It’s a little hard to believe but Steven Spielberg has never made the trek to San Diego for geek weekend at Comic-Con…until now. The director appeared today for his first ever appearance during the panel for his upcoming performance capture animated film The Adventures of Tintin. If that wasn’t enough, we were treated to a surprise appearance by Peter Jackson, who joined Spielberg for what will most likely be the panel everyone is talking about once this Comic-Con is over. Hit the jump for my full recap.
The panel began with Spielberg being presented with Comic-Con’s Inkpot award for achievement in film, which kicked off with a fantastic clip reel that featured pretty much every one of his movies (even Hook!). The clip reel ended and, with the audience pumped up, the director walked out to a rousing standing ovation riddled with camera flashes galore.
After a brief acceptance speech, moderator Geoff Boucher began by asking when Spielberg first became aware of Tintin. The director in turn asked the audience who had ever heard of the European character, with more than a few people responding affirmatively, to which Spielberg replied “That makes my job a whole lot easier.” He recounted how he read a French review in 1981 that compared one of his films to Tintin, and unfamiliar with the reference Spielberg sought out Herge’s work and was blown away.
When asked about casting for a performance capture film, Spielberg said he had to decide whether to shoot the film live-action with a digital dog, or shoot the whole thing animated. He went to Weta Digital six years ago and asked the company to do a test with a digital dog next to a real actor. Spielberg said they brought the test, and when the test began Peter Jackson walked onto the screen in full Captain Haddock garb (complete with a bottle of Captain Morgan). He begins by explaining how he’s decided to play Haddock himself, then an adorable digital dog comes out and starts dancing around Jackson who is giving his best line-reading. Snowy proceeds to drink from his spilled bottle of rum and dances himself right off the dock.
After the clip ended, the lights came up on the stage to reveal Peter Jackson himself standing next to Spielberg. The crowd went absolutely nuts, giving another standing ovation as Jackson joined the panel.
Spielberg said the biggest challenge on the project was getting the story told. He wanted the movie to look like the drawings in the Herge albums. He didn’t want people to say “Well it was good but it wasn’t exactly like Herge’s work.” They wanted to perfectly encapsulate the universe of Herge’s drawings instead of casting big movie stars that look like big movie stars.
Jackson said that he wanted to make it as much of a hybrid of live-action and animation as possible. They wanted pores in the skin, freckles, stubble, and the texture and level of detail that almost looks like live-action while retaining Herge’s face/body shapes. Wanted to create a version that allowed Steven to step inside the world and actually shoot the movie. Spielberg had a camera and was able to film the performance capture just like a live-action film similar to Avatar.
Spielberg compared it to shooting 8mm films, as the camera is like a Playstation controller that shows the real-time animated characters on the screen while he sees actors in jump suits with the naked eye. He said it’s like being a painter because the director is able to control so many aspects of the film himself (lighting, acting, costumes, grip, etc.). Elaborating on the film’s influences, Jackson said there’s a love of adventure films and silent Buster Keaton films in Herge’s stories.
We were then treated to some footage. The first scene was set inside a house, with Tintin on one side of a locked door and an unknown stranger trying to get in, followed by a drive-by shooting. The tone was very moody and dark, with a 1930s noir-ish feel to it. The next scene was an extended sequence showcasing Tintin and Haddock having a heated conversation in the hull of a ship while eluding some bad guys. The two scenes were followed by a trailer-style cut of actions sequences, featuring lots of explosions and chases reminiscent of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films.
The footage itself looked incredible. The film is animated like a Herge cartoon, but the characters are undeniably human. The movements are so fluid it’s nearly live-action, but the style of the animation brings out Herge’s images beautifully creating a pitch-perfect blend of live-action and animation. This is above and beyond any performance capture work we’ve seen so far (it’s entirely devoid of any Polar Express creepiness). And since he was able to operate the camera himself, Spielberg’s hand is very evident in the camera movements and overall feel of the shots.
While I was previously a bit hesitant to accept Tintin with open arms, fearing an uncomfortable ride into the uncanny valley, the footage today has me wildly anticipating the full film. The 3D works very well with the animation (much like Avatar), and the sense of adventure and tension was palpable. It’s outstanding stuff, and Spielberg and Jackson is a dream-team collaboration.
