Comic-Con 2011: Spielberg and Jackson Discuss Their Grand Adventure on ‘Tintin’

By  · Published on July 25th, 2011

While waiting for Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson for The Adevtnures of Tintin press conference, I kept imagining how the duo would magically enter the room. First of all, their podium was slightly bigger than most there. Not too much bigger, but most certainly bigger. But what if it was gigantic? What if they wanted to stare down on all of us attending like Gods? As for their entrance, digital materializing infront of us would’ve been cool. Or if the duo showed up in a pair of mo-cap suits. Or if they were carried in on a Tintin themed throne.

Surprisingly and sadly, neither of them entered the room that way.

Once Spielberg and Jackson got to the press event, they delivered their thoughts on 3D, the determination of Tintin, and what they learned about each other during their first Tintin adventure:

Can you talk a little bit about the use of motion-capture technology in the film?

PJ: Well, the thing that we wanted to do, motion-capture is not a genre… It’s not a Spaghetti Western, for instance. You know, motion-capture is a tool and technique and what we tried to do was to really use both motion-capture and traditional animation to build a system by which, you know, Steven and I are much more adept to live-action filmmaking. I mean, we can’t use computers – either of us. I can hardly send e-mail.

We wanted to be able to walk into this sort of virtual world that we created with Tintin, with the characters, with the locations that had been built with the computer, to pick up a virtual camera and shoot a live-action movie inside this strange, hybrid, photo-real world. It wasn’t the photo-real world that was important, it was the way in which we could shoot a movie inside that world that we think the result is really interesting.

SS: For me, I think five minutes into watching this movie people will soon see that the medium is not the message, that the characters and the story and the plot are. Every movie you’re going to forget that it’s 3D whether it’s widescreen or whatever it is, you’re going to forget everything if the movie is working. If the movie doesn’t work or if the movie generically doesn’t work then immediately you start to pick apart whatever has contributed to that. If any movie is working, hopefully how it was made will be the least of your concern, you’ll only want to have a good time.

How do you work with the actors to help them get into the place where they need to be when they’re wearing a mo-cap suit but playing a human being?

SS: I’ve always found that the costume the actors wear and if they’re in stylized makeup and wigs in a live-action movie, let’s say, in a big costume drama, even though it does give them a sense of great ambiance and environment and they feel like they’re in a great court, or if they feel like they’re in the old west, or if they feel like they’re being chased by hobbits or dinosaurs, it all comes down to the actors looking each other in the eye. That’s where the truth is told and that’s where the drama or the comedy happens.

When you see Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot, they’re dressed outlandishly and everything else, you know the truth of those performances is when they’re looking at each other, acting together. Actors just need each other to act together. All of that other stuff is forgotten. Our actors were wearing motion-capture suits, they were earing headgear with a little camera and dots on their faces. After laughing at each other for about ten minutes and getting that out of their system, they’re performing characters. I think that is the secret of great acting is you have to bring your imagination to the party. You have to have a great imagination and you have to bring it every day when you’re working. Your imagination and your skills as an actor are what see you through, not what you’re wearing or where you are.

If I’m interested in this movie as a Spielberg fan, what sorts of things were you able to do with the film that might interest me in particular? Also, as a Tintin fan, would you be excited to see a Tintin movie that Peter directed?

SS: Let me answer your last question first. Hopefully, with success, Peter is scheduled to direct the second Tintin adventure which, by the way, does include Professor Calculus and so I’m really looking forward to working with him as a producer and as a collaborator in the same way Peter has worked with me to support me in directing Tintin, but also to support me in just about every creative decision from the beginning of this process to where we sit right here talking to you.

This movie I’m making for all of you. Some movies I make for myself, I do that sometimes when the subject matter is very sensitive and very personal and I really can’t imagine that I’m an audience member. I would lose myself too much if I thought of myself as the audience. There are other types of genre films that I need to be able to direct from the audience, to be right next to you watching the picture being made, and Tintin is just such a movie.

Can you talk a little about the process of motion-capturing the eye and its importance to the film?

