‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ And A Thought on The Hyper-Grotesque

With the entire Internet already yakking about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trailer, it hardly seemed necessary to bring it up here. But for the sake of posterity, here is the trailer for the Jonathan Liebesman-directed film, which will open on August 8th:

Unlike many online commenters, I wasn’t bothered by the visual appearance of the Turtles, nor did it even merit an eyebrow-raise because they look and feel similar to most every other creature that has appeared in films and videogames over the past decade. I haven’t found any good term to describe this new aesthetic, but I personally refer to it as the hyper-grotesque:

Filmmakers and game producers are still learning to harness the vast (and ever-increasing) possibilities of digital technology, and in many cases, their creative instincts are overwhelmed by the abundance of choice. Whether it’s CGI Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Peanuts, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, or even an original idea, these projects are guaranteed to be slathered in an unwieldy amount of rendered detail.

It’s hard to view the hyper-grotesque as anything more than a novelty act with each producer attempting to outdo the other by adding as much detail as allowed by their budget and the current state of technology. At some point, audiences may tire of the illusion, though the consistent decades-long financial success of this entertainment style suggests that hyper-grotesque digital art is unlikely to peak anytime soon.


  • Grant Beaudette

    Is some of this because it’s easier to transfer the mocap data to the model? Why give them human lips?

    • Platynews

      It is not …. there are leaked promotional art showing Donnie and he don’t have lips and a nose.

      It is like a chain of not-nose and not-lips that goes

      Donnie->Leo->Raph->Mikey

  • SarahJesness

    The new turtles look gross, but there’s also an uncanny valley factor that makes them unappealing and creepy to look at. I mean, Rango had a sort of “ugly and detailed” look to it, but I LOVED that, so it’s not like I’m against the hyper grotesque.

    • rubi-kun

      Same with Gollum, who’s ugly and grotesque but has a certain appeal. When Gollum’s more appealing than your new movie’s heroes, you know something is wrong.

      • Dan

        They should just replace the turtles with duplicates of Gollum wearing masks, I’d go see the movie then.

        • SarahJesness

          THAT WOULD BE A CINEMATIC MASTERPIECE

      • SarahJesness

        Yep, plus, Gollum is SUPPOSED to be creepy. How he looks ties with the way he acts. With the turtles, it’s just off-putting. It’s not an appealing kind of creepy.

  • Kris Åsard

    Hyper-grotesque is what we´ll call it from now on.
    I think future art students will identify movies from our decade by measuring the number of rendered pores per square ince of cgi skin.

  • Steven Bowser
    • Frank

      I wish gombas looked like that in the games.

    • Shirky

      I thought the same thing… made this right after I saw the trailer

  • Ken Martinez

    I guess the take-home lesson is that money can’t buy visual appeal. The CGI turtle designs in the new TV series and the last movie are much more visually appealing (and done a lot cheaper to boot).

    Hell, even the first movie’s Jim Henson Creature Shop costumes look better than this. Why is cutting-edge CG less appealing than twenty-year-old animatronics?

    • FPS

      perhaps is the excessive emphasis on technicalities instead of humanities in this particular art field? I find this is something very common in games too.

  • William Bradford

    Haha if they’re trying to horrify us to the idea of animal-human genetic hybridization, then I think it’s not such a bad idea….

  • Panda Polygon

    This article was humorous and while I agree with most of your points, listing Peanuts and Peabody & Sherman alongside TMNT as victims of CGI’s tendency towards the photoreal is totally off the mark. Ironically, those two features contain some of the most stylized, restrained imagery we’ve seen in American CG to date.

    Had you compared TMNT to Shrek or Rio or something equally nauseating, I would have been on board with this analogy.

  • BurntToShreds

    Yes, you’d think that the studio would want its main protagonists to look more visually appealing, especially if they want to sell merchandise.

