Feb 21, 2020
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How movie magicians created Harrison Ford’s dog co-star in Call of the Wild film using a HUMAN actor

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Harrison Ford‘s new film The Call of the Wild has split audiences over its decision to cast an ex-circus performer in the role of dog co-star Buck.

The latest film adaptation of Jack London‘s 1903 novel tracks the friendship that blossoms between the stolen dog and Ford’s character John Thornton.  

Rather than search for a 140lb St Bernard-Scotch Collie mix to cast as Buck, producers chose to animate the adorable canine with computer graphics. 

Terry Notary, a former Cirque du Soleil performer, was recruited by director Chris Sanders to act the part of the lovable mutt alongside Ford, 77. 

The latest film adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novel tracks the friendship that blossoms between the stolen dog Buck (right) and Harrison Ford’s character John Thornton (left)

Previously known for his motion-capture work in films Avatar, The Hobbit series, and the Planet of the Apes reboot, Notary got down on all-fours and mimicked Buck’s movements before he was replaced in post-production editing. 

The end result has been praised as ‘absolutely breathtaking’ by animal welfare activists, who noted the producers’ decision not to exploit creatures. 

Animal welfare charity PETA US posted on Twitter: ‘STUNNING! Harrison Ford’s new film #CallOfTheWild uses 100% CGI animals. 

‘The beautiful visuals prove that you can make a film all about animals without exploiting a single one! From a bear to Buck, the CGI is absolutely breathtaking.’ 

However, film critics have ripped 20th Century Fox’s movie apart for its ‘uncanny’ depiction of Buck, a dog stolen and sold into sledding. 

Notary got down on all-fours and mimicked Buck's movements before he was replaced in post-production editing

The end result has been praised as 'absolutely breathtaking' by animal welfare activists, who noted the producers' decision not to exploit creatures

Terry Notary (right), a former Cirque du Soleil performer, was recruited by director Chris Sanders to act the part of the lovable mutt alongside Ford, 77

THE UNCANNY VALLEY: A phenomenon that has creeped out reviewers watching Ford’s film The Call of the Wild  

Film critics are unsettled by the depiction of Buck, a 140lb St Bernard-Scotch Collie mix stolen from California and sold into sledding during the Canadian gold rush. 

Realistic computer-generated images of animals and humans are subject to ‘the uncanny valley‘, a phenomenon in which the appearance of fake human or animal faces causes revulsion. 

The resemblance is said to be ‘uncanny’, while the ‘valley’ denotes a dip in the observer’s affinity or empathy for the replica.  

Although some noted the canine’s beautiful CGI rendering, others have been left baffled by the animation.    

CNN argued ‘the blessings of technology actually undermine the movie in significant, distracting ways’. 

Variety called 2020’s The Call of the Wild ‘more than a bit fake’, scathing: ‘If I want to see a dog turned into a cartoon, I’d rather watch a cartoon’. 

Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter said: ‘The results are visually disorientating, to say the least. 

‘The expressive Buck never quite looks real. And you keep expecting him and the rest of the animals to burst into song.’ 

 The Wall Street Journal took umbrage with the human actors instead of the CGI dog, writing: ‘Buck is so lifelike, thanks to the wonders of computer animation, and the people around him are such lifeless caricatures, that the studio should have given the pooch the gift of speech and kept the humans mercifully mute.’

The advances in technology allows filmmakers to ‘cut corners’ and simply hire motion-capture actors rather than trained animals.

Speaking of The Call of the Wild, Layla Flaherty, director of animal acting agency Urban Paws, told The Times: ‘It’s to cut corners, it’s a faster production and there’s room for error, but it’s not always received in a positive light.’

She added: ‘People like to see a real animal.’  

The Call of the Wild is based on Jack London’s 1903 short novel set in Yukon, Canada during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, when sled dogs were in demand. 

Buck is stolen from his home in California and sold to freight haulers where he meets Ford’s bearded character, the grisly John Thornton.

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