PJ: Well, when you’re casting a movie and when you’re shooting a film, the eyes are the most important feature of any performer, really. Any great actor knows exactly how to use their eyes, and even as a filmmaker I love shooting huge close-ups because it’s those eyes that mean so much to me. Way back when we were doing Lord of the Rings and we created Gollum in the computer. We go to New Zealand and we built the eyes that our characters would use in a very scientific way. You study real eyes, you study how the light reflects in them, you study the back of the eye, you study the way irises reflect emotion.

I mean, you go into great scientific detail, so with Gollum and then King Kong was another character who didn’t do a huge amount with his face but his eyes told you everything of what he was thinking. It was critical and obviously, with Avatar, the eyes were critical in there. WETA has really put a huge amount of R & D into the eyes and I agree with you, with Tintin, just like with any other film, with our actors we had to create a cast and they had to be as expressive in the eyes as a live-action film.

As a character, what was it about Tintin that drew you in?

SS: Well, you know, Tintin, at least speaking for myself, he’s an intrepid, tenacious reporter who often becomes more a part of the story than just a reporter reporting the news. What I identify with, with Tintin, is that he does not take no for an answer, and that’s the story of my life.

PJ: It’s all about his determination. You never, ever, give up once you start something, once you’re on the trail of something you don’t stop and that’s what you have to go through when you’re making a movie too. Once the train’s rolling, you have to stick with it.

One of the things I always loved about Tintin in all of his stories is that he always had some sort of fortuitous escape route. Was that something that inspired you about the character?

SS: Actually, I’m not sure. Tintin does fall in a hole in our story but he gets up quick enough to allow the story to continue. We don’t stay very long in the hole. We don’t spend twenty-minutes in the hole with Tintin bemoaning why he is so clumsy sometimes. There’s a lot of plot… I mean, look at the Hergé books, there’s a lot of narrative. There’s a lot of, not only just adventure, but also there’s a lot of subplot.

What made it delightful for the two of us is that, in the middle of all this forward motion, we take time for the characters to have a relationship with each other. We take time for Captain Haddock to moan about what brought him to drink and close to ruination, and we go back in the first movie to Captain Haddock’s ancestors so we get to know a lot about why Captain Haddock is the man he is today. We’re very concerned about keeping the narrative moving because Hergé was concerned about that, too.

Also, in honoring Hergé it was very important for this film to take little rest stops to get to know the different people involved.

You’re both great directors, but you can’t always be right. Talk about a decision, for the both of you, when you really thought something was going to work on film, and it didn’t. Adversely, a time when you were pretty unsure that something was going to work but it actually did.

SS: I’ve got a lot of examples I can give you about moments where I thought something would work on film and it didn’t work, but I never came to that decision with the film half shot, where I was stuck on a runaway train and couldn’t jump off. On those occasions where I have admitted defeat, that this is not going to work, I haven’t embarked on that project and made that movie.

PJ: I find that in the process of making a film you’re constantly discovering things that you never even imagined would work at the beginning. When I start a film, you know I can sort of shut my eyes, sit somewhere quiet and imagine the movie finished. I can imagine the camera angles, I can even imagine the type of music, without knowing the tune, I can imagine the type of music it needs to be. But, in the process of making the film, you’re constantly discovering new things all of the time. I mean, actors come into the film and do things you never even imagined. Production designers come in and the director of photography lights it in a way that you never imagined. So, it’s always evolving, always exciting.

In fact, with Tintin, the process was even more stimulating because it begins with a very crude pre-visualization, which is like a very simple piece of animation and then you slowly begin layering it and layering it. So, even though Tintin has taken Steven and I five or six years to get from the very beginning of the process to get where we are now, it’s been five or six absolutely dynamic years because literally every week we’re seeing new things, we’re seeing new versions of shots that, even though we’ve seen them before, they’re starting to come to life and you go, “Oh, my God.” It’s really exciting.

You guys are obviously admirers of each other’s work on-screen but, as you collaborate more closely, what did you learn and discover about one another as filmmakers that maybe surprised you?

