Hollywood VFX pros grade the CGI Effects "Excellent" in John Carter

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As many who read The John Carter Files know,  I live in Burbank and occupy a minor niche in the film industry as an indie screenwriter and filmmaker who has produced and/or directed a dozen  films.  These films are not remotely on the scale of a project like Disney’s John Carter; they rarely get more than a limited theatrical release, and are most likely to be seen on cable outlets like Showtime or Encore or on DVD/Blu-ray.   So, plying my trade at that “indie” level of the industry does not make me an expert on things like the quality of VFX on a $250m film.

But … occasionally my work does provide me oppotunities to hang out with experts, and that’s what happened yesterday as I was in a Burbank VFX and post production facility finalizing deliverables for a film I’m responsible for.  We got to the end of our official work, and as the pros were outputting and rendering various delivery elements, the talk turned to the quality of the VFX in John Carter.  I mentioned that I’d been spending some time on a few of the movie message boards, and there was some lively debate on this topic.  Now, the group I was talking to included two VFX professionals who between them have credits on more than a dozen major features.  They were quite surprised to hear that there was actual debate  — saying that the “buzz” in their universe was all favorable.  “Well, for starters, people shouldn’t try to judge VFX from compressed Youtube 360 images”……and with the rendering of our official work going on in the background, the boys downloaded  the 1080p John Carter trailer from Apple Trailers and then critiqued the VFX shot by shot on a 56″ HD Studio color timing monitor.

I took notes, and at the end of the session prevailed upon them to do PNG screenshots from the 56″ monitor, which went home with me on the hard drive that our official work was saved onto.  Those scans were too big to upload here (5mb each), but I’ve saved each of them as a very large, high resolution JPG and uploaded them below.


“excellent detail, especially in the crowd movement (which isn’t visible on a small computer screen), also in the lower right corner”

Excellent top to bottom.  Fine detail the figures on the bridge even look very detailed with realistic movements.

Beautiful detail in the creature ….movements prior to the fall very good….can see the layers of musculature……excellent detail in the mouth area as seen here in the still…..one slightly funky items was the way the blue blood dropped around JC’s feet AFTER he and the ape had both hit the ground. Speculation: the “kicking up of dust” effect was not complete at the time the trailer was done, and this was a “quick fix” that will be cured fully in the final version. In other word, the blood landing around JC’s feet covers up the fact that the dust effect hasn’t been finalized. This would be the last thing, or nearly the last thing, finalized in the shot.

Detailed rendering of the facial movements and speech effect — skin moves naturally, bunches where it would be expected to…….excellent.

The jumping is not CGI but analyzed because there has been discussion of this.   It looks slightly “off” because someone, probably the director, has made a conscious decision to not “blur” the movement in a manner that is consistent with what most people might expect.  In this shot, the camera is panning left to right (hence the blur on the rock in the foreground) so the lack of blur on the jumping figure is not an issue — but in other shots (one in particular which is captured below) there seems to be a conscious choice to minimize the blur.  This is not a defect so much as a creative choice — as it is easily controllable via a slider type control that adds or subtracts blur.

Beautiful detail on the tree in the background — but this isn’t a hard shot, doesn’t prove anything much.

Good detail in the charging creatures, motions seem realistic — no deficieincies noted.

Excellent rendering of the extra set of arms — muscle movements very natutral and convincing……..(went back and forth of this movement dozens of times looking for flaws, none noted.)

Overall, this is a very quick clip and when slowed down and analyzed, there is less detail evident in the figures in this shot and their movements are not as good as the solo shots, which is to be expected.  Depending on how long this shot is onscreen, there may be more work to be done.

Excellent, no issues  (I raised issues about this not looking quite real to me — they convinced my my complaint was because of the contact lenses that cause they to look like a statues).

Excellent – -not a particularly difficult shot.

Woola is a marvel!  (They really scrutinized Woola, marvelling at the expressiveness, the small movements that facitliate the expressiveness — not just in this shot but in all the Woola shots. The prediction is that Woola is going to be a big winner, a very, very specially reqlized CGI creature.)

Not really analyzed — this was saved for me because I wanted to study the design of the one-man flyers in the background — also JC’s controls of the one man flyer he’s in (and about to leap from)

Excellent detail and motion in the charge of the Warhoons — this shot looks “spectacular” when seen in full resolution on a big screen.

Example of John Carter’s motion blur not being the same as the others in the frame — a creative choice, not a deficiency.

Cool shot — not about the CGI.  Note the details on JC’s sword.


Overall — the general consensus was that the VFX will easily rate an Oscar nomination if not a win.  They fully realize the potential of the motion-capture techniques that were pioneered by James Cameron and Peter Jackson.  There is little room to criticize them other than minor “quibbles”.

And as one of the VFX artists said — “Before you even think about criticizing anyone’s work in this field, at a minimum download the 1080p trailer and watch it on a large HD cinema display.  That’s the only way you’re ever going to even begin to be able to form a proper opinion.”


  • Site question: Why do old posts keep showing up in the blog scroll as if new? Confusing. The top item already rotates to highlight older posts. And then, of course, there’s the periodic resorting of comments.

  • A pleasure to read, and a nice antidote to
    complainers and mean-spirited souls wherever
    they may lurk.

  • Love this!! And you’re totally right, Michael, it’s the ERB unread who are griping the most about the CGI.

  • Not only that — they either feel a) the CGI automatically sacrifices the story or b) it’s not good CGI unless it’s groundbreaking “first of its kind” CGI. What has happened here is that CGI has finally caught up with Burroughs imagination and can be effectively deployed in the service of a great story — which is what is going on. You don’t hear anyone who’s read the books complaining about the CGi — it’s only those who don’t know the books who look at it and apply the kind of reflex criticism you mention. We’ll see….but the CGI is good — there is no doubt about that.

  • Encouraging report!

    I think a lot of the CGI complainers just have a chip on their shoulders about the technology, period. They’ll call the CGI bad only because they personally don’t like CGI, not because they have any credibility in critiquing the effectiveness of the techniques. A lot of people seem to think that CGI automatically means the story has been sacrificed. It’s the same rhetoric we get all the time about 3D. CGI, like 3D, is an option and a tool for filmmakers, and it all comes down to how well it is done. It’s good to hear that pros are saying that John Carter’s effects are top-notch.

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