Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bruce Willis Hunts Gorillaz

Gorillaz is a great idea. It was hatched by musician Damon Albarn of Blur and artist Jaime Hewlett. The band is comprised of four fictional characters, 2D (Albarn's vocals), Murdoc (bass), Russel (drums) and Noodle (guitar). Because the only consistent musical element is Albarn, the band encompasses a wide variety of styles and features a dizzying number of guest musicians, from Tina Weymouth to Snoop Dogg to Bobby Womack. Their look is provided almost entirely by Hewlett: his visual style is cartoony, awesomely detailed and strangely realistic.

Gorillaz make great music-- they're maybe the only band left, aside from Asleep at the Wheel, I still lay out money for. But it's really all about the music videos: they are arresting, amazing, great. As a virtual band, they were made for that medium. Check out the Gorillaz channel on You Tube and watch: You don't find 2D animation that good anywhere anymore, and it blends with live action seamlessly.

"Stylo," the new video released in advance their new album Plastic Beach, is close to fully live action affair. In a neat cameo, Bruce Willis hops into a vintage red El Camino and tears off across the desert, in all likelihood a bounty hunter or assassin or both, pursuing three members of Gorillaz in a 1968 Camaro SS. They were rendered in 3D computer animation.

So here's the problem: Gorillaz doesn't work as 3D animation. They work, animated or otherwise, as bold line art. Jaime Hewlett's sharp style and exuberant, tight animation (usually done by London's Passion Pictures) overcome the oddities built into the character sheets: empty black or white eyes, green skin, snaggly teeth. In "Stylo," 2D looks sick, Noodle robotic (well, apparently she is a robot now: who knew?) and Murdoc ghastly and undead. In an attempt to better blend the virtual characters into live action, they stumbled and fell deep into the uncanny valley.

There was a term I learned in a class on animation I took in college: "Appeal." It refers to the combination of elements that make animated characters work. Big eyes, simple lines, and slightly stylized features embody the concept of appeal. Mickey Mouse, anime characters and Spongebob have it. But a lot of 2D characters only work that way: render them in 3D, and the appeal vanishes. Think of a Simpsons action figure: not quite right.

It's nice to see fresh Gorillaz content out there, even though their feature-film project seems to have caved in. I just hope "Stylo" is a bump in a long desert road, and the real-life creators steer their virtual creations back to a hand-drawn look.

1 comment:

  1. Noodle isn't a robot, Murdoc made a robot that looks like Noodle (Cyborg Noodle) because the real Noodle went missing in the El Manana video.