Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, May 11, 2001

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is
scheduled to open nationwide July 11.

Hawaii studio
come true

The long-awaited film delivers
action and animated characters
you might fall in love with

By Tim Ryan

The curtain went up, though briefly, on Columbia Pictures "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" yesterday as Hawaii media got a 15-minute peek at the much anticipated all-CGI (computer generated image) film at producer Square USA's Harbor Court production offices.

The PG-13-rated film, geared to appeal to adults as well as teenagers, is nothing short of spectacular for its photo-realistic humans. It seems entirely possible that viewers could be smitten by the stunning hapa female lead Aki.

Perhaps the true test is that not long after the "wow" factor over the almost flawless digital animation slips away, you become involved in the plot and intrigued by the characters, although some dialogue seemed formulaic.

Although no complete scenes were screened, it was clear action is the key to this film. There are several subplots and a love story involving Dr. Aki Ross and Capt. Grey (voiced by Ming-Na and Alec Baldwin, respectively). Their kiss is certainly the longest in animation history.

"Final Fantasy" uses extensive motion capture
and hand-animated computer graphics that seem
to make drawn characters come to life.

Audiences going to see "The Mummy Returns" can see a 2-minute trailer for "Final Fantasy," which also features characters voiced by Steve Buscemi, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Peri Gilpin and Ving Rhames.

In the film, soldiers trying to save the earth struggle through the barren ruins of earth's largest cities or on an alien planet battling transparent dragon- or serpent-like creatures.

Seven shots of the film's ending were tweaked after drawing criticism from a Southern California preview audience three months ago, though the plot remains the same.

According to Square's president and chief operating officer and the film's producer Jun Aida, "Final Fantasy" uses extensive motion capture and hand-animated computer graphics and it shows. (Aida was executive produced the video game to film "Street Fighter" also distributed by Sony.)

The film is the first feature effort for director Hironobu Sakaguchi, who also created the $800 million game franchise "Final Fantasy." Sakaguchi and producer and part-time Hawaii resident Chris Lee, former Columbia TriStar production president, attended yesterday's preview.

Lee and Sakaguchi said about 20 percent of Square USA's production time was spent animating the hair "follicle by follicle." It took as much as 60,000 "strands" to make Aki's animated mane look like human hair.

As for background environments and lighting, the majority of the shots are tight close-ups or a forced perspective similar to a video-game experience.

The artists and engineers who produced the "Final Fantasy" games weren't used, Aida said. Instead, the Hawaii production built its own digital studio, totally independent of the interactive software division.

Lee said "Final Fantasy" cost $115 million to make, including $45 million spent on Honolulu studio facilities at Harbor Court and the Hawaii Film Studio.

Filming for the 97-minute "Final Fantasy" was completed Monday, though sound and some editing still needs to be done. The film will premiere in Hawaii July 9 at the Waikiki Theatres. The premiere will be a benefit for local charities to be determined.

The film will then open nationwide July 11 on 2,000-plus screens, sandwiched between the openings of "Scary Movie 2," "Cats & Dogs" and "Jurassic Park 3."

"Final Fantasy" also faces major competition from Paramount's live-action adaptation of another popular video game, "Tomb Raider." The film starring Angelina Jolie is slated for release a month earlier on June 15.

Meanwhile, Square is keeping secret its latest project underway at the Hawaii Film Studio, which the company has leased through October. The work is being directed by Andy Jones, the animation director of "Final Fantasy." The new project is expected to be completed by next February.

Square plans to remain in Hawaii for "several years," Aida said.

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