Raising the Animation Bar with Tintin
"Tintin has a lot more interiors than Avatar," Letteri suggests, but when you're shooting in these cramped spaces like the ship's corridor, you've got practical lights everywhere, Mostly when you're working with CG [in live action], you're not photographing the digital lights, you're just getting the influence of the lights on the characters. Lights, if they do appear in camera, are on the set anyway. Now, we have to actually shoot the lights -- the lighting instruments were there, so we had to design them and make sure they actually did the right thing on camera. And that starts to not only affect lighting design but set design because the art department builds sets and you have to move them around.
"Now in the real world, that can be done organically. As you're framing a set, you can be figuring out where the lights go and the two can go together. But for us it was more of an iterative process. And Steven was directly involved because he had his own ideas about how he wanted to light this. We started off thinking: Hergé draws everything in very simple and bright-looking, broad colors, so we're going to light everything kind of brightly, but then Steven had the idea that we're going to so this more film noir with deep shadows, so that was a big exploration for us to see what worked and didn't work, especially with 3-D. You want to avoid the whole screen turning black because you lose your depth perception. But, of course, that's what film noir is all about."
They looked at a lot of classic Hitchcock films as well as Spielberg's classical canon (such as Raiders and A.I.) to determine what the lighting style would be, but only as a starting point because Spielberg didn't want to retrace his stylistic footsteps.
But Letteri says that when playing with the lighting in context of the performances, it altered the dramatic emphasis. "For example, the way you might perceive a smile, and the way the light falls on the cheeks and the folds of the skin, just by moving the light a little bit, you change the perception of what that smile looks like because you get a different sense of the lines that you're creating with the shadows. But at the same time, you've got to make sure you've got the light doing what you want to say with the eyes. So it's kind of a puzzle."
We're definitely on the crest of a new virtual production revolution in which animation and VFX converge, and Tintin is the latest example.
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.