The Oscars: Kaufman, Muyzers and Habros Talk District 9
DK: It started off with the concept artwork from Weta and there was one picture, in particular, that Neill really liked, which encapsulated his look, and so we took that and three-dimensionalized it and added more detail and kept building on that. And the other challenge for that was getting it to sit in the background with the right amount of atmosphere and haze.
BD: And what a thrill it must be to also be nominated for Best Picture.
DK: It's one of those movies where if the effects didn't work, the movie would have a lot of trouble working, and if the movie didn't work, nobody would've cared if the effects looked good. And it's the best of both [worlds] and I enjoy working on movies like this.
BD: What kinds of comments have you received since the nomination?
Peter Muyzers: It is interesting because they do have that weird look on their face about how we managed to do all that work for only a couple of million dollars, when you consider that the gross budget was [around] $38 million. And so people draw conclusions about that, people who don't know the story behind the movie. They may call it the erosion of visual effects, but we have to do a lot of explaining because the production costs were so low: the unnamed actors, a very small crew, we shot in South Africa, [the British Columbia tax credit for post-production] even little things like Peter Jackson loaning the Red camera. But visual effects were really not eroded: the average shot costs were the same that we charge for any other visual effects show. So, for us, as a facility, we never felt that we were doing it on the cheap or taking a hit. As a matter of fact, if we could all of our shows like District 9 we would be a better business, because we actually made some money off of District 9. And that's always a good business model to pursue.
BD: Don't you also have to explain the nature of the work as well?
PM: Yes, a lot of people's responses are, "Hi, I have this movie and I'd like you to do it just like District 9." They think we have this secret sauce and we just apply it to the project and we're done. And it's really tough to explain to people: "Look, it's a combination of things: foremost, it was Neill. Forget visual effects for a moment. It is a guy's vision about this wonderful story and bringing that to life and, yes, these are crustacean-like creatures, and they tend to be relatively easy to achieve in CG compared to much more organic creatures." So I think it was a combination of the right people working together on the right project.
BD: And it helped having such a visual effects savvy director.
PM: Yes, but it's interesting that in the beginning we thought he might get in the way, with having such a visual effects background, even pulling an artist off his desk and sit down and start animating. But he was really good: he told us that he was the director and we were the visual effects guys and this was our job. And he was very focused with his comments, and that's something you don't get from a lot of other clients. Again, I have to remind people that it's the whole package that made District 9 a success.
BD: And did you get The Twilight Saga: Eclipse as a result of your work on District 9?
PM: We were still working on District 9 when we were talking with the clients on Twilight and, again, David Slade, the director, loved District 9. We showed him some of the work and he was over the moon with the quality. He liked the studio and the people that we had, so he really bought into Image Engine as a vendor.