All Aboard The Polar Express

It takes a lot of guts to go toe-to-toe with a Pixar film in its first week of release, but if any movie stands a chance of knocking The Incredibles down a peg, it’s Warner Bros.’ CG-animated feature, The Polar Express. The film arrives in theaters today, getting a jump on the holiday movie season and becoming the third big animated release currently in theaters.

Based on the classic Caldecott Award-winning children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express reunites the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump team of director Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks. Imagemotion, the proprietary motion-capture technology developed by Sony Imageworks, was employed to tell the story of a doubting young boy who takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole.

Zemeckis, who blended live action and animation like never before in Who Frame Roger Rabbit?, had his actors perform in mo-cap suits in front of green screens. Animators at Imageworks then filled in the characters by mapping Hanks’ and the other actors’ facial and muscle structure. The main character, known only as Hero Boy, was actually created using photos of Hanks as a child. The versatile actor also plays the train’s conductor, a mysterious hobo and Santa Claus himself.

The film was also released in 3D at IMAX theaters across the country, making it the first full-length studio feature ever converted to the IMAX 3D format. The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience also earns the distinction of being the widest release ever for an IMAX digitally re-mastered movie with more than 70 IMAX venues aboard for the run.

Next weekend, yet another major animated movie will join The Polar Express, The Incredibles and Shark Tale in theaters across North America. The eagerly awaited The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie opens on Friday, Nov. 19.

A presentation of Castle Rock Ent. in Association with Shangri-La Ent., The Polar Express was produced by Playtone, ImageMovers and Golden Mean. Read our cover story and go behind the scenes with the digital wizards at Imageworks in the January issue of Animation Magazine.