Monster Man


By Anne Burke

Published Jul 14, 2006 1:49 PM

Kenan also had an ace up his sleeve in the form of a plot twist that wasn't in the original script. Zemeckis and Spielberg loved Kenan's idea. (It's a spoiler, so you'll have to see the movie.) A few days later, Kenan got a phone call with the good news. "I screamed and flipped out," Kenan recalled.

Kenan filmed Monster House using a process called motion capture, which is a blend of live-action cinema and computer-generated imagery. Monster House stars three newcomers (Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke) as the intrepid trio, plus an impressive line-up of familiar names — Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kathleen Turner, Jason Lee and others. But the cast did much more than read dialogue into a microphone.

Kenan gathered his actors on a 20' by 20' box-like soundstage on the Sony lot. The performers donned wetsuit-like outfits with plastic reflective markers at various points from head to toe. As the actors performed scenes, Kenan's crew made a digital recording of their movements. ("I had a whole neighborhood built of foam houses and had [Turner] stomp around and rampage," Kenan laughed.) The data generated from the recording was used to chart the movements of the computer-generated — so called CG — characters in Monster House. The result is that DJ, Chowder, Jenny and the rest of the Monster House gang move their bodies like real people do.

The way the characters look is something else entirely. Kenan's characters are stylized in an unusual way that reflects the director's background in puppet animation. The characters have oversized heads and stilt-like legs. "It's really important when you're doing a film like this with human performances, you don't want to recreate the performance on screen, you want to caricature it," he said. The skin of the characters has a clay-like texture that is unlike the flat, shiny skin often seen in CG characters. "That drives me crazy," Kenan says.

In just a few short years since leaving UCLA, Kenan has assembled much of the accoutrement of a Hollywood somebody — things like an assistant who makes phone calls for him and tells people that "Gil Kenan will be with you in just a moment." He's still a little uncomfortable with it all, and people who know him say that he's not that way at all.

"The thing I like about him is that he's incredibly talented, but it hasn't gone to his head," said Douglas A. Ward, a visiting assistant professor who knew Kenan at UCLA. "He's just a guy you would meet at a party."

Kenan, for his part, realizes that it could all be gone tomorrow. Just in case, he's been carrying around a digital camera and shooting photos of the Monster House poster on MTA buses.