15 Things to Know About Bryan Singer’s JACK THE GIANT SLAYER From Our Set Visit; Plus Video Blog Recap and Written Report

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About a hundred knights are standing inside the castle of Albion.  They’re wearing silver armor with swords in their hands as the castle is gearing up for a fight.  Outside the walls, the King rides along with his daughter (the princess) and about a dozen knights on horseback.  They’re being chased by 24-feet-tall giants.  Well I think they are 24-feet-talle, because the truth is the King and his men are really only riding from a few cameras, as the giants will be added in during post production.

Let me back up a second.

It’s August 4th, 2011, and I’m flying back from London.  The other day I was standing on the set of Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer about an hour outside London.  While there, I got to watch a lot of filming, see tons of raw footage, and I also got to see a great deal of pre-viz.  While some set visits are guarded with the actors being careful what they say, Singer and everyone on the film opened their arms to the visiting online reporters and showed us why they’re excited to be making this film.  And based on what I saw, Jack has the possibility of being a really cool fantasy film.  Much more after the jump.

As most of you know, I’ll often record a video blog after I get back from a set visit.  For this set visit, I sat down with Brian Gallagher from MovieWeb and we talked about everything we saw and learned on set.  We were both really excited by the footage.  Here’s the video.  Further down is my written report.

Also, if you haven’t yet seen the trailer for Jack the Giant Slayer, I’d watch that first:

jack-the-giant-slayer-bannerBefore going any further, I thought I’d share some of the cool things I learned on set:

  • We will see the giants eating humans.  They think we’re delicious.
  • Jack the Giant Slayer is being shot in 3D with the RED Epic.  They’re one of the first films to use the equipment.
  • Singer has pre-vized almost the entire movie.  He did this so when he’s on 1st unit and can’t be at another location, the production can see how he wanted to scene to look and they try to get the same shots.
  • Most of the Giants are around twenty four feet tall.  Some are twenty feet, and some are thirty feet.
  • The production is using Simul-Cam like James Cameron did on Avatar and Shawn Levy on Real Steel. Simul-Cam allows Singer to take the motion capture footage he shot before filming began and throw it into the live shots on set.  This allows actors to have proper eye line and it also allows Singer to get the type of shot he wants without wondering if it will work.  Simul-Cam is definitely the future of all big budget movies with big special effects shots.  It’s amazing stuff.
  • While there will be a lot of soundstage work, the production is also using a lot of real world settings.  This will allow the CG to amplify real locations and make everything more believable.
  • nicholas-hoult-eleanor-tomlinson-jack-the-giant-slayer.All the giants were motion captured so the movements will look and feel real
  • On X-Men: First Class, most of the special effects shots were 30 thousand dollars.  For Jack the Giant Slayer and the giant shots, most of the shots are 80 thousand each.  Due to the cost, Singer had to pick and choose where to spend the money.  A huge chunk is an epic 3rd act where the giants come down and attack the castle.
  • The movie will either be PG or PG-13.  But I get the feeling they really want it to be PG-13.
  • It takes 6 weeks to render a giant and Digital Domain is doing the effects work.
  • Some shots will have 100 giants in them.
  • They want the giants to look photoreal.
  • The beanstalk sequence is about 20 minutes into the movie.
  • Ewan McGregor is the leader of the Guardians and it’s his job to keep the royals safe.
  • Stanley Tucci plays the villain.  He’s the King’s consigliere and while the audience will know he’s the villain, the characters won’t put it together for awhile.

Bryan Singer Isn’t Afraid to Show Journalists Unfinished Footage

jack-the-giant-slayer-ewan-mcgregor-bryan-singer-nicholas-houltMost of the time when you do a set visit, the production will only allow you to see what they’re filming that day.  And if what they’re filming is a huge spoiler, you might not get to see anything.  However, Singer was more forthcoming.  In fact, I can’t recall another set visit that had a filmmaker show us this much footage.  While it might have been due to the fact that the production wraps in two weeks, more than likely it’s because they’re really happy with the footage and the way the movie is coming together.

While none of the footage I got to see was final, I could definitely see that Singer’s movie is massive, and it’s easily under the category of “big budget tentpole.”

