Q&A with (from left to right): Robert Stromberg (director), Palak Patel (producer), Layne Freedman (lead stereographer, Disney), Namit Malhotra (global CEO, PFW) and Richard Baker (senior stereographer, PFW)


MODERATOR (Jim Chabin, President, International 3D & Advanced Imaging Society):

What’s it about Disney material that draws a director to say ‘I want to direct a Disney movie?’

ROBERT:

Well, I think it’s about being a fan of certain classics – of fairytales in general. It’s a wide open canvas with these things. You can dive in and have fun with it. We obviously did a retelling of something that we know, which I was attracted to because if we had made something straight out of the box, just a straight retelling of Sleeping Beauty, I think people would be disappointed. We already have that. This is an updated version, a retelling, maybe answering some questions we were asking in the first one - why did she become evil? Why did she curse the baby? To me that was the appealing side - to see the other sides of the character.

 

MODERATOR:

You were quoted as saying, “If you want to boil this version of Sleeping Beauty down, its really a search for the truth about love.” Pretty great thought, talk about that.

ROBERT:

I have a 9 year old daughter. I am a parent. We know what that love is. I think part of the message in the traditional storytelling is that girl meets boy, end of story. True love, happily ever after. I think what we’re trying to say is maybe it isn’t that person that you think, that’s more of an infatuation. Maybe it’s somebody we’re not paying attention to, in those teenage or young years. Maybe it’s the love a parent. I like that people can leave the theater and make their own sort of discussion about it.

 

MODERATOR:

When you walk into a film as a director, you’re wearing a different hat than any other that you’ve carried. How’s that different, to have the background that you have, then walk on to a set for something that’s costing tens of millions of dollars to create and all of sudden everyone’s looking at you.

ROBERT:

I think it’s because of these other big films. Before Avatar, I think I had over 100 film credits, so I’ve been around for a long time. But for Avatar, I was involved in something enormous and that was four and a half years of my life, working directly with James Cameron. Right after that was Alice In Wonderland, another big project. Oz, big project. So going into something like this, having all those in the rear view mirror, certainly gives you a lot of confidence in knowing what it’s going to be like. I wasn’t worried about the scale of it. The pleasant thing for me, the fun was actually dealing with another art form, which was dialog and emotion and being able to sort of use that on a broad canvas.

MODERATOR:

How do you view 3D? What kind of aesthetic do you bring into your work when you know that’s going to be a big part of your end product?

ROBERT:

I always thought that if I was ever going to make a 3D movie, it would be no spears in the face, no cheesy moments. I think the way I like to approach it, and I learned this from Cameron in many ways, is that you want to be looking through the window, you don’t want things coming at you all the time. Use it as an experience, not a trick. And for me that meant a lot when building these landscapes and thinking about - not what was going on in here but stuff that could be going back there. And the depth of things and compositions, when you are moving the camera, you go in and out of compositions of depth and things of interest. So I think shot design becomes an important part of knowing that it’s eventually going to be in 3D. So it’s really trying to be aware in the moment, what it’s going to be visually, eventually.

 

MODERATOR:

Well here's the audience response to what you guys have done. Oz: the Great and Powerful - worldwide box office $493 million. Alice in Wonderland - $1 billion. And Maleficent in 9 days - $336 million. Taken together, that's a $2 billion group of movies. It's pretty fantastic. So let's talk about the 3D. From Alice, to Oz to Maleficent there seemed to be a new look for Disney movies - a new, contemporary look and feel - like Disney has reinvented storytelling. How's do you view it from your perch?

LAYNE:

So for me the idea really is in terms of the visual look of the film. Obviously the look of Disney films has changed. My job is basically to honour the world that Rob Stromberg created in partnership with the visual effects teams. So in terms of the changes and how they effect 3D, it's obviously interesting when you've got a sort of rich, dark world to play with and so I feel fortunate to be involved with that.


