Entering the Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam
RB: But it wasn't just a block animation. There would be visuals to give Terry and idea and the DP [Nicola Pecorini] an idea on how to light the thing ultimately.
JPD: There's an interesting point there. Although we did masses of previs with Terry in the year running up to production, we did something really unprecedented -- as far as I know -- for us and for most people. Richard was supervising the bluescreen work in Vancouver and I was handling the miniatures at this end, and it became very apparent, even before we started shooting the bluescreen, that the actors were pretty much standing around in nothing for the effects sequences, so we did a thing we call midvis. Basically, we had to get something that was better than the previs, which is largely a technical exercise in terms of the camera positions, so we used bits of everything: Terry's storyboards, bits of shot performances, CG, composited backgrounds, to roughly get 800 shots up to a level that the actors could have some idea of what they were doing when they were running around and even more importantly, as the shots were finished, our editor, Mick Audsley, of what it is you're cutting. So, in order to get the final efforts, the time that we were going to spend on the real shots, down to the minimum, which we had to do from a budget point of view, we went to this stage where it was sort of a half-way house, which allowed Mick and Terry to fine cut the effects, to the point that we weren't doing hundreds of expensive simulation frames that were going to end up on the cutting room floor. So it was a big effort to do that but it really paid off in the end.
RB: We would build anything where the actor would interact with something: he's walking on sand, such as Parnassus in the desert world; then we'd lay sand down on bluescreen. For the ladder world, we'd actually have Jude on a ladder constructed by Mike Vezina's special effects crowd. We had plenty of freestanding tracking markers on the bluescreen so we could get 3D environments' camera moves sorted out; it was a lot of work to do in a short space of time.
BD: What kind of proprietary CG work did you do?
JPD: There was liquid simulation software that we set up for a lot of the water effects: the Maxfield Parrish world. The sort of bravura painting dreamscape that Parnassus and later on Colin enter into had a lot of river stuff interacting with what was effectively a gondola on dry land. There was gas work put together for smoke and steam effects all the way through it. And some fractal builds that created some of the landscapes around the monastery in and around what we called the blasted landscape…
RB: I think Terry's always maintained that he's been using it for years and I think that's probably true.
JPD: The other thing, of course, is that he's hugely experienced with miniatures from a technical point of view and from a creative point of view. His contribution there is invaluable. He's also very much hands-on. He's known most of the Peerless people for years, and, when we're working, you can't get him out of the building -- he lives here: sitting there drawing on screens and churning out pictures and things. He's probably the most hands-on director in terms of visual effects I've ever seen.
RB: He's also keen on not repeating what other directors have done in CG as well. That's a challenge for us to do something a little different but foreign.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.