When asked about his camera work, Spielberg said that he was able to film a lot handheld, pulled off some footage that looks like steadicam. He was using new tools to tell the story. Speaking specifically about performance capture, he said it’s not a medium that’s right for every film, but it was right for this film. What’s more, he confirmed that a Jackson-directed sequel is planned and hinges on the success of this first film saying, “If you decide it’s worth seeing, then Peter gets to make the next one.”
The two directors then talked about how their team-up came to be. The first time they met was when Spielberg handed Jackson the Academy Award for Best Director for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Spielberg said aside from “his best friend George Lucas,” this is the best collaboration he’s ever had.
Before getting into the Q&A, Boucher asked Jackson about The Hobbit. He said he’s having a hell of a time, and he’s enjoying it way more than he thought he would. Speaking about the casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Jackson said Freeman was the only one they wanted. By virtue of Freeman’s schedule for Sherlock, the production shoot for The Hobbit was broken up into three blocks that allow him to go back and film Sherlock during the breaks. The time also gives Jackson time to do post-production and visual effects work on the film, as well as prep for the upcoming block.
Spielberg was asked about juggling so many projects. He said he likes to move around, as he’ll move from working on pre-production on Lincoln to tinkering with post-production on War Horse. He likes to keep his mind fresh.
The Q&A began, and the first question came from thinly-disguised Andy Serkis wearing sunglasses, who basically screamed his question in fanboy fashion asking if it’s true that when Daniel Craig first met Clint Eastwood he was wearing motion capture tights. The crowd responded warmly with laughter and his appearance was yet another welcome surprise
Spielberg was asked about an idea he had for a scene in a sequel to Jaws. He joked that he’s remiss to reveal it because he doesn’t want to give Universal any ideas for another sequel.
An adorable kid came up to the microphone and asked Spielberg what his favorite movie to make was. After the necessary “awws,” from both the crowd and panel, the director responded that it was E.T. He recounted that the reason it was his favorite was because after filming, he found himself incredibly sad to leave Drew Barrymore and all the kids he worked with behind. He couldn’t figure out why he was so sad until he realized that he wanted to have kids. Spielberg said that he had never had that feeling or desire until E.T. and credits the film for his seven offspring.
Jackson was asked if he plans on ever returning to bloody and disgusting horror movies, to which he responded “yes.” Spielberg was then asked what movie he’s produced that he wishes he would have directed, and he answered American Beauty. The same question was asked of Jackson, but he said that he gets so excited about movies while he’s envisioning them that he usually ends up directing them himself.
Spielberg’s philosophy of producing, “I hire the director and I go away.” He said his happiest moment producing was working on Robert Zemeckis’ three Back to the Future movies. The director also said what keeps him going is the audience saying, “You don’t like me all the time, you like me some of the time.” Spielberg said that the audiences keep him honest, and he wants them to continue doing that.
Spielberg was asked about Jurassic Park 4 and confirmed that they have a story, and a writer is currently working on a treatment. He hopes to make the film in the next two or three years.
The final question of the Q&A portion came from a guy whose shirt read, “If possible I would love to meet Steven Spielberg and shake his hand. Thank you very much.” After seeing the shirt, Spielberg signaled for the man to come up onstage. Once up there, Jackson approached him with a camera, and positioned him so he could take a picture of the shirt. Taking Jackson’s lead, Spielberg pulled out his iPhone and proceeded to photograph the shirt himself. This lead to the hilariously bizarre image of Academy Award-winning directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson taking amateur pictures of this stranger’s shirt. The man got his wish, and shook both directors’ hands and even got a picture with the two as well.
After what has to be the single greatest experience in his life, the man asked Spielberg if he’s still planning on shooting film. Spielberg responded that he had to shoot Tintin digitally because there was no film step in the process, but everything else is/will be film.
Overall, this panel was pretty fantastic. This is my first Comic-Con experience, but I sincerely doubt anything will ever top this. Spielberg and Jackson were both incredibly gracious and surprisingly candid. It’s evident they love their fans, and hopefully this is the first of many Comic-Con appearances to come for Mr. Spielberg.
Here’s the new image Paramount released today. Click for high resolution.