 

MODERATOR:

Four or five years ago, 3D was maybe viewed as an effect. James Cameron certainly didn't feel that way and thank God he didn't because he really reinvented the genre. But how early is 3D and the term '3D' used in your discussion and at what stage do you start saying 'OK I want to talk about 3D'?

ROBERT:

I think we always knew it was going to be a 3D film.

LAYNE:

Yeah it was. Initially during principal photography Richard Baker from Prime Focus came out to set and I know that he worked with you guys - at least in terms of the initial discussions and what to do, how the 3D would look. I came in at the post production phase.

ROBERT:

We had him come and we would talk about how the conversion works and basically it was like "don't do this". We sort of disobeyed all the rules and I felt bad...so thank you guys for doing that...for putting up grass in front of the lens like that. By having them on set you can learn so much about the eventual result and the process of getting it.

MODERATOR:

So are there points in the discussion where you will say ‘this will be a great 3D moment’ or ‘here is what we would like to do to emotionally affect the audience’? One of the misconceptions of the blogosphere and the critics is that 3D conversion is like a coat of paint that you slap on a film and raise the ticket prices and move it out the door - and it's so unfair to the artistic process.

LAYNE:

No. As folks know here, it is a very, very hard process - a time consuming, shot by shot process. The whole idea is to produce as natural an effect as possible. It is interesting when you wind up breaking your own rules - on one hand you are trying to make things as natural as possible, but on the other hand you'll have shots like the battle scene with a creature who's giant head is roaring at camera, and the idea is that this is an opportunity not so much to make it more natural but to the affect the depth in such a way that it will scare people. It's a scary moment!  So it's this cross between a naturalistic approach and an emotional approach. 

 

MODERATOR:

So is 3D an emotional tool? Is it a creative tool? There are moments in Maleficent where Angelina Jolie has tears in her eyes and it makes it very emotional for me to watch. It were as if we were pulled in somehow and I wondered if you credit 3D for that? What is it that it brings to your process?

ROBERT:

For me I think that it lands you in the environment so you feel more involved and so more immersed...you are in there with them, and you are psychologically participating. It is a greater experience. I grew up with 2D films of course and my Dad used to take us to see movies like '20 Million Miles to Earth' and 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' at the Nuart and now we see how far 3D has come and so you begin to study why that was effective and why that wasn't workingI think on an emotional level it's about playing with the depth - and the scene you are talking about with Angelina's tears, it's about slowly moving in on her throughout the scene so that the emotional impact is stronger.

 

MODERATOR:

The studios seem to have embraced the 3D business model and we've all watched the progress. It's been four or five years since Avatar and so when you are discussing with an executive how do you decide on 3D? For example, Million Dollar Arm is not a 3D movie. Could you share your thoughts on why that maybe didn't make sense for Disney?

PALAK:

Well I think that certain films that are spectacles you want to see in 3D. I don't think that Million Dollar Arm is something that moviegoers want to pay premium prices for when 3D doesn't really add anything significant. International is something that studios think about a lot. I'm not sure about how most moviegoers in America feel about 3D right now, but I know that they were down on it for a few years back. It's got much, much better now. Whereas in Asia they are huge on 3D. They go to see a movie just because it’s in 3D and not see it in 2D. 

MODERATOR:

So Gravity cost $80 million to make according to press figures. It made $700 million at the worldwide box office and Chris DeFaria at Warner Brothers says that about 80% of those tickets were in 3D. Godzilla did 53% of its opening weekend in 3D according to Box Office Mojo. Maleficent - there are various reports of 25%-35% being the number. Interestingly Edge of Tomorrow this weekend – 47% were 3D tickets. Where are we in the 3D cycle?

NAMIT:

Everytime there is a film that is an artistic and creative spectacle, it starts to be seen in audience figures. That really moves the numbers up. There are greater options in the international market where the 3D industry is more robust. In the US the audience is much more discerning and want to make sure that the experience being promised is delivered. As soon as that validation exists: audiences will really support it. 

