It’s fair to say that Cats has been a disaster for Universal, from its box office bombing to the generally incredulous responses to its existence. One of the key problems for the movie involved delays in the visual effects, something that reportedly led to the final cut being rushed to completion and then reissued to theaters after the original release. Now, some context has been provided for what went wrong behind the scenes on Cats, courtesy of the film’s different VFX teams.
The commentary on the VFX problems comes as part of a Reddit thread that sees various responses to criticism of the work on the movie. The first user describes how Cats director Tom Hooper went to the MPC Technicolor team to finish the film after the initial trailer, while firing original VFX specialists Mill Film, also a Technicolor company. The post goes into detail describing problems such as the use of roto animation, mismatched proportions and the demand for the movie to be saved in time for awards consideration via a December release.
This perspective doesn’t appear to be the whole story, though, as a follow-up post details the Mill Film side of the VFX work. In this post, they dispute that Mill Film was fired and claim the size issue wasn’t their fault but the director and producers’ responsibility. For the roto animation, the user comments on how “90% of it was nowhere near completed” after the trailer and how the mocap they received wasn’t usable. Furthermore, this post explains that leadership problems and unrealistic demands by the producers were the key reasons for the VFX debacle.
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It’s worth reading the whole thread for more details on why MPC and Mill Film struggled with the effects for Cats, but the general message is that poor requests from the studio and ridiculously short deadlines made quality work near-impossible. As another user on the thread who worked on the movie reflects:
“The show was one uphill battle for every artist and sup involved, with a client that could only identify what they don’t like and not offer any clues as to how to get to what they did like. We did what we could.”
In this context, then, it’s worth cutting the beleaguered VFX teams on Cats some slack, considering what turned out to be unrealistic demands. While we may never get the full story of the disaster that the film became, it seems the effects work will become an object lesson in how not to produce a studio blockbuster.