Robert Zemeckis’ empire is crumbling!

Since finishing Castaway in 2000, Robert Zemeckis has been on a mission to make motion-capture animation happen.  People hated it when he first finished Polar Express in 2004, and they’re only casually dismissive of it now, so I guess that’s progress.  Just last week he was still defending the process while promoting Mars Needs Moms, which he produced.

“The thing that’s always been at the core of the performance capture artform is the performance of the actor. The emotional warmth and the performance is what that performer has done, exactly like if a musician sits at a keyboard and plays, but then a processor takes those keystrokes and turns them into an entire orchestra.”

I’d say it’s more like auto-tune, which has so far given us a few funny parodies and thousands of Rebecca Blacks.

And in Mars Needs Moms, [using motion-capture] means Seth Green can play a nine-year-old, an insolent kid who gets what he arrogantly asked for when Martians kidnap his mom (Joan Cusack) to suck the “mom-ness” out of her and implant it in an army of “nannybots” to raise the Martian children. The diminutive Green has the physicality to pull off a child’s movements, but his beard would otherwise be an impediment.

Yes, or he could just voice a character that someone else drew, allowing him to play a monkey, a rocketship, or a yak fetus, all without having to shave his beard or even change clothes (thank God we finally have the technologies to make the job of a big Hollywood actor a little more comfortable, btw).  Put it this way: have you ever heard anyone complain about what a terrible actress Bambi or the Little Mermaid was?  I thought not.  In fact, we’ve long had non-motion capture cartoons lifelike enough to satisfy even the most discriminating of sex-pillow enthusiasts.  There’s just not a lot of upside to digitizing an actor’s entire face. Draw it or don’t.  Avatar, okay maybe, but let’s try not to shoe horn performance capture into every project like an Asian teen who just discovered emoticons.

Fast-forward to today, after Mars Needs Moms became the lowest-grossing opening ever for a broadly-released modern 3D-animated movie, when Disney chair Rich Ross strode into the boardroom atop his most muscular man servant and proudly knocked Zemeckis’ next mo-cap experiment into the sh*t pile with his pimp cane.

Disney Co. has deep-sixed Mars Needs Moms producer Robert Zemeckis’ planned next project for the studio, the high-profile remake of the classic Beatles film Yellow Submarine, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
sources say the disastrous $6.9 million opening for the $150 million-budgeted Mars, produced by Zemeckis, guaranteed that Submarine would never set sail at Disney. The producer-director is now free to shop the project to another studio.

The plan was to use 16 Beatles songs in the film, which was to employ cutting-edge motion-capture technology similar to Zemeckis’ Beowulf, A Christmas Carol and Mars Needs Moms. Zemeckis secured the cooperation of Apple Corps, which controls the rights to the rock group’s library.
There were also concerns within Disney about the look of motion capture, especially the way human characters are depicted. (“Creepy” is the word often used.) Those same concerns, insiders say, led to Disney shutting down Zemeckis’ ImageMovers studio in May 2010.

According to sources, Zemeckis left town over the weekend, flying to Montana to regroup. He is said to be eyeing a live-action project to direct. But part of the regrouping process could include finding a new home for Submarine. [THR]

Mo-cap sucks, so I’m happy about this.  About as happy as I could possibly be about something that will ever affect me or anyone I know in any way, you might even say.  But if Zemeckis hangs himself with a length of performance sensors, I will feel pretty bad about it.