Also, while I’d love to talk about the specific shots I got to see, I know they’d prefer me to avoid spoilers.  So let me just say Singer has clearly studied how to use these new 3D cameras and the action looks epic, the characters are interesting, and the world is unlike anything we’ve seen.  What’s cool about Jack the Giant Slayer is it’s a story we’ve heard  but told in a new way.

jack-the-giant-slayer-bryan-singer.Another thing I thought was great about the set visit was how much time Singer gave us.  I’ve been on set visits where we never got to talk to the director, and I’ve been on some that you only get a few minutes.  On Jack, Singer talked to us for almost 35 minutes and he kept showing us more and more footage with more and more pre-viz.  It was so cool to watch him explain how he wanted to tell the story and why this project spoke to him.  At the bottom of the article is a link to the full interview.

One Monitor is Live, One Monitor is Pre-Viz

Something that I found very interesting was how important the pre-viz was on Jack the Giant Slayer.  Singer explained to us that he spent a great deal of time before filming began working on all the shots in pre-viz.  For those unfamiliar, pre-viz is very rough animation that shows where the camera will be during filming. Pre-viz is a huge asset as it allows a filmmaker to make a movie before stepping on set.  They can work out any potential problems, fix the way the action will be told, and get an idea if the movie is going to work well before spending huge sums of money.

nicholas-hoult-jack-the-giant-slayerAlso, when you’re telling a story with 24-feet-tall giants and tons of CGI, pre-viz is even more important because without a perfectly set up game plan before arriving on set, any change in production could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Pre-viz lets you maximize your budget.

In addition, while I was on set I learned the production has three units filming.  Since Singer could only be in one place, the pre-viz allowed his 2nd unit director to film the scene exactly how Singer wanted it without having to call him or wait for him to arrive on set.

What I also found interesting was the way Singer was shooting on 1st unit.  He sat in a normal directors chair and in front of him were two monitors.  The one of the left was the eye of the camera, while the right monitor was the same scene as pre-viz.  This allowed him to match up everything, and he could make sure that the camera would be able to catch where the giants should be and the action would work.  While I’d imagine for some filmmakers this kind of structure might stifle creativity, I actually thought it made a lot of sense and think all the work beforehand was saving a lot of time on set.

Watching Filming

jack-the-giant-slayer-posterI’ve been on a number of movie sets.  Some of them spend all day on the same shot.  Some might film a few scenes over the course of many hours.  However, before Jack the Giant Slayer, I’d never been on a set that had three units filming and multiple locations on the same day.  It was very cool.

The first scene we watched being filmed took place at Albion Castle (where the humans live).  While some productions might build a fraction of a set and use CG to make the other side look real, the castle set was massive with thirty foot walls around all four sides.  It’s going to look great on screen.

When we first started watching filming, we saw three camera angles trying to capture the King returning with his men and the princess.  They were being chased by Giants and the scene takes place towards the end of the movie.  As they ride up to the castle, on the top of the castle, we see other knights firing pretend arrows to try and fight off the giants.  This was being shot by the 2nd unit and we watched a number of takes.

A little while later, we went over to first unit and watched Singer direct Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson.  The scene features the two of them trying to hide in the King’s robe as a two headed giant searches for them.  We saw Singer shoot some of the scene in close-up, while another shot had the camera looking up so the top of the robe was open.  We were shown some pre-viz where the giant will see them from the opening.  It looked very cool and Nicholas and Eleanor seemed like they were having a lot of fun.

The final bit of filming took place in a real forest a short drive from the soundstages.  It ends up the production was using a real location but they added a river, a waterfall, some trees, and other bits to make it a perfect location for a couple to fall in love.

jack-the-giant-slayer-nicholas-hoult-eleanor-tomlinsonThe scene takes place shortly after Nicholas and Eleanor escape from Gantua (where the giants live) and he’s cleaning out a wound that she got along the way.  As she laments what has just happened (if it wasn’t a spoiler, I’d tell you) in a wide shot with a gorgeous background, we watch as she starts to fall for Nicholas’ character.  As the two get closer, Ewan McGregor walks into frame and what might have been their first kiss, ends up with the three of them continuing on their journey.  The shot looked fantastic, and I’m sure on screen it’s going to look great.

Final Thoughts

While the production has a tremendous amount of work to do in post-production, I’m a big fan of Bryan Singer and think he’s going to pull it all together for a great fantasy film.  In addition, after seeing the tremendous practical sets up close, this is going to be one of those movies where you should see it in 3D.

Jack the Giant Slayer opens March 1.  Here’s more from my set visit:




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