A Conversation With Peter Jackson And Steven Spielberg: The Temptation To Stop Making Live-Action Films [Part 2]

Last week, I was fortunate enough to visit Weta in New Zealand and receive a tour of their facilities as they were in the middle of making The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Unquestionably, the highlight of the day was an hour-long Q&A session featuring Jackson in-person and Steven Spielberg via video in LA. Yesterday, we presented an excerpt in which Jackson and Spielberg extolled the ability to replicate their existing workflow using motion capture technology.

I asked these filmmakers what motion capture technology had made easier for their filmmaking process, and what had been unexpectedly difficult. Hit the jump for their responses.


Spielberg: The greatest thing about this medium is, it stays in a constant state of fluidity. When I make a live action movie and I wrap the movie, I'm left with the remnants of what inspired me, what ideas I got, or what ideas the actors contributed, and it all happens in let's say a couple of months. Three or four months, your movie's done, and you go home with your assets, and you're left with these assets.

Now, they always say a movie can be made or broken in the cutting room, and I really believe that too. But I only had the assets [with which] to be clever. If a scene didn't work, I'd go in and recut the scene, or I'd cut the scene out of the picture totally. But it was a closed system. This medium allows you to continue telling your story, refining, creating shots close to release. I could do a shot today, I could do a shot a month from now, and that shot could be performed, rendered, and resolved, and make it to the final cut of the movie before it's released at the end of October internationally.

So because it stays so fluid, it's so exciting to get an idea, maybe two years after the initial performance capture production is behind us, and to be able to actually shoot a whole new series of scenes and make them fit into the current cut. So, that was one of the most exciting things about it for me.

Jackson: When you're making a live action movie, you shoot your footage and then you get used to that very quickly...You get used to seeing the performances, because very early in the process you've chosen takes that are the best takes. From then on, it's refining, it's making trims and tweaks and doing whatever you're doing in post-production. In a way, you're looking at the same material over and over again.

One of the things with this process which is always exciting is the fact that everything evolves, continuously. I mean, this has been a long time. This movie has taken us upwards of six years to get to this point, from the very first discussions, and a lot of that six years has been working on the film.

I came in last night to do a sound check...and I was seeing shots for the very first time. Some of those fully rendered shots were shots that have only just popped out of the computer in the past day or two. I've just found you never get used to this film. It's constantly evolving all the time, which is exciting...It's a very dynamic process. There's nothing stale about it.

The difficulty with this film is the same as with any movie. It was the script. The script, and getting the script right and getting it to the point where we were happy was no different to a live action film. And that, in some respects, was the hardest part of the whole thing.


Later in the day, Jackson gave us a tour of the motion capture studios and demonstrated the camera technology he's using for The Adventures of Tintin. One of the writers there with me asked Jackson if, after using the technology behind Tintin, he was ever tempted to stop making live action films. I found his answer to be enlightening, but also encouraging (especially when you look at what's happened to Robert Zemeckis' filmography in recent years):

Jackson: You don't allow yourself to do that. it would be easy to do that, but no.

I am somebody who does stress a bit about the logistics. You spend a lot of money on a film set each day. We're about to go on location for The Hobbit in a few weeks. We've sort of allowed a schedule [for travel and shooting]...but you just know as soon as you wake up in the morning and it's pouring with rain, which it does in New Zealand from time to time, you just know everything gets thrown out the window. And suddenly, there's a lot of tension. You've got people on the phone. You got costs. You're blowing 100 grand with everybody sitting down and you're not shooting a single thing. There's huge money involved.

You can't help but get a little bit wound up about that and thinking "Okay, we've lost a day. Are we going to over schedule by a day? Are we going to try to make it up? Are we going to cut something so we can catch up?" There's a certain layer of basic logistical tension and anxiety that's involved with any live action shoot...

The other thing too is you have practical things in a live action environment that are difficult. For instance, if you've got two pages of dialogue that you want to shoot and you want to shoot it just at that magic hour of sunset, with that beautiful light coming in. Unless you're going to shoot it in one shot, which some filmmakers do really well, how the hell do you shoot two pages when you've only got 25 minutes of that beautiful light, if you're lucky enough to get it? If a cloud comes in, you're completely snuffed anyway. But here, you've got the freedom of creating this beautiful sunrise or sunset, and it's there as long as you want it, all day long, for the scene.

It's a different way of approaching filmmaking. There's certainly freedoms with this. But of course, the flip side of that is that doing an animated film is a particular genre, and that's great and it's fun to do. But it's always nice to see real people and real emotions, real faces. They do exist side by side and have their own pros and cons.