Robocop and the General Case Against Digital Doubles


I had no real plans to ever watch the new Robocop remake. I was plenty happy with the original and nothing I was reading or hearing about the new one brought any interest to me. When I finally saw the trailer, I was a bit saddened. The casting looked pretty good. Unfortunately, everything else I saw sealed my commitment to never see it. The rang especially true when I saw the Robocop digital double hopping around like Spider-Man.

The digital double work in the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man movies looked great, and it worked largely BECAUSE it was Spider-Man. Unfortunately, so many movies try to copy this look and style and it just doesn’t fly. In fact, considering how old the Spider-Man movies are now, I am starting to think that digital double work is just getting worse and worse as time goes on.

Movies like Spider-Man 2, The Matrix: Reloaded and Blade II (not counting two shots which shall not be named) have some of the best digital double work ever done. Granted, in the Matrix, some shots are marred by improper cloth dynamics on Neo’s coat, but the Agent Smith and Trinity doubles are damn near perfect. In Blade II and Spidey 2 they even got the trench coats done well. These films are OLD in tech years (those are kind of like dog years). Yet, a modern, huge budget film like Man of Steel has horrible digital double work, nearly all of which comes across like the two shots which shall not be named in Blade II.

I was recently watching Spider-Man 3, a movie I have seen countless times, and I am still finding digital double shots I hadn’t noticed before. There is no such luck with Man of Steel, World War Z, The Hobbit and a couple of other recent movies. The doubles stand out, in a video game style, on first viewing. Actually, some of the E3 2013 trailers have better character work.

One of the best digital double shots ever done is in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, when Legolas jumps onto a horse. I watch that shot over and over and over and I STILL can’t see it. The only give away is in the DVD extra features when they show the wireframes. Sadly, the new Hobbit movies don’t stand up nearly as well on the “invisibility” of their digital doubles.

Considering the budgets of some of these recent films, I am more than willing to chalk this up to studios underbidding or outrageous production schedules. We all know the technology exists to make digital doubles perfect today. The galleries in places like this or Zbrush Central show that. Also not all recent movies fit the pattern. The Avengers has flawless digital double work. This means there is another factor that is causing the digital double work in a host of recent films to fall apart. Either way, I am happily awaiting the day when I watch a VFX heavy movie and, only on the tenth viewing, catch a digital double shot.


What’s weird is that some of the examples you’re citing as the best digital doubles you’ve seen are ones I’d list as, by far, the worst. Legolas jumping onto the horse? Seriously? Agent Smith in the Matrix Reloaded? I couldn’t stop laughing over how dreadful those looked; they looked so fake that it was actually comical. To be fair though, considering the age of these films, I don’t expect them to have flawless work.

I bet you’re seeing loads of digital doubles in films all the time and not even realising it. Hell, even some dramas and rom coms have digi double work these days. I’ve lost count of the number of digi doubles I’ve worked on in my career - they’re used far, far more frequently than most people are aware.


Well I haven’t watched the film yet, however I have seen online articles that show the digital double work done and it looks amazing. Have you actually looked at what the work was actually done for the film before commenting teruchan? You do know that some of the close up shots of Robocop were all CG and other shots where they had to full CG the suit change it’s appearance because the real suit didn’t look right in the shot.


I have to agree with Leigh. The digital double work on LoTR was horrible especially the Legolas shot. I couldn’t believe some of the digital double that made it through to fianl. The Matrix stuff just looked like a videogame the whole time.


Bait-and-switch? It works best when you don’t even know its there.
For me DDs work best when there is a lot of other action going on to distract the eye. Then its usually to protect the actor from the big/bad explosion, etc.

As for the Matrix-the Agent Smith also had human stand-ins ‘mixed in’ some of those shots-which may not have looked like Hugo Weaving from the front-but viewed with the face obscured - ‘close enough’ and they moved as ‘real’ as the stand-ins they were. Then some DDs mixed in almost out of sight. :smiley:

I think DDs like Spiderman where the viewer can really focus on the digital character it really does start to look fake and video gamey. For me Spiderman suffers this as much as any of them. Hard to do better-I don’t doubt it. But the perfect solution?-not quite there for me yet. If I have a lot of time to study a digital character’s movement-usually because its doing something ‘super human’ as well then the illusion starts to spoil.

