Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with some coverage of the historic first appearance of Steven Spielberg at Comic-Con.
They opened up with a montage of Steven Spielberg movies and it was, frankly, amazing. They didn’t leave anything out (from Duel on), even 1941 made the cut… in fact, Temple of Doom played a rather large part of the reel, which put a pretty big smile on my face.
From the ripples in the water cup from Jurassic Park to the skinny dipper that opens Jaws to “Trust me” to ET’s heartlight to Goldie with a shotgun to Belushi’s plane crashing down on Hollywood Blvd to baby Christian Bale cheering on the planes to tripods blowing shit up, everything was covered. It totally got the audience in the mood when LA Times’ Geoff Boucher came out to begin the Q&A with Steven.
Pretty quickly they got to their first bit of footage, which was Weta Digital’s first test for Snowy, Tintin’s canine companion. Spielberg said he had to decide if he was going to do Tintin live action with a CG dog or if the world would be better executed as an animated movie. He asked Weta to give him a test of Snowy in live action preferably with a stand-in in some kind of costume.
They ran the clip and a bearded man with a strange New Zealand accent wandered out dressed up as Captain Haddock. Peter Jackson recorded this video some 6 years ago with what I believe is the Venture docked behind him. He stumbled out with a Captain Morgan Rum bottle clenched in his hand declaring to the camera that he’s auditioning for the role of Captain Haddock.
As Peter talks to the camera, telling Spielberg why he should be considered for the role, a CG Snowy sneaks into frame. From then on it becomes a competition between Haddock Peter and Snowy for the attention of the camera, the dog hopping about on his hind legs behind Jackson as he shouts out Haddock lines like “Ten thousand thundering tycoons!”
Eventually, Peter puts down his rum bottle and Snowy starts slurping it up… so much so he gets drunk and starts hiccupping, swaying on his hind legs.
With a splash the dog ends up falling off the dock into the water. Haddock Peter jumps in after him with an even bigger splash. It was hilarious, Snowy looked great, Peter was great and when the lights came up what should be up on the stage with Steven Spielberg by a slightly older version of the man we just saw up on the screen.
Peter Jackson joined Steven and the two talked Tintin (that sounded rather poetic, didn’t it?). Here are some highlights from the panel followed by some footage description:
-Spielberg to the Comic-Con Audience: “I wouldn’t be here without you supporting these movies and supporting what we do and staying kids no matter what your age.”
-He stressed that he himself is still a little kid at heart and that’s crucial to him and his work. “When I start growing up that’s when I’ll stop making movies.”
-Spielberg first heard of Tintin in 1981 when he read a French review of Raiders of the Lost Ark that compared his movie to this series of books. He wanted to see just how close Raiders was to this book, but could only find it in French, but Herge’s visual storytelling was such that he still got sucked into the world.
-Jackson was asked how it was working with Steven Spielberg: “I think he shows real promise. If he sticks with it, I think he’ll be going somewhere.”
-Jackson had grown up with Tintin as a series, loved them, and had been reading about Spielberg owning the rights since 1983.
-In a weird twist of fate it was seeing Jurassic Park that influenced Jackson to work with CGI and that began Weta Digital. On Heavenly Creatures they had one computer, by LOTR they had 500-600 computers and now they have 2000. And those computers are now being used to help Jackson and Spielberg make Tintin, some 28 years after Peter read about him having the rights.
-Spielberg shot everything on Tintin himself with a virtual camera. Doing it this way really took him back to his days of shooting 8mm home movies. He had a Playstation-like remote control that had a screen in the middle of it. On the screen were Herge’s characters (rough, of course) and in front of him were actors with MoCap outfits on.
-He decided on doing it all motion capture animation because he wanted a direct translation from Herge’s world. “Art to art” as he said, not “Oh, that actor looks kind of like Captain Haddock…”
-Jackson said growing up with the books he viewed Tintin as the big brother he never had.
-It took five hours to animate every single frame of the movie. I’m not sure if Spielberg meant it took five hours to render, but that sounds more likely.
-Regarding the freedom of a virtual world, Spielberg said he was happy to use these new tools, but do so in a way that he already knew how to tell stories. Meaning he approached it from a technical side (camera moves, framing, etc) just as he’d approach it if were film.
-Motion capture gave them the freedom to cast for the roles, not the looks of the actors. “This is the only way you’d ever cast Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as identical twins,” Jackson said.
-Spielberg said performance capture is not a medium that’s right for every film, but it was for this one. He can see the temptation to have total control of the environment and camera placement, though.
-However, this is the only movie Spielberg has ever shot digitally and that was because there was no other way to do it. If there was a way to do an animated performance capture movie on 35mm he’d do it.
-Jamie Bell is Tintin through and through. He was even Tintin when he didn’t have his performance capture suit on, according to Spielberg./p>
-Spielberg was asked about working with Peter. He said the first time he met Peter he was at microphone just like the one he was speaking in to and he got to hand Peter the Oscar for Best Picture for Return of the King.
-Collaboration-wise, Spielberg said that outside of working with his best friend George Lucas this has been the best collaboration of his life. “It’s like working with my brother.”
-Peter was asked about The Hobbit, said he’s enjoying it way more than he thought he would that he’s having a blast. Jackson could literally not think of anybody better to play Bilbo than Martin Freeman, who had already signed on to do multiple seasons of Sherlock for the BBC. That’s the reason they’re on a forced break right now, but Peter said that it’s incredibly helpful for him to take these breaks to catch up on editing, planning and all the fine-tuning.
