CGI UK

Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet. Apparently.

Wayyyyyaaagggghhhhhh. 8-part Spitting Image-esque series, coming in January to ITV – and done completely as CGI.

Let’s get one thing straight first – for all we know, the scripts could end up being rather good. Head writer is ex-Spitting Image head writer Henry Naylor (no relation), and let’s hope he comes up with the goods.

But take a look at that picture. (Taken from this Daily Mail article, which is hilarious if only for the comments at the bottom.) Yes, it’s only a pre-production picture. Yes, it probably isn’t what would be the final render will be like (and the second picture in the Daily Mail article makes this even more obvious). But it’s not about the level of detail – although I haven’t got much hopes for that either in the finished production – it’s about the design. And those character designs are fucking appalling.

That picture is supposed to be of Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet. Clue: you’re not supposed to need a caption in order to figure out who they are. As my other half said: “It’s about as far away from them as you can get, without making them a different race.” Especially compared to the genius of Spitting Image‘s caricatures, where you knew who the person was INSTANTLY. They were real works of art. That picture is just atrocious in every possible way.

And as for the animation itself? I predict it’s going to be fucking terrible. They’re looking for a fast turnaround so they can do topical stuff – and you CANNOT DO CGI as a fast turnaround. CGI animation can be wonderful – just look at Pixar – but it needs time taken on it to look good. This is going to be one hell of an ugly show – and even if the scripts are any good, it’ll almost certainly render it unwatchable for me.

I like the following quote, though:

Controller of ITV Productions and executive producer Saurabh Kakkar told Broadcast: “The technology now is of such quality that we aren’t restricted – we can go anywhere and tackle most people and subjects.”

What – you mean like Spitting Image could, back in 1984? WOW!

The really sad thing is the following:

ITV director of entertainment Paul Jackson had been keen to bring the series back but last year’s plan was scuppered because special featured new characters such as Ant and Dec – a move which was against the wishes of one of the show’s creators Roger Law, who owns the rights to the brand.

Presuming this is true (and Broadcast are usually on the mark), then it’s very sad – partly because it seems an odd thing for Roger Law to get sniffy about. Spitting Image lampooned celebrity for most of its lifespan, and Ant and Dec are perfectly legitimate targets. What Law should have done is made sure that if they were going to do Ant and Dec puppets, then it was sufficiently vicious – not thrown a strop about it. It could have been a chance to do something truly subversive, and mock the main stars of the channel.

It’s all such a shame, because at its height, Spitting Image was one of the best shows that ITV ever broadcast. And what makes me dread this so much is that even when Spitting Image completely lost its way at the script level – and the repeat of the last ever episode after Best Ever Spitting Image last year proved this – the show was still gorgeously produced. It’s one of the best made, most visually interesting series ITV ever did. For this to be replaced with insipid rushed CGI… it epitomises everything that is currently wrong with the channel. If they failed to get Law back on board, then they should have done a different live action take on the idea – or just not bothered, and spent the money on some other comedy.

Still, I’m prepared to admit it if I’m wrong. Ask me again in January – if the creators produce something utterly wonderful, then I’ll happily admit I was talking presumptuous horseshit. But frankly, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

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25 Responses to CGI UK

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  1. The one on the rigt looks like Portia De Rossi

  2. Also the one on the right looks like Portia De Rossi

  3. I was getting quite excited about this until I read this article. Thanks a friggin’ lot, Hoare.

  4. Maybe it’s better this way, Sean. Just think–you could have had to wait for your hopes to be dashed until you actually watched it. This helps you build a healthy cynicism about it before you choose to subject yourself to it.

    Also: Sweet zombie Jesus on a pogo stick, the caricatures in that picture are ugly. If anyone ever gets the bright idea to rip off this show concept for U.S. consumption, I can only hope the thie–the creator picks a medium or a style a little less blatantly offensive to the eyes.