Bait-and-switch me and I’m oblivious.


I think it’s actually hard not to notice a digital double, even if it’s done well. Since usually they are used in situations where a real human can’t do something. Like in Robocop it’s because he can’t fit into that armor and they want him to look like his body is replaced with a robot rather than something that could reasonably be built as a costume.

Recently I was going looking at the Star Wars prequels and while of course there’s lots of digital double work, there’s several parts where they had to switch out limbs and stuff like that if they changed a shot framing or to change what they were doing, and those things you never notice.


That’s the last word on this subject actually. It’s a phantom topic because you cannot catch every instance of it happening. :stuck_out_tongue:


I agree with Leigh and the others, but would like to add one thing:

You do realize that none of the male Kryptonians have real armor, that all of it is CG in every single shot? Only Faora has a practical suit in the entire movie.


Yeah, very odd pick of examples.
I mean, I love Tippett, and Blade II was a fun movie, done on the cheap, and ahead of its time, but come on, the digi doubles were almost intentionally over the top. From the impossible wall of light scene to the patently obvious switcheroos between digital and footage there was not a seamless one in sight.

It kind of take away from the case when BII is brought up as convincing doubles and Man of Steel as not :slight_smile:

Spiderman is a category of its own I think, the moment it’s a fully suited character with no need to match a real actor and not a chip of skin in sight the set of challenges is so overwhelmingly different it doesn’t even register in the same category.
Incidentally the Doc Oc double in the second one was staggeringly good back then, and still holds up more than alright now.


If this were a film about a robot/alien/clone invasion, this is exactly the sort of statement that would reveal you aren’t really human.


The Rock has been a CGI actor for years. He’s actually not real.
No seriously , there is so much CG you never see these days they can’t even make a drama without it anymore. Digital Doubles are pretty great when they are not in your face with it.
-I really have nothing more to add, just wanted to make a Rock joke.


I LOL’d. :wink: Yeah, that’s a terrible example.

And Raff kind of hit it on the head in regards to Spiderman. One thing that’s always bugged me (huh!) about him is that there is such a gaping chasm of disconnect between the actor and the DD. When he’s the actor, he is obviously limited by how a human moves and acts, but his DD acrobatics defy all of the mechanical limitations of the human body. That wouldn’t be so bad if the actor version had some weirdly flexible traits in his normal walking/movement/gesturing, but it doesn’t. Think about in The Fly when he was trying to hide his fly traits (yeah, it’s pre-DD, but just an example). He shuffled and dragged and lumbered around when he tried to appear to still be human. It just made more sense. Spiderman’s movie character is like switching back and forth from a Lego figure to a Stretch Armstrong toy.


That makes me consider another issue. I have seen, heard and read plenty of praise heaped on the LOTR and Matrix sequels digital double work (though granted at the time). Here, however there is a lot of disagreement. This begs the question. If the artists and filmmakers don’t agree on what makes a digital double “work” or look right, is it possible they are sending some of this work out the door believing it is great?

I generally don’t watch dramas and rom coms but, aside form obvious crowd scene stuff, I would love to know how digital doubles are being used in those films.

^^THIS!!^^ We all know there is plenty of invisible digital double work out there. Star Wars is a great example where I had no idea until watching the special features. As Leigh said, if “…you’re seeing loads of digital doubles in films all the time and not even realising it.” Doesn’t that leave no excuse for those that look like video games or stick out like a sore thumb?


The first time I saw clips of the ‘burly brawl’ from RELOADED I was certain they were all temp shots, because they couldn’t think they could get away with the plasticky skins on these guys. Yet those were finals!

I thought it showed bravado AND stupidity that what I think was called an image based rendering system, which they used for backgrounds in the first one (which didn’t bear close scrutiny) is what they used for foregrounds in the sequels (which certainly didn’t come close to bearing scrutiny.) I think it is something akin to like what Terry Gilliam first said about EMPIRE vs STAR WARS; these guys saw how well bluescreen worked against space backgrounds and just expected it all to work against white equally well, which was a huge mistake, since you either wound up with matte lines everywhere or having to make weaker mattes that allowed bleedthrough.