-When asked about working on multiple projects at a time, Spielberg responded that he loves it and will always work that way because he feels it a sense of objectivity. “I can go away and work on Lincoln, then go back to post on War Horse and see it with new eyes.”
-First audience question came from Andy Serkis who put on the act of being a nervous Comic-Con fan asking if it was true that when Daniel Craig met Clint Eastwood for the first time he was wearing MoCap tights? I’m guessing this is true. Heh.
-The first question from an actual fan actually name-dropped me. The question was in reference to my Spielberg interview a while back where he mentioned that he had a great idea for Jaws sequel, but didn’t want it in print. Would he mind telling the fans? Spielberg replied saying he didn’t mind telling the fans at all, but he didn’t want it out there reported because he was worried Universal would hear it and go out and make the movie without him! By the way, I haven’t heard the idea yet, so no use asking me.
-Will Peter Jackson ever do funny, bloody horror movies again? “Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to. I do have a couple of things that I’m playing around with at the moment… designs, etc.” He said in the future you will absolutely see him do low budget crazy horror again.
-What was Spielberg’s favorite movie to make? He said there is one very important personal film to him that was by far his favorite to make and that was ET. He described how on movie sets hundreds of people gather together to tell one story. They become very close, like a family, but when the movie is over they move on to other jobs. Spielberg had a very hard time letting the kids go… Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore and the rest. He realized then that he was ready to have his own children and now has 7 of them, all thanks to ET he says.
-What’s Spielberg’s role as a producer? “As a producer I hire a director and I go away. That’s the smartest thing to do and, by the way, that’s the smartest thing any producer should do.” Of all the films he has produced, he’s the most proud of Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future Trilogy
-Have there ever been any movies either had produced that they wish they had directed? Jackson said he’d only done one (District 9), or two if you count Tintin and he’s pretty sure Steven was okay to direct it. With D9 it was very much Neill Blomkamp’s idea. If Peter develops an idea he tends to fall in love with it, so every movie he intends to produce he ends up directing.
-Spielberg: “I couldn’t have made any of the movies I produced as good as the directors that I hired.” Although, there is one that he “gave away.” It was a script that Kate Capshaw read and loved and said to him, “If you don’t direct this I’ll leave you!” She didn’t follow through when Spielberg turned the script over to Same Mendes and he made American Beauty, which ended up winning best picture.
-Once again Spielberg reiterated that both he and Peter are one of us, and that they both owe their success to us. He acknowledged that we don’t love him all the time, but actually says he likes that. “It keeps us honest, so keep taking us to task!”
-What’s the jump in technology like between Beowulf and Tintin? Spielberg said that the medium is still growing, but it was what James Cameron and Weta Digital did with Avatar that took the Performance Capture technology and took it to the next level. Spielberg called it a quantum leap forward.
-JURASSIC PARK 4?!? An audience member really wanted to know if there was another Jurassic Park in the works. Spielberg said they have an idea, a writer has been hired and a script is being developed right now. Hopefully we’ll be seeing the movie in theaters in the next 2-3 years.
-Why start with The Secret of the Unicorn? Jackson said that they really wanted Captain Haddock and Tintin together right away and that the earlier stories don’t have Haddock whereas The Secret of the Unicorn involves Haddock’s backstory and felt like the perfect way to introduce these characters. They pulled his introduction from another book in the series, but Haddock and the mystery of the Unicorn are entwined, so they went with that book first.
-Spielberg: “If you decide this series is worth seeing, go see this one and Peter will direct the next one!” Peter: “Please go see it, I really want to direct my Tintin film!”
It is safe to say that Spielberg and Jackson had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. And as a Tintin virgin, I have to say the footage totally won me over. Especially when I heard Spielberg state a similarity in material between Tintin and Raiders. You can feel that pulpy origin in the material.
The footage they showed started off with a chubby man at Tintin’s chained door, whispering to Tintin through the small opening and saying the game is up, someone is returning. This person is after the boat (Unicorn) and has killed people. Suddenly the door erupts with bulletholes as an automatic weapon punches lead through the wood. Naturally, Tintin and Snowy dive for cover. One of these bullets hits the chain and the door slowly opens as we hear a car screech off down the street.
Tintin holds a gun up as the door swings fully open and the chubby gentleman stands for a moment before swaying to the floor. An older woman appears from a door within the house as Tintin races out yelling, “A man’s been shot at our doorstep!” She says, “Not again!” as the boy runs out into the dark street, gun up, but the car is too far away.
We also so a bit of Tintin crawling through the porthole of a boat to listen in at another window (that close up shot of him in the trailer) and a quick fight with men in the boat, which was interrupted by Haddock who turns the tides.
One of the better parts of the footage was Haddock, Tintin and Snowy at sea, clinging to debris as an enemy plane flies towards him. “The bad news is we’ve only got one bullet,” says Tintin. “What’s the good news?” asks Haddock. “We have one bullet.” And Tintin takes a shot as the plane passes by.
But the interesting thing to me about this footage was the tone. It was full of adventure and the world was incredibly layered. The animation was beautiful, rich and stylized enough to get away from that dead-eye feeling. It’s hard to have an uncanny valley when you’re not shooting for realism, but the animation is so rich that you kind of get the best of both worlds.
I was very impressed. You could feel Spielberg’s touch as well as Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright, Peter Jackson and Steven Moffat’s fingerprints in the playfulness of the dialogue.
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