“I love breaking the Internet,” Jason Derulo says with a knowing smirk. No, he’s not referring to his headline-making Instagram feed. The R&B star instead has something else entirely on his mind: fur. Specifically, digital fur.
For the Cats movie (out December 20), director Tom Hooper deployed what he calls Digital Fur Technology to create the look of the film's singing and dancing felines. Since the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical debuted in 1981, musical theatre performers have donned intricate makeup, fuzzy legwarmers, and a whole lot of Lycra to get into character. But for their cinematic closeup, the cats get a 21st-century approach.
“I thought when I was cast, it was going to be three to four hours of prosthetics,” admits Rebel Wilson, who takes on the role of Jennyanydots on the big screen. She revealed to Playbill that she already had some intel from a fellow alum of Hooper’s musical oeuvre. “I had actually seen Anne Hathaway’s test video she did for Tom. They did different tests before the technology had been developed to create the fur, and it was a lot of prosthetics. That’s what I assumed I was walking into, and then they were like, ‘No. No makeup.’”
Instead, the stars wore bare semblances of their costumes, were occasionally shrouded in green suits, and sported motion capture facial tracking dots. Fur, tails, ears, and the like were added in post, so it was up to them to embrace their inner Jellicle, sight unseen.
Once the cats—in all their DFT glory—finally made their debut in the teaser trailer, the claws came out. Despite the Cats cats having always existed in the realm between human and feline, their onscreen anthropomorphic visage gave…paws…to enthusiasts and skeptics alike. The reaction was less up in the Heaviside Layer and instead deep in the Uncanny Valley. Some adjustments have since been made, but Cats will always be Cats.
“Of course people are going to be weirded out,” Derulo says. “Of course people are going to be like, ‘What is this?’ People have never seen this before. It’s left field; it’s transporting people in a new dimension. I’m excited for people to get to watch.”