Is this the real life?

Final Fantasy: Ming-Na voices Dr Aki

No, it’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the first film that dares to do away with ‘real’ actors…

From Film Review Sept 2001

Computer games always have a hard time being transferred from the video screen to the silver screen but with The Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, it’s reached a new plateau: photo-realistic computer-generated actors have been created instead of relying on flesh-and-blood performers. That was always the dream of director Hironobu Sakaguchi, the man who was also behind the creation of the internationally-renowned game, with Final Fantasy IX the latest in the sensational series and over 33 million copies of the Final Fantasy games being sold world-wide.

“I have always wanted to create a new form of entertainment,” he says, “that fuses the technical wizardry of interactive games with the sensational visual effects of motion pictures. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within takes us one step closer to that dream.”

Set on Earth in the not-too-distant-future, the planet has been invaded by aliens and the world is dying. One renegade military team, codenamed ‘The Deep Eyes’ struggles to reclaim the world but perhaps has the ultimate weapon provided by two scientists who believe they have the answer. Dr Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na) doesn’t have much time to test her theories as she’s been infected by the alien force, but also must battle General Hein (voiced by James Woods)...

How to make a heroine, in three easy stages“Earth has been under attack,” says Ming-Na about her character, “and [Aki] wants to find a way to save the Earth and save humanity. That brings about all the issues about characters I love playing. She’s courageous, she’s brave, she’s focused and she is trying to save the world.” She smiles at what she’s just said. “Something simple like that!”

More than anything, people who go to see the movie are going to be gob-smacked at the computer-generated people. “Square [Pictures, the production company] is just doing an amazing job in raising the level of computer animation to its new form,” notes Ming-Na. “It’s almost like how, you know, [George] Lucas was able to take certain new cameras and create new special effects using these new cameras and techniques. This is a whole other level of animation where, besides the hair [60,000 computer equations were need just for Aki’s head], it’s just the liquid in the eyes, down to the pores, down to the hairs on the arms. It’s unbelievable, the detailed work involved. And it takes many, many people many man-hours to put it together. They look so real that I feel like I’ve given birth, you know, with my voice to a character and the animators have drawn this real human being. It’s very different. It’s sort of a little eerie, a little surreal in some ways.”

And there’s no doubt that it is a landmark in cinema history, and while it might just mark the beginning of the final chapter in the use of real people in movies, there’s a long way to go before using CGI people is standard film-making practice. It simply takes too long. There is, however, one distinct advantage: “Our ‘actors’,” says Sakaguchi with a smile, “are always willing to work on time and take direction…”

Film Review Sept 2001 issue For the full feature, read on in the 609th issue of Film Review...

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within opens August 3 (Leicester Square only, Nationwide 10th August) and is distributed by Columbia TriStar. The film is reviewed in this issue.

Images copyright: Columbia Tristar
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

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