PJ: Well, the thing that really surprised me I guess is, thinking about Steven’s huge body of work and the incredible films that he’s made that have affected all of us, I thought that Steven would have a process. I was imagining that there would be a way in which Steven would make the movie and I was looking forward to seeing it. But, what I discovered, which was delightful in a way, is that Steven walks onto the set and it’s like the first time that he’s ever walked onto a film set. He’s literally childish, and I mean that in a positive way. There’s a childish excitement that Steven brings to it, an enthusiasm that I wasn’t expecting, and it’s very inspiring.

SS: I was quite surprised at how patient and thoughtful Peter is. He doesn’t let anything rattle him to where he becomes locked in indecision. He’s a problem solver. He likes to look at a challenge from several different angles and then, very methodically, he makes the best choice to solve the problem. In a sense, Peter is right. I get very, very anxious on the set. I have a thousand ideas and I don’t censor myself. I wind up cutting some of them out in the editing room.

If I was more like Peter, I would save myself a lot of footage, needless footage that I shoot and then don’t use later on in the process because Peter does have a very good sense of seeing the big picture and the finding the most expedient way into that image or that emotional moment. We were, in a way, two code-breakers working on the enigma code trying to figure this movie out together. Once I realized that we were just two sort of scientists in a lab just trying to figure out how to make something work, there’s no ego, there’s no competition. We’re both on the same page. We’re two huge Tintin fanboys just trying to bring this movie to you in a way that you will like.

PJ: I mean, it is solving a problem. The problem is how do you adapt these books that both Steven and I have loved for a long, long time, and do them justice? That’s a problem because there’s obviously a million ways that you could not do that and so the problem is how to you do it and that’s what we’ve sort of worked on. It’s been fantastic.

Commercial potential not withstanding, what do you guys think about 3D? Will it get to the point where people don’t even notice it, or will it truly enhance the experience as a whole?

SS: I’m certainly hoping that 3D gets to the point where people do not notice it because once they stop noticing it, it just becomes another tool and an aid to help tell a story. Then maybe they can make the ticket prices comparable to a 2D movie and not charge such exorbitant prices just to gain entry into a 3D one, with the exception of IMAX, where we are getting a premium experience in a premium environment, but to show a 3D movie in a similar theater in a multiplex next to another similar theater showing a 2D movie hoping someday there will be so many 3D movies that the point of purchase prices can come down, which I think would be fair to the consumer.

Not every movie, in my opinion, should be in 3D. There are a lot of stories I wouldn’t shoot in 3D. But, you know, there are movies that are perfect in 3D. I think the last great 3D movie I saw that really enhanced the experience for me, you’ll have to excuse me for mentioning a film I co-produced, it was the last Transformers which I think is the most amazing 3D experience I’ve seen since Avatar. But, 3D needs a trained eye. It can’t be done by everybody. People who just do 3D just for the sake of commercializing their movie another five or six percent and they don’t know really how to do it, they should care how to do it better by bringing other directors and collaborators into their lives to help teach and instruct how you really make a 3D movie, because it’s not just like putting a new lens on a camera and forgetting it. It takes a lot of very careful consideration. It will change your approach to where you put the cameras. So, 3D isn’t for everybody.

PJ: I think the 3D situation is kind of interesting at the moment because, after Avatar, it survived for a while as this premium experience with higher ticket prices, but I think the audiences have now come to realize that there are bad movies that can be in 3D. On top of that, you’re being charged an extra five dollars to see a movie that was as bad as when you saw it in 2D. You know, that’s a natural human response to that and I think that’s being driven to some degree by the increased ticket prices, which is a shame and it’s starting to backfire a little bit. I certainly believe that, with the right movie, 3D can enhance the experience. Absolutely, it can make a good film a great film.

It can make a great film a really amazing film to see. and that’s what I hang onto. Certainly there’s the projection, which is why this issue needs to be addressed. If 3D is to have a long-term future in cinema in the sense that it’s at all like when the CinemaScope was introduced in the ’50s and the surround sound and everything, these technological things are not new, it’s just another step forward, then something certainly has to be done about it in the pictures we are experiencing at the moment.

-For even more Tintin talk, here’s Spielberg and Jackson answering some question in front of the entire Hall H crowd at Comic-Con:

The Adventures of Tintin opens in theaters on December 23rd.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.