The Oscars: Franklin Talks Inception
Bill Desowitz: Did you ever think you'd be the Oscar front-runner?
Paul Franklin: Well, there's still a long way to go, but when I originally read the script for Inception, I thought this was going to be something special, so I knew we'd make something that would impress people and be quite spectacular. But I think the thing that took us all by surprise is the massive public response to the film, from general audiences to more specialized audiences. That's been quite pleasing, to say the least.
BD: In the past, you've emphasized that vfx in Nolan's films have taken a supportive role. That's obviously changed with Inception.
PF: Yes, exactly. One of the things I've mentioned several times in the past with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is that we did technically impressive digital environment work, but it's always been pushed to the background as part of the fabric of the film. It's not really there to call attention. But the very nature of the story foregrounds the wall-to-wall, spectacular effects work that we put together.
BD: The folding Paris has become the film's iconic image.
PF: It has. When I read that in the script, I thought, "Well, that's going to be very interesting: it's something I've never seen before, taking a real world environment and manipulating it in that way. I mean, I can think of examples of people walking inside cubes, but something like this I thought it was rather special. And very early on we identified this as a shot that would be part of the advertising campaign in the early trailers, so you could see that this was going to become a kind of visual linchpin for the whole movie, really. I think also the zero gravity work went down really well, but if you want to sum it up in a single image, that picture of Leo and Ellen looking up at the city folding up over their heads achieves it.
PF: Yes, the fact that there were so many different kinds of environments. You couldn't just build one setup. You build Gotham City and you set it up for day and for night and you've got this universal resource which can be applied across most of the movie in a Batman film. But with Inception, all the environments are self-contained and there were no overlaps between them. Obviously we were sharing common lighting tools, but each sequence had its own specific technical flavor, which was unique.
For instance, zero gravity had this monumental amount of removal that we had to do to take out all the wires and rigs that were supporting the actors, but then rebuilding environments and things that all had to be done in a very consistent and seamless way. A huge amount of manual work went into that with rotoscoping because there was no greenscreen employed at all during the sequence, and finishing the sequence off by adding all sorts of floating CG items to complete the illusion of zero gravity. Getting that movement just right, but at the same time not having it draw attention to itself, was one thing.
And then with Limbo City, you've got the conceptual challenge of what the design is for this city. We essentially arrived at this procedural method where we combined the structure of a glacier and 20th century architecture to make this strange, mutant city collapsing into the sea and then having to give it a very realistic finish.
BD: And what about the Bond-inspired ski chase?
PF: The ski chase, again, we had to build very convincing environment work there for the set extensions on the fortress, and big, wide aerial shots of the fortress as well. And then there was all the miniature work for the end sequence, where we built a very large, traditional miniature and blew it all up and added digital enhancements working with the guys at New Deal.
And going back earlier, the exploding Paris café, which is a sequence that was designed through the use of visual effects, working very closely with the special effects teams that build those explosives.