Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novels have influenced many generations of filmmakers and CGI experts. From Blade Runner to Screamers, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly or more recently The Agency, his alternate universes and surreal fantasies have made for many mega-successful screen adaptations that have followed the evolution of special effects techniques from the 80’s to today. A new episode will be coming out in 2012 with the second adaptation of Total Recall, taken from his short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. The very 90’s version, directed by Paul Verhoeven, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is being updated with techniques for the new millennium. Chris Edwards, president of The Third Floor agency was in charge special effects on the film. While he was in Paris, we sat down for a chat that ended up revolving around his main obsession, «previs».
The process of previsualization! This is how we storyboard using new digital on-hands tools to craft the world of Total Recall, bringing the designs to life in 3D at the very early stages, The “previs” is done in collaboration with a lot of creative minds working very closely to create the strongest vision before we even go on set, before we start spending real money for production. That is really the big thing, having a clear idea of what the visual effects will look like before going into production. Only because it’s choreographed up-front can we understand how to make it work. It’s very useful for certain scenes that need to be done shot by shot. The director needs to understand what he can expect from his team, and the actors how their acting will fit into the whole world we are creating.
What was the specific goal in terms of CGI for Total Recall?
The movie takes place in a futuristic setting so we had to create designs to imagine what exactly this future should look like. It is of course a re-envisioning of the Schwarzenegger classic.
Yeah, special effects are more useful in a scifi movie..
My opinion about special effects is that they have to support the story, so almost any movie is a good candidate for visual effects. As long as visual effects are seamless and story-based, then you can do something that is greater that what you could have accomplished practically. In recent years, we have been working with filmmakers that have been previsualizing scenes that have no actual visual effects in them, because what is usefull in the “previs” process is the way that we can mock-up compositions and try things in a calm setting that we wouldn’t have a chance to do during the shooting. I would love for people to think of previsualization and visual effects as not only required for action movies or super heroes.
Concerning digital creation, advances in video game design clearly comes to mind…
Absolutely, all digital mediums are merging in a way that tools we use to create video games are very similar to the tools we use to create visual effects for film. The pre-production process that we are talking about is relevant to creating videogames as well as graphic novels, feature films and webisodes. A lot of the tools that have been developed to create real time video game cinematics have contributed to the tool set for real time visual effects in cinema. I think in games it’s the same thing as in film, as we gain in quality, it becomes less about the CGI and more about how can you tell the story.
But it costs a lot…
Indeed, you need money to do tests but the tests you can do with the “previs”, as long you’ve got a great designer on board, are very high compared to the cost that you would actually put into producing them. “Previs” is reassuring tool for studios. Len [Wiseman, director of Total Recall 2012], ended up commissioning a 4 minute sequence, and he showed it to the studio, Columbia Pictures, and a week and a half after they saw it, they were completely sold on the project and ended up increasing the funding of the film.
Our turn to do some self promoting, how are we doing in France?
I think there are some very talented people. There are fantastic studios that work on amazing animation. There is a huge talent base for animators and a lot of amazing designers. Patrick [Tatopoulos, chief designer of Total Recall 2012] was born in France.
Total Recall by Len Wiseman starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel. In theaters next summer.