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March 2010

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C ULVER CITY, CA — Just as Tim Bur ton's Alice in Wonderland was finishing up post production and 3D conversion, I had the pleasure to chat with the film's senior visual effects super vi- sor, president of Sony Pictures Imageworks Ken Ralston. He was a little tired, under- standably, but excited by the look of the film and his close collaboration with Burton. "For me I think it's the best work I've ever done," he repor ts. "I had a blast with Tim, and he gave me more creative free- dom than I have had in a while. It was a wonderful collaboration." While repor ts indicate over 1,700 visual effects shots were completed, Ralston says it was actually more. "Every shot is an effects shot — even the live action because it's 2D converted to 3D." Below, Ralston gives us a glimpse of the film's visual effects challenges, including a shor t shoot schedule: the main shoot was just 40 days. Alice in Wonderland stars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Car ter and Anne Hathaway, to name of few. POST MAGAZINE: Can you describe your work on the film? KEN RALSTON: "From the moment it started, I was involved with Tim and working with the designers on all the different char- acters, figuring out how they would all be done. At the same time, [production de- signer] Rob Stromberg was doing the de- signs and concepts on the environments. I had to be involved with that so we could plan to get it all in the shoot par t and through the computer-land version of all these environments. "It also involved all the preproduction de- sign and getting ready for the shoot — how we were going to shoot things and how fast we had to shoot. We didn't have much time to either prep, shoot or get the movie done in post, so ever ything had to be ver y streamlined. On the post side of it, we were basically tr ying to do all the hugely compli- cated things that are in this movie, which is many techniques and weird combinations of techniques, just to pull off some of the work… well all of it." POST: Can you talk about those weird combinations? RALSTON: "It's a lot of different things. In one shot we could have an eight-and-a-half- foot tall Alice with the Red Queen, who has a giant head. For the character Stayne (also known as the Knave of Hearts) — played by Crispin Glover — we are only using his head on a CG body. They were surrounded by other actors as the sycophants to the Red Queen that we were going to end up shooting months after the principal photog- raphy, combined with CG animals and an entirely computer-graphic environment." POST: Did you do previs? RALSTON: "Not exactly. Basically, we set up some very simple MotionBuilder files of the environment and had them on the stage when we were shooting, so when we were setting up with the actors — they still had to be shot more or less like a real film with the masters and close-ups and all that — Tim could look at the environment. "He's an interesting director where a lot of times he just didn't want to see it on there. He might compose and set up to them, but he would not look at it; this way he could concentrate on the immediate performance of the actors. That was our previs for most of it. "For the scenes that were more action oriented and less dependent on the ac- tors, the company Third Floor was used to explore the action sequences and help the movie take shape in the ver y begin- ning. This helped Tim find what direction he wanted to go in." POST: How much was shot greenscreen? And is this the most you have ever done? RALSTON: "Maybe 85 to 90 percent was greenscreen; and it is definitely the most I've ever done." POST: What were the particular challenges involving all that greenscreen? RALSTON: "One of the main ones was because of the nature of the short shooting schedule we had, and the availability of Johnny or Anne Hathaway, or the other ac- tors, I wanted to simplify what was happen- ing on stage. Also, the way Tim works is dif- ferent than some directors. He is more an artist moving into this green limbo, so I tried to make it as simple as possible, and that meant we had to streamline our shooting techniques and have everything sitting there waiting to go so we could move from set-up to set-up to set-up. So the speed of it was one of the biggest challenges and making sure we got everything we needed. "I also wanted to tr y to keep all the ac- tors in the same scene if I could, no matter what was going on. So if you had an eight- and-a-half-foot tall Alice with a regular-sized Hatter doing the very intimate scene where her hands are on his face and they are talk- ing to each other, I wanted it shot one take. If she wasn't that tall, that would be it and we'd worry about the technique to get her Alice in Wonderland 14 Post • March 2010 C O V E R S T O R Y We ask Ken Ralston about Alice, and his collaboration with director Tim Burton. Ken Ralston says the speed at which they had to work was one of the biggest challenges on the film. By RANDI ALTMAN E D I T O R - I N - C H I E F

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