The Monsters Are Coming.

Mosters vs Aliens’ screaming office admin.

In Dreamworks’ upcoming Monsters vs. Aliens, above, an invasion of Earth by a patronizing race of four-eyed, little gray men, below, moves the U.S. to send out an inoffensive clique of mutants to defend the planet. They include

the brilliant but insect-headed Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D.; the macho half-ape, half-fish The Missing Link; the gelatinous and indestructible B.O.B.; and the 350-foot grub called Insectosaurus.

Along with a 49-foot-11-inch woman named Susan Murphy, aka Ginormica, the group soon challenge the massive Alien Robot, against whom even America’s best missiles vaporize in blooms of meaningless, multicolored plasma.

From my perspective, though, this is all backstory to what’s really going on, namely a small revolution in computer animation, marked by an ever increasing capability in the form.

One need only look at Monsters vs. Aliens‘ trailer, first, then go back to the first computer-animated feature film, Disney-Pixar’s 1995 Toy Story, to see what I mean. Now that we have artists who’ve literally grown up in the nearly decade-and-a-half of CG movies, we’re currently seeing spectacular and subtle kinds of imagery, certainly impossible a few short years ago.

General W.R. Monger tells The President what to do in Monsters vs. AliensFor me, the moment of truth happened in the scene where, as missiles fail, General W.R. Monger tells The President, right, that they need a new strategy to beat the robot. “We need a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” he brays. “We need raw power. We need…,”as the camera fills the frame with his mouth, “monsters.”

What you see at this point, if you freeze the trailer at the 0:56 mark, are the general’s slightly yellowed teeth, his razor stubble, the subtle folds and texture of his skin, all amazingly rendered.

But what you also see, on the right corner of his mouth, is a thin, white diagonal line, somewhat faint. What is it?

It’s a faint dusting of dry skin, like a touch of psoraiasis. Put another way, it’s something one often sees on middle-aged or elderly white men, particularly if the air is a bit arid, and/or if they’ve been talking for a while. In the still frame, you notice there’s also some under his right nostril, then under his bottom lip.

What’s as amazing as it is disgusting about this image is that, first, it’s almost not there. (I didn’t put a picture of it up, here, because I want to to go to the trailer and see this for yourself.)

Second, it’s a delicate touch that renders the image more real, but that, had it not been there, no viewer would probably have missed, or said, “That’s fake.” The absence of stubble or skin texture might have provoked such a reaction. But the inclusion of this faint dryness is the mark of an artist, somewhere, clearly going for something extra.

Third, it literally lasts two seconds on the screen, implying it’s merely there for the delight of the person who put it there. I’m guessing that, should this be part of the finished film, no one will see it.

Galaxar states his demands in Monsters vs. AliensNo one will see it…except subconsciously. It will be part of the detail that captivates the moviegoer’s eye, filling it with more movement and delight than can consciously be registered. The result is the sense that something splendid, overwhelming, and eventful is happening in each frame.

This is what a capable director wants, and indeed, that’s what’s happening in computer-animated imagery, everywhere you look: Something outrageous and spectacular. What we’re seeing is the steady growth and confident development of the medium as art, happening, literally, before our eyes. From what I can see, so far, Monsters vs. Aliens represents another step forward in this progression. When it lands in March, prepare to be taken over.



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