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Some Ramblings - The Adventures of TinTin
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

For an adventure-some yarn, the action in TinTin comics has always been pretty clean, almost to the point of being polite. It had villains, but nary any cruelty; dealt with big ideas, but sans any topicality. That's the key for the longevity and the continued patronage of the escapades of the impish reporter that it never lost its childish charm and adolescent innocence. Add to that the frames were just too neat to look at thanks in large parts to the choice of the font. To understand the true artistry of Herge, its creator, flip through the pages to that part of the book that captured a snapshot of the action in one complete frame that filled up the entire page. The frame is a melee bursting with action with characters, minor and major, drawn from head to toe occupying every single centimeter of the space, yet without any chaos or confusion. And fittingly, there would be no dialog in that frame to distract from that endearing stillness. That's the draw of TinTin in a nutshell that it never cluttered the mind of the young reader with frame to frame action and never hurried through the action at the expense of clarity and beauty. Each adventure was drawn out at a leisurely pace over a length that easily dwarfed its competition. A healthy rivalry existed between the intrepid reporter in TinTin and the indomitable Gaul in Asterix, and though both sides had their own legions of passionate votaries, for an dispassionate observer, siding with TinTin was much easier because of the economy and the elegance of its action. And the only way to translate that 'clean-ness' of a 2" X 2" frame to the celluloid was the perfect choice of motion capture. Though 'Avatar' beat 'TinTin' in utilizing this technology to mitigate that weird lifelessness around the eyes that plagued the motion-captures, 'TinTin' can tout itself to be the first breakthrough feature to advertise motion capture as a viable alternative between full fledged animation and full scale live action.

Spielberg and his writers <i>got</i> TinTin, as the writing was as flowing, as the direction, unobtrusive. Right from the titles sequence (a tip of hat to his own 'Catch me if you can' titles) down to the exhilarating climax (a 6 minute uncut trapeze action act), Spielberg maintained the comic book tone consistently, together with a tight beginning and finish, with just a little slack in the middle. And not enough words to describe the beauty of those frames. The three usual pitfalls of computer animation, faithfully reproducing the textures of hair, fire and water, found a new accomplice in eyes, with motion capture. And this has been the chief reason (failure to create a likeness of a living entity because of the dead eyes) why the medium has failed to take off as a spinoff of animation. No such issues with 'TinTin' as the impossible was seemingly overcome, as Spielberg uses the technology splendidly to confidently dissolve into and out of the characters eyes (particularly, Captain Haddock's), staging pirate wars over rough seas with cannon fire exploding all around, capturing the wavy sand dunes of deserts and many such showcasing pieces. Enough to say that motion capture has finally arrived to provide extra ammunition to the already imaginative palette of computer animation.

The technical aspects aside, the script does a good job as the first picture in the franchise of introducing the characters without falling into the exposition trap. The period is a throwback to the times when machine guns rattled in a RAT-A-TAT-A-TAT fashion and characters were knocked down with breaking bottles over the heads. Mysteries were only skin deep and were merely excuses to land the characters in exotic locations, interacting with a multitude of colorful characters. Moving forward, the trick in keeping TinTin fresh is maintaining a light tone in tune with the comics (as against the common Hollywood misstep of exploring the roots and establishing the back story). And it helps to remember that TinTin is essentially a kiddie fare that kids take to for its harmless fun and adults look back upon as a fond remembrance.

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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