Andrew Stanton Talks John Carter
I’ve applied about a 50/50 ratio to the process of creating the Thark characters. I actually need much more of the physical performance of the actors and the physical reference of what they’ve done with their faces and what they’re doing in the physical space when they’re acting on the set, but I’m still dependent on a certain degree of the animator coming in and running with that captured information and taking it to the end. It’s not a competition; it’s these two great performers working together in concert making the perfect hybrid performance so that, hopefully, at the end of the day, you’re not thinking it was Willem Dafoe or Samantha Morton and you’re not thinking that it was an animated creation. You’re just thinking it’s the character. That’s really always the way to tell that you’ve done the best job possible.
I’m really pretty much using the same philosophies and approaches that I would have used on a Pixar movie on John Carter, but I’m just much more cognizant and appreciative of the material that I’m getting from the amazing cast playing our Tharks.
AWN: What is most interesting about the character of John Carter?
AS: The thing that fascinates me the most about the story is that it’s about a stranger in a strange land and a man who suddenly becomes, against his choice, extraordinary. It’s the analogy of somebody who is given gifts and has to decide whether to use them for the betterment of others or keep them to himself. John Carter is a man who’s at a crossroads with that choice. He’s this Civil War veteran who has lost the point of living and is very jaded. He goes to Arizona and tries to make his fortune so that he can basically isolate himself and tell the rest of the world to go fly a kite. In the course of this, he stumbles across this larger universal infiltration that’s happening that suddenly sends him to Mars. There, he miraculously finds that he can leap almost 50 to 100 feet because of the difference in gravity with his bone density, also giving him more strength, probably the strength of three or four men. He comes across a world in the middle of a crisis where the scales are going to get tipped in a direction that’s not good for the planet and he realizes he can play a key role to bring the scales the other way. The question is will he or will he not.
I like the idea of a damaged character, who has morals and values, but because life’s dealt him a bad hand, does not want to go back into the world again as the person he was before. What it takes for John Carter to engage again is to leave Earth and find his humanity among the Martians.
AWN: Describe the other cultures in the story, like the Tharks, and how you brought them to life?
AS: One of the most memorable characters in the series of books, besides John Carter, is a character named Tars Tarkas, who is the leader of the green men tribe known as the Tharks. These creatures are described in the book as anywhere from nine to 15 feet tall with tusks and four arms. It’s pretty fantastical, so one of the first things we attacked on the film was how to make them feel believable and indigenous to the desert, like a natural species from the planet Mars. So, we actually designed the physiology of these creatures using desert-dwelling people of Earth as a guide. We looked at the aboriginals; we looked at Masai warriors; we looked at the Bedouins. We made the Tharks very thin and very ropey, as if they have spent their whole life surviving in the desert and now they’re in tough times and their whole existence is in jeopardy.