Jason Clark Talks Ted and the New VFX World Order
DS: As the producer, with a background in animation and digital technology-driven films, when you don’t have a zillion dollars and you have to find the right visual effects houses to make this film viable, what were your greatest considerations and how did you go about finding the right partners to make this film?
JC: Well, I think the ethos was it’s a new world order and we are going to use a new paradigm and we are not going to dismiss this digital revolution that’s going on around us and we’re not going to design outside of our budget. What do we have going for us? Well, we have a talking teddy bear. And how many of those are there in the world that people know intimately? Well if it was a beagle it would be a lot harder, because a lot of people know what a beagle looks like. If it was a cat, it would be a lot harder, because people know what a cat looks like. But a talking teddy bear, you’ve got some license there because their movement is outside the realm of everyone’s expertise. It doesn’t have to be “lifelike,” it has to be alive. And there’s a difference.
It has to be in 3-D space. You have to believe it 100%. It has to be lit and rendered at the highest possible level, but within the performance of the character. It doesn’t have to mimic what a real monkey, cat, dog would do. It’s not those things. And then we said, “Well, in that design and in the design of that performance, who are the likely candidates [visual effects houses]?” And all of them were outside of our budget, we just couldn’t afford it. They came in with bids, they tried but we just couldn’t afford it. So we eliminated that and then we said, “Look, we can’t do this movie that way. What are we going to do?”
A good friend of mine named Jenny Fulle was starting her company called Creative Cartel. Jenny had been at a big company [Sony Imageworks] and she was of a mindset of this new world order. Visual effects are no longer “the man behind the curtain, pay no attention to the Wizard of Oz” The curtain has come down. They are a transient business, meaning that talent moves freely worldwide. There’s talent worldwide to accomplish this kind of stuff. So how do we vet that talent? Well, first, obviously you can ask somebody what’s this going to cost and if they think they can accomplish something for a price. Second, you can look at their reel of experience and say, does their reel of experience speak of this [capability]? Third, like what you do with a lead actor in a movie, you audition them. And that’s the creative piece we put in this [process].
Companies [potential visual effects houses] were willing to consider an audition if we provided them some mocap and vocal performance of Seth and said, “See what you would do, here’s the design of the character and here’s the performance. Put the two together, what can you do for us?” So we had the time to allow them, for the R&D period, to audition. And the companies we chose [which included Tippett Studio and Iloura] are the ones that delivered remarkable auditions. It was such a wonderful experience to set a culture early that said, “Hey, you guys are not doing visual effects for us. You guys are auditioning for the lead role in the movie. Let’s see what you can do.” And they took to that in a way that was outside of their previous experience that allowed them to feel they were a creative lynchpin in the movie. And frankly, we did have Seth, and the opportunity to work with somebody great drove their passion.
DS: You can see it in the work, the CG, it has the right weight, it’s lit right. It looks great.
JC: I’ll tell you something else Dan that that hasn’t really been done before. Not like this. We seamlessly shared the assets of this character between houses that used different tool sets across the world.
DS: Pipeline, pipeline, pipeline. It’s the mantra with…
JC: Right. With multiple houses creating a single performance.
DS: That’s not an easy thing to do.
JC: No, it’s impossible to do. And it’s a culture shift and this is why I say this is a new world order. Guys, there is nothing proprietary anymore. You have to learn to share and if you don’t share you’ll be lost because you can’t be that big in this world. You need to be more nimble as a visual effects company because if you’re that big, you’re going to collapse on yourself. And anybody who is in this technology business, if you try to own too much real estate it’s not going to work for you. You’ve put millions and millions into your system and some kid in the garage is going to beat it and it’s going to be better than yours and it’s going to be built after seeing yours. That’s philosophically the creed of growth. Everything that’s happening is happening at a revolutionary pace.
I needed to mocap Seth’s performance, to give the bear its physical performance. I couldn’t take him to a stage and I couldn’t build a stage in every location. How can I do that? As I said, there’s this MVN suit, but it didn’t hold up. Every time it’s around metal, it interfered with my radio waves. Everybody wears a radio on a movie set. How do we put it in a movie set in every kind of environment? And you know what, I didn’t take “no” for an answer. I called them [Xsens] up, I said, “Well give me one that does work.” They got some new software and some new tools and then they put on the suit and it took 22 minutes to dress in this racket strapped suit that was incredibly uncomfortable and overbearing.