There’s been a lot of debate recently about inserting CG actors within movies. Some times it’s necessary, because the insurance isn’t going to cover any damages to setting your lead actor on fire. Other times it’s downright eery and bleeds uncanny valley strangeness, something which popped up in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this year when the film digitally resurrected actor Peter Cushing. It was unsettling to say the least, echoing the bizarre nature of a craft that really found it’s stride in 2010’s Tron: Legacy.
But when it’s done right, man does it shine.
Take Logan for example, the final hurrah of actor Hugh Jackman as the impossibly fit Canadian mutant who finds himself on a road trip with his mentally damaged mentor Charles Xavier and a young mutant by the name of Laura who happens to share some Adamantium claws and DNA traits with the legendary X-Man. Even though Logan may be long past his prime, he can still unleash a certain vicious streak in the film, a fact that the R-rating makes full and bloody use of.
But Logan also takes a hellacious amount of damage in the process, damage which you wouldn’t risk Jackman’s career on if you were in charge of the flick. That’s where stuntmen come in, valiant and under-appreciated performers whose job is to take that risk for the actor and put their own bodies in harm’s way instead. The only drawback to this however, is that you need to frame a shot so that you don’t see the stuntman in question, lest the illusion be ruined.
It’s pretty much the reason why any modern Steven Seagal film only features action from above or below an action scene, to hide the fact that the portly bully has been replaced with a far more capable and lithe stuntman to perform action scenes for him instead. But for Logan, special effects studio Image Engine created CGI duplicates of Jackman, which were used for more hectic scenes. As Image Engine visual effects supervisor Martyn Culpitt explained to Cartoon Brew:
Everyone knows Logan, for instance, and that’s the biggest challenge. We’re literally looking at a real Hugh and a digital Hugh side by side in some shots.
And that’s uncanny to say the least. The best special effects are the ones you don’t notice, with Image Engine’s work only being used for brief moments and snippets when necessary, layered on top of a stuntman. That’s the idea of CG actors at its best: Not wholesale replacing the thespians they’re meant to replicate, but rather augmenting their performances in ways that you’ll never notice.
There’s a more detailed breakdown in the original link above, but it does delve into some spoilery material in case you haven’t seen Logan just yet. But you really should. It’s a terrific film. Bub.