By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 22, 2011 at 12:50PM
Comic-Con welcomed Steven Spielberg, making his first visit to promote The Adventures of Tintin (December 23), with a standing ovation and the convention's Inkpot Life Achievement Award. Making a surprise visit during his The Hobbit hiatus was the film's producer Peter Jackson and Spielberg's favorite collaborator since George Lucas, said Spielberg. During a long conversation with the LAT's Geoff Boucher in Hall H, followed by a smaller press conference at the Hyatt, Spielberg and Jackson explained their love for Belgian Herge's comic books, how motion-capture as perfected by Weta during Avatar made it possible to bring these comics to life close to how they had been created, and when 3-D works and when it doesn't. Both men cited their connection to their inner child as the key to their creativity. When he grows up he'll stop making films, Spielberg said.
The 3-D Tintin footage screened in Hall H was gorgeous and showed how far the medium has come from the clunky first efforts of Bob Zemeckis's Polar Express. Motion-capture allowed Jackson (who started on the comics as a five-year-old before he could read) and Spielberg (who came upon them as an adult when a French critic compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to Tintin) to animate the characters without worrying about how movie stars would look in the roles. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, for example, play the Thompson twins. Spielberg described Weta's animated "skin" placed over the actors' movements, complete with musculature, expressions, emotions. Jackson said Weta has worked long and hard to make eyes expressive. The digital VFX powerhouse is up to 2000 computers now. And Spielberg loved putting the camera in places in real life it could never go--under screeching cars, for example, putting Indy's truck stunt to shame.
Spielberg acquired the Tintin rights in 1983. After Jackson and Spielberg met on the Oscar show, when Spielberg presented him with the Oscar, six years ago Jackson and Spielberg started to develop a story--written by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish--that combined the first meeting of Tintin (Jamie Bell, who starred in Jackson's King Kong) and Captain Haddock (Jackson regular Andy Serkis, who made an appearance in Hall H impersonating a fan asking a question) with a strong mystery adventure plot. Jackson loved seeing Spielberg's "childish" enthusiastic creative looseness, while Spielberg appreciated Jackson's calmness under fire and expediency in problem solving. There was "no ego," Spielberg said.
Young reporter Tintin, like Indiana Jones, tends to get involved in the mysteries he is trying to solve. Spielberg was able to cast actors based on their ability, not their looks--Spielberg enjoyed engaging with them inside the "volume;" while they were wearing tights and head rigs and facial dots, he could see crude animation on his game controller/camera with a six-inch computer monitor, and could pick angles and steadicam shots as if he were on a set. He and Jackson approve all the shots and have enjoyed watching the film come to life as the animation gets better and better.
The duo hope to switch roles and return to the series with a number two, to be directed by Jackson and featuring Professor Calculus. That depends on the fans, they said, exhorting them to show up. Spielberg asked how many folks knew the comics; the response was not rousing, although the fans clearly love Spielberg's iconic oeuvre, which was honored on a clip reel.
During the questions, Spielberg confirmed that a story has been nailed for Jurassic Park 4 and a writer is working up a treatment for the film, which should be ready in two to three years. He promoed a coffee table book coming up about the shooting of Jaws on Martha's Vineyard, and also invited a young man wearing an "If possible I would love to meet Steven Spielberg and shake his hand" t-shirt up to the stage. Spielberg understands how a guy like that becomes the embodiment of all the fans in the house.
At the follow-up press conference, both men asked for 3-D ticket prices to come down and for filmmakers to take care with the process, and not put out bad 3-D. It's a good tool when used well, they agreed.