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'Oblivion' Director Joseph Kosinski Talks In-Camera Effects, Mies Van Der Rohe & M83's Longtime Influence

Interviews
by Charlie Schmidlin
April 16, 2013 7:00 PM
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David James/Universal Pictures
After Daft Punk and M83, which French electronic artist are you leaning toward approaching for your next film?
[Laughs] Man, I don't know, there's something about the French and their music that I love, and I've had two great experiences now. I don't know -- I'll have to see what up-and-coming French electronic artists are doing great music in the next few years.

You signed Anthony Gonzalez up for the film before his double album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming dropped, is that right?
I met with Anthony right after “Tron: Legacy” opened, so it was January 2011, and I think he was just starting Hurry Up when I talked to him about this project. I've been following him for a long time; I was listening to Dead Cities, Red Seas, Lost Ghosts in 2005 when I wrote the film's original treatment.

So M83 was always in the DNA of the film as well?
Yeah, I remember that song, “Unrecorded,” listening to that too while I was writing. So his music has been there from the very beginning, which is why I'm thrilled to have him.

Did you ever approach any other artists?
I talked to Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss, William Orbit -- I talked to a lot of really cool bands for, but Anthony was in Los Angeles and the timing kind of matched up perfectly.

In bringing the story to the screen, did you always think in these epic, largely effects-driven terms?
I always wanted to tell a story in a big landscape, but I didn't want it to be an "effects" picture. I wanted it to be an “in-camera” film; you know, most films of this size might have 1500, 1600 visual effects shots -- maybe even 2000. This film only has 800 shots -- half the effects of a movie like "Tron: Legacy." Because we were able to do so much in-camera, from the Sky Tower set to shooting in Iceland, I wanted really to make my version of "Lawrence of Arabia:" on-location whenever humanly possible.

ILM Creative Director Dennis Muren recently spoke about special effects in film, and commented that they “aren't special anymore.” Where do you see your work in this regard, and in the overall sense of the industry?
Visual effects have got to support the story. The innovation I'm most proud of on this movie is our Sky Tower set. Normally it would be done with blue screen and you'd just fill in the outside, but what we did was take an old technique that Stanley Kubrick used on “2001”: front projection. We updated it by making ultra-high definition video surrounding the Sky Tower, and not only does that create an in-camera effect, but it lights the set and I think it affects the actors' performances, when they're seeing the same thing the audience will.

So for me, it's not about doing more, more, more. It's really about re-thinking how we can innovate visual effects and doing them a completely different way, even if it means taking old techniques and updating them for the 21st century.

Speaking of the camera, you shot “Oblivion” on the Sony Cinealta F65, fresh off the assembly line. You hear horror stories of type of decision -- Steven Soderbergh using the prototype Red camera on “Che,” for instance. Did you have any similar issues?
We had no camera issues for this movie, and for a first-generation model, it's pretty amazing. I shot with the first version of the F23, and I shot with the first version of the F25 for "Tron." So I know Sony's reliability, and it is legendary -- they came out of the news camera business, where these things have to really endure rigorous fieldwork.

I've always loved the color reproduction that they give, and when I saw the resolution on this camera, I knew I had to have it for places like Iceland, so I grabbed the first ones I could get. Hopefully people will see the film on the biggest screen they can, and see what it's capable of.

“Oblivion” opens this Friday, April 19th.

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