  5. G&T Admin

    I actually feel really guilty writing articles like this, because I feel I should wait until I’ve seen the show. It feels below the belt to attack a show when it’s in pre-production, and hasn’t even aired yet. But I just can’t see a show which requires rushed CGI working, and those character designs don’t inspire confidence in the slightest.

    Interestingly, Spitting Image was also accused of ugly character design in its early days, by a number of newspapers. To be fair, the character designs were harsher in the early days, but then I really like that. They’re a million miles away from the utter trash pictured here.

  6. G&T Admin

    I remember the Ant and Dec thing being weird at the time. There was a disclaimer on-screen saying that the puppets were made by ITV, and had nothing to do with Fluck and Law. Strange. I think it was the physical quality of the puppets – they looked exactly like the 2DTV versions of Ant and Dec – that caused trouble, rather than the script or voice characterisation.

    You should clearly have used the headline “Naylor to write new Spitting Image series” for this article.

  7. I hate to say it but I did actually recognise who the 2 people were meant to be when i saw the photo. I don’t think that’s because there is a particular likeness however but more because there aren’t that many British movie stars who could have been appearing on the red carpet.

    The problem I have with using C.G.I. is that it takes away a lot of the human feel of a show. This happened I guess on Flushed Away. Now that film had some great writers working on it but received a lukewarm response. The reason I think is that when they see a bunch of computer graphics people feel less involved with the story. I know that there are exceptions to this but in general i don’t think that C.G.I. should be used just for the sake of it.

  8. To keep it topical and lampoon the news of the moment, South Park takes a week to make on a computer, although the graphics themselves are fairly simple cardboard cutout lookalikes obviously, and it’s hardly the same as the quality they want to produce here. I really can’t see it happening now. Unless of course they resort to “hilarious” Posh and Becks sketches that don’t really require any topicality (is that a word?)

    I don’t mind the ugliness of the characters – they kind of need to be ugly – but they at least need to look like them. I remember being seriously freaked out when I was a kid by Margaret Thatcher’s doppleganger.

    I just keep getting this horrible feeling that it’s going to end up like Dead Ringers. Which is topical but, y’know, just not good in any way at all.

  9. G&T Admin

    I’m interested in why they decided to go down the CGI route.

    Do they think artistically it’s the right decision? Is it money-related? Or do they fear legal threats if they do a live action series? I can’t see how you can copyright the idea of a topical puppet show…

  10. G&T Admin

    Yeah, I nearly mentioned the South Park thing, Sean – but didn’t, for exactly the reasons you mention. It’s an entirely different beast, full 3D animation.

    The ugliness of the characters is a difficult thing to pin down. On one level, Spitting Image‘s characters are ugly – and on another, they’re absolutely beautiful pieces of work. That picture is just ugly in every possible level, unfortunately.

  11. Bobbyllew style linear TV rant begins now:

    ITV really are depressingly dull these days. The thought of ITV doing any sort of intelligent political satire or commentary feels wrong. They should stick to soaps and celebrity (ie, the cast of Coronation Street) song contests. That’s what chavs and old people enjoy, isn’t it?

  12. I’m glad that they decided not to bring Spitting Image back in the end though. As already mentioned, the series did go downhill fast towards the end and to bring it back with a completely different writing team might have been disastrous and ruined the reputation that it currently has.

  13. G&T Admin

    It’s interesting to note that the less good programmes ITV make, the worse the situation has got for them. I’m still hopeful that Grade can turn them round, at least a bit. I really hope, anyway.

    Don’t get me started on my rant about the loss of regionality, though…

    I?m glad that they decided not to bring Spitting Image back in the end though. As already mentioned, the series did go downhill fast towards the end and to bring it back with a completely different writing team might have been disastrous and ruined the reputation that it currently has.

    I couldn’t disagree more, I’m afraid. Spitting Image is *such* a brilliant format, with endless potential for material. I think it would have been worth the chance to put together a great team again, and have another go.

    And if it had failed, it wouldn’t have affected my memories of the old programme. I think most people realise that it lost its way by the end anyway – I don’t think anyone looks back on it with rose-tinted specs and think it was 100% gold, never to be touched again.

