Saturday, May 17, 2008

Robert Zemeckis and his motion-capture animation

So a good question is… Is Disney funding Robert Zemeckis’ disturbing and risky passion of realistic, motion-capture, 3D-animated films?

First, let’s take a look at some of Robert’s directing history…

Romancing the Stone (1984)
Back to the Future (1985)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Back to the Future Part III (1990) (first time two sequels were filmed at the same time)
Death Becomes Her (1992)
Forrest Gump (1994)
"Tales from the Crypt" (3 episodes, 1989-1995)
Contact (1997)
What Lies Beneath (2000)
Cast Away (2000)
The Polar Express (2004)
Beowulf (2007)
A Christmas Carol (2009) (filming)

Robert’s love of the horror genre as a producer…

"Tales from the Crypt" (executive producer) (83 episodes, 1989-1996) (Note: Series creator along with Richard Donner, Walter Hill, and Joel Silver)
Death Becomes Her (1992) (producer)
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) (executive producer)
The Frighteners (1996) (executive producer) (Note: Directed by Peter Jackson before LOTR fame)
Bordello of Blood (1996) (executive producer)
House on Haunted Hill (1999) (producer)
What Lies Beneath (2000) (producer)
Ritual (2001/I) (producer)
Thir13en Ghosts (2001) (producer)
Ghost Ship (2002) (producer)
Gothika (2003) (producer)
House of Wax (2005) (producer)
Monster House (2006) (executive producer)
The Reaping (2007) (producer)

And here are Robert’s freaky motion-capture films…

Polar Express (Director/Writer/Producer – 2004)
Monster House (Producer – 2006)
Beowulf (Director/Producer – 2007)
A Christmas Carol (Director/Writer/Producer – 2009)

How well they did…

Polar Express
Worldwide: $303,200,434
Production Budget: $165 million

Monster House (Producer – 2006)
Worldwide: $140,175,006
Production Budget: $75 million

Beowulf (Director/Producer – 2007)
Worldwide: $196,149,949
Production Budget: $150 million

Next, let’s take a look at who’s making Robert’s freaky films…


Polar Express – Warner Bros. Pictures (Note: Tom Hanks was also a producer; Playtone)
Monster House – Columbia Pictures/Sony (Note: Spielberg was also a producer; Amblin Entertainment)
Beowulf – No big studios (ImageMovers & Shangri-La), but distributed by Paramount Pictures & Warner Bros. Pictures (Note: ImageMovers is his company)
A Christmas Carol – Walt Disney Pictures


Polar Express – Gentle Giant Studios (motion capture), Sony Pictures Imageworks (animation)
Monster House – Gentle Giant Studios (motion capture), Sony Pictures Imageworks (animation) Beowulf – Gentle Giant Studios (motion capture), Sony Pictures Imageworks (animation)
A Christmas Carol – Gentle Giant Studios (motion capture), Animation Studio is not confirmed


Robert’s love of horror is appropriate when Brad Bird thinks his 3D animations are of the walking dead. =^)

I don’t think Disney is funding Robert’s crazy motion-capture animated films. I think Disney is taking a chance on one of his films, probably the one with the greatest potential of success (star + family market + story). Plus Jim Carrey has a track record of a Christmas hit (Grinch) and so does Zemeckis (Polar Express). So it’s not a big risk (or not more than Disney’s other risks).

Robert should have learned that his expensive animation style isn’t paying off. It definitely doesn’t sell to the adult market (for example, Beowulf didn’t make a big profit, but Polar Express did), and it needs to be driven by a huge story and cast to make it sell well (for example, Monster House didn’t make a big profit, but Polar Express did).

So while Robert’s animations are incredibly risky (the cost is way too high), this particular project is not so risky for Disney.

It does seem strange that Sony would be animating a Disney film, so maybe that’s why Sony Pictures Imageworks isn’t confirmed as the animation studio. Is Disney animating it themselves? Is this a Lasseter sanctioned film? If Disney is controlling it more, then this one might not be as freaky and weird as the others.


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