 

MODERATOR:

So on the whole for the 3D industry - do you think that the studios and the filmmakers meet the potential of 3D?

PALAK:

On the whole, anything that is a spectacle, high budget and high tempo - 3D for a studio becomes automatic. The only question is whether you are going to shoot it in 3D or convert. The conversion process has got so much better and so for us who are in the high volume, high concept business, it's a no-brainer.

 

MODERATOR:

So a big point of our conversation had been about 3D adding an emotional dimension to storytelling. As the costs of the process go down, do you ever see a film like Million Dollar Arm being made in 3D, or is there a strategy made by motion pictures... that a premium ticket price is a lot to ask of a family going out on a Sunday to watch a movie. How do you view that?

PALAK:

I think it depends on the international appeal of the film. Million Dollar Arm, with the exception of India, didn't really have significant international appeal compared to other films. So for them, cost-wise it wasn't worth it to shoot or convert it into 3D. If it was a smaller budget film, a contained action film maybe something like Looper - I think studios would be more incentivised to do it in 3D, whereas maybe three years ago they may not have been.

MODERATOR:

So the international market has opened up more doors for 3D to be thought of in that context. So Richard, you've been involved in the artistic side in both London and LA with so many great movies. A year ago we were in London and everybody was saying ‘you must see this movie Gravity - it's got a 14 minute opening shot’. And now they are talking a lot about Ridley Scott's Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. And you… knowing that you have a background in both... Are directors and filmmakers in general, who may have or may not have worked in 3D, getting more comfortable with it, and what is that process like?

RICHARD:

Yes. I think working more and more with directors who have worked with 3D before – like on Gravity, and Maleficent with Robert – good examples of directors who have experience in that field - I think it works best when the directors are fully on board with it and so we can get involved earlier on in the project. I think that is what had really come through on Maleficent and working with Layne. With a film that had 2000 visual effects shots, the stereo design really comes together in post production even though it is mapped out beforehand. It really is a 'post' process. I think very much so that directors are more and more embracing 3D and letting the industry get involved more.

ROBERT:

I think that shows that the post conversion people are intermingling with the visual effects people more, and I learned a lot with Kerry the visual effects supervisor, who would advise to take something out which could be put in later with stereo. 

RICHARD:

When filming and fully into production, thinking about all that and the VFX as well - its about being able to get on set – like the example of Angelina's tears earlier, its a lot about people getting into the mindset of the story as well. 

ROBERT:

Also it's only going to help you as a director to make a shot better. If these guys are trying to work around something that's already a problem… if you understand a problem that might arise during the post process you can help them out - which can only help you and everybody out in the long run.

 

AUDIENCE QUESTION:

I am curious. Robert, with your production and environment design background, were you thinking a lot about the 3D when you designed it? I noticed that there is a lot of depth - more so than most movies. What is your maximum depth in the movie and did being able to render 3D with CGI particularly affect the environment design?

ROBERT:

I love personally to see depth, even if it’s a subtle thing. When you can really feel it, it makes it easier for me to breathe somehow, and so I definitely take that into account.

LAYNE:

In terms of maximum depth, typically we went for about 32 pixels into the screen – sometime a little deeper. Environment wise, the first thing that comes to mind is Maleficent's flight at the opening: that was all full stereo rendered CG done by Digital Domain, and MPC did 28 or 30 full CG stereo shots.

MODERATOR:

I have a question on the basis that pretty much everybody in this Q&A audience is employed in this industry. Ultimately productions are going elsewhere to get made and we've got some great perspectives here. Namit, you have got people all over the world. How do you view this situation?

NAMIT:

I think it's not just in visual effects and the conversion. You have a lot of other states in the US that offer tremendous incentives and there's a lot of competition even amongst them. It is a global industry and digital global collaboration is a natural way of accessing talent through cost efficiencies and the latest technological infrastructure. Whether it is Avatar in New Zealand or Maleficent where a chunk of it happened in London, I think it is a global business and people all over the world are passionate about the movie business and love to participate.

