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Like video games, will movies be updated soon?

The fur is invasive, the nose wet, the look sometimes aggressive or muddy. You would think a werewolf with his third glass of vodka, but no, it is actually Sonic, the nice blue hedgehog of Sega, reinvented for his cinematographic adaptation Sonic, the movie, directed by Jeff Fowler. Or at the very least, the first version of the character who, presented in a trailer, sparked the ire of fans on social networks – and the activation of a rescue plan unprecedented in the industry.

Fighting: in three months, and when the shooting was finished, the studios in charge of special effects had to completely redesign the hedgehog, reshape it in 3D, and integrate its new version into the already existing plans. An unprecedented sleight of hand, the result of which hits theaters on Wednesday 12 February in France.

Should we see it as the beginning of a new era? Sonic, the movie in any case is not an isolated case. In December 2019, the 3D special effects of the musical Cats, deemed sloppy, had even been surreptitiously relifted after its theatrical release. The latter could download the refined version on a satellite server, relates The Hollywood Reporter.

The magic wand of IT

Omnipresence of digital special effects, digital distribution … and if the future of cinema was to follow the path cleared by video games, that of a cultural object now evolving, and no longer set in stone? There is only one thing needed, or almost: to modify elements in synthetic image made up of 3D computer models, to recalculate the whole, without needing to touch the scenario or the acting.

In this area, the know-how is the same in both industries, explains Gilles Langourieux, president of Virtuos, giant of digital subcontracting, who worked on the latest Star Wars, in game as in cinema: “A 3D spaceship in a movie is just like a video game. There are just more polygons, but it's the same technology. ” One of the reasons why Ubisoft, a giant in the sector, appears in the credits of Star Wars IX.

Rey’s sands ship, the heroine of the latest “Star Wars” trilogy, was created using computer technology by a video game company. VIRTUOS

This rapprochement is only accelerating: less expensive and more controlled than at its inception, the use of digital effects has now become standardized in the cinema, and the use of expertise and software from video games is more and more frequent. All faster and cheaper than a decade ago.

George Lucas, isolated precursor

In this regard, the controller industry is almost two decades ahead. Hero's cat eyes in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker in 2001, with any postapocalyptic aesthetic of Borderlands in 2009, there was a long list of video game productions which, between their first trailer and their release, returned their shirts, or at least their designs, to satisfy their audience.

In cinema, the practice of digital facelift on a work already released is much rarer. It has long been reserved for re-releases of science fiction classics, such as Red Dwarf, Star Trek, or, of course, the first trilogy Star Wars in the 1990s, with its replacements of scenery or additions of extraterrestrials in computer generated versions, like Jabba the Hut in A new hope, twenty years after its release.

The approach was different, however. “It was out of obsession to update its universes through the available technologies. George Lucas was less in retouching than in a logic of transposition from analog to digital “, reframes Selim Krichane, doctor of cinematographic and video game studies at the University of Lausanne.

In the case of Sonic, the movie, the reason is rather economic and cultural, estimates the Swiss researcher. “It has to do with audience expectations and the potential weight of fan communities, which can impact the film's bottom line. “

A “patch” for the special effects of “Cats”

In the video game world, late retouching has even become so frequent that it is common for titles to appear on the market, not quite finished. If the video game is a precursor, it is for its own reasons, believes Selim Krichane:

“A game provides an infinite number of routes or possibilities, you can't master it from start to finish. If we add the neoliberal logics of pressure on teams, workloads and economic cuts, which make companies consider first players as testers, there is a logic to this system of perpetual updating. “

The synergies linked to digital – and in particular the IT post-production work – nevertheless brought the two industries closer together. “I finished yesterday at 8 am after 36 hours of work straight”, explained to Variety the director of Cats, Tom Hooker, the day of his presentation to the public, without having seen the final result himself. And to specify: “Those attending the premiere will be the first to see the film, and it is truly a first! ” Actually transforming spectators into beta testers – in this case, several errors were identified by them, including an actress hand left intact instead of having been “feline”, before reliffting.

However, the seventh art remains rather protected from all-round remodeling. “It’s surprising that on a hyperconnected platform like Netflix, the vast majority of content is static, says Selim Krichane. There is a habit of the fixity of the film object, or series, which seems to prevail, even if the multiple versions, censorship, etc., are in fact very old logics in cinema. ”

The only notable exception, Netflix has took of the suicide scene of his hit series overnight 13 Reasons Why, an update permitted by its online distribution. But this is an isolated case so far. “It would take sufficient economic logic to justify an update system, says Selim Krichane. It would have to be profitable for it to spread. ” From this point of view, the results of the film Sonic will be carefully scrutinized.

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