“John Carter” Animator Explains It All

Disney’s John Carter, a live action film, was the first VFX movie to be directed like a keyframed feature animation. Animator Patrick Giusiano put this interesting video together, showing the process involved with animating his shots.


  • Bob

    Why this great movie was not a HUGE HIT is a mystery I have yet to fully unravel.

    • patrick giusiano

      I guess expectations were pretty high… Avatar was already done, so it was difficult to bring something new to a subject like that when James Cameron is saying himself that AVATAR was his own John Carter. Anyway, I loved the movie, I thought the artistic part, the acting between CG characters and Live actors, the relationship they build throughout the movie was huge, that made the movie more human, something that Andrew Stanton likes to bring into his movies… :-)

      • daniel

        mayebe the movie wasn’t a huge hit because the story was horrible.. and the characters were flat..

      • patrick giusiano

        Hi Daniel! Woaw, that gives a clue!!! But I still don’t get it as the story itself comes from A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs Everyone loved the book and had huge excpectations… So the story in itself seemed to be solid. Maybe it just didn’t fit with what people are excpecting right now. Tars (CG alien) is saying at a point about Carter “I believed it was something new”. Maybe it wasn’t new… enough… ;-)

      • Tak

        Hey Patrick, could you please elaborate a little more on how you came to work on this projects. Was it through an agency or as part of a large studio, or were you simply hired as a sole animation contractor and what was your general level of interaction with others who were also on this production from a basic HR viewpoint. Did you have face to face meetings with anyone or was everything done over FTP & Skype or the like, and did you have to report to any animation supervisors or were you primarily working in a level of professional isolation while developing your shots. All your reference footage and any work stations around appear to be in your home/apartment. If so was that a common way that most of the other artists on this project worked? I might be way off on all this speculative conjecture, but is that the way the industry operates today in general? Do you feel that it’s an effective way to work as a “satellite” entity?

      • ShouldBeWorkin’

        Great animation. Impressive. So’s the acting reference on the animator’s part. These guys could appear in stage and live action after having so much exercises on such films.

        I never read the original. Not even the comic books.

        I thought the film took itself way too seriously. I thought it was downright pompous. I thought, where did I hear dialogue delivered like this before? Yes, it felt like a bible epic from the 1950s! As the grandaddy of science fiction, even the films and books it inspired had humour within.

        John Carter could have been a little devil-may-care swashbuckler to lighten-up the feeling. I realize he was rightfully brooding over the death of his family but he needn’t always be there. And he didn’t sound like he was Virginian. I’ve seen The Waltons. Is this what British actors do when they play a heroic American? Growl like Christian Bale doing Kevin Conroy? He just needed to be more of a foil to the aliens. Instead, he was just as alien to me as the aliens.

  • http://www.fooksie.com Fooksie

    I could go into the reasons why it failed, but it just makes people mad. I really wish I could have loved it. That being said, the animation and art direction was stellar, and I love seeing the process behind the scenes.
    Thanks for posting this.

    • patrick giusiano

      Thanks a lot Fooksie. But I think you should say what you didn’t like. From my point of view creating a good movie with a strong story is a tough and unpredictable science. I’m sad that sometimes studios can be so proud that they explain to the world how much they control their stories and how they know to make good movies. I think it’s just arrogant to say ” We know how to make good stories” When the movie will be out in two years, people will have different expectations, life , politic, news paper… everything model what we would like to watch in a theater.
      When a movie doesn’t work well. There’s a lot to learn from people who didn’t like it. I guess that gives clues to make better movies.

      • http://www.fooksie.com Fooksie

        Patrick, my main problem with the movie was the story.
        It was unfocused and really could have used some serious editing. At one point, my wife turned to me and said ‘when will this thing end?’.
        Then there’s the casting. I didn’t get the chemistry between the two stars, Kitsch and Collins. She was great in her scenes, he was good in his, but when they were together, I just didn’t get it.
        As an example, THOR wasn’t a great movie, but Chris Hemsworth had such charisma, he carried that film, and he’s a real hoot in THE AVENGERS.
        I was a huge fan of the books, I read all the ERB I could get my hands on, and I was hoping for more. That being said, the visual look of this film was amazing, and it did feel as if I was on Barsoom.

  • Jim

    I did not see anything wrong with the movie. I loved it.

  • bigbadguy

    I think some of the story problems stemmed from not having a strong villain. The bad guy was tough, but not terrible charismatic and not enough of a challenge for John Carter. He only got cool when he started shape-shifting into other people.

    • patrick giusiano

      Right, I’d say, I was kind of sad to see Tal killed with just a sword hit from Carter. Having animated on this bad guy, I was excpecting a Titans fight… I guess it was to make Carter stronger…

  • T Train

    I’d like to have been aware John Carter had lost his family from the very beginning of the movie. If I knew that as soon as possible, it would have put a lot of his actions/character interactions into context and therefore made me understand and empathise with him more. The whole staggering flash backs through out the film didn’t work for me.

    • Alberto

      I thought it was pretty obvious from early on that he had lost his family. There’s even a close-up shot of his hand where he has two wedding rings on his finger.

  • Braik

    Holy cow! Awesome work, Patrick!

    Say what you want about the film, but the Thark animation was delicious!!!

  • http://www.wallcollective.com/cogspa/wall/ joe micallef

    One of the problems(and my personal opinion) lies in perfection. The animation is flawless, and final scene is honed to perfection – the digital medium allows for that. But when all the gaps are filled you limit the imagination of the audience.

