Marvel has overcome its first hurdle in bringing Guardians of the Galaxy to life, with the casting of Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, the cosmic super-team's leading man. But when the rest of your cast consists of an anthropomorphized raccoon and walking tree (among others), finding the right actors and actresses is trickier than normal.
While Rocket Raccoon and Groot are going to appear onscreen solely through digital means, Marvel's visual effects team has their animation plans already established, and are hard at work as we speak.
Despite the lack of a hero as well-known as, say, Captain America set to appear, Guardians of the Galaxy may represent one of the largest challenges in terms of digital effects that fans have seen from Marvel thus far. As a result, the announcement that filming would commence this June in London is only half the story.
In an interview with CinemaBlend, executive producer Victoria Alonso revealed that the film's development is already underway:
"Production has already started! Completely. It started months ago and we have an entire team in London already – we start shooting in June. Our director [James Gunn] travels next week and it’s going, baby! It’s a fast train to a beautiful place."
Hearing that the studio and special effects team are already at work on making Guardians a success should be expected, since the film undeniably possesses more risk than many of the other, more iconic, Marvel properties. And if the rumors of Iron Man 3 possibly acting as a lead-in to Guardians (ending with Tony Stark's journey into deep space, the territory of the titular Guardians) are true, they'll need completed versions of the characters as quickly as possible.
It's impossible to talk about the digital effects being planned for Guardians without focusing on Rocket Raccoon, the lovable creature endowed with human intelligence and an affection for heavy weaponry. Providing the voice and personality for Rocket is a dream of any fan of the comic books, with James Gunn's friend and past collaborator Michael Rooker publicly offering his talents. There have been reports that Marvel may be looking for a more recognizable star, but at this point it's an open race (SIDE NOTE: once again, we'd like to nominate Jason Statham).
Of course, that still leaves the actual task of animating the character - and his fellow Guardian the walking, talking tree name Groot - up to the effects team. Oh, and in all likelihood, delivering Thanos' big screen reveal as well. Is the plan for building a convincing Raccoon purely one of animation, or will motion capture play a role? Alonso gives some insight:
"We’re going to do a combination. You can’t do any motion capture with a raccoon – they won’t let you put the suit on [laughs]. But we will do rotomation, probably, for some of the behavior. Rocket will have his own personality, of course, and clearly we can’t do mocap on a tree, per se, but we definitely will have performers to emulate what James Gunn will lead to be the behavior and the performance. He’s very clear on where he wants to take the characters."
We have no doubts that Gunn has a singular vision for this group, with Marvel-godfather Joss Whedon calling the director's take a particularly "twisted one" that he supports completely, going so far as to say few other directors could make the super-team work on film. In other words: the version of Rocket Raccoon that makes it onto the big screen may not be the one every fan imagined, but it will undoubtedly be memorable.
The likelihood of rotomation being used - essentially molding an animated product around the performances (facial, physical) of the actual actor - means the assumptions in the past of an actor lending only their voice to Rocket may be misleading. Gunn and company may be looking for someone who could actually appear on set as either Rocket or Groot, to be removed and 'arbor-ized/raccoon-ified' in post-production. Possibly a more difficult road to travel, but one that most movie fans would likely support (see: Andy Serkis' recent work as Gollum in The Hobbit).
What do you think of this approach to bringing the more fantastic members of the Guardians to life? Does the need for an actual performance change the actors you'd hope would get the role, or have you already chosen the perfect real-life-Rocket? Give your ideas in the comments.
Guardians of the Galaxy hits theaters on August 1, 2014, with a chance to see some of the team in Iron Man 3 on May 3, 2013.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.