When it comes to making believable beasts, do prosthetics or CG come out tops?

Bringing fictional characters to life in animation is one thing. Yes, it requires hundreds and hundreds of micro-movement stop motion illustrations, but essentially whatever your imagination can perceive and the hand can draw can come to life on a page. With our own recent creative exploits into our interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood and the fabrication of her severed wolf head, discussions on creating lifelike, beastly facial expressions became the popular topic. We weren’t of course referring to beasts in general. We were talking about the two recently released interpretations of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, made by Disney or La Belle et La Bête, created by Steve Wang and Franco-German Productions.

So, two movies, two beasts and quite different outcomes. Here’s what the critics said and our take on breathing life into the expressions of imaginary beasts.

How are they alike?

Both the American beast, created by Walt Disney Pictures and Mandeville films, and the French beast, created by Steve Wang of Alliance studios, were brought to life using a combination of CG (computer graphics) and prosthetics to varying degrees.

La belle et la betê. Creature we made for the French film.

A post shared by steve wang (@stevewangcreaturecreator) on

The French took a slightly more ominous approach while the Disney variation even came across as somewhat more comical in some shots and at times a closer relation to his animation counter part.

How are the beasts different?

The devil is in the technology on this one.  The key difference in the two beasts is that Christoph Ganse’s beast (the French) seemed to rely a lot more on prosthetic application, modified by CG, whereas the facial features of Condon’s beast (The American) are brought to life almost entirely in CG.

Popzara goes as far as to reference La Belle et la Bête as a film with “sometimes enchanting visuals, though even these become ruined by atrocious CG effects.”

The French beast in a static photo does appear far more grandiose and ominous, but by the looks of it, conveying emotion through his heavy prosthetic application was tricky with an article on Consequence of Sound saying, “Vincent Cassel struggles to emote through the equally unconvincing facial animations.”

Doesn’t look like prosthetics and CG modification impressed reviewers. And Disney did have access to some state of the art quality CG technology.

According to the Telegraph, “If one thing stands out over all this magnificent design and skill it is the Beast himself, a character who could not appear as he does without the advanced technology used in today’s filmmaking.”

In the Disney remake an intricate combination of live-action, physical-performance capture and a modern technique known as Mova facial-capture technology. The actor, Dan Stevens, was not only required to act the part in stilts and a prosthetic muscle suit, but also had to wear a fractal grey bodysuit with visual effects indicators that read every one of his movements.

Scenes had to be acted out twice essentially – once capturing his body movement and a second time capturing only the detailed facial expressions with the actor’s face covered in ultra violet make-up. Acting with only your face is no easy feat.

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Yet, not all reviews find the impressive technology delivered impressive results.

The Atlantic state in reference to Disney’s beast that “The same goes for the Beast himself, a CGI/motion-capture creation that obscures the usually charming Stevens (so arresting in 2014’s The Guest), halting any chance at real chemistry with Belle.

Vulture.com share a similar sentiment to Disney’s revamp saying that, “After a couple musical numbers, it occurs to you that the film you’re watching is every bit as animated as the original, but it’s somehow turned out less lifelike, despite its considerable technological advantage.”

Hmm…

So, what’s our studio’s take on it?

Being in the prosthetics business and not the CG business, our hearts obviously lean towards the ‘how well could it have been done entirely in prosthetics?’ hypothetical scenario. The truth is, it couldn’t. A human cannot jump 50 meters. CG absolutely has its place in bringing something larger than life, well to life. But we definitely think a marriage of the two is where the magic happens.

Here are the pros to adding prosthetics to your beast:

You can make instant changes on the day to a scene because your made up beast is right there. So in terms of filming, options are definitely wider for the director in terms of actor placement – because you’re not having to think how this affects the animators in post production,

Modern prosthetic applications allow for full facial feature acknowledgement and transferal, if they are applied minimally and enhanced in CG.

An actor wearing facial prosthetics is given the opportunity to become the character, which possibly allows for a more authentic delivery.

CG is vastly more expensive than prosthetics, mainly due to the practical hours and because of how many people are involved.

There are cons too:

Prosthetics require extensive time in the chair everyday for your actor

Performers can suffer allergies to product. Think of Suicide Squad – actor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who played the role of the killer croc developed serious allergies to the makeup adhesive within the first week. However, the artists thought on the fly and developed products on the go to continue utilising the prosthetics during shooting. They won the Oscar for best make-up for this incredible feat. Just saying.

In prosthetics much of your labour time is spent while shooting on set vs in CG those labour hours come in during post production.

How long would it take if you went the prosthetics route?

To generate the character after conceptualisation, our production studio would require 1 month of studio time in sculpting, moulding casting and additional finishing.

You would need a new prosthetic for each day of filming and applying that can take relative time. The famous hobbit feet of Lord of the Rings took several hours on each day of filming to fit and blend, so it’s not an undoable task.

Application of a beast to this extent is about 6 hours every day before shooting and 45 minutes to an hour to clean up the prosthetics.

Ultimately a combo is the best way to go. Production should stop choosing either or and realise a relationship between CG and effects is the best experience for the viewer. The trick is in finessing the balance.

Check out what we do and get in touch with us if you think we can help bring your beast to life.