Inside Ron Frankel’s Wonderful Virtual World of Feature Film Visualization
DS: Inherent in the work you do, directors get excited about the way their film is beginning to take shape. However, your design work often has elements that could never be put into the film. Elements of scale, for example, that are not remotely practical. People inherit your work and respond, “There’s no way this can get made.” How do you manage the excitement of early previs against the reality of what can actually get made?
RF: [Laughs] It can’t be done! That’s always a risk. That’s part of the animator’s code of responsibility. For anyone working in previs, just be sensitive to the fact that what we do is a template that someone else is going to inherit. It’s going to become their responsibility to deliver. So, there are a couple of different ways to approach this issue. One could take an approach that says, “I’m going to design this the most exciting way I can see it and it’s someone else’s job to figure out how to do it.” That’s someone else’s responsibility. They’ll figure out how to make it because this is how it “should” be.
That’s not me. The way I approach the work and ask all Proof’s artists to approach the work is from the point of view of saying, “Well, what can we do now to make the next person’s job easier?” What information do they need, how can we set this up so that not only can they achieve what we’re laying out for them, but we can give them that extra bit of information that will help them do it? It’s important to me that everyone understands all the production crew’s roles and responsibilities and how what we’re doing affects their job.
The type of situation we come across all the time is crane shots. The director will say, “Oh, get the camera higher, higher! I want to be way up here!” So, we design the shot as the director would like it. Then, the first thing we do is go to the producer and say, “We just put a camera 120 feet off the ground. Are you guys prepared for that?” The producer will come back and say, “No, no, no. We have an 85 foot crane. That’s all we have.” So we’ll go back to the director and say, “Hey, here’s what the shot looks like from an 85 foot crane. Here’s what we can do to get the same kind of shot, the same feeling, within the constraints of what the production has at hand.” If the director accepts that, great. If not, he has to go have a conversation with his producer to figure out what to do about it. We can facilitate that conversation by being aware of what the constraints are, where and what the realities are. If we go about it blindly without any consideration, then the previs really becomes a hindrance to the process, which is really antithetical to what we’re trying to do.
DS: Besides 42, what else have you been working on?
RF: We just wrapped Fast & Furious 6, which we were on for I believe 18 months. We started in really early-early pre-pre greenlight development, working with the director on some story ideas as the script was being developed. We had a previs team in Los Angeles, working with the director before it moved to London. We moved with the production to London, then stuck with them all the way through editorial. Our postvis team ended up being a final in-house vfx team. So, we were on until the very last days of delivery.
We’re doing two projects for Marvel right now, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. We also have a couple of secret London projects that are in development which hopefully will come to fruition.