    • Funkybat

      They probably care more about them looking “badass” and thinking THAT will sell more merch than characters that look friendly and appealing. Even the more recent animated Turtles show had a gag where they mocked a brief appearance of the original animated Turtles, saying they looked like dorks. I suppose compared to the original Eastman/Laird comic, that’s true, but that is the version of the Turtles that America fell in love with. Everything since, including the puppet-faced ones in the original live-action movies are derivative of them.

  • Strong Enough

    i never got the appeal of TMNT. it’s a corny idea taken too far. and hollywood doesn’t want to give up on it

    • George_Cliff

      While I read and loved the original black and white comics I absolutely agree that it is baffling how hard Hollywood is wringing this particular IP.

  • Aleksandar Vujovic

    The weirdest thing about this design is the addition of a discernable nose.
    The lips I can handle. The nose? On a TURTLE? C’mon…. it makes them look like mammals.

  • Max C.

    Amid, the three characters you just compared these new turtles to are evil. Especially the middle one. Maybe they were trying to emphasise the “mutant” part, but those three pictures are meant to be unappealing to the eye. This is a fricking Nickelodeon movie with everyone’s favourite crime-fighting reptiles looking like a cross between Shrek and Cory in the House. And trust me, I’ve seen Rango and I love it but that’s besides the point.

  • Toonio

    The new TMNT is such a let down… For me is not a matter of an hyper grotesque trend but a misguided way to be “original” while everybody is doing the same.

    Many “artists” out there have their heads way up to their asses and believe they do “amazing” things in Zbrush thinking their are a Michelangelo of the digital era, but they are way off target of becoming anything remotely close to that.

    • Funkybat

      I think EVENTUALLY this trend will pass, hopefully by the end of this decade. Live action 3D character animation is in a phase akin to the “Rob Liefeld Era” of comics. This over-rendered, gross look will hopefully become more liability than asset in the near future.

  • Paul M

    I kinda liked it.

    • George_Cliff

      So what’s the deal with the Disqus down vote not working anymore?

      • Funkybat

        Must be taking a page from Viafoura, another commenting “template” system that offers no “thumbs-down” ability. Pretty lame if you ask me.

  • Platynews

    They look just over designed.

    The idea of giving each turtle a distinc look is a cool one … but they made they wear completly diferent things except for the bandana …

    So Donnie is the geek … so give him dorky googles … and other type of googles … and a backpack full of gadgets … and …

    and the facial structure looks diferent for each turtle … like Leo barely have a nose and from the leaked pics Donnie don’t have a nose AND lips

  • siskavard

    My fanart

  • vic

    Most likely they had someone figure out the actual bone structure and anatomy for the turtles. How the bones are structured determined how big the muscular would be.

  • Tony

    Compare these designs to the current Nickelodeon series, which are much simpler and more stylized. Due to budget constraints, the producers had to concentrate on strong design fundamentals to make up for the lack of detail, and the results are much more appealing. Sadly, the idea of ‘less is more’ is lost on most, if not all, of the producers of modern day blockbusters.

  • Marbles471

    “I think it’s only raising eyebrows because the TMNT fan-base is made up of overly-critical nerds who can’t stand seeing changes to their precious childhood icons.”

    No. Those designs are just unappealing regardless. While childhood nostalgia inevitably has a hold on me, I don’t count myself as a fan of the franchise so much. It’s free to move on without me. From a distance, I’ll derive mild enjoyment at reboots that seem fun (like the new Nick series) and only traces of lingering regret if I spot anything I think is grotesque (like this movie).
    But I know for sure—if I were a kid right now, I’d sure have no interest in a movie starting protagonists who look like they’d enjoy chewing off my head for a middday snack.

  • Tony

    haha, Michael Angelo.
    Hi, I’m Don Atello.

    • VariousVarieties

      In the early ’90s there was a UK children’s sitcom called “Mike and Angelo”. Thanks for reminding me of that.

      (I’ve just checked Wikipedia and apparently that programme ran until 2000! Wow.)

