It's been a whirlwind journey for Zack Snyder since 300 . His fascination with graphic novels and comics have only intensified with Watchmen  and Sucker Punch (opening today). As the kinetic director now sets his sights on his greatest challenge, Superman: Man of Steel (which goes into production in July for a Christmas 2012 release), he spoke to us about his creative evolution, his latest use of VFX and his passion for mythology.
Bill Desowitz: What was it like coming to Sucker Punch after Watchmen?
Zack Snyder: Watchmen prepared me for anything. I don't know if you've watched it lately, but it was on the other night, and I thought, "Oh, my God! That was a lot of work!" You forget. But it prepared us to be leaner and meaner for Sucker Punch, and we got a lot of bang for our buck, if you know what I mean.
BD: What were the overall challenges in each of the set pieces?
ZS: On "Samurai," the big challenge there was the scale issue of having to fight someone 10-feet-tall that's not there. It's really about knowing the volume that you're working in and knowing the size of the adversary and then making sure the choreography is adequate to those size differences. With "World War I," I think the biggest challenge was just the raw physicality of that one. That was probably the hardest -- you had stuntmen in masks fighting the girls literally hand-to-hand. We all got just got literally beat up on that one. And the big challenge on "Dragon" was just trying to understand the scope and scale we were trying to create, and you're going down on the ground to up in the plane and all over the place, and that was tricky. And on "Bullet Train," the big challenge was the one shot, which was insane -- and that stitches so many CG doubles. All that stuff with Emily [Browning] when she's fighting those robots was done one shot at a time and then stitched all together with the CG double to get from one camera angle to the next.
BD: And as far as CG challenges?
ZS: I think the CG challenge for me on this one was really starting to delve into, as deeply as I can, the digital double transition -- the stitch -- where you have a live actor that's flying off the ground and there's a CG double that gets you from one position to the next. But in a way where I can show it to you and ask, "When is she CG and when is she not?" And you have a hard time finding those moments exactly.
ZS: We never got that ambitious on the previous films with having the characters in the shot change fully from CG and then back to live-action photography.
BD: It's weird that Sucker Punch follows last year's Shutter Island and Inception. So, in a sense, we're prepared for your mind-bender.
ZS: It is weird, isn't it? That's how I felt. We designed this as a super radical thing for eight years and you just had these two kinds of training wheels. Now the idea of a dream within a dream is no big deal. Now they say, "I can handle this: What've you got?" I think it's a good thing, by the way. We all want to create our own revolution, but it's nice that you can have help.
BD: So how does this help you segue into Superman?
ZS: It's funny because the thing about Superman that's stylistically interesting to me is that he's relevant if he's real. That's what Chris Nolan and I talked about early on. The only way I could do this is if Superman were living in the real world with us. And I think that helps him to be credible. It's just funny because, for me, I haven't made a real film.
BD: A film so grounded in reality?
ZS: No, I was never interested in it, to be honest. But it's kind of fun to think of it for this.
BD: So what else can you tell us about your approach?
ZS: I think when you approach a project like Superman, when you have this awesome script and you have this giant character, that it's fun, though, to go to a place and film it and it gets real, real fast. I know this is slightly off track, but I love the idea that, what if, say, for your favorite scene from your favorite movie, everybody got up one day, they went to work and shot the scene and then went on. But maybe they only shot it in the morning and they don't know what went on in the afternoon. I always love that about movies that they exist outside the time they record.
BD: And Superman is not like Watchmen.
ZS: No, for me, one of the big differences is the idea that -- and I've always talked about this -- I've never gone after an actual character in making movies from graphic novels or comic books. I've gone after literary or thematic concepts. Where I feel like with Superman, you're going after a mythology in general. Very different.
BD: And yet Sucker Punch allowed you focus on a single character's journey as she grows from a child into a woman.
ZS: Yeah, the one thing I thought was interesting about this character is that when she comes in, she's the innocent and Sweat Pea is tough and in charge, and through the course of the film they switch roles. That was fun for me to work with Emily because she's so otherworldly when you look at her.
BD: And now you have Henry Cavill.
ZS: Yeah, Henry's awesome. And having Diane [Lane] and Kevin [Costner] also gives you an idea of what kind of movie we're trying to make.
BD: It must be fun to humanize these mythic characters and help us understand more about why they mean so much to us.
BD: And to play in the sandbox with them?
ZS: Yeah, it's actually a dream come true to get that opportunity. You never expect that. Superman's difficult because you want someone who knows it to love it -- and that's the trick.
BD: And have you always been a big Superman fan?
ZS: I've been a fan of the character and I've followed the comic casually -- and when I say, casually, I mean more than normal people. I like the movies. I love the Donner movie, of course. And, again, our point of view is that we're treating it like there's no other movie.
BD: Do you have a production designer?
ZS: Yeah, Alex McDowell .
BD: Reunited from Watchmen: how perfect. Can't wait to see how it all comes together.
ZS: Yeah, I'm pretty excited about it, to be honest.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.