 

AUDIENCE QUESTION:

When doing a 3D film, how often do you have to change the script based on 3D, because of things you didn’t see before?

ROBERT:

I didn’t change the script based on the 3D – you go in well rehearsed, you build it, design based on this – you know where the camera is going to be well ahead of time.

RICHARD:

I can say the same thing for Gravity as well. We saw a pre-viz edit before they started production, and pretty much what ended up on screen was what the same as in the early stages. It was always a 3D movie, and because it was in effect an animation with all these moves and camera moves – it was really thought out before production.

 

MODERATOR:

Star Wars is coming – how are you guys feeling about the next 12 months of movies?

NAMIT:

I think that the technology and the precision of what we are able to do today is extremely powerful, and that is making its way onto the big screen. I think as filmmakers become more comfortable, you are seeing much more dynamic 3D and that makes it much more interesting. You can see 3D being different, which is nice to see, as you get an artistic blend... the movies are better at each turn.

ROBERT:

I think that it's important that directors get on board with it right away. You don't want to direct the film and then just leave and have somebody else convert it blindly – it works much better if you’re involved all the way through the process.

 

MODERATOR:

Not naming any names but we have had projects where directors say ‘I've done my 2D movie. You guys can slap the 3D on it - I'm done with it.’

RICHARD:

You wouldn't do that with visual effects. It's a visual effects process. Every shot for us is a VFX shot. Every shot goes through an artist, it goes for reviews, it goes through twenty or thirty iterations and is integrated with the visual effects facilities. It shouldn't be an afterthought, it should be something that is planned out.

MODERATOR:

These are the biggest movies of the year so far. Frozen with $1.2 billion; last year’s movie but still raking it in. Captain America - Disney Marvel $709 million. Spider-Man 2 $690 million. X-Men $593 million. Lego Movie $461 million. Rio 2 $457 million. Godzilla $376 million. Even Noah, which was seen as an under performer, still achieved $345 million. And the movie we celebrated tonight; Maleficent, is about to overtake that in the next 2 days at $335 million as of today. Only three 2D movies so far in 2014 made it into the top ten and they are Neighbours, Divergent and Ride Along. So if you are making a movie, then 3D is something you have to think about doing. Do you, Palak, have any sense of how much more gross revenue a 3D movie can generate than a 2D movie?

PALAK:

You can't predict that. But that list is interesting because if you look at it very closely, two of the three non-3D movies you mentioned are comedies. Comedy movies don't travel overseas. Apart from The Hangover, which I see as a brand as its about Las Vegas. But comedies don't travel and studios know that. What is the point in converting or shooting Neighbours or Ride Along into 3D if you know you are not going to get much play in 45 territories?

 

AUDIENCE QUESTION:

What was the most profound obstacle in directing Maleficent, and what helped you get through it?

ROBERT:

Someone once told me that directing is like painting in a hurricane and its kind of true because you try and be creative and you try and do what you do and get down - deep, emotional and artistic - but there are swirling problems around you at all times. So it's about maintaining artistic integrity whilst trying to fix things that are spinning around you. It's a bit like plate spinning.

AUDIENCE QUESTION:
Robert could you talk a bit about the fact that that this was going to be realised in 3D eventually and how that effected your discussion and your interplay with your director of photography?

ROBERT:

The majority of the film was going to be visual effects and so we did a lot of pre-vis and artwork that represented what was going to be there. There wasn't a lot of location shooting on this film and so by doing a lot of the pre-vis we could see how it was going to be effective in stereo - or at least get a clue. 

 

AUDIENCE QUESTION:

In terms of the visual effects and using so many different houses how does that effect the media used in production?

RICHARD:

From a stereo point of view we stream and do live reviews on what we call TVIPs... so whether it is with clients in any part of the world or if I'm dealing internally with other parts of Prime Focus, I can do live stereo reviews. That works really well. Working across multiple vendors is not really a problem these days even with what we were talking about earlier in making sure that the depth is consistent. I think with stereo you are working with probably less vendors than the visual effects houses, where there are often eight, ten or more. I think that security is always a consideration – whatever happens it has to be super secure.

