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Tom Hanks talks about his latest role

Actor says technology is revolutionizing film


Hanks
Tom Hanks was covered with sensors -- including those dots on his forehead -- so a computer could capture his performances in "The Polar Express."
start quoteAny time you are making any kind of movie at all, you are taking a huge risk. You are gambling that you have told the story well enough that other people are going to be mesmerized by it -- regardless of the technology.end quote
-- Tom Hanks
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(CNN) -- In his latest project, the animated film "The Polar Express," American actor Tom Hanks plays five different characters -- thanks to a new technique called performance capture. Here, he tells CNN's Becky Anderson about what it was like to star in such a film.

Anderson: This is acting at its purest, yet you are using the newest type of technology to make this film work. How challenging was the acting in "The Polar Express?"

Hanks: Well, on one hand it was almost impossible to imagine because it is so different to making a traditional motion picture, where you have costumes and make-up and hair, and you are usually outside somewhere, usually looking at the crew parking lot, but you are still outside somewhere in the open air. But on the other hand, it is very much like going to a rehearsal hall or a theatre in the round, and performing a play where the audience is all around you. I can tell you that the skills that are required as an actor doing that are substantially different to acting in a movie. You have to stay in character for a much longer period of time, you have to have a certain amount of stamina to do that and you have to be on an equal plain with the rest of your performers. And that's what this ("The Polar Express") was like. It was like being in a rehearsal hall. There's no costume, just a hint of props, blocks of wood and chicken wire. But playing with an emotional energy and on an emotional level that means that as soon as you have done it to a degree that everybody is satisfied and you think you have exhausted the material once, you are done. It is in the computer, it is from every angle imaginable, it will always be the same take, and it will live forever. But you get to then move on and then perform the next beat and then the next and the next, so it was a lot like performing a very long play from nine in the morning to 4.30 in the afternoon.

Anderson: This isn't the first time you have used innovative technologies in your films. For example, in "Forrest Gump" where Forrest meets the president. So just how groundbreaking do you think performance capture technology is?

Hanks: Well, it's going to allow for a certain new type of story telling to occur. Right now you have movies like "The Lord of the Rings," which has a huge amalgam of all types of technologies, opticals, as well as computer-generated special effects. And you have movies like "The Incredibles," the other Pixar pieces that are completely created within the computer and utilize just recorded voices. This is going to allow a different kind of human scale that is going to be brought to the movies: that are not going to be animated movies, that are not going to be two-dimensional movies in the old fashioned way. If you just take a look at this ("The Polar Express") extreme, I play an eight-year-old boy. Right there you have something that is ground-breaking. I am not an eight-year-old boy. I could have been a black woman and still have played an eight-year-old boy with this technology. We are also on top of a train going through a snowstorm at midnight across the Arctic Circle and yet no-one was (actually there). We did not really have to go to the Arctic Circle and no-one's life was in danger when we did that. It is a new technology that can be viewed as just as revolutionary as making King Kong climb the Empire State Building for the first time, but it is not going to supplant the true essence of what movie-making is, which is telling a good story with the best technology at your disposal.

Anderson: It allows for almost life-like type animation. My question is, if it is that life-like, why not just use real actors?

Hanks: It is the same sort of argument as saying why wouldn't you just get a real ape to climb the Empire State Building? You could do that, but the end result is going to be less fantastic, less fascinating and probably less service to the story than if you had just created it virtually.

Anderson: "The Polar Express" cost $170 million. That's a lot of money and a lot of risk. Is it worth it?

Hanks: It actually cost the same amount of money as a regular animated movie. Most movies you make now are about a million dollars a minute. You could take any movie that is a blockbuster right now and it is going to cost the same, whether it is "Troy," "Spiderman" -- any of those very big, very visual kinds of movies. The rest of it is all about advertising and print and all that and that is also the same for all those kinds of movies. Any time you are making any kind of movie at all, you are taking a huge risk. You are gambling that you have told the story well enough that other people are going to be mesmerized by it -- regardless of the technology. Even if it is (a film that is) just about people sitting in a car talking about their kids growing up, you are hoping that you have told it in a fascinating way. The new technology aspect of it is the thing that has everybody up in arms: "How can you make a new movie like this? This is brand new stuff. Who do you think you people are?" The fact is that computers and all the technology that goes into film-making are constantly being renewed, constantly being examined and constantly being utilized in brand new different ways. What we have here in "The Polar Express" is the whole shebang. It is possible to do one of two things. One is review the technology itself -- you are always going to find fault with it. I can look at the movie and find things I hate, that I think are wrong with it. Or, you can review how the technology has told the story, but that's how it's telling the story -- not where the technology is. And that's the thing that is going to matter more than anything else, have we told the story well?


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