Backstage at the 86th Academy Awards

As expected, 12 Years a Slave earned best picture Sunday night at the 86th Academy Awards, while Gravity dominated the crafts, winning seven, as well as best director for Alfonso Cuaron. The reverse-engineered blockbuster took home awards for cinematography, VFX, editing, sound editing, sound mixing, and original score.

Disney’s Frozen, meanwhile, which has crossed $1 billion worldwide, earned best animated feature as well as best original song for the immensely popular “Let It Go.” The only upset was Laurent Witz’s Mr. Hublot besting Mickey Mouse in Get A Horse!  Here are highlights of the backstage comments, some of which addressed achieving your dream and overcoming adversity.

“The amazing thing actually is not so much the visual effects aspect, but… Sandra,” Cuaron remarked.  ”That under the conditions that she was performing, the relationship actor/director was as if we were doing just a scene at the dinner table.  So there was no obstacle around all the physicality, all the strain, all the complicated amount of cues that required ‑‑  and the amazing amount of make‑believe that it was required.  It’s like she had to absorb absolutely everything.  Her power of abstraction was fantastic.”

Cuaron also gave a shout-out to the UK film industry, where he’s shot his last three movies: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity:  ” Definitely the amazing quality and sophistication of the British film industry made this film happen.  I’m talking specifically about companies like Framestore or the amazing crew that I worked with. And the great thing is that the British film culture is in as good shape as the American industry right now.”

In addressing the quality of light, Lubezki said, “We wanted the movie to look as naturalistic as possible within the limitations, because we couldn’t go to space.  So we created a very large library of shots, mostly from NASA photography; and we based a lot of the lighting of the movie on these photographs.  And we would have big meetings with the visual effects’ people, and Alfonso, and editing, and everybody; and we would try to define how which scene of the movie was going to look; and, of course, the last word was always his. “

“But I think that the important thing was also the reverse engineering of the whole process,” Cuaron continued,  ”because as opposed to a conventional film in which post‑production ‑‑ visual effects are part of the post‑production, and cinematography has very little relationship with visual effects.  Here’s a film in which editing, visual effects and cinematography started pretty much two years before we started shooting in order to be able to integrate all those elements. “

Co-Editor Mark Sanger added that Cuaron “created an environment in which all the conventional rules were thrown out, and that certainly presented a challenge editorially.  I think it presented a challenge cinematographically.  I think it also presented a challenge for all of the crew.  What we did in the first 18 months was kind of reinvent those rules, and we had the time to do that.”

Framestore VFX Supervisor Tim Webber, who collected the award alongside CG Supervisor Chris Lawrence, Animation Supervisor David Shirk and Special Effects Supervisor Neil Corbould, did not appear backstage, but, in accepting the award, said: ”It seemed like a crazy project, so thank you to Warner Brothers and, in particular, Chris deFaria, for believing in it, to George Clooney and especially Sandra Bullock for filling our effects with life and emotion, but most of all to Alfonso Cuaron for having with Jonas the vision of this breath-taking film, the audacity to make it happen and the courage to trust us in having such a big part in making it come to life. “

Sound mixer Skip Lievsay called Gravity a musical space oddity: “ I would add that it’s sort of a three‑parter in that we have straight‑up drama that happens to be taking place in a CG space world.  And we also had the sort of dreary prospect of having no sound because there’s no air.  And then we had this fantastic score [by Oscar winner Stephen Price] that did all the heavy lifting and reinforced the action and the drama in a fantastic way. “

According to Sound Editor Glenn Freemantle, after the spinning and going through the helmet, the sound envelops you. “From that point you’re locking in with her, and that was the concept of it.  So from that point we’re using heartbeats, tinnitus, and radio signals for hope and anxiety and everything, that’s what we were trying to achieve with the film.  And then, obviously, the vibration… you can add silences, which is cool, because it’s a huge dynamic thing when you’re silent, whatever you do, you can make yourself take a breath.  So the concept of the sound of this was all about the emotional journey through Sandra and how we were going to approach that, rather than just being bombastic with it, which we didn’t want to do.”

The Great Gatsby’s Catherine Martin, who won for both production and costume design and believes you can’t live in a cultural bubble, described the symbiosis of the two crafts: “I think that the language of clothes and the language of environment work hand-in-hand as storytelling tools in what is a visual medium, filmmaking, and  it’s certainly something that Baz considers down to the very last detail…. Even though it can be schizophrenic at times, you’re arguing with yourself.”

In terms of animation, Frozen director Jennifer Lee reiterated the importance of “Let It Go,” which became the film’s anthem and has been embraced around the world.  Well, we worked together with them every day via video conference for a few hours a day for about 14 months.  We went back and forth and ‘Let It Go’ for us was a game changer.  When we heard that, we knew that we could do something very special with Elsa and we rewrote the movie.  So we understood and really felt the emotional power of that song and we’re so happy for them they’re nominated. “

Director Chris Buck, who’s enjoying his second renaissance at Disney alongside his old CalArts pal, John Lasseter, stressed the importance of the Norway research trip. “When we sent our art director [Michael Giaimo] and the lighting team over to Norway, they came back so inspired.  The mountains, the vastness of the mountains going down the Fjords, all the detailing of the [inaudible] where they brought so much back from that trip from Norway that we really feel it added a lot of believability to the world we were creating.”

The husband and wife song writing team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez described their personal connection to “Let It Go” and are looking forward to expanding the musical world for the upcoming Broadway show: “You know, we really think of our kids ‑‑ when we were writing Frozen, we thought of our girls because we have two girls, just like Elsa and Anna, and we wanted to write a song that would sort of instill in them the idea that shame and fear should not prevent them from being the magical people that they really are.”

Mr. Hublot’s Lauren Witz, who is developing both an animated feature and a TV series, told me how important it was to make this a relatable slice of life despite the detailed universe that evokes both Brazil and steampunk: “The thing is that we developed the relationship between Mr. Hublot and the dog [Robo Pet], but it was in order to put poetry in the film — to bring emotions through characters. That was [more important than] so much work on details.”

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

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