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Immersed in Movies: Bryan Singer Talks 'Jack the Giant Slayer'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood March 1, 2013 at 2:17PM

Bryan Singer getting kid-friendlier with "Jack the Giant Slayer" isn't as much of a stretch as you might think. He's still dabbling with truth and legend -- literally in this case -- only the fairy tale is more overt.
'Jack the Giant Slayer'
'Jack the Giant Slayer'

To animate this bizarre race of 25-foot creatures and the world they inhabit called Gantua, Singer turned to facial capture giant Digital Domain ("Benjamin Button," "Tron Legacy"). Under the VFX supervision of Stephen Rosenbaum, DD advanced its process and virtual production studio in collaboration with Giant Studios, which handled body mocap. Meanwhile, VFX vet Hoyt Yeatman oversaw the entire visual effects for "Jack" (which included The Third Floor doing previs and MPC handling the crucial CG beanstalk). The work is so good that I suspect we might see "Jack" competing in next year's Academy VFX bakeoff.

As you could imagine, though, it was difficult getting the giants to look and perform believably and menacingly (there's also some gross humor thrown in for good measure). In fact, Singer first met with James Cameron and Andy Serkis to pick their brains about mocap and performance capture.

"I wanted to get a better understanding of the best way to achieve it, edit it, and utilize it," Singer admits. "And I learned Simul-Cam [created on 'Avatar' to integrate the live with the virtual in real-time]...They projected crude renderings of the giants into the actual monitors and in the space so I could see them on the set and articulate things to actors. When it came time to get into the volume with Bill Nighy and the other actors, I took to it quickly. It's like you're doing performance art in front of NASA. We just sit and play around and act out the scene and I can stand next to the actors because I'm invisible. The time to play the most is on the mocap stage. I could orchestrate everything to match the giants."

As for 3-D, Singer was adamant about shooting natively on Red Epic cameras instead of dimensionalizing it in post. "I took a lot of great care. It was very important to shoot native stereo and it changed the style of shooting for me. I ended up using wider lenses, different kinds of camera movements; and I paid closer attention to foreground."

Interestingly, Singer's favorite moment is the first reveal of the giants at the watering hole with the sheep as Jack hides underwater. It stands apart from the more heightened and humorous aspects of the fairy tale: it's filled with genuine tension and terror.

Speaking of 3-D, Singer admits that he'll be shooting "X-Men: Days of Future Passed" natively as well when production begins next month in Montreal. He's excited about returning to the Marvel franchise for the first time in a decade. But even though this will be the most elaborate movie he's ever made (partially taking place in the '70s with the appearance of Richard Nixon), Singer says it won't require the same virtual production demands as "Jack."

"There's not going to be as much need for fully rendered CG characters in 'X-Men' because generally they're played by real people," Singer suggests. "They're not creatures but humans with a mutation. But all technology advances help and you learn from each movie."

This article is related to: Jack the Giant Slayer, Immersed In Movies, Features, Bryan Singer

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.