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Why am I allergic to Captain America?
January 1, 2014 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I finally got around to watching the first Captain America movie over the weekend. I had a bad reaction to pre-metamorphosis Steve Rogers, and would like to know why.

[I'm assuming this doesn't count as SPOILERS.] At the beginning of Captain America we see shrimpy Steve Rogers trying to get into the Army. This is accomplished by doing something computer-y to put Chris Evans's head on the body of a much smaller person.

For some reason this effect bothered me, very much. Intellectually I know it's just it's just CGI but there was something about seeing the head of a person who I know is quite tall and fit on the head of a much smaller person that made me climb the walls.

My question is: does anyone know whether there's a term for this sort of thing? Does it qualify as the uncanny valley or something else? Or am I just nuts?
posted by orrnyereg to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I had no familiarity with Chris Evans and didn't experience the effect you describe.

I don't know if there's a term for it, but, yeah, in situations where I knew CGI of that nature was happening, I experienced it, too. Uncanny Valley works for me.

I see this as being along the lines of any special effect you can tell is obviously fake. In this particular case, you can tell it's fake because you already know what Chris Evans' physique is like.
posted by Sara C. at 1:54 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]

My not so scientific sample group of two (including myself) found that same sequence terribly unnerving and wrong for the very reasons you mention, and talked about how uncanny valley it was. I'd be curious to see if anyone else has another word for it.
posted by harujion at 1:58 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

It wasn't just a straight composite job -- it was actually a very complicated multi-factorial process. It's possible you were reacting to any one of the techniques they were using, like the skin re-graining or the facial re-sculpting.
posted by KathrynT at 2:06 PM on January 1 [5 favorites]

Did you find yourself reacting the same way to Jake in Avatar? His muscle-withered legs look pretty thin, though mostly clad in long trousers.
posted by tilde at 2:16 PM on January 1

This is the very definition of the Uncanny Valley. Most of the shots were actually frame-by-frame distortions of the actor's real body, like a 2d photoshop job (which I find mindboggling as a 3d person!). No matter how good it is, in motion the morph is never going to be perfect so there will be an almost-but-not-quite imperceptible rubberiness to the anatomy. It's that gap between obviously cg and the real that is the Valley.

Also, in the shots where the head is comped there is something a bit stiff and pose-to-posey about the performance. Both actors trying to choreograph their bodies to do exactly the same thing, and the head is also being re-adjusted in post to match it up. Your mind, which is exquisitely attuned to extremely subtle body language, is reading something 'off' about the way this human is moving.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:19 PM on January 1 [15 favorites]

I had a similar reaction to the "young" Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, although I won't classify it as revulsion exactly.
posted by tamitang at 2:23 PM on January 1

Addendum: in visual effects, a photoreal human (in closeup! with no clothes! for seconds at a time!) is the most difficult challenge. Nearly every frame of a big Hollywood feature these days will have something done to it, but the eye will pass over pretty egregious stuff in a set or even an animal. But there's large sections of our brains devoted to reading specifically human behaviour and health cues at extremely subtle and subconscious levels; not only do we notice 'off' humans more, it bothers us more than a dust haze not being exactly the right colour or whatever. Your subconscious is pinging, 'alert! alert! this person is sick/not of our tribe/hiding something!'
posted by Erasmouse at 2:31 PM on January 1 [14 favorites]

I had the same problem with the hobbits in the Tolkien movies. Even though I could deal with wizards and talking trees or whatever, the not-quite-right people was always a constant nagging ootchiness for me in that and in Captain America.
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]

Thanks everybody--it's a relief to know I'm not the only one. Sara C., I actually saw The Avengers before Captain America, which is why I already knew Chris Evans is a hoss. That said, I didn't realize what a complicated process it was. Everybody go read KathrynT's article!
posted by orrnyereg at 3:47 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

I asked a similar question about icky feelings I get when I watch anime (this was gosh six years ago now but i still feel this way) and I really liked this answer which had some good names for general queasiness brought on by unexpected things like movie scenes or styles. Might help.
posted by sweetkid at 5:45 PM on January 1

There are some really good behind-the-scenes video clips about this; it apparently took FOREVER, and the work on the actors' parts was pretty boggling. If you watch the movie again, watch for the bartender in the scene where Steve Rogers asks the group of men to go back and fight as his team - that little scrawny guy is the body actor for pre-serum Steve Rogers.
posted by lemniskate at 7:19 PM on January 1

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