  • disqus_OSXEQoQr4N

    I’ve never watched a second of TMNT or read the comics. I’m a complete novice to the franchise.

    I still detest the designs.

  • Rob
  • Strong Enough

    yeah i know. frank miller satire

  • truteal

    THAT’S OPINION!
    NOT NEWS!

    -Head expands and eyeballs explode-

  • Jack Daniels Old Number 7

    you forgot the 4th guy….. Andy Serkis lol

  • BboiBlack

    Bay isn’t the director, just like Spielberg wasn’t the director on Transformers. What does it matter, the internet makes up it’s own rules.

    • Funkybat

      I didn’t realize Bay wasn’t the director until now, but once i looked up the guy who IS directing, I have even less hope for the film. His track record with Hollywood films is, shall we say, not good.

    • Ces

      Bay was pretty much the director until the backslash happened.. If you see the trailer, its just TRANSFORMERS but with TURTLES.
      even the goddamn sound effects are the same.

      They just swapped Optimus Prime for leonardo and Bumblebee for Michaelangelo.

      This is Bay all over again, except he’s under the “executive producer” to prevent backslash.

  • Kikokun

    Obligatory downhill sliding scene: check.

    • Funkybat

      Obligatory quick cuts/fades between half-second shots and quarter-second blackouts: check.

      I could go on, but suffice it to say that, design and director & producer aside, that trailer is a textbook example of the kind of cliched action movie trailers that have become common in the last 8/10 years.

  • iamsam

    The Turtle’s heads look like crap. The body I can deal with although I think they could have played around with size, girth, etc on each of them. The face looks like crap though. Why do these dumb execs and directors mess with a good thing? IF they know people are purists why not stick to that and add some cool factor to it and stick to the most accepted portrayal. We have already seen them in live action and they looked just fine that way.

  • docmagnus

    It feels like Bay and Liebesman are going in the wrong direction. The Ninja Turtles started out as a parody of what was popular during the ‘eighties and then got turned into a Saturday morning cartoon. The franchise doesn’t IMO warrant the same grim-and-gritty treatment as say Batman or even Transformers. There’s this campy, silly quality to the Heroes in a Half-Shell–they’re talking ninja turtles who live in a sewer and fight crime, for Pete’s sake!–and while that feeling is hardly unusual for the superhero genre, with most other heroes a darker interpretation doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.

  • Funkybat

    That point, about “level of detail” and design decisions, is why The incredibles worked so perfectly on a visual level. That was the first Pixar film with humans as the main characters, and there were a lot of concerns that we’d get grotesque or even merely creepy people like the early versions of Andy and his mother, or the humans in the Shrek movies. Lasseter, Bird and company knew the limits of the technology, but more importantly knew that even if it were UNlimited, that doesn’t mean you throw everything at the wall and hit “render.” The minimalist shapes and textures worked perfectly, not only for a comic-book inspired story, but for cartoon humans period. I frankly have yet to see anything surpass that movie when it comes to 3D cartoon humans. These live action/CG hybrid directors can’t take quite as stylized approach to their CG characters, but by God, they could learn a lot about “less is more” from the work of Pixar and Disney features in the 3D character design area.

    • Taco

      I do concur with all of this. Not only could they learn that less is more, but that design and art is about choices and not simply going CTRL+C & CTRL+V with photographs and other real life footage when making an animated Creature or VFX. While Photographs and real footage can help to inform your choices, they shouldn’t necessarily become your choices by default.

      Well said Mr Funkybat, *Hat Tip*

  • Funkybat

    They look like Barry Bonds after his roid binge. They should call this movie “Hyper-Grotesque Accelerated-Age Turtles.”

  • Funkybat

    Well, he might have been a better choice than Michael Bay, who is the actual person chosen to produce this. Both of them have a few good and many, many terrible movies under their belts, so it probably would be a toss-up.

  • Funkybat

    Only the “classic TMNT” versions of the nose/mouth work for me. Anything else, even the mildly improved ones, look terrible.