‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn’s’ Franken-Baby: When Visual Effects Go Horribly Awry

By  · Published on November 6th, 2013

Oh, Twilight. Just when it seemed we were free from the grip you had on pop culture, with your sexy vampires and sexy werewolves and so much insipid, dead-eyed romance, you find a way to claw back into the spotlight one final time: through the magic of DVD bonus features. And one bonus feature in particular manages to be truly, legitimately frightening – something strangely absent in a series of vampire movies.

Exclusive to Yahoo! is a glimpse at “Chuckesmee,” the unfortunately nicknamed and unfortunate-looking abomination that appears at the top of this article. You may remember (and if you don’t, be grateful) that the last two Twilights featured protagonist Bella (Kristen Stewart) giving birth to a soulless bundle of CGI that she dutifully raised until it became human(ish). Well, “Chuckesmee” (a portmanteau of the killer doll Chucky and the embarrassingly awful Twilight moniker Renesmee) was originally how Bella’s vampire progeny was to be portrayed in the films. Go ahead and watch the clip below to see just how unsettling this thing looks in motion.

But Chuckesmee is an odd duck. Not just because of how she, I’m assuming, would sneak into the actors’ homes and watch them while they slept, but because the folks behind Twilight – the same folks who cut every available corner when it came to story, acting, cinematography and every other aspect of filmmaking you could name – actually took the time and effort to try out a practical effect. It was a colossal failure, and a bone-headed move to begin with, considering that one needn’t waste time on puppets and CGI when real-live infants exist and are filmed on a regular basis. Yet there’s something admirable in the creation of that horrid little thing.

The same can’t be said for most of Twilight’s blockbuster colleagues. All but a few of the effects-laden flicks hitting theaters in the next few months look to be computer-driven affairs, including The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug; 47 Ronin; I, Frankenstein. The Hobbit is an especially grievous offender, considering that Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings films meshed the practical and the digital on a near-seamless level. Besides the obvious – trolls, Balrogs, and Orlando Bloom — CGI was used to fill in the crowds in those titanic battle sequences. Whereas all those hobbit-to-human size alterations were done with practical, forced-perspective sets, like the one in the video below:

The Hobbit trilogy scrapped this kind of practical wizardry, keeping the wizard but stranding him in an unforgiving ocean of green screen. For similar size-altering shots in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Ian McKellen could no longer perform alongside his fellow actors. Instead, he stood alone, dwarfed by endless green screens and acting alongside “13 photographs of the dwarves on top of stands with little lights – whoever’s talking flashes up.” He eventually broke down on set.

Even Iron Man is ditching his real-life costume. In an interview with ILM animation director Mark Chu, io9 discovered that “Robert Downey Jr. basically never wears the full Iron Man suit any more,” opting for a CGI Iron Man and wearing a few individual pieces of real plate armor (what’s referred to by Chu as a “football suit”) in a handful of scenes. At least Thor isn’t playing make-believe in his role as a make-believe superhero. Thor: The Dark World might not be out in the U.S., but as this sample of the film’s B-roll proves, comic book villain Kurse is alive and well, and most definitely a guy in a suit.

Going computer-crazy is just the trend nowadays. And it’s a shame, as all but most extraordinary CGI tends to age like milk. What looked absolutely seamless ten years ago now looks like Sharktopus, and God only knows how modern eyes will have adjusted to Sharktopus in another decade’s time. With luck this trend might reverse, but there isn’t too much evidence pointing in that direction (and if James Cameron gets his way, expecting everything from screenwriters to the craft service table to have a fine, digitally-rendered sheen). All that’s left to do is keep on the lookout for the rare film that mixes the best of both worlds. Something like The LEGO Movie– a little CGI here, a little stop-motion there; where well-meaning but horrific disasters like Chuckesmee are but a distant memory.

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