Andrew Stanton Talks John Carter
AS: The answer always seems to come to me if I look at it as a fan of going to the movies as opposed to being a filmmaker. What would make this feel fresh for me and not derivative of other things? My goal is to believe it. I want to believe it’s really out there. So I thought to treat it like a historical film, like a period piece, where we’ve done all our research correctly and it has a gritty reality to it. There’s dirt, a patina and a wear and tear to things that make it feel believable. I want the “Martian history” on this film to be done so well that it feels like some sort of remote place that you just didn’t know about. So that’s how we’ve approached it. Just that dirty, dusty, reality.
We went looking for landscapes where the rocks already had centuries of erosion and then did just the tiniest bit of computer work on them to give the illusion that they were constructed ruins. We added things like windows, doors and stairwells. Hopefully, if we did it right, people will look at the finished product and go, “Where did you find that man-made ruin?”
AWN: Describe the huge Palace of Light set used for the wedding scene?
AS: The wedding scene in the Palace of Light is our big finale of the movie and is probably one of the largest sets we had on the shoot. The reason it’s called the Palace of Light is because it’s all glass and about ten stories high. There will be an entire wedding going on with about 300 Heliumites and Zodangans filling up the balcony and the floor of the set.
The wedding party will be on a dais that floats in the middle of the ceremony. There is a big mirror in the palace roof that reflects the combined moonlight of the two moons of Mars, which then creates a shaft of light that hits a receptor on the dais, allowing it to float all the way up to the balcony level.
When you have a set this big, it’s a bit overwhelming. But you realize it’s something the audience will enjoy seeing on screen. People go to see these big action movies hoping there’ll be something they’ve never seen before, some element of spectacle that hopefully is very fresh, but still story related.
So, we did extensive previs. We actually built the set in a virtual world, shot the sequence and cut it together just like a movie. Then we broke it down exactly where the camera would be in every single shot. We had many, many meetings about how we would shoot each of these moments. Once you start to break it down into bite-size pieces, it becomes less daunting, less intimidating and more manageable. It’s sort of that old adage, “How do you eat an elephant?” You eat an elephant one bite at a time. And that’s pretty much how we’ve been attacking the sequences.
AWN: How extensive was the use of motion capture in the film?
AS: Many people mistakenly believe that with motion capture you put on a suit, it records your movements and then the data is applied directly to a computer model, and that’s the end of it; it’s suddenly finished. The truth is, anytime you’ve seen motion capture done well, there’s been a talented animator in the middle of that process who has been finessing that data, or more often fixing or supplementing the source material to really bring it to life, to a place that shines.
It’s the pairing of a great actor with a great animator that gives you the performances that you’ve been the most impressed by so far with CG characters and live action. And that’s not that different than fully animated movies. On an animated film, you get great vocals from an actor and sometimes we even record that actor on videotape to get references for their actions and gestures, but it all goes nowhere without an animator putting it all together into a great performance.