Cats' Controversial CGI Changed After Viral Online Response

Nov 29, 2019 10:58 PM
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A certain sound barrier-breaking blue hedgehog isn’t the only one whose trailer has resulted in something of a digital makeover. Tom Hooper’s cinematic adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats provoked quite the viral online response when its first trailer dropped over the summer. Reactions ranged from confusion to amusement to abject horror; it definitely got Cats noticed, but not necessarily for the right reasons. It turns out that Cats’ controversial CGI has actually been changed following the online response, as director Tom Hooper explained:

We’d only finished shooting in March, so all the visual effects [in the trailer] were at quite an early stage. Possibly there were, in the extremity in some of the responses, some clues in how to keep evolving [the production]. When you watch the finished film, you’ll see that some of the designs of the cats have moved on since then, and certainly our understanding of how to use the technology to make them work has gone up, too.

The first Cats trailer, as is the case for many trailers, especially those with lots of CGI, reflected a film that was still a work in progress. As Tom Hooper told Empire, the film only finished principal photography in March, so the July trailer that caused such a viral response featured visual effects that were not yet finished. But in part because of the responses to the trailer, Cats’ CGI was changed.

Although Tom Hooper was surprised by the reaction to the Cats trailer, the intense nature of some of the responses caused him and the creative team to take a step back and evaluate how to best move forward. The Cats trailer provoked some truly extreme reactions. And in that viral controversy the filmmakers found some clues about how to evolve the CGI and the designs of the cats

The look of the cats was going to change to a degree regardless as more work on the film was done, and as the artists got a better handle on how to use the technology effectively. But these online responses acted like notes to take under advisement about how exactly the CGI and the look of the cats should change.

So when you see Cats in December, the designs of some of the cats won’t be quite the same as what we saw in that July trailer. You can already see some of this evolution in the recently released Cats trailer.


Beyond the obvious overall color change in the image and the fur, it looks like Judi Dench’s character has much more of a mane here. The shape of the ears is slightly different as well. Take a look at another example of Cats’ changed CGI below:


Trailers aren’t necessarily indicative of the final product, but as you can see, Tom Hooper and his team have definitely been evolving the design of the cats in the film. Whether that evolution elicits a different reaction is another matter though. Unlike with Sonic the Hedgehog, these cats still look very similar overall and I don’t think that anyone who found the first trailer too uncanny valley weird and off-putting will suddenly be converted by these changes.

But as Ian McKellen has said, these cats aren’t supposed to be real cats. I tend to think that there are limits to the design changes that can be made and still have this movie be Cats and not something else entirely. It seems that Tom Hooper is trying to find the right balance within those limits.