Oscar 2012: Erik Nash Talks Real Steel
EN: It's so intuitive. There's a little bit of a learning curve in terms of the process and the terminology we use on set. Occasionally, there were very minimal delays, usually just to save what we had just done because there is an incredible amount of data that you're generating as you shoot. But other than that, there was no learning curve for the camera operator and the director, Shawn Levy. They're seeing robots through the camera as we shoot, and so you can shoot it as if you were shooting human boxers. Really the only onset complication is that if you're not looking at the feed from the camera with that live composite, you're see a cameraman in the ring with a steadicam by himself, which is sort of odd. And for all the extras and talent onscreen reacting to the boxing, we needed guide them as far as where they should be looking and what their eye lines should be. The fact that you had onset temp versions of the shot as soon as Shawn yelled, "Cut," was a huge benefit both for his process for deciding whether or not we had a usable plate -- and more often than not it was take one. And then Dean Zimmerman, our editor, having a temp with videogame quality robots in frame going through the boxing choreography, he's cutting as we're shooting, which really accelerated the whole post-production process, allowed them to give us turnovers often within a week or two of completing cinematography on a given sequence, so it gave us a head start in post. There were shots we were virtually finaling nine weeks after the plate was shot, while we were still in Detroit. Again, speed and efficiency that's unheard of. This allowed us to focus on the subtlety and the nuance and just creating a consistency from end to end.
BD: And the challenges of animating the robots?
EN: The biggest challenge we faced was getting our lead robot, Adam, to connect with the boy and be endearing, sympathetic and appealing as a real character and not just as a machine. And to get the audience to connect with. The toughest part was we had to do that without dialogue and he has no facial expression capability whatsoever. His face is hidden behind this mesh. As far as the robots in general, we wanted to have believable weight and mass. So the three parties that had to create Adam's performance, Jason Mathews, the Legacy puppeteer for all the practical shots, the motion capture performers and Dan Taylor and his Digital Domain animation team, pulled it off with subtle and nuanced body language. And they made him relatable.
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 this year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.