AUDIENCE QUESTION:

Robert was there a time you considered shooting the film in 3D rather than converting it?

ROBERT:

Yes. We talked about that right off the bat. I think it became a financial issue and being a first time director I couldn't fight too hard for that. The financial differences between shooting native and conversion - right now it's just much more appealing to convert certain films.

PALAK:

I think the conversion process has got so much better in the last five years. We did a Marvel test where they shot the same scene in 3D and then had it converted. It was alarming: I couldn't tell the difference. So the visual production decided that the conversion has got so much better so decided to convert it. We shot Oz in 3D and Rob was also on that, and we saw first hand how long it takes sometimes to set up that shot. Because of that - that the conversion process has got so much better - we just thought why not?

ROBERT:

To add to that when you have heavy visual effects or all visual effects - I'll mention Avatar again where you have a great deal of the film which is rendered - that you can render out two eyes it depends on the type of film you are trying to make I think.

 

AUDIENCE QUESTION:

This is a question about the audience you are making the film for. This is a film that is being enjoyed by people of all ages and across the world. How do you as a filmmaker narrow in your creative sense of the project?

ROBERT:

This film is obviously going to be skewed towards women and young people, which is a good thing by the way, as we are right between X-Men and Godzilla and everything else. Guys are panting on the ground with all this action and here we have this whole other target group - and that’s why I think Maleficent is working. Fault in Our Stars is doing the same thing. I can't explain it - I just know that it's a really good film.

PALAK:

The last two weekends show the power of female audiences ran away. They exist. For a long time people were saying you can't do an up-tempo franchise story starring a woman or a female-driven story. I think Alice in Wonderland changed the game and so I don't think that question exists anymore. The female audience, young and old or whatever it is - is huge, and they deliver, and so I think you are going to see that time and time again now.

ROBERT:

To add to that, Disney owns Marvel, so there is plenty of that going on at Disney. What I was interested in, especially being a huge fan of Disney since my own childhood, was respecting that and trying to keep as much heart and soul of what a Disney movie should be. The people that are disappointed about it not being dark enough, or that she's not killing everybody; well that's not the film I wanted to make.

MODERATOR:

Do you think the improved capabilities of the software… are you able to deliver a sense of more 3D effect or are you about where you want to be and we'll stay there for a couple of years? Do you think audiences are open to more or is the depth right now where everybody is probably comfortable? 

PALAK:

I think Robert will probably agree with me on this. Story dictates everything. So 3D is an amazing tool in technology but it shouldn't be the star of your movie. I think you should forget its in 3D. The best 3D movies are the ones where you forget you are wearing glasses and so ultimately it's about story.


MODERATOR:

What is the one thing we need to do as a 3D worldwide industry to ensure everybody's success and prosperity?

NAMIT:

I think the point Robert made is the golden one: that ultimately it is a filmmakers medium and audiences come to see a story that the filmmakers give them. I think that the 3D industry has to survive and grow on the back of the conviction of the filmmaker who believes in it and wants to raise the bar at every step.

ROBERT:

I truly believe this: that as human beings, and over the time of evolution, our eyes have become so honed in to discerning depth – ‘is that thing over there going to eat me or do I like it?!’ So there is a built in emotional response to something in depth and that's why I feel it's important to fulfil it.


AUDIENCE QUESTION:

What was the hardest part of the movie to make?

ROBERT:

I think getting the job in general! No, I just wanted to express myself creatively and have fun - with no fear. To play with it. You have this golden opportunity to do something big, but sometimes fear gets in the way of what you want. Meeting Angelina, or getting a movie with Disney, you have to go in with confidence. Fear just gets in the way of that. It’s not easy making a movie this big. The whole process is tough. So if you have faith in what you are doing, have great people around you - people like this - then hopefully you are going to be fulfilled in yourself, and also walk away with something special.