  14. One of the reasons, aside from the puppets, why it was such a big success though is that Spitting Image was nailing targets that hadn’t been nailed up to that point. Now in the 80s it was an adventurous thing to be so aggressive about the Royal family or politicians but now everybody is doing it. Unless you had the absolute best satirists in the country working on the show, then it would just seem like any other show. I don’t think that the puppets would be enough to carry it through.

  15. Don?t get me started on my rant about the loss of regionality, though?

    What’s this about regionality?

  16. G&T Admin

    That’s the best thing you’ve ever posted here.

  17. G&T Admin

    >I hate to say it but I did actually recognise who the 2 people were meant to be when i saw the photo. I don?t think that?s because there is a particular likeness however but more because there aren?t that many British movie stars who could have been appearing on the red carpet.

    Well, quite. You shouldn’t really have to go through a process of elimination to figure out who they’re depicting. *sigh* Spitting Image was the most important influence on me when I was growing up, and is at least partly responsible for me having a politics degree. It’ll be sad to see it return a shadow of its former self.

  18. > If they failed to get Law back on board, then they should have done a different live action take on the idea – or just not bothered, and spent the money on some other comedy.

    I’m not sure this makes sense. ‘If you can’t get Spitting Image remade, you should only consider other live-action alternatives or namke no impersonation-based satire at all’. Why? Who the hell needs another Dead Ringers?!

    Given that impressionists rarely transform well physically – Bremner’s ‘generic’ face can do it, but McGowan is too distinct-looking, ditto most of teh Ringers lot – a satire/impression show absolutely benefits from an animated interpretation. I’m, not at all sure that that, in itself, is reason to dismiss this concept.

    > I?m interested in why they decided to go down the CGI route.

    How about ‘because it’s not a bad idea’?

    It really isn’t. It makes for a visually distinct show, with its own style, readily identifyable but also – now – easy to manipulate. It’s as valid an option as puppets or make-up; it doesn’t require some extra justification. It’s not like CGI means ‘trying to be realistic and failing’. Simple and stylised may well work a treat, as per the South Park example. It need only follow the writing.

    Can’t see how any of this – ITV trying to regain a comedy foothold, looking to Spitting Image for inspiration, doing a kind of animated series that the UK doesn’t currently do – is in any way a bad thing.

    Also: I recognised Winslet instantly. (Mirren was named before I first saw the pic in the article I first stumbled across it.)

  19. G&T Admin

    Well, I certainly agree with the Dead Ringers comment! God, I really want to like that show – their obession with idents makes me warm towards it – but the material is so weak that I just can’t.

    I would be rather more keen on the whole idea of CGI UK if I thought that picture looked in any way pleasant. But I don’t – I think the character designs are horrible. And I’m just not convinced that 3D animation is possible to do well that quickly, however stylised it is – certainly with those kind of character designs, at least. Breathing life into 3D animation is incredibly hard at the best of times – let alone on a TV budget in a rush.

    But, we’ll see. As I say, come January, if the show is any good, then I’ll be the first to say I was wrong – I do feel guilty about slagging off a show before I’ve even seen it. Certainly, ITV should be doing more comedy. But I’m really not convinced this is the way to go.

  20. Breathing life into 3D animation is incredibly hard at the best of times – let alone on a TV budget in a rush.

    I agree. I hope it works, I really do, but I can’t shake off the feeling that using CGI animation is going to neuter the grotesquery of the original show, due to time constraints and the fact that the original puppets were REAL – you felt like you could touch them, you knew there was someone underneath operating them, ergo they were REAL to the viewer. CGI just seems a bit of a lazy way to revitalise an old concept that required effort and invention.

    And did anyone ever go to the Spitting Image museum? It was fantastic!

  21. Well, I certainly agree with the Dead Ringers comment! God, I really want to like that show – their obession with idents makes me warm towards it – but the material is so weak that I just can?t.

    They have a boner for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, which is alright by me. Shame the show’s poo, though.

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