Dragon Ball story lines are silly and mundane–oh no, it’s the most powerful person in the universe… until there is someone more powerful–but I enjoy them because I enjoy that world and those characters, and it’s fun. As such, the most interesting thing about the recent movie, Resurrection F, isn’t the blue hair or the return of Freeza. It’s how they utilized computer graphics in fairly subtle but substantial ways.
I guess there are spoilers here–whatever man, it’s Dragon Ball, people yell and punch and just when someone isn’t powerful enough, then they are. Let’s take a look at a few shots:
It’s obvious that a shot like that, in which Freeza’s minions arrive on earth, uses digital techniques if only to replicate hand-drawn elements, but the truth is a little more complicated. Take a look at the characters surrounding the intergalactic police dude, Jaco:
Jaco, is in fact the only hand-drawn character in that shot. All of the other enemies surrounding him are actually cel-shaded 3D models. [Edit: Maybe Jaco is CG too! I can’t tell.] A lot of wide shots of the battle make use of these models to fill out the scene, but even fairly close shots make use of them too. Quite effectively! Most people will have no idea that they aren’t hand-drawn (and I suppose most people wouldn’t care either, but what matters is that the use of CGI doesn’t change the fundamental look of the show).
Surprisingly, there are a few close up shots in the headlining battle between Goku and Freeza that use 3D models too. I noticed the camera moving dramatically around the action and thought to myself–heck, it’s incredibly difficult to draw that kind of camera movement into animation without the use of CGI aids. Sure enough, there are a handful of hero shots that are entirely CG:
You might notice that Goku looks a little awkward–his hands and arms could use more refinement in the tracing and his hair looks a little weird, but in motion, you probably wouldn’t notice. However, there are a few flagrant glitches if you watch it frame by frame (and who doesn’t watch movies one frame at a time?):
Look at Goku’s leg and ankle. Oops. But I’m really just nitpicking because that particular shot is only two or three seconds long. I wonder if they borrowed any digital assets from the Dragon Ball Xenoverse video game, which uses similar cel-shaded graphics to a slightly different but impressive effect.
Altogether the animators used a variety of methods to enhance the scope of movie without flagrant changes to a familiar aesthetic. When you’re dealing with an old, beloved property like Dragon Ball it’s easy as heck to mess it up, and it’s pretty nifty that they added their own flourishes to make it feel like a modern movie than a television show.