Post Magazine

March 2011

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director’s chair Gore Verbinski — Rango H By IAIN BLAIR OLLYWOOD — After directing the first three films in the mega-franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, Gore Verbinski knows a thing or two about how to helm a huge production. And thanks to all the CGI in the third Pirates film, he was also well versed in deal- ing with animation, making him the perfect choice to helm Rango, the new fully-ani- mated film from Paramount. It stars Johnny Depp, who turns in his swashbuckling pirate outfit in exchange for the cowboy getup of the film’s unlikely hero, a chameleon named Rango, who faces off against some tough bandits in this spaghetti western. Featuring the voices of Depp, Isla Fisher, Timothy Olyphant and Harry Dean Stanton, the film showcases state-of-the-art anima- Taking on a full-CG film for the first time. and the rig under the skin. So if we wanted a little muscle spasm under the left eyelid on frame 38,we could do it. “So it began with high-res 2D renderings Gore Verbinski directing the crew at ILM: “I think you get more out of people when you take them to the brink and you all look over.” tion and visual effects by ILM, and here, in an exclusive interview with Post,Verbinski talks about making the film, the challenges in- volved, and creating its photoreal look. (See our interview with ILM on page 16.) POST:Toy Story 3 was the biggest film in the world last year, and four of the top 10 movies in America were animated.Animation is huge globally.Was that part of the appeal of doing this instead of another Pirates sequel? GORE VERBINSKI: “I’ve always been a big fan of animation as a technique to tell a story, and we used quite a lot in the last Pi- rates film.You create small story reels and execute them via elaborate storyboards or 12 Post • March 2011 it became clear it’s this story about a chameleon trying to blend in, but who does- n’t really have any identity. That was the start, the core.” POST: This looks so photoreal. Describe the process of creating the story, the town of Dirt and all the characters. VERBINSKI: “Very early on it was just me and five illustrators building our story- reel.We had microphones and a guitar and a Mac, and we worked for 16 months. It was very low-fi, low-tech, with no studio involve- ment.Then we met with ILM and John Knoll and all the guys I’d used to do 2,000 shots in the Pirates films. It was always intended to be of everything, and then ILM used that as a target as we began building in 3D. It was all keyframe animated. After that initial 16 months building our storyreel, we had 20 days with Johnny and all the actors on a stage blocking the scenes and getting some performance reference material — but mainly trying to get a lively audio track. “We jokingly called it ‘emotion-capture,’ because none of it was going to be used from a technical standpoint to drive any ani- mation. It was all referential, raw and chaotic. Then we cut that audio and laid it back over the storyreel, changing the reel slightly where necessary, and that reel was then our bible, along with high-res drawings of every character and environment for ILM.Then we moved up there and started building assets and working on layout, rough blocking, ani- mation, lighting and rendering tests.” POST: Obviously, this all required an in- credibly complicated digital pipeline. How previs in these huge visual effects projects, so it wasn’t that foreign to me.” POST: But there were a number of firsts here. VERBINSKI: “Yeah, it was my first anima- tion film, and the first one ILM had ever done.They’d never attempted this before, but I think you get more out of people when you take them to the brink and you all look over. You wake up at 3am in a cold sweat, but during the day you’re more alive and excited than ever.” POST: What sort of film did you set out to make? VERBINSKI: “It’s really an identity quest. Early on we talked about doing a western with desert creatures, and once we came up with a 12-page outline a partnership with ILM, so we’d show them the storyreel as we progressed, and charac- ter designs, and gradually got a budget. “My big pitch to ILM was,‘emotional real- ism is the main focus rather than photoreal- ism,’ as we were willing to give away scaling issues and so on in dealing with the charac- ters. But we needed to create an immense amount of detail to get that emotional real- ism, especially in extreme close ups; it all be- came about execution and character design in terms of sub-surface scattering and pores

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