For the director Robert Zemeckis, technology has always played a key role in the filmmaking process. This includes being one of the first to use motion capture. He was first and foremost to shoot full-length films with the then burgeoning visuals, including titles such as The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol, and played an important role in the growth of the technology. His motion capture film career ended in 2009, leading to features such as Flight, The Walk and Allied. In his latest project, Welcome To Marwen, he saw again the opportunity to experience:
I had the great pleasure of meeting with Robert Zemeckis earlier this month during the Los Angeles Press Day for Welcome To Marwen for an in-camera interview, and the use and development of motion capture technology was the talk of fundamental importance. At first I was curious as to whether working with visual effects was the only way to bring the story to life, and the author / director explained how its use is fully related to his first vision of the film. When he saw the documentary for the first time, he was inspired by Marwencol.
The use of motion capture, also called performance capture, is used in the film to bring Marwen to life: a Belgian World War II city that exists entirely in the mind of artist Mark Hogancamp and brings to life scale models and puppets he kept in his backyard. The characters that inhabit Marwen are rudimentary representations of the people in Mark’s life, but the more comprehensive narrative is also heavily influenced by a traumatic and violent attack that Mark has experienced, resulting in a prolonged coma and permanent memory loss. Although he can not draw as before, he can express his vision through the drama and plot in Marwen and in the end gains great popularity and notoriety for his work. Unfortunately, he also remains stunted and paralyzed by the recurrent memories of the terrible event that has forever changed his life.
What distinguishes the technological portrayal of the character in Welcome To Marwen von Beowulf or A Christmas Carol is the fact that the artists are not technically human performers. They play dolls. I was curious if this had any impact on the way Robert Zemeckis had played at work, but the filmmaker explained why the opposite was true:
While the performances were not overly influenced, there was still a unique work that needed to be done with the appearance of the characters on screen. An advantage of puppets that look like puppets is that they do not really have to look down from the neck, but what’s important are the details on the faces. This was achieved thanks to the power of modern cameras and computers that were able to capture the images of the stars and wrap the faces around the CGI models. Zemeckis explained
As the author described, this was the biggest challenge of the performance capture work for Welcome To Marwen. While technology has come a long way, artists have not yet fully perfected the creation of hyperrealistic CGIs that work equally well when characters move and stop. However, Robert Zemeckis believes that we are getting closer and closer to this milestone, and it should be noted that the work on his last feature is certainly impressive.