  • patrick giusiano

    As we are discussing about watching good movies, good stories etc. Could we open the discussion to:
    What are our expectations before watching this kind of movie ?
    What would be to you, the best way to have a happy audience after a screening?
    Most of us have seen Avengers, Prometheus etc… What do we expect: visually, from a story point of view, from the actors performance etc. to be able to say it was worth paying my cinema tickets?
    I’m sure everyone has his own idea on it. I’ll be curious to know what everyone thinks and if there are similarities between our expectations :-)

  • hmmm

    Thanks for putting this together, Patrick. It’s really interesting. Sorry to say, I hated the movie so much I walked out before it was over. An extra hour of sleep trumped watching bland, cliched characters doing things that looked silly in Sword-and-sandals films 50 years ago.

    Above you mentioned that JC was based on Burroughs books that ‘everyone loved.’ I’m curious if you had read any of the Princess of Mars books, and if many (any?)of your friends had? I know people who love and devour sci-fi/fantasy and comics, and no one I know had actually read ANY of these books. Did you read any of the books while working on the film? I read ‘A Princess of Mars’ as a geeky teenager (after learning that it had inspired some of my favorite writers) and was surprised at how disappointing it was.

    Burroughs wasn’t a good writer. He got paid by the word, and that was his goal. He knew his talent level. Here’s his own quote, about his decision to become a writer after reading pulp magazines: “…if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten.” The John Carter books DID inspire a lot of boys to go on to write good science fiction and fantasy as adults, so ERB clearly had his impact, but I think it’s Burrough’s prolific ideas, and genre merging, that inspired. The problem is, those who came after so surpassed Burroughs in every way that looking back to the original source material is disappointing.

    You ask about expectations. My expectation was that Stanton understood that characters are the key – his stories are overcomplicated and meandering, but his characters (and the key character relationships) are usually great. I found the characters in JC pure cardboard (except some of the CG characters, who were more human and real than the actors). The look of the film didn’t impress (where’d all that money go?). The attempts at humor were awkward, and the dialog ranked with some of Lucas’ later Star Wars films. The exposition went on way too long. I expected at least eye candy and a few engaging characters, and didn’t get that. Frankly, I went in with low expectations, and was disappointed.

    • patrick giusiano

      Man, That’s a big one!
      I didn’t read the book, but a lot of friends of mine read it because they were working on the movie, and found it cool :-).
      But you’re right about a lot of things, I was for my part more into all the Frazetta’s illustrations:
      http://www.notzombies.com/art/frank-frazettas-john-carter/
      And I was a bit disappointed the atmosphere the feeling wasn’t as strong as these drawings. On another hand, Tharks are supposed to be barbarians, but no blood shown no sexuality, everyone is clean, etc… I would have liked to see something more rough about what real barbarian would do.

      But for the story of the movie itself, I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was overcomplicated, almost to simple. But, you will make fun of me, I loved Kung Fu Panda… The story was as simple as “Believe in yourself”, but the way it is put upon the screen was just awesome!
      There are tone of movies I liked where the story wasn’t that great if I had to sum it up to someone. But it’s just the way the editing, the music, how everything comes together that makes some movies excellent. After 13 years working in the field, I’m still not able to detect why a movie is good and why another is not. I was like you after JC, I liked the movie but I knew I won’t remember it, which is kind of sad when you’ve worked on it for 1 year. There are tone of things I could say that I didn’t like and that could explain why it wasn’t unforgettable… But I have the same for Kung Fu Panda, AVATAR and a lot of other movies that had tone of problems but the magic happened! And I still don’t know why :-)
      But thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject, this was super interesting!

      • http://dailygrail.com/ Red Pill Junkie

        >”And I was a bit disappointed the atmosphere the feeling wasn’t as strong as these drawings. On another hand, Tharks are supposed to be barbarians, but no blood shown no sexuality, everyone is clean, etc… I would have liked to see something more rough about what real barbarian would do.”

        That’s probably one of the things that tanked it. Fans of the book were expecting a CGI moving Frazetta illustration, but Disney being Disney they came out disappointed for the lack Barsoomian T&A ;)

        Maybe if the movie had been more ’300′ and less Mulan it would have fared better.

      • hmmm

        This is a good point. One of the things that made the John Carter books pulp hits a century ago was not just the bloody violence, but the nudity of the many beautiful women that John Carter rescued from rape by the savages. It was soft core porn before such a thing existed.

    • http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com Cory Gross

      But it being like a swords and sandals film is a good thing! I don’t get the point of complaining about a movie’s GENRE as though it was supposed to be something else.

      • hmmm

        The comment referred to the bad decision making that went into JC. When you’re investing $250 million just to produce the film, you need to have a chance for success. For decades audiences have avoided swords-and-sandals films.

  • Frank Ziegler

    Loved both the book and the film. Thought Taylor Kitsch was perfect as Carter. Glad they kept Burroughs as a character reading the journals and such. Woola..great. All the cgi characters were believable and fun to watch. I’ve watched it 3 times so far and the only minor quibble is with the editing of some sequences. A lil tightening would have helped the pace I think, but other than that an excellent movie.

  • http://www.bigdaddyanimation.com Big Daddy

    Beautiful work and I liked the film, but I can see why it was so expensive to make.

  • Brad Constantine

    Thanks for sharing your processes. Frank Thomas once told me he used to plan each scene three ways, and then pick the strongest. You seem to be doing many of those same things that get a better result in the end. I have not seen the movie yet, but based on these shots, I will…Keep up the good work.

  • CCS

    Hmm, bits of the animation looked a bit stiff. Maybe it’s from seeing the process blocking shots so close to the finished products. But it made me uneasy, a different kind of uncanny from motion capture, but still strange.

    Then again it could just be because they’re aliens.

  • henry

    which software do you use ?