Talking Tintin with Spielberg and Jackson
SS: It was, because in those days, I would just run around with a camera, really running back and forth getting all my coverage with a little Kodak three-turn 9mm movie camera… and this was pretty similar to that, except that I had all the x/y buttons on my right, I could crane up and down, I could dolly in, dolly out, I could basically be the focus puller, the camera operator, the dolly grip. I wound up lighting the movie with some of the artists at Weta. I did a lot of jobs that I don't normally do myself on a movie. And it gave me a chance to actually start to see the picture come together.
In a normal motion capture situation, including Avatar, which I guess is the most successful performance capture movie in history -- the most successful movie in history, period -- I was able to actually get in there, into the volume, with the actors and not only direct the actors, being four feet away, but I was able to bring a kind of conventional wisdom, which is the only way I know how to make movies, to this day. I would wind up with 75 different setups per day. Usually with a motion capture situation, you get the performance where you like it, and then you come back two months later without the actors and you start getting your shots in a much smaller volume, the size of a small boxing ring.
I didn't want to do that in this case. I wanted to try to be as immediate as the actors were being in giving their performances for the first time. I wanted to be inspired by those performances and be able to find the shots and choreograph the masters and the coverage at the same time the actors were discovering who they were. And that is a very conventional way of making a movie, but at least I found a purpose, not just directing actors, like a stage director…but I really found a creative way of making the movie in real time.
SS: I think the greatest thing about this medium is that it takes us in a constant state of fluidity. When I make a live-action movie and I wrap the movie, I'm left with the remnants of what inspired, what ideas I got, or what ideas the actors contributed and it all happens in three or four months. You go home with your assets and you're left with these assets. Now, they always say a movie can be made or broken in the cutting room, and I really believe that, too… If the scene didn't work, I'd rework it and recut the scene, or I'd cut the scene out of the picture totally. But it was a sort of closed system. This medium allows you to continue telling your story, refining, creating shots, close to release. I could do a shot today, I could do a shot a month from now and that shot could be performed, rendered and resolved and make it to the final cut of the movie before its release at the end of October internationally. So because it stays so fluid, it's so exciting to get an idea maybe two years after the initial performance capture production was behind us and be able to shoot a whole new series of scenes and make them fit in the movie.
PJ: I came in last night to do a sound check just to have a listen to the mix we've just shown you and I was seeing shots [fully rendered] for the very first… in the last day or two. And you never get used to this film -- it's constantly evolving all the time, which is exciting. You're used to seeing the previs at the beginning, and then suddenly that changes to the motion captured, crudely rendered, stuff and you get used to that for a while, and then suddenly you get the added detail and lighting and stuff. It's a very dynamic process.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.