Evolving Animation: It's All in the Pixels

By and large, audiences say yes. "Shrek 2," released by Dreamworks, has been one of the year's big hits. And critics expect big things from "The Polar Express," in theaters later this month.

"The Polar Express," which looks remarkably like the paintings in Chris Van Allsburg's classic "Christmas Story," uses a different technology than Pixar's films. In it, Tom Hanks plays five roles.

To do it, he acted against a blank background, with 192 tiny infrared sensors glued to his face and the bodysuit he wore. A matrix of cameras recorded the sensors' movements, and used them to determine the movements of the computer-generated character Hanks was playing at the moment.

So when Hanks smiles, his character smiles and the laugh lines around his eyes move appropriately.

One would think computers make animation easier -- but animators say it's just the opposite. As computers advance, directors ask them to do more and more.

"Every film is dragged into the world kicking and screaming," said Pixar's Sayre, "with forceps."

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