Backstage at the 2012 Oscars
It pretty much went as expected at last night's 84th Academy Awards: The Artist grabbed the top three awards, including best picture, and Hugo took most of the tech awards, including visual effects, upsetting Weta's remarkable performance capture work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Meanwhile, as far as animation, the favorites also won: Rango and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. What was the lesson in all of this? Well, above all else, it was a year to celebrate the history of movies and the roots of filmmaking and storytelling. But aside from that, it was all about being adventurous and going outside the box, which all these winners have in common.
As Rango director Gore Verbinski, reiterated, he couldn't have made his dusty and iconoclastic lizard movie alongside Johnny Depp without going indie and without driving it with a live-action VFX sensibility from ILM. He went straight to producer Graham King (who, incidentally, also produced Hugo) for money to make the story reel. "So for the first 18 months we were just out of our house, seven artists and [screenwriter] John Logan, long walks, you know, barbecues in the backyard."
He also directed the voice actors in the only way he knows how: by getting them all together inside a stage and shooting controlled chaos: "I want them to act and react," he added. "I suppose I think it made it feel like it was occurring and we encouraged line overlaps and we encouraged people to be out of breath. So we really were kind of paranoid of the computer making things clinical, and it so lends itself to perfection. So suddenly you had the feeling I guess in the soundtrack that there was a tortoise talking to a lizard, because Johnny was talking to Ned Beatty and they were actually playing the scene together. So I think there's something in there. There's some sort of DNA underneath it all. But ultimately it was just a fear of having somebody sit with a bit of text in front of a microphone. I mean, I haven't done that since I was selling sugar water, Budweiser, you know, or whatever, doing commercials, but that's so distant from, you know, getting a performance."
When I asked Verbinski what the take away was in terms of moving back to live action, he replied that there is none, really. "I mean they're two completely different hats. I suppose underneath all of it it's just finding a story you want to tell in the same way you would if you were sitting around a campfire or something. But completely different. I mean, there are no gifts in animation. We have to fabricate everything, including the anomalies, and yet now I'm two days into shooting a live-action picture. I actually go back tomorrow to shoot, and there's chaos and you can't orchestrate things exactly how you want them, but when events happen, they're set in stone and you're done. I don't know how else to explain it. It's just every aspect of it is so different."
Meanwhile, Hugo's Rob Legato and Ben Grossmann of Pixomondo were flabbergasted to pull off their upset. It just goes to show that the Academy at large was so impressed by the 3-D and the supporting VFX that it all melded together into a wondrous, game-changing experience. The Academy even awarded the cinematography Oscar to Hugo's Bob Richardson, which is now an integral part of the virtual production and stereoscopic collaboration.