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Spielberg Talks 'Tintin'

Steven Spielberg tells us about the journey to make his first animated feature.

Steve Spielberg on the mo-cap set for The Adventures of Tintin. All images courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

As far as Steven Spielberg is concerned, performance capture was the right technique for The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21). He knew that the moment he stepped onto the motion capture stage in LA to watch James Cameron shoot Avatar with the virtual camera. Cameron even offered to set up a test stage for Spielberg to test it out for a couple of days. He loved it. The virtual camera gave him a new kind of freedom: he got closer to the actors; and it enabled him to not only be his own cameraman and focus puller but also his own lighting consultant. I spoke with the acclaimed director, who turned 65 yesterday.

Bill Desowitz: What has been like using this new performance capture technique for animation?

Steven Spielberg: Tintin is only a new kind of animated movie if you immediately erase from existence Avatar and Polar Express and Beowulf and Christmas Carol because Bob Zemeckis and James Cameron set a precedent and raised a bar quite high. Tintin is the beneficiary of some amazing groundwork that has already been accomplished by two great artists, Zemeckis and Cameron, and we actually got to use every animator that worked on Avatar and moved right over to do Tintin. So I was in the crow's nest and didn't want to blow this opportunity to make a movie that was in the right medium for the right message.

The film's style allowed Spielberg to direct actors while maintaining the visual likenesses of the original characters.

BD: What do you say to those who wonder why you didn't use live actors with virtual environments?

SS: If you have any familiarity with the Tintin books, you'll see that they were the style guide for every single pose and every single facial expression, and everything that these characters look like in our movie is actually what they look like in the comic books. But if you're not familiar with the Tintin books, just know that it brings you into a photorealistic world of animation and imagination.

Had I made it live action, here's what people would be saying right now: 'I hated all that makeup on those actors' faces!' Why'd he have to give him big, fake noses and big, fake ears and fake chins?' You know, I would've been criticized for stylizing the movie beyond recognition and that's why I chose this medium.

BD: Was that fantastic motorcycle chase in Morocco where you stage it all in one take, something you've always wanted to do?

SS: No, I wanted to do this chase in one shot. I began working with the animators at Weta and we started with some previs, and I said, let's do this entire chase in one shot, and I laid the whole thing out with the animators in one shot. I knew they could do it: I had to make sure it wasn't going to be boring; I had to make sure it wasn't going to need cuts and close-ups and so I was able to bring the characters in and out of their close-ups without interrupting the flow of the sequence. And once I saw it in a very rough version, the previsualization, I knew we could do the entire thing in one shot.

BD: That alone is proof of the form that you chose.

SS: Yeah, the form allowed me virtual freedom I've not had up until Tintin in my career, and the virtual freedom to put anything in my imagination up on the screen with only taste holding me back from becoming a complete hog, so to speak.

Many of drawn comparisons to the Indiana Jones series.

BD: And the ability to go in and make last-minute lighting changes right up until the international release. What kind of changes did you make?

SS: No, sometimes I would convert a very bright, sunlit sequence to a very dark, film noir sequence, and we could do that in one phone conversation with the animators.

BD: And Raiders found its way in there too.

SS: I tried to keep the movie honest to the source material. I knew there would be some Raiders analogies because we sort of put the idea in the mind of the media when I first began telling people that I first came across Tintin when I read a Raiders of the Lost Ark review in one of the French magazines and it compared me to something called Tintin. And that's when I discovered what Tintin was -- I had never heard of Tintin before. And also the genre of the adventure movie has to follow certain principles, and those principles are the same for Gunga Din, the same for The Great Escape, the same for the Indiana Jones series, and the person that beat all of us to the punch in 1929 was Hergé.

Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (, and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.

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Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.