An Exploration of Prometheus Previs
Track’s motion-capture system and together with OptiTrack, myself and two other supervisors at Halon, we built a virtual camera system prototype. We showed that to OptiTrack, which was very exciting to them. They began helping us build the system much tighter and much better. We’re not programmers. As supervisors, we’re not programmers except for what we need to get by each day. And having OptiTrack there helped us create a much smoother, much more robust system that we have used on a number of films.
DS: What was it like working with Ridley Scott? He’s one of the most iconic and respected filmmakers, certainly known for a wide range of visually interesting films. So with Prometheus, he’s coming back to science fiction, there is a lot of speculation about what this film is going to be. There’s a lot of pressure on you, as you said, to “hit this one out of the park.” Tell me about the working dynamic.
CR: That was one of the most pleasurable parts of the process. While we all worked really hard and pressed hard to get the work done, there wasn’t an unreasonable amount of pressure to turn in more than is possible in a day. And so we were able to focus on doing it really well. And he has that vibe about him all the time. He would sit down with us and review with me at the computer. We’d first review the scene and he’d tell me what his intentions were. And he has his drawings, his storyboard that he had usually drawn. I always made sure I had a pad of paper nearby with pens all around, so that every time he wanted to reach for it, which he did very often, he could scribble out a drawing of what he was talking about.
We would sit there and go back and forth until he felt I understood what he was asking for, Then we would spend a couple of days producing it. At first, he had to understand that, yeah, I can handle delivering the stuff, because he hadn’t done previs before and he didn’t know what my skill set was. He quickly saw that I was able to understand what he was asking for and explore it both in terms of just doing exactly what he said but also anticipating how it would affect editorially and how it would affect other things in the scene.
This quickly became a really nice collaborative environment where we sat in a circle and tried to understand his intentions and then gave suggestions He would say, “Yeah, let’s try this. I really want this vibe.” When he knew what he wanted, he would ask for it. We would ask him for his approach, if we did it this way or that way, was it going to accomplish what he wanted. He’d say let’s try it. Other times, he’d just say, “You know what, let’s just see how it goes.” He got that familiarity and comfort, that these previs guys are filmmakers, not video gamers, and they can interpret both what he wants and how it will affect things downstream. I was grateful to have that working relationship, where we could go back and forth and I could help him build the film, instead of just have assigned shots that hopefully worked somewhere downstream.
He would come in and once we had it working, he would sit down, watch things two or three times, just seeing what he felt about the scene. And then he’d lean forward and say, “Okay, scrub through the edit.” I would scrub through the edit and he’d say, “Okay, from this shot all the way to this shot, cut it out.” Then we’d play it again, all in this editorial session, until he felt like, “Yeah, you know what, this is working. Now do these couple of bridge shots and we’re done.” While it was painful to have your shots cut out, you could see that once you did it, it improved the pacing of the whole thing and it worked really well.
DS: Ultimately your work is there to serve the vision of the director. He gave you the leeway to explore, but in the end, he’s going to cut it how he wants to see it.