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Immersed in Movies: 'Oblivion' Director Kosinski Talks Creating Original Sci-Fi Landscape Starring Cruise

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood April 19, 2013 at 2:25PM

With a looming summer season packed with post-apocalyptic sci-fi--from "After Earth" (June 7) and "World War Z" (June 21) to "Elysium" (August. 9)--it's a good thing that director Joseph Kosinski's "Oblivion" is first out of the gate. This Tom Cruise-starrer about a blue collar drone repairman haunted by dreams of a woman he's never met stands apart from the competition, mainly because architect and video game designer Kosinski's follow-up to "Tron: Legacy" is a passion project he's been developing for eight years that allows him to strut his visual stuff.

"We went to the Haleakala volcano in Maui for a week and, with three cameras strapped together, shot these panoramas of clouds and sunrises and sunsets," Kosinski continues. "And then we reprojected that footage on the projectors around the set [in real-time] so that there is no blue screen in the background. Not only are you creating the background in the image but you're also lighting the set with that projection so that it creates a very natural situation that you could never achieve with blue screen. It looks great [and the actors enjoyed being in a real environment].

"This movie, which would normally be 1,600 visual effects shots, had half the amount. And then the job of [VFX] was to place those elements in these landscapes we shot in Iceland and make it feel as grounded as possible. And I'm happy to say that we did most of this work in Los Angeles with Digital Domain and Pixomondo. With all the talk about outsourcing, this was fantastic."

VFX supervisor Eric Barba and Digital Domain (who worked on "Tron: Legacy") created CG models of the drones, the Tet, and the hydro rigs and were responsible for the stadium sequence, the Raven Rock attack, and the climax. Pixomondo (which won the Oscar for "Hugo") stitched the Sky Tower footage together and created the CG Sky Tower and bubble ship that Cruise drives, as well as exterior cloud and storm environments under the supervision of Bjorn Mayer.

"Oblivion" was shot digitally at 4K using the new Sony F65, which provided great dynamic range, held the highlights, and shows off the textures really well in the Sky Tower sequence. Kosinski was also thrilled about the added detail that goes with the large-format IMAX presentation (reformatted at 1.89:1).

"Despite the technical challenges of 'Tron,' this felt like a real film," adds Kosinski, who created an illustrated novel as a pitch tool with images of the Sky Tower, the bubble ship, and the Empire State Building, which then got into the hands of Cruise, who actually approached him to star in the movie. "I knew that to make an original film like this, I needed a big movie star at the center of it. I also knew that I needed an incredible actor to carry off the range of emotions. He's in a relationship and dreaming of someone else, and she suddenly drops in his lap and it changes his world."

What next? "Tron 3," whose first draft was recently turned in by Jesse Wigutow? We already know that Kosinski's exec-producing the upcoming "Ballistic City" series for AMC. "I'm not sure yet what my next movie will be. Science fiction is great but I might want to do something else. I'm reading all kinds of scripts and trying to find something I like."

Passion projects are a hard act to follow.

This article is related to: Oblivion, Joseph Kosinski, Tom Cruise, Immersed In Movies, Sci-fi, VFX, Morgan Freeman

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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.