This image released by Paramount Pictures shows

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows

A look at the digital and divisive redesign of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the past two years, inside the high-tech sanctuary of Industrial Light and Magic, the man who built a virtual virgin jungle for the last Indiana Jones movie and conjured 30-metre-tall aliens for War of the Worlds has been confronting his most difficult task yet: creating a digital version of the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that could realistically interact on screen with Megan Fox.

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the past two years, inside the high-tech sanctuary of Industrial Light and Magic, the man who built a virtual virgin jungle for the last Indiana Jones movie and conjured 30-metre-tall aliens for War of the Worlds has been confronting his most difficult task yet: creating a digital version of the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that could realistically interact on screen with Megan Fox.

On this assignment, Pablo Helman needed more than just turtle power.

“For me, in the 19 years that I’ve been at ILM, this is one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on,” the visual effects supervisor said in a recent interview at his office. “Technologically, it’s very difficult to capture someone’s performance, put it on a character and make it believable. In this case, we had to design a way to combine performances that were taken at many different times.”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the live-action reimagining of the 30-year-old comic book franchise in theatres Friday, features a completely computerized version of the four sewer-dwelling superheroes, a take more akin to Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films or Caesar from the recent Planet of the Apes movies than the rubbery renditions from the 1990s live-action Turtles films.

The revitalized reptiles were fashioned at ILM by blending computer-generated imagery with several motion-capture performances by four actors. It’s a radical departure from the original ’90s film trilogy, when Jim Henson’s Creature Shop crafted puppety suits for actors playing the half-shell heroes.

For the reboot, the performers physically portraying each Ninja Turtle donned skintight grey getups and shell-shaped backpacks, while helmets equipped with cameras captured their facial expressions. The actors’ bodies were replaced on screen by their counterparts — massive talking turtles who know kung fu — and their facial expressions were grafted onto the Ninja Turtles’ green noggins.

Despite the effort to construct Ninja Turtles for the digital age, die-hard fans didn’t initially deem the makeover of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello totally tubular. Instead, many were shell-shocked to see in early teasers and trailers that the filmmakers added nostrils and lips to the turtles’ faces, a different anatomy than the one from the previous comics, cartoons, toys and films.

“This whole gritty, doofy, straight-out-of-’Avatar’ look is not working for the iconic cartoon turtles,” Jason Schreier wrote on the blog Kotaku last May. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has never exactly been cool — Leonardo and crew were always dorky and cheesy in a loveable sort of way — but they have never had ridiculous zombie nostrils and gaping mouths like this before. It sure looks dumb.”

Helman defends the humanlike faces because it allows the computer-generated characters, who he said are onscreen for about two-thirds of the movie, to be more expressive.

“You’re never going to please everybody because what you’re fighting is that magical moment when, in this case, someone first discovered the Ninja Turtles,” said the Academy Award-nominated visual effects guru. “It’s not possible to convince someone that these are the Ninja Turtles they fell in love with 30 years ago. The idea is that you have to take the original intent and make it your own.”

Ninja Turtles director Jonathan Liebesman noted that producer Michael Bay, the man responsible for bringing Transformers to life, originally laid out three commandments for the overhaul of the Ninja Turtles: they should be charming, intimidating and individually recognizable — not just to kids but also their mothers. Liebesman believes the filmmakers accomplished their mission.

“I feel like once people see the movie, they will understand why we made these decisions,” said the Wrath of the Titans and Battle: Los Angeles director. “We’re trying to make them more lifelike and realistic. I don’t think it sacrifices anything fans love, once they go and see the movie. I think hating on design is just a part of fandom, which is fine. There’s a lot of value to what fans have to say.”

It’s not the first backlash that Bay and the team at his Platinum Dunes production company, which is producing Ninja Turtles, have experienced. When the filmmaker originally unveiled his computer-generated interpretation of the Transformers, hardcore fans were enraged that Bay added flames to Optimus Prime’s paint job. The film franchise went on to make more than $3.5 billion.

“You can’t win, so we’ve just tried to present the best version of what we’re doing,” said Ninja Turtles producer Brad Fuller, who previously worked on The Purge films. “The movie speaks for itself. I wonder if all the discourse about the film is a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know if there’s actually a way that you can determine whether it’s good or bad.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

More than 120,000 Albertans have signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first two days of appointment bookings. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta Health Services apologizes after seniors struggle to book vaccine appointments

The CEO and president of Alberta Health Services is apologizing after seniors… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Kyle Moore, 26, will be a houseguest on Season 9 of Big Brother Canada. (Photo courtesy Big Brother Canada)
Red Deer man will be a houseguest on Big Brother Canada

A Red Deer man will be a houseguest on the upcoming season… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mason Ward battles with a Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward during the WHL Central Division season opener. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers come back to spoil Red Deer Rebels home opener

It’s been nearly 345 days since the Red Deer Rebels last played… Continue reading

Students walk into Hunting Hills High School, which is one of the Red Deer Public Schools with solar panels on its roof. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school was placed in lockdown following potential threat

Hunting Hills High School was placed in a lockdown Friday after Red… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

OTTAWA — A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Wetaskiwin RCMP say a Maskwacis man died after he was struck by a vehicle. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan used handful of times; Mounties review their role

REGINA — A first-of-its-kind law in Canada meant to warn those at… Continue reading

The Magpie river in Quebec is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Boreal River MANDATORY CREDIT
Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement

MONTREAL — With its kilometres of rapids and deep blue waters winding… Continue reading

Thorough sanding of a table top is usually the first step to renewing a finish. Wax contaminants can sometimes still remain on a surface like this after sanding. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a rag gets rid of these contaminants without leaving a residue behind. (Photo by Steve Maxwell)
Houseworks: Fixing wood finishes

Q: How can I stop polyurethane from beading up on a mahogany… Continue reading

Need a knife? There are knives of all shapes and sizes at The Kitchen Store.
Hints from Heloise: Finding a good set of kitchen knives

Dear Readers: A good set of knives in the kitchen is a… Continue reading

Runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu speaks to the media at the opening news conference at the Canadian Track and Field Championships Thursday, July 25, 2019 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

Most Read