years for computing power and technology to bring to life the concept of Gemini Man.

The producer and execs wanted to use computer effects to have the same actor play both parts, but the technology to have one actor realistically carry that off for an entire movie did not  exist.

Hollywood Reporter

Gemini Man didn’t de-age Will Smith like other movies, it digitally re-created him. Director, Ang Lee, refers to the 23 year old digital version of Will Smith as Junior. Junior is Will Smith built up from the inside out as his 23 year old self.

In 1993 it was mind breaking to imagine digital cameras and placing digitally animated characters in a scene. Now, movie makers have a completely digital 23 year old Will Smith that they can make to do anything.

The film makers did have to motion capture Will Smith’s facial expressions to collect the data to apply to Junior. That’s amazing though! Will Smith has an actual avatar of himself that can be put into scenes and do whatever actions the director wants.

Where they differ

The script was an excuse to make test the technology

Toy Story made movie history and led to the billion dollar IPO of Pixar.

Gemini Man is a flop at the box office.

The story isn’t there. One movie reviewer writes, “the story doesn’t feel like it’s changed since its inception in the 90’s, even though the times have.” To be honest, I wasn’t interested in seeing Gemini Man after watching the trailer. And now that I know my theater doesn’t have the technology to show it in it’s full 120 fps, 3-D glory, I’m even less inclined to go.

It’s no doubt that that digital creation of actors, filming in 3-D, and higher frame rates are the way of the future. The movie business, like many, is one driven by technology. We just need to wait for everyone else to catch up.

That being said, the lesson here is that technology alone isn’t what creates a blockbuster. The guys at Pixar knew their movie would never work because the characters and story was so awful. Even though their animation and graphics were mind-blowing, they didn’t like their own movie.

From the reviews, it sounds like Gemini Man, forgot about the story and creating characters with soul. However cool the technology is behind the film, it alone didn’t create the drive for people to see the movie and therefore believe in the tech.

Whether it’s enterprise software, virtual reality apps, or movie magic, it’s the people that drives the true value of technology.

Technology is great. It does amazing things for us but it has to put people first. Technology works the best when it’s built with the humans it serves in mind. Whether it’s enterprise software, virtual reality apps, or movie magic, it’s the people that drives the true value of technology.

Behind the scenes of Toy Story and Gemini Man

Check out these two videos to see how Toy Story and Gemini Man were made.

Did you see Gemini Man in theaters? Could you tell the difference in filming? Let me know in the comments below.


Valley of Genius The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley by Adam Fisher

2 comments

  1. As a movie buff, I’m thrilled at the possibility of more believable digital avatars being created for famous actors!—but I’m concerned we are ignoring the possibility of this translating to even more Nicholas Cage films each year

    Liked by 1 person

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