Even if the MATRIX sequels had featured solid writing, they’d’ve been undercut horribly by the lack of visual credibility; still can’t believe how disappointing they were on most all fronts.

I haven’t seen the new ROBO but did talk to the DP and VFX super for an upcoming article (not yet in print or online) for HD VIDEO PRO magazine. They seemed to think that the look of the show seriously reflected a captured in-camera feel, so I’m guessing they thought the doubles were much better than you did. The one shot that I thought was awesome in the trailer, when ROBO (in blue metal, not black) jumps off a structure and drops past camera, only to rise up full frame, was a switch off, with the CG robo only used till it dropped out of frame, with the live-action robo replacing him for the standing up. I thought it looked good at 720p anyway.


I thought it looked just okay. Seems a little rubbery, kind of like Spiderman where they try to add too much articulation, then he looks much stiffer in the suit. But one thing’s for sure - they definitely get a better rendering match when they have a suited character on set to use as a color and lighting guide.


Yeah that to me was the main issue with the sequels in-terms of vfx. The most atrocious double work other than the burly brawl (especially the part where Neo is swinging that pipe around) was the one where the agents are jumping on the cars on the highway. I thought to myself, couldn’t they just have shot that in greenscreen or something, this looks awful. That was while I was watching the movie for the first time. Disappointing to say the least because the first was pitch perfect from start to finish.


I had intentionally been holding back from mentioning the Alfred Molina CG double all this time (even if I pull out obvious examples like TRON Legacy) just to see which guy would pick up on that.

The fact the Molina Digi Double comes up so rarely shows you how good that one was. :wink:


Terence’s case against digital doubles involves praising the worst examples of digital doubles as being the best, and demonstrating that the best digital double work is so good he can’t even tell it’s been done.

Can we say “case dismissed”?

As I understand it, there is at least some additional work involved bringing that sculpt to life. Oh, and then there’s the trifling bit of compositing it into footage. :rolleyes:


Wait! … The male Kryptonian Armor/costumes were all CG? aside from the obvious CG animated elements; I never would have guessed.

Add Arnie to the list from … I don’t even recall the name of the crappy Terminator movie, Salvation?


Convincing models are important, but movement is so much more important it turns all that model work into 1% of the finished product.

The most irritating thing about the doubles in the Matrix sequels is all the technology involved to shade them and capture the performances (and all the trash talk Gaeta engaged in), to end up with

A. horrible unrealistic movement, especially that car jump shot, and severely

B. models that don’t actually look like the actors, but some weird clone/relative. Traditional stunt doubles could look more convincingly like the actor than those things did.

Also TRON Legacy is another fantastic example of a lot of work done to end up with a COMPLETELY unconvincing end result. Never in a single shot of that movie did it ever not look like a CG character, at least to me. Stills, maybe. Motion? Not even once. Meanwhile they’re doing top notch work on the entire rest of the movie and it adds up to everyone staring at the unsuccessful part.

I feel like the CG Spidey in the next movie is starting to approach the goal, with the thin suit sliding over the surface and actually looking like fabric for once, but they’re still then doing so many over the top CG camera moves and environments, it doesn’t matter at all if he looks convincing or not.

Spidey 4/1 really almost seemed like a step backwards from Spidey 2, 3 was also very spotty in comparison to 2, but the first reboot, I don’t know if it was the compositing, design issues (Croc was awful), or camera choices (like all the impossible angles in the high school fight), or absurd movement, but it all added up to a very CG look.

I don’t know if the shot was sped up in the RoboCop trailer but it looked pretty fake to me from a motion standpoint. The behind-the-scenes stuff looks like pretty solid efforts though.

Anyway yes, there are tons of digi doubles and especially head replacements these days that actually DO go totally unnoticed and deserve all the real credit.

I think it’s also best when they don’t publicize anything ahead of time, then you’re not sitting there picking at it right away. Davy Jones benefitted from that but is also still one of the best of all time, even if not a “real person”.