Backstage at the Oscars: Birdman Soars, Disney Sweeps

Here are some of the craft and animation highlights backstage last night at the Oscars, topped by Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki taking home his second consecutive cinematography award for the single-take Birdman experiment, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar winning the VFX prize, and Disney’s surprise animation sweep with Big Hero 6 and Feast, continuing the momentum from last year’s Frozen.

“Well, the first time [Alejandro G. Iñárritu] talked about the movie, he said he wanted to do a movie in one shot, before I read the script,” Lubezki recalled.  ”And at that moment, I truly, honestly thought I hope he doesn’t offer me this movie — I’m not interested.  It sounds like a nightmare.  And then when he brought the script and talked about the characters and why it had to be one shot, he captivated me, and I truly wanted to do the movie.  And it was really, really complex, very hard. You know, there’s no book that says how do it.  It was like an experiment.  And I have to say that because he’s a very strong, very curious, we went through the process and made this movie happen.

“And it was really hard because the shots were very, very long.  And we were not doing coverage so everybody had to do their best every time and not mess it up.  And I think that brought an energy to the movie that otherwise the movie would not have.  And I think that stress and that need for concentration made the acting, the camera and everything in the movie so powerful because of that.”

VFX supervisor Paul Franklin discussed the crucial role that physics played in the creation of Interstellar’s visual language: “Well, I think every year we always try and get closer and closer to reality, and this time we had the access to the amazing skills of Kip [Thorne], who is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists.  And he gave us the math, the physics, which describes the universe and how these extraordinary things would actually look if you were able to go and see them.  So every year we get closer and closer to reality, and, as I said in my [acceptance] speech, it’s showing us the outrageous beauty of the universe.”

Big Hero 6 co-director Don Hall addressed the fundamental storytelling challenge of managing two disparate elements: “We had this amazing story about grief, about loss, about a 14 year old who loses his brother and a robot who becomes essentially his healer, and trying to reconcile that with a superhero origin story was very difficult, and it took the bulk of our time as directors.  We worked at it and we worked at it and we worked at it until we finally found that Baymax linked those two stories together. But in our 20-year history at Disney, I think this was our most challenging film.  But it makes it all the sweeter when this kind of stuff happens.”

Feast director Patrick Osborne discussed the pressures of diving into the very successful shorts program, which has now earned its second Oscar after Paperman.

“It’s a surprise when you get the green light — Disney’s shorts history is just massive and there’s so many good ones.  So it’s an incredibly scary and daunting thing — you don’t want to be the bad one.  So you’re constantly aware of that, but it’s an honor to be able to make something with so many talented people where you can play amongst those shorts that kind of exists in Disney’s history forever.  It’s really cool.”

Osborne also joked about making his year-long, one-second snapshots of dinner footage available for public consumption. “Maybe I’ll put out the rest because you can watch all your meals in an entire year, and you can see where your dieting is not working and why you’re gaining weight.”

Production Designer Adam Stockhausen explained the organic process of collaborating with Wes Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel, which scored four Oscars (additionally for costume, makeup, and score). “He really lays out the film with storyboards that gets cut together, which really gives you a roadmap because we’re using so many non-traditional elements of painted backgrounds and miniatures and cutting in between locations in ways that isn’t the norm.  And so having this roadmap becomes the central tool for all of us in breaking down the film.”

Alexandre Desplat finally won his elusive Oscar after eight noms, thanks to the great momentum of The Grand Budapest and an infectious gypsy-influenced score: “The thing about Wes’s movie is that ‑‑ and in his previous movies we have done together, Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom – music is really interwoven very strongly to the editing, to the rhythm of the film.  I guess that’s the most important thing in our relationship.  And, also, when we sit together in my studio, very quickly we get excited about ideas, and I try to give a shape to that musically.  And it’s like arborescence: You find an idea that brings another one.  And we really work on the same level and very, very closely.”

Editor Tom Cross, the surprising winner for the powerful Whiplash, reiterated the kinetic force of Damien Chazelle’s vision: “He really had in mind a lot of different editorial styles.  So he knew that the musical scenes, and the rehearsing, and the practicing would be fast and would be brutal.  He wanted it to be ferocious.  He said he wanted the musical scenes to feel like boxing scenes from Raging Bull. I guess if I’ve learned anything it’s that I can ‑‑ I should — have an open mind and continue to look with wide eyes out into the future. ”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Cinematography, Editing, Movies, Music, Oscar, previs, Shorts, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production

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