Cats director Tom Hooper says the movie’s CGI and visuals have evolved since the backlash to its original trailer. In the decades following its arrival in 1981, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats stage musical has gone on to become one of the most popular Broadway shows ever produced. It’s also known for being pretty out-there, even by Broadway standards, between its slim plot (a Christ allegory, basically) and humanoid cat characters. But as charmingly whimsical as many find the musical to be, it begs the question: how do you translate it to the big screen?
Hooper, whose previous films include Best Picture winner The King’s Speech and the Les Misérables movie musical, ultimately elected to bring the Cats themselves to life with what’s being referred to as “digital fur technology”. The results haven’t exactly gone over great so far; the first Cats trailer released in July and most people were (pretty amusingly) confounded by the footage of big name stars like Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, and Judi Dench transformed into unsettling photorealistic CGI human-like felines. Suffice it to say, the movie’s production team noticed.
During an interview with Empire, Hooper talked about the response to the first Cats trailer, claiming “I was just so fascinated because I didn’t think it was controversial at all. So it was quite entertaining”. He went on to confirm the CGI was at an early development stage in the original trailer, saying the film’s visual effects artists found “in the extremity in some of the responses, some clues in how to keep evolving [the production]” and adding that some of the cats’ designs “have moved on since then, and certainly our understanding of how to use the technology to make them work has gone up, too”.
A second Cats trailer released earlier this month, offering a better look at the film’s nearly-finalized CGI and visual effects in the process. The actual look of the cats hasn’t changed much since the initial trailer, however, so it’s not as though Hooper and his crew did a major CGI redesign (a la Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog movie) in response to the backlash. If anything, they appear to have fine-tuned the “digital fur technology” enough to ensure the cast look like convincing humanoid felines (or as convincing as they could possibly be) and not CGI creations with human faces awkwardly pasted onto them. As a result, the general response to the movie’s visuals haven’t changed a whole lot either, and probably won’t be all that different once people get to see the finished film next month.
Interestingly, Cats is the second December release in as many years that’s made unconventional use of motion-capture CGI, following 2018’s Welcome to Marwen. That movie went on to become a critical and commercial bomb (and was also distributed by Universal, like Cats), but the enduring popularity of the Broadway stage show alone should prevent Hooper’s musical from suffering a similar fate at the box office. Even so, it will be interesting (nay, fascinating) to see just what people make of Cats itself – be they longtime fans or newcomers who’re morbidly curious to find out what all the commotion is about.