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SDCC 09: Thursday in 3-D!

The first official day of San Diego Comic-Con 2009 was a doozy for animation and visual effects aficionados, with sneak peeks at the most anticipated 3-D films set to release in the next year. Imagi’s Astro Boy, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Tron Legacy, Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the mother of them all, James Cameron’s Avatar all debuted footage in 3-D to rapt audiences.

Astro Boy director David Bowers discusses his take on the classic anime character.

written by Tara Bennett

The first official day of San Diego Comic-Con 2009 was a doozy for animation and visual effects aficionados as almost the entire programming lineup in Hall H, the 6,000 seat theater at the San Diego Convention Center, featured sneak peeks at the most anticipated 3-D films set to release in the next year. Imagi’s Astro Boy, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Tron Legacy, Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the mother of them all, James Cameron’s Avatar all debuted footage in 3-D to rapt audiences. More... Behind the scenes at the Con, VFXWorld/AWN talked to the creative minds behind all of those films for our exclusive Comic-Con blog coverage. The following is some of the Thursday highlights: Imagi’s Astro Boy Imagi Studio’s adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s iconic manga Astro Boy screened more footage at its panel on Thursday morning. Afterwards director David Bowers (Flushed Away) talked to a small group of reporters, including AWN, where he expressed that initially he had some concerns about losing the Japanese charm of the original with a Western translation. “I was worried but to make sure we didn’t I have been working very closely with Makoto Tezuka, who is Tezuka’s son. He looks after his father’s estate and he’s a filmmaker himself; a very creative guy. He’s given quite a few notes along the way in terms of design and some of the cultural differences. He’s very happy with the movie so I’m not worried.”

As to those design notes, Bowers expanded, “Astro Boy is a beautiful example of design work. The drawings are wonderful. I just wanted to make sure he had the same appeal and the same…I don’t want to say cuddly…but he is very cute. We were very, very careful to stay in the realms of what Astro Boy is. There are so many versions of Astro Boy now that amongst them all ours is one of the most faithful.” Describing his palette choices for the film, Bowers said the film was split into two main environments: Metro City and the Earth surface. “It’s a colorful movie. Metro City is quite neutral, so I set things at certain times of the day to change the color of the light that reflects so the palette is constantly changing. Most of our artists are based in Hong Kong, so the film has a very Asian feel.”  Astro Boy opens in theaters October 23, 2009.

Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the co-directors of Sony’s 3-D CG adaptation of the popular children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, said this particular story seemed like a perfect fit for the studio’s first foray into the burgeoning format. In a press conference after their panel, in which they introduced the film’s second trailer, Miller said, “Obviously a movie about food falling from the sky is perfect…if any movie is going to be in 3-D it would be this one so you can have an immersive, spectacle experience.”

Disney’s Tron: Legacy After 30 years of development, the sequel to Tron (1982) is finally a reality. Director and writer Steve Lisberger’s Tron is still considered one of the films that heralded the start of the cinematic CGI animation revolution and now Tron: Legacy will introduce that look and mythology to a new generation. In the sequel Jeff Bridges returns as Kevin Flynn and is joined by newcomer Garrett Hedlund, who plays his son Sam Flynn.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with AWN, Tron: Legacy producer Lisberger shared his thoughts on the changes in digital cinema just in the span of three decades. Lisberger opined that he’s found that the inextricable intertwining of technology to filmmaking has created more complications than expected. “The way we make films now, the question is will they remain classics or is technology on such a conveyor belt that you are always going to be able to timeline when a film is made? It’s interesting to go back and look at Titanic and it looked one way when it first came out and now…It’s one of the reasons I like the Tron-look because the tools are there to enhance the Tron-look, but it’s still the Tron-look. I think it’s evolving. Making the transition from 2-D to 3-D, when you do certain things in 2-D like adding texture to create the illusion of space, when you go to 3-D you realize you really need the actual space. You need the volume and the architectural reference. I think it’s going to be interesting how technology over the next 10, 20 years affects how motion picture environments are done, how costumes are done and sooner or later how actors move in the genres. I’ve got to believe it’s got to effect you compared to watching yourself just in 2-D.”

Of course Tim Burton drew a crowd.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Director and cinematic visionary Tim Burton appeared at his first Comic-Con 30 years to debut the trailer for his 3-D adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. It’s the director’s first live-action foray into the format and he said that Alice’s adventures naturally lend themselves to 3-D technique. “I am personally not out to make it a gimmick. Rather it enhances and puts you in this world more. Just with the Alice material with her growing and shrinking in the spaces and places, it helps the experience. I think the gimmick elements are falling to the wayside. When I converted Nightmare to 3-D I felt like it was the way it should have been. You felt the texture of the puppets more…and it made the textures more real.”

Director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau discuss the most highly anticipated film of the Con.

James Cameron’s Avatar In easily the most-anticipated 3-D presentation of the day, James Cameron hosted a panel for his four-year in the making epic Avatar. It was the first time the director had screened footage to the public and they were wildly enthusiastic for the colorful, immersive sequences that filled 25 minutes of the panel time. Audiences were treated to several sequences cut together that outlined the general story of the film and Cameron’s wholly created CGI and mo-cap world known as Pandora. In a small roundtable interview with outlets including VFXWorld, Cameron revealed that it was his long-time creative collaborator, the late Stan Winston, who prodded him into embarking on the vastly challenging filmmaking project. “When I first showed him my 3-D footage from [the deep sea exploration] documentaries I said, ‘I am thinking about doing a 3-D film. I’ll do something small to start out with and build up.’ He said, “No, no, no. You do your biggest and your best idea in this. You do your Star Wars in this.” Stan could be like that. He was so crazily intuitive. Boom